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An Evaluation of the Stimulus Package and Resources for LAM Professionals

A lot has happened since my last post on March 26. (If you’re new or wish to read it again, you can find it here). On Friday night the $2-trillion dollar stimulus bill was passed by the House and signed by the President. It’s the largest bill in US history and was passed in record time out of necessity. As a result, many pundits acknowledge it’s far from perfect and that there’s still more work to be done in the long-term. As a profession that’s heavily impacted by this current crisis, it’s very important that we understand what resources are available in the stimulus package and identify what we still need.

This post covers the following topics: 1. The stimulus package and what it means for archives, museums, and cultural heritage organizations; 2. Surveys that are tracking impacted professionals; and 3. Free webinars to help you get through this challenging time.

If you’re not familiar with the LAM acronym it means: Libraries, Archives, and Museums.


THE STIMULUS PACKAGE AND WHAT’S IN IT FOR US

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the National Council of Nonprofits, and the National Humanities Alliance have all weighed in with their initial thoughts. To summarize, the National Endowment for Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the IMLS will collectively receive $200-million from this stimulus package. Details are forthcoming on how and when the money will be distributed from these agencies. Additionally, nonprofits can apply for loans that include a forgiveness component, with certain eligibility parameters in place. And, a charitable giving provision was put in place for an above-the-line deduction up to $300 in cash donations.

This is viewed as a good start, but much more is needed to fully support LAMs. As a point of comparison, Germany approved a $50-billion aid package with more substantial funds allocated to support their small businesses, freelance artists, and cultural organizations.

KEEP WRITING YOUR REPRESENTATIVES — MORE AID IS NEEDED

Considering US cultural organizations asked for $4-billion and received less than 5% of their request, you can see we have a long way to go toward getting the resources we need to navigate the economic part of this crisis. As AAM stated in their letter last week, “We estimate as many as 30 percent of museums, mostly in small and rural communities, will not re-open without significant and immediate emergency financial assistance.” This is still true unless more resources are provided. If your organization is struggling, it’s imperative you write your representatives. Please use this easy fill in the blank template to contact your representatives. More information on this important action can be found in my previous post, here.


THE HUMAN IMPACT

As with many industries, archives, museums, and cultural heritage organizations have been unexpectedly thrust into an economic crisis on top of the pandemic crisis. There is the very real human toll on us physically and psychologically. And there is the economic toll on us as the organizations we work for begin to shutter operations and furlough staff in an effort to slow the quick trip to bankruptcy. As of this week, 3.3 million Americans have filed for unemployment and we’re just in the first few weeks of the pandemic impacting the economy.

Several surveys have been created by grassroots organizers to help capture the human and economic toll, and I’m sharing them with you here (below). If you are one of the many who have lost their job, please fill out these surveys so that we can know the full extent of this economic crisis. Any future plans for economic recovery will need this information. Please participate and share with your peers so that they can be counted too.

TRACKING LAYOFF/FURLOUGH SURVEYS

Contingent Archival Workers and COVID-19

Archives Staff Impact During COVID-19

Museum Staff Impact During COVID-19

RELATED RESOURCES FOR PEOPLE

Art + Museum Transparency Twitter thread is tracking museum layoff news.

Archives Workers Emergency Fund is a group of peers preparing to set up an emergency fund for archival workers in contingent positions who may be affected by COVID-19, have limited workplace protections or sick time, and may suffer the loss of income as institutions close and move to remote work in response to the pandemic.

The Americans for the Arts’ dashboard for The Economic Impact of Coronavirus on the Arts and Culture Sector provides the latest results from Americans for the Arts’ ongoing survey. They hope to capture coronavirus-related economic impact reports from artists, arts organizations, and arts agencies of all types, genres, sizes, and tax statuses. To participate you can fill out their survey here.

RELATED RESOURCES FOR ORGANIZATIONS

AAM’s Strategies for Short-term Financial Survival, a collection of resources and information to help you create short-term strategies for navigating the coming weeks and months.

AAM’s Financial Relief and Resources, a living list with updates made regularly. The resources listed are to help museums develop short-term and long-term fiscal strategies to keep your museum afloat.


FREE WEBINARS

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This crisis has helped to inspire multiple free webinar opportunities for archives, museums, and cultural heritage staff to learn new things. Here are a few upcoming webinars to help you navigate this crisis.

