Why we need a new archivists roundtable

Friday morning, those of us attending SAA heard outgoing president Helen Tibbo talk about the future of the archives profession, and the problems it currently faces. She talked about the archivists who have been laid off, or who have had to lay off employees, or who have lost their jobs and been unable to find new ones. And I applaud her for reminding the audience about our colleagues who are struggling.

But conspicuously absent from this talk about the future of archives was any mention of new and future archivists. The archivists who wonder why they’re taking on tens of thousands of dollars in debt to enter a profession that doesn’t seem to have room for them. The archivists who are 6 months or a year or more than a year out of school who still can’t find jobs within the profession. The archivists who spend years in project positions and have no job security. The archivists who have the tech skills that our profession needs, but can’t break into the field to use them. The archivists who can’t afford to come to the annual meeting.*

New archivists are a growing force within SAA. At the business meeting on Saturday, we heard that 27% of SAA’s members are students. Add to that the number of members who are new professionals or still looking for their first professional job, and the ratio becomes even more significant.

We are the future of the archives profession. We are the future of SAA. And without official representation within SAA, which this roundtable would provide, I worry that our current and future leaders will keep ignoring us.


*(Obviously, some of these apply to less-than-new archivists too.)


About Rebecca
Archivist, librarian, webcomicker.

27 Responses to Why we need a new archivists roundtable

  1. Thank you for pointing out that there are many, many of us who are underemployed or not able to leverage some of our best non-archivist skills due to job limitations.

    I have not been attending the Annual Meetings mainly because of financial constraints, and I’m frustrated by the fact I know I’m not alone. But, I’m one of the minority ‘archivist-as-a-second-career’ Archivists, relatively new to the profession and I believe I can bring a fresh perspective. However, I’ve been afraid to speak up because I NEED MY JOB and fear if I vocalize my concerns/opinions that I could put it in jeopardy.

    I got SO much out of speaking with student/new Archivists at the meeting: we are indeed the future, but only if those who currently lead will allow us to show them we can care for the past just as well as they can.

  2. t says:

    Totally agree. I’m happy to help out as needed. Definitely not new, but pretty new friendly.

  3. Christine says:

    One of the things that stood out to me at the conference was the (pretty constant) bragging about how archives education programs have expanded, new ones have been created, etc., including at my own school’s alumni reception. While *better* education is great, seeing these programs expand to admit more and more students (my school currently has 70-80 archives students) really makes me wonder if institutions really care about what happens to their students post-graduation, and whether the profession as a whole even understands that they are setting up these students to fail. I heard a few people voice concerns about this, but for the most part it was with pride and excitement that school representatives bragged about how their programs were expanding and able to admit more students.

    • Marta says:

      I also noticed this and I think its a disturbing trend. As a recent graduate, I can tell you that many of the new archives students in my program were stunningly naive about the dearth of jobs in the archives field. Of course, they should have done more research before starting the program, but some of the blame goes on our admissions dept who grossly overestimated the number of jobs available for newly graduated archives students.

    • Rebecca says:

      I’m going to see if I can find an archives educator to write a guest post about this topic.

      • abs says:

        Rumor has it that College Park has just limited their enrollees for this very reason. You may want to talk to somebody there.

      • Kate T. says:

        Re: abs comment–yes, Univ of Maryland did do this. I had a long talk with someone about it. Rebecca, let me know if you want that contact information.

    • Rachel says:

      I also heard from Richard Cox that Pitt limited enrollment in their Archives program last year.

    • Erin says:

      As a student who is currently in one of those expanding graduate programs, there are a number of fellow students are deeply concerned about the lack of responsibility the administration shows in admitting more students than the profession can absorb. I would really appreciate a guest post about this topic.

  4. +1, Co-signed. I THINK I still count as a new archivist (at least I do by the ‘Emerging Leaders’ award criteria)…

    The problem, of course, is that the tendency to ignore the newest members of the profession is pretty much endemic to all professions, which means that all professions think it’s normal to let their younger members languish in obscurity/insecurity until such time as they are able to do the same to their successors, 30+ years later. Which is an awful, awful way to run a profession, but there you are. As always, my own feeling is that reining in the library schools is the easiest way to deal with the archivist surplus, but I don’t know how one does that, either. Blargh.

    • Rebecca says:

      Thanks for bringing this up. Many of the problems facing new archivists aren’t unique to the archival profession. We certainly aren’t the only ones having trouble breaking into our chosen field, and grad schools in other disciplines admit far more students than the market can absorb. I think the roundtable could absolutely help with the first issue, but I’m not sure what it could do about the “too many grads” problem.

  5. archivalerie says:

    +1, co-signed as well.

    On Saturday, I had attended the panel on diversity and mentoring in the profession. I believe that not only minority students should have the opportunity to work with a mentor, but students in general. A question from the audience involved follow-up post-internship/mentorship. While there was not a cut and dry answer regarding how to sustain the mentor/mentee relationship over time, it does demonstrate a need for ongoing communication and visibility between the newer archivists and established archivists. As Rebecca said, a New Archivists Round table would provide a voice for those like us.

