Archivy etc.

opinions, occasional rants, and sometimes things that have nothing to do with archives at all. Nothing here should be assumed to be reflective of my employer's opinion(s) nor should it be assumed that at anytime afterward, this is what I still think.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The fantasies of Attila

I have this archival placement fantasy.

My archival fantasy is that the first job out of grad school is in a medium to large size archives where the new person has giving, caring, and more experienced archivists available to act as professional mentors.

My archival fantasy is that this job pays enough that the worker can afford rent. And food. And make payments on student loans.

My archival fantasy is that this job provides the ability to really dig into the basic work of archives (processing AND reference) but also to take part in the broader work of the archival profession (appraisal, donor work, outreach, teaching, digital projects, and whatever the future might hold).

My archival fantasy is that the first professional position is a resume builder, not a placeholder.

My archival fantasy is that the position allows the archivist to learn about the wider world of archival work so they can make a conscious decision about their career directions rather than just being forced into a direction based on the focus of the position or their inability to translate it into a new and better job.

My archival fantasy is that every archivist regards their first professional position as a stepping stone, not necessarily something to be turned into a permanent sinecure nor something to be survived.

My archival fantasy is that university administrations take partial responsibility for the ability of their graduates to be placed post-degree. [The corollary fantasy is that funding allocator for universities stop regarding professional degrees solely as an income-generating resource. Another corollary fantasy is that students thinking about enrolling demand to see longitudinal placement statistics specific to their course of study.]

My archival fantasy is that any archives with 3 or more professionals on staff decide they have an obligation to pay the profession forward and have at least one of those positions dedicated to professional development of a new archivist. [The corollary fantasy here is that they also take ownership of their job descriptions and fight the good fight with HR and Admin to advertise the job they actually have on offer and then do everything in their power to hire appropriately credentialed employees.]

My archival fantasy is mine and not to everyone's tastes.

My archival fantasy has a very narrow scope and may not be all that practical in the real world.

My archival fantasy is what all fantasies are, and presumes I'm perfect, incredibly flexible, and capable of achieving all of the above, all at once.

But I also have fantasies about the USDA rewriting the food pyramid and putting raspberries and chocolate as one of the foundational levels so FWIW.


  1. Thank you for posting this fabulous 'fantasy.' I've worked in Archives as an employee of a Consulting Archivist for the last 8 years; November 25th will be my last day. I lived your fantasy, coming out of undergrad (being an adult student w/a prior career) and started processing only. What irreplaceable experience I gained! I learned all the most important lessons, hands on. Three years in I was working as a lone arranger in a variety of different repositories, from a corporate, to private club to historical society. Ah, but I haven't worked full time (no more than 35 hrs/wk & that was only 1 year) and have no benefits. Not only have I not been able to pay back my undergrad loans, the concept of taking on an additional $50-60k in loans to get my MLS would be, well, stupid. But, because the job market is flooded with people with MLS degrees who have zero experience but who are 'more qualified' than I am (yes, I lost a client because of this very scenario and have had no response to every job I've applied for, all of which 'require' an MLS for entry level positions) I will be out of work. So, the experience I have, which I'd love to share with others, will be lost when I can no longer work because I don't have a piece of paper, but schools will continue to make money as they churn out more individuals with the piece of paper I need. I just want to be able to keep the roof over my head and food in my stomach; as a (purportedly) intelligent person, I shouldn't have to work at Target to do that (although I got declined there because I was 'overqualified'). *sigh* I certainly hope some day your fantasy comes true.

  2. I'm sorry, Laura. Your position sucks, and you're absolutely right that going further into debt for a degree doesn't make a lot of sense if you're still not going to be able to get a job. And if it's really just a piece of paper making the difference, that would be infuriating and I get that.

    But please be careful with waving around terms like "just a piece of paper," okay? Some diplomas can be. Some aren't, and for those of us who worked hard to get through one of the programs that didn't just give us a piece of paper, that's insulting, to say the least.

    My graduate degree gave me a lot. Including a lot of debt and stress and work (but hey, that's a permanent gig in this profession). But it also gave me an unparalleled opportunity to go through the professional discovery process surrounded by others just as engaged as I was in that discovery process, mentored by people who knew their stuff. A chance to discuss, late at night over drinks at a local club, all those questions that sometimes in our worklife, we just don't have time to sit back and think about on a meta scale. I wouldn't trade that piece of paper in for anything. Not the money back, not the years back. I think it made me an archivist I couldn't have been otherwise.

    I know amazing individuals who did it without a degree. And the ones I know worked incredibly hard to get there and probably took the equivalent of a masters degree in continuing ed. We just chose different sacrifices and different paths. Find the right employer and it's not an issue.

    That I require a masters degree in archival studies in my recruitments is not an arbitrary whim though. It might be for some institutions, not all places put the same amount of thought that I do into planning my recruitments. (The word obsessed has been used more than once by more than one person in the last year.) And the why is a subject for a full posting, not a comment. Maybe I'll get to that after I finish up this next recruitment.

  3. Thank you, Arlene, for saying what needed to be said. Believe me, I DO understand how difficult graduate level studies are and I did not intend to in any way diminish the hard work, dedication, and commitment it takes to get a graduate degree. I certainly don't think for a minute that hiring decisions aren't incredibly difficult today with the number of highly qualified candidates all vying for a few jobs.

    Sadly, my point was clouded: that there are people who have made the same commitment through the work itself who are in fear of losing their jobs because, if they do, they won't get another one because they haven't had the resources (money, time or both) to get a graduate degree. That collective knowledge is lost forever as positions are closed or lost to more qualified candidates; those with graduate degrees.

    Thank you again, for both your post and your response to my comment.