“Mitigating COVID-19 When Managing Paper-Based, Circulating, and Other Types of Collections,” offered by IMLS, featuring Dr. David Berendes and Dr. Catherine Rasberry from the Centers for Disease Control. March 30 @11am Pacific. Register here.

“Deriving Value from Collections in the Time of Corona,” offered by SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness, featuring Rachael Woody (myself), Margot Note of Margot Note Consulting, and Chris Cummings of Pass it Down. April 7 @12pm Pacific. RSVP here. Join here.

“How to Captivate, Connect, and Communicate with Your Audience During Coronavirus,” offered by Cuseum, featuring Brendan Ciecko (CEO & Founder @ Cuseum), with special guests Susan Edwards (Associate Director, Digital Content @ Hammer Museum) and Koven Smith (Museum & Nonprofit Digital Strategy Consultant). On-Demand.

And related AAM article, “4 Ways Museums Can Successfully Leverage Digital Content and Channels During Coronavirus (COVID-19),” by Brendan Ciecko of Cuseum.


corgipups

Many of us are entering into week 3 of social distancing. As we make our way through this I hope that you are finding solace in your friends, family, and community. If I can help support you better, please tell me how. Until then, here’s a picture from when my babies we’re young. Through them I try to find small moments of joy.

If you know colleagues who need access to these resources please send them a link to this post. They can also sign up for my newsletter here.

Image courtesy of Regan Vercruysse, via Flickr’s Creative Commons, and follows the Creative Commons Attribution License. Image downloaded for use March 2020, and was not purposefully altered. All other image and text owned by Rachael Cristine Consulting LLC.

COVID-19: Five Actions to Take Right Now for Archives, Museums, and Cultural Heritage Organizations

I hope this post finds you and your family safe and healthy during this challenging and unprecedented time. Archives, museums, and cultural heritage organizations across the US have had to shut their doors quickly and with little notice to staff and the communities they support. While we’re worried about the organizational logistics and health implications for the short-term, we’re also incredibly anxious about the economic implications in the long-term. For myself, it’s the future unknown and inability to plan that kills me. We are already seeing and experiencing the effects of COVID-19 that go beyond our physical health and we feel so unprepared for it. But, we can take baby steps and make our way to a future that’s a little more certain.

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The purpose of this post is to give you five actions that you can take right now to help you and your organization. For each of these actions you’ll find helpful guides and links to free resources to help you navigate the uncertain future we all face.

ACTIONS

ACTION 1: WRITE YOUR REPRESENTATIVES
As of writing this, the Senate appears to have reached a deal with the White House to pass a 2-trillion dollar stimulus bill. Details for the bill and whether it adequately covers the arts, culture, and humanities industries is unknown, and the bill still needs to pass the House of Representatives. It is imperative that our representatives hear from us. You need to communicate clearly just how, exactly, COVID-19 is impacting you and your organization. While an impassioned narrative will certainly help, quantifying (with numbers) is going to make it easier for your representatives to understand how this crisis has impacted you and what they can do to help you. I know writing letters to your representatives may not be top of mind, especially in our current state of overwhelm, but it’s absolutely necessary to do it now. To help you out, I’ve provided a “fill in the blank” template so that you can quickly and effectively state your case and ask for what you need. You can find your elected officials via the Senate and House contact pages. And I recommend you include your Governor to get support at the local level.

Write Your Representatives Template

ACTION 2: SHARE CALLS FOR SIGNATURES AND SURVEYS
In addition to signing proforma letters and taking related surveys (below), it’s important that you share them with your staff, peers, and community. The more information we gather now, the better our future decisions will be, and the better off we’ll all be. Please distribute the following calls for signatures and surveys to your community as you find appropriate.

Tell Congress: Include Museums in COVID-19 Economic Relief by American Alliance of Museums is a pro-forma letter requesting museums are included in a relief package.

Urge Support for the Humanities Community During the COVID-19 Crisis by the National Humanities Alliance seeks support for the humanities in the stimulus package.

Sign-on Letter for the Lankford Amendment by the National Council of Nonprofits. Senator James Lankford (R-OK) is planning to propose an amendment to the Senate COVID-19 Stimulus bill that would, for 2020, create an above-the-line deduction for charitable donations.

The Economic Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on the Arts and Cultural Sector by Americans for the Arts is a 5-minute survey to capture the financial and human impact of COVID-19.

Contingent Archival Workers Survey is an informal survey by the archivist community and is for both United States and Canada-based professionals. From the call: If you are a #displacedarchivist — if you are furloughed, working remotely, working reduced hours, or otherwise no longer working within your institution — or if you are concerned about the effect of COVID-19 on your workplace status, income, or access to sick time and family leave time, we would like to hear from you.

ACTION 3: FIND AND JOIN YOUR COMMUNITY ONLINE
You may already have your personal network available to you via social media channels. But, if you haven’t already, I invite you to find your professional community online. It’s through these informal channels where professional support and problem-solving is happening in real-time, and you can find quick answers when you need them. Where does your industry live and communicate? For me, I find lively conversation with archivists via Twitter and receive helpful insight and important updates for museums on Facebook. And the good news is you don’t need an account to view (though you do need one to participate). I’ve created a quick reference infographic to help you find these communities and join the ones most appropriate to you.

Find My Community Online

ACTION 4: KNOW YOUR GRANT DEADLINES AND APPLY
I realize applying for grants may be the furthest thing from your mind right now. But, they shouldn’t be. Many granting agencies and foundations have received their money for the year and it’s there, right now, ready to be handed out. And, it may not be there next year as the nation attempts to rebalance and recalibrate. If you have projects that you can get grant application ready, now is the time. Pay attention to the grant opportunities you’re eyeing and get to work! You may not have the opportunity to do so later. If you’re a little rusty on the grant writing side, don’t worry, I’ve got you. If you haven’t already, download a free e-copy of my book A Survivor’s Guide to Museum Grant Writing (button below), and check out my free webinars available via Lucidea. If you’re stuck on finding a grant worthy project, here’s a post on the Top 4 Funding Ideas for Museums. And, if you’re not sure where to find the right funding opportunities for you, here’s a post on How to Find the Best Museum Grant Funding Opportunity. Note: While “museum” is in each of these titles, these resources are appropriate and adaptable for libraries, archives, and other cultural heritage organizations.

Link to Request the Free e-Book

ACTION 5: INVEST IN YOURSELF
There is only so much we can do *right now*. I know it may sound odd, but the best thing you can do right now for you and for your organization is to invest in yourself. During this challenging time we find ourselves with the unexpected opportunity of open-ended time and focus. No matter what things look like on the other side of COVID-19, I know there are skills you’re going to need to not just survive, but thrive. What skills have you wanted to learn, but haven’t had the time to? What articles have you wanted to write? Which colleagues have you always wanted to collaborate with? I’m telling you: the time is now. For my part, I’m converting my grant workshops to an online platform and hope to make those available to you in the near future. If you’re interested in getting in on the pre-launch invite please reply to this email and let me know. Until then, here are a few free webinars happening this week:

Society of American Archivists’ Independent Archivists Section presents Authors Among Us: A Conversation with Christina Zamon, Rachael Woody, and Margot Note. RSVP here and join live here. When: March 26 @11am Pacific. A recording will be made available.

Margot Note, owner of Margot Note Consulting LLC presents Close Together/Far Apart: Creating Family Archives While Social Distancing. RSVP here. When: March 29 @10am Pacific.

Society of American Archivists presents Archival Advocacy at Home, an on-demand webinar currently available for free here. When: On-Demand.

MuseWeb is offering its annual conference programming online, free for MuseWeb members as a membership benefit. Membership is $120. When: March 31- April 4.

TAKE A BREATH AND CONNECT

I know these are uncertain times and we don’t know when we’ll return to “normal”. But, I do know we’ll get through this. Even during a time of extreme physical isolation, I see we are strengthening our connections with each other. If you need support, professional or not, please reach out to me. And if there’s information or resources you need that you don’t see here, please let me know.

If you know colleagues who need access to these resources please forward this message. They can also sign up for my newsletter here.

FAQs for Peers and Students

Frequently Asked Questions…

This post isn’t for clients. This post is for those who want to interview me about how I became an archivist. It’s also for my fellow archivists interested in how I setup my consulting business and how I became a consultant.* Before you reach out with your query, read the previous Q&A’s, blog posts, and other resources I’ve created.

