Friday, December 31, 2010

Vinegar Syndrome

Those interested in going to graduate school to study archival science should be required to watch this video first (thanks to the Derangement and Description blog). I think we can all agree that the way grad students are exploited in the archives profession is deplorable.  Most students take unpaid internships hoping this will somehow propel them into a paying position upon graduation. Some very rare students are actually able to get paid for their work, but the wages paid are hardly enough to live on.  At least grad students who are TA's generally get tuition remission, a stipend, and health care.  As Maureen Callahan exposed in the blog You Ought To Be Ashamed, the poor treatment of grad students tends to drag the whole profession down. The job Maureen examines is a 20 hour per week position for a grad student.  There is a $19k a year stipend, but the student still has to pay full tuition, and of course there are no benefits to be seen.  Maureen puts the situation best by saying:

Let’s just start with the obvious. A yearly stipend of 19K fucking sucks. It just does. It. Fucking. Sucks. It’s shameful. It’s below the poverty line for a family. Do we as a profession say that it’s reasonable that a scholar should sacrifice a family in order to be a scholar when s/he very likely already has debt from his/her professional degree...  So what happens is that students who are in either pretty okay financial circumstances, or who have financial safety nets, apply for these kinds of positions. And students who might be willing to take a risk and enter a profession that traditionally hasn’t embraced them might not be willing to take the double-risk of financial hardship and an uncertain job future.

In fairness, there are worse situations. Many students are unable to be Teaching Assistants, or Research Assistants, or even use their work study funds in any way.  But is this the best on offer?  19k per year for 20 hours a week of work is actually not bad, unless you consider the cost of attendance for an out of state grad student at this school is over $43k per year.
Often enough, the worst part about jobs like this is that these duties should be performed by a qualified professional archivist, but instead these duties are given to an unpaid graduate student intern.

The blog You Ought to Be Ashamed draws attention to job postings for archivists which offer low wages, or generally degrade the profession.  I'm sure there are plenty of these to be found in Ireland and the UK.  I recently came across this posting for a Legal Archivist. To start, the wage offered is £18,000 per year.  This is well below the minimum suggested salary as set out by the Archives and Records Association, which is £22,001.  For this wage, the candidate is expected to:

Main duties
* Archiving:
Responsible for collecting, cataloguing and managing the firm's files for archiving and continually updating the process when necessary.
Organising storage and retrieval of files, deeds, wills and probates and updating all relevant databases.
* General Office duties:
Scanning requests and print jobs.
Post runs.
Internal and external deliveries.
Franking of mail.
Furniture moves.
Dealing with day to day queries.
Monitoring the General Office email account.
Booking couriers.
Other duties as reasonably requested by the General Office Supervisor.

Post Runs? Furniture Moves? Clearly, what this firm is seeking is a file clerk, not an archivist.  It is postings like these which confuse the public about what an archivist is, and what sort of expertise we have.  Postings like these drive down the statistical average wage of archivists, which hurts all of us when it's time to negotiate one's salary.  As other blogs have stated, there needs to be a conscious effort from members of the Archival Profession to alert employers when they are advertising unsuitable positions - whether it is an insufficient wage for the experience required, or a misuse of the term "archivist." We all must actively educate the public about our profession.

An Introduction

I received my MA in Archives Administration last May and promptly moved to Ireland to be with my partner. Though I love the idea of living in Ireland, the reality is quite harsh.  Archives are not taken very seriously in the public sector, and therefore are also widely ignored in the private sector. 

This poor attitude towards archives has received significant attention this year with some mention on RTE, as well as in articles written by Fintan O'Toole.  In April a symposium titled "Archives in Crisis" was held in Dublin.  Indeed it is high time there was public discussion about the government's management of records of historical significance, as well as records containing personal information.

As Noam Chomsky succinctly stated in 1966, "It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies."  We, as Archivists, provide access to the primary documents required to conduct thorough research and expose the truth.  Without the diligent archivist, no intellectual could gain access to the evidence they require to enforce accountability and transparency.

To truly say we are part of a participatory democracy, all levels of society must have access to the information required to make an educated decision at election time. This is how we avoid becoming the democratic bourgeois state described by Lenin as a place where, "the toiling masses... see and realize perfectly well that the bourgeois parliaments are institutions alien to them, instruments for the oppression of the proletarians by the bourgeoisie, institutions of a hostile class, of the exploiting minority."  Transparency is critical to ensure the masses are not being exploited by a few elite members of government. It is therefore no wonder that the government has invested no resources in maintaining its archives and making government documents accessible.