SAA I&A Steering Share

This post first appeared on the Society of American Archivists’ Issues & Advocacy Section’s blog.


Steering Shares  provide an opportunity to learn more about the I&A Steering Committee and the issues that the committee members care about. This introduction post comes courtesy of committee member Steve Duckworth, University Archivist at Oregon Health & Science University.

What is your favorite thing about your job or the archives profession?

My favorite thing about the archives profession, in general, is that within every collection I’ve seen, even the ones that are 95% bland meeting minutes, I manage to find something that intrigues me or makes me laugh (often just at the absurdity of the past). And I think this really informs how I see and deal with the present. I’m a late-comer to the archives profession so perhaps this will wear off someday, but I rather hope not.

The thing I enjoy most about my current job though, is that I get to work with and mentor a couple of library school students. I work in a health and sciences archives (i.e., medical/nursing/dental/etc. school), so we don’t have a library program. However, we do have a bit of money in the budget to hire student workers and since Portland has an MLIS program (at Emporia State University), there is a good pool of library students to hire for these positions. So, even though I don’t officially teach any archives courses, I do get to train and mentor these students in archival practices; help them shape their resumes and cover letters, and navigate the job application process; and guide them as they find their own voices and places within the profession. I get to answer their questions, learn more about what they are being taught in school, and have my choices and assumptions questioned. So, not only are they learning and gaining professional experience, I’m constantly learning from them and reevaluating the work I do.

Having been a music teacher before embarking upon the archivist lifestyle, getting this experience back – of teaching what I know and learning from those I teach – is something I highly value having in my life again.

What made you want to join the I&A Steering Committee?

I had already been involved with I&A – having been on one of the on-call research teams for 2 years. Being still relatively new to the profession, I was finding my niche and really liked what I saw coming out of the I&A Section. I liked how they tackled both issues within the profession itself and within archives, as well as related concerns in current news and events. And I was also drawn to the different forms of blog writings that they had invited anyone to contribute to. To me, it seemed like they were working hard to make anyone feel like they could be a part of the change they wanted to see.

I especially liked (and even once wrote for) the “Archivists on the Issues” series – where the ever ‘neutral’ archivists were finally allowed to have a public opinion. Anyway, after two years of on-call news searching and blogging, the call for Steering Committee members spoke to me … I could have a say in the future of this group and the initiatives they take on for the next two years. So, now I get to manage one of those news teams, write blog entries (such as this), and help shape the direction of I&A.

What is an archival issue that means a lot to you?

One of the thorns in my side with the archives profession how we value our labor – or do not value our labor. We have a lot of unpaid labor happening, and this is something many people have spoken of. We also have a lot of under-paid labor. And a ton of temporary positions. And contract positions. Many of us are aware of these concerns. I was personally lucky enough to move into permanent employment after one project archivist position, but I know plenty of people who bounce around from project position to project position – and not out of the sheer joy of relocating every year or two.

I have a related issue with passion. I truly hope you love your job and enjoy going to work every day. However, if you’re being paid to work 40 hours per week, but end up working 50, 60, or more hours on a regular basis because of your passion (or the tenure-track-inflicted passion you are required to exude), you are also part of the problem. I’m sure this statement will bother a lot of people, but unpaid work in all forms devalues the work archivists do. When we accept lower pay and higher hours, we signal to people that we can get by, that our work isn’t worth that much, that money isn’t a huge concern – because we love what we do. [Editor’s note: Fobazi Ettarh writes eloquently about this in her post “Vocational Awe?”]

This devaluation also hinders access to the profession. If you can afford to be underpaid or potentially unemployed after a 2-year position ends or move to a new city to take one of these jobs where you’ll likely have to pay for your own healthcare and miss out on employer sponsored retirement savings – you probably have some privilege you may not even be aware of. Your privilege may also allow you to work extra hours because you can afford to only have one job or you are single or don’t have children or are coupled and have easier access to child care (there are a lot of ways this can play out; I’m just trying to make a point). This leaves the not-so-privileged trailing behind in the race to find a job – and then the rest of us sit around and try to figure out how to diversify the profession. I don’t mean to rant here, but perhaps this is where my passion has gone. Perhaps working as a struggling freelance musician for over a decade before entering this profession taught me more about the value of work and the joys of employee-sponsored benefits. Perhaps I’m trying to use my own privilege to affect some change. And obviously I don’t have this all figured out yet. But, this is definitely an issue that needs more attention.