For Students:

1) Do you have an area of specialization within your field?

I specialize in launching emerging archival programs in institutions that have never had a formal archive before. I also specialize in digital infrastructure (DAMS, CMS, etc) for publishing collection content online in a sustainable and pragmatic fashion. Finally, I specialize in grant acquisition strategy — because so many of us need outside money to fund our work. A lot of my clients don’t have a ton of resources or dedicated staff so I have to build them something they can effectively maintain. More details here: https://offtherecord.archivists.org/2018/06/04/guest-post-becoming-an-archives-consultant/.

2) How did you get into your field?

I was a History major in undergrad and wanted to stay in history, but not be a teacher. (Seemingly the only known option). My undergrad advisor told me to intern at the Oregon Historical Society (museum) where I interned in several departments and found out there was this magical place — the archives. I wanted a job where I could play with history all day and not limit myself by specializing, so the archives was the perfect place. More details available here:
http://si-siris.blogspot.com/2011/02/thing-about-interns-is.html.

3) What are some likes and dislikes about your work?

I dislike how archivists as a collective can get bogged down in perfectionism and adhering to past practices. Yes, standards and methodology are important, but we also have to be practical and meet people where they’re at. It’s important that historical items be out there and used, as opposed to having them languish because we’re chasing after something unattainable.

I like that archivists as a whole are increasingly turning their attention towards community engagement. I feel it is our prime directive as archivists to preserve and make history accessible. The best way to do that — the most impactful way to do that — is engage our audiences and ensure we’re serving them.

4) What is the most challenging part of this field?

Right now I believe the most challenging part of the field is articulating our value. We’ve always had a problem with general audiences not knowing what we do. Worse, is people who kind of know what we do and don’t value the work. We have a battle before us. You can read more of my thoughts here: https://archivesaware.archivists.org/2018/12/19/responses-and-retrospectives-rachael-woody-on-the-decline-of-history-majors-and-its-impact-on-archives/.

5) Do you have any major accomplishments within your field?

Starting my own business I consider a major accomplishment. Not only do I have to sell myself, I have to sell the value we bring as archives professionals. I’ve also published a book: A Survivor’s Guide to Museum Grant Writing. I’m also very proud of the work I’ve done at each institution as there are several tangible and intangible benefits I’m leaving them with. I’m mid-career, so I feel like I’m in the planting-seed phase. I’m part of several groups and conversations to help move our profession forward and I look forward to seeing their fruition.

6) Do you have any advice for someone who wants to enter your field?

I do have advice. Specialize in what you are passionate about. Pay attention to what the field *needs* versus what it’s currently offering. This will help set you apart, keep your career exciting, and make you invaluable to the profession. Here are a couple posts with additional detail: http://si-siris.blogspot.com/2010/10/how-can-i-get-job-libraries-archives.html, and http://si-siris.blogspot.com/2011/06/ask-archivist-advice-column.html, and http://inalj.com/?p=2420.

Students, if you still have questions that weren’t already answered here, please email me your remaining questions.

For Archivists Interested in Writing:

I participated on an authors panel for the Society of American Archivists (SAA) Independent Archivists section. Authors Among Us: A Conversation with Three Archivist Authors is available via YouTube.

Interested in Consulting:

Please read this Q&A interview from SAA’s Off the Record blog: https://offtherecord.archivists.org/2018/06/04/guest-post-becoming-an-archives-consultant/.  Please also watch this 1-hour webinar I provided for SAA’s Independent Archivists’ section:

*If you still have questions, please email me requesting an NDA to sign. The NDA will need to be signed before any scheduling of a conversation can occur.

Where Our Professional Conferences Fail Us

Why failing to provide certain courtesies and services at conferences are costly discrimination tactics.

 I’m cold and I’m starving. It’s been two days and there’s another long one ahead of me before I can leave in search of food. My mind is tired. My body is tired. And I’m trying to find my compassion for the conference organizers as I explain for the dozenth time that I’m gluten-free (gf) and dairy-free (df) and yes, cheese is dairy. I’m at a conference and unfortunately this is typically how it goes. What are my options?