    Also, as Christine and Marta commented, it seems that archives graduate programs (and library and information science programs in general) are expanding admission and program-wise. Yet while these “tough economic times” are often discussed in the classroom and students work on hypothetical projects such as applying for grants or constructing a budget, the elephant in the room is always “While you are working hard for your degree and gaining internship experience, there might not be a place for you out there in the working world once you get there.”

    It is frustrating and disheartening to continue applying for positions, to watch debt grow, to know that your friends and colleagues are going through the same thing. While it does feel good to vent about it, it would ultimately be more constructive if we had a unified outlet for vocalizing our concerns and add our collective voice to the discussion about potential solutions to the current and future challenges of the archives profession. A New Archivists Round Table would serve this purpose for current and future new archivists.

  6. arlene schmuland says:

    Can I be some sort of ex-officio senior advisor to the group? I see all this great potential here and I’m too old to count as a new archivist, sigh… But I do care about these issues.

    • Rebecca says:

      Roundtables are open to any interested archivists, so if we get approved, you will be very welcome to join! My hope is for a group that includes members of all ages and experience levels, but with officers who are students or new professionals.

  7. Rebecca M. says:

    Absolutely. Sounds like something I would like to get in involved with.

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  9. Rebecca, I made the same, disheartening, observations. And to learn later that 27% of SAA’s membership is composed of grad students, but no mention of the struggles these same students face during Tibbo’s talk? Ouch.

    I very much hope that the new task force to study annual meetings has solid representation from early career/new career/grad student archivists. Their voices are critical to how SAA does business into the future.

  10. Kate T. says:

    The charge of the new task force explicitly states that it should be made up of members of varying lengths of membership within SAA, which I interpret to be analogous to varying lengths of professional experience. At least that’s what I intended when I wrote it. 😉 I have no control over the appointment process, but I am hopeful that if people write persuasively about why they want to serve that they will be appointed.

  11. Christine Di Bella says:

    A couple years ago the SAA party line was that student members actually cost them money rather than generated revenue. (Still would like to see those calculations.) A short-sighted attitude given that today’s students are tomorrow’s full-paying members if they stick around the profession, but that’s part of what needs to be pushed against to get change.

    • Kate T. says:


      I actually asked about this directly recently and the answer was . . . unclear. Because of course it depends on how you calculate what a member “costs.” My recollection (which may be incorrect) is that if you total things like publications, etc. the answer is no, those do not cost more than student dues. But that does not take into account the cost of servicing those additional members, which is hard to calculate.

      There are several interesting membership trends at the moment. I hope to see more discussion of them coming out of the membership committee. Maybe I should ask someone about that.

  12. Amber Kappel says:

    Hi Rebecca, I met you at the brunch Friday morning, and I regret not getting to discuss this with you in person but I agree with you wholeheartedly! I also noticed the absence of archival students and new graduates from Tibbo’s speech, and wondered how such an oversight could have been made. Alas, I hope moving forward students, recent graduates, and new professional will be included in the SAA family she so fondly referred to her speech.

  13. Kate T. says:

    I don’t think there’s any doubt that a roundtable for new archivists is needed, for all reasons that have been discussed on this and earlier posts. But since I’m just returned from the bureaucracy (along with many other fun and fabulous aspects) of the annual meeting, I’m a bit focused on the process of getting this group going. What do you want the group’s mission to be? What do you want to do at the first meeting–hopefully in San Diego in 2012? What kind of activities do you think you can work on between meetings? How do you want to reach out to student chapters? I think it would be interesting to see if you could get someone from the College of Fellows to serve as some kind of liaison, although you might want to wait until you’re more established to think about things like that. What do people want this group to do?

    • Rebecca says:

      We’re getting to this, Kate, I promise! 🙂 3 months is actually a long time to write a proposal, and my goal is keep discussion going here throughout that time. That means some weeks we’ll have a lot of discussion and not a lot of action.

      I’m going to post a list soon of all the things we need to figure out to write our proposal (goals, governance, etc.), which will be a sort of outline of future blog posts. That way, anyone with a strong interest in a particular topic can volunteer to write a guest post on that topic. I hope you’ll comment if we’ve left anything important off the list.

  14. I completely agree that archives programs are turning out too many right now – some with unrealistic expectations and too much debt. I often think that much of this effort at making SAA a better place for new archivists should be focused on getting more involved in the regionals and state archival orgs and strengthening them first. Tougher to walk in and “do” at any national organization no matter the profession. Experience is not only valued in the workplace but also in the prof org so more involvement at one of the regionals can translate into more opportunities and influence in the national org. Patience never stopped being a virtue.

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  17. Sarah P. says:

    I’m really looking forward to seeing how this develops. Since my first professional job is only temporary and ends around Thanksgiving, the assistance a group such as this could provide would be great.

    Having finished my formal schooling, I’m looking at all the Continuing Education opportunities provided by SAA…and find myself wincing because of the cost and how geographically remote many of the classes are from myself. And I’m certainly not the only new professional likely facing this challenge!

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