  • Be hungry and angry – hangry. No fun for anyone. (Personal Cost)
  • Hope and pray the city/town has gf & df options and that those options deliver. (Financial Cost)
  • Leave the conference and miss educational sessions or valuable opportunities to network with colleagues so that I can find real (non-salad) food. (Financial and Professional Cost)

None of these options are good and all of them cost me. Not only did my registration fee go towards food I can’t eat and sessions I’ll potentially miss, but now I’m also spending more money to buy food I can actually eat.

This is my own personal conference issue, but there are more issues that exist and they’re all rooted in fundamental exclusion. Or, to put it more plainly (and no, this isn’t hyperbole), it’s discrimination.

Where’s the DEAI in “Conference”?

Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) are not a trend. Each is a principle that has a long history and these principals are experiencing a renaissance. Right now, in my museum and archive conference circuit, I see DEAI play out in presentations with a few institutions beginning to experiment with what DEAI can look like. What’s ironic, and sad, is that we as a conference community don’t even think about how we can apply DEAI to the conference experience.

Gender and the Right to Pee

In our growing awareness and support of the LGBTQIA community one of the actions we are taking is to provide gender neutral bathrooms. Everyone has the right to choose which bathroom they wish to pee in and the right to do so in peace and safety. An added benefit to this change is that there are now even more bathroom options available for those that tend to pee more frequently and often suffer longer lines – women. The museum, library, and archive fields are statistically dominated by women and yet every conference location offers the same number of men’s and women’s toilets. Stripping the gender requirement from toilets helps to bring equality to the conference experience for both the LGBTQIA community and women.

I now challenge us to more fundamentally change how we support the LGBTQIA community. Here are some recommendations:

  • Stop asking for “preferred” pronouns and just ask for pronouns.
  • Offer educational sessions or pamphlets with suggestions on how we can transition our language to be gender neutral. No more sayings like “you guys”, people.
  • Review and actively alter our collections to be inclusive of the LGBTQIA community. Libraries, you’ve made a great start. Archives and Museums? We can do better.

Conferences Don’t Need be Religious but People Are

Larger conference centers have non-descript prayer rooms. Some conference programs will assist with directing people to local religious centers, but there is room for improvement. Our conference season typically occur during religious holidays. For example, Ramadan often takes place while the weather is heating up and conference season is upon us. Ramadan requires fasting from sunrise to sunset for those who observe the Muslim faith. Our conferences tend to happen in hot places during hot times of the year because that’s what’s cheap. Can you imagine attending an all-day conference while fasting and in 100+ degree heat? Do you know what makes it worse? People who ask why you’re not eating and then apologize (while still eating), turning the conversation to you and why you’re not eating – and maybe that’s just none of their business?

Here’s how we can begin to do better:

  • Offer education and awareness to all conference attendees about what religious holidays may be taking place during the conference and what those religious times require of those who observe the faith.
  • Offer dedicated prayer rooms with appropriate items of all faiths and make sure it’s clearly marked on the conference program and website.
  • Be thoughtful about when and where our conferences are and make better decisions around how we support people who are practicing their faith while they’re conferencing with us.

 If I Have to Eat One More God Damn Salad I will Scream

Salads are great, just not as entrees and certainly not as entrees for every meal. It’s absolutely incredible to me that conference food organizers forget the simple principle that everyone’s meal should meet nutritional standards. Each meal should offer protein, starch, and vegetables. Instead, I’m often left to ask the conference hosts which foods I can eat only to discover I can have the salad and maybe the red meat.  How hard is it to put the cheese or cream sauce on the side and offer steamed rice? Additionally, dairy-free options would help to nutritionally support those who eat kosher or halal.

Dietary restrictions exist for many reasons: religious, health, or none of your fucking business. My dietary restrictions are in place to help manage my chronic pain and autoimmune issues. I adhere to them in order to function and this is especially true while at a conference where I need to feel my best in a place that’s not my home.

Here’s how to do better:

  • Require that each conference meal offer protein, starch, and vegetables that meet every dietary restriction.
  • Clearly label food!
  • Have the local arrangements committee or conference staff research restaurants that accommodate dietary restrictions and clearly identify those on the conference website and program.
  • Support food delivery to the conference site, especially if the food options are inadequate.
  • If the conference can’t or refuses to provide appropriate nutrition then provide a discount for conference registration.

Conferences Are for Extroverts

Conferences are geared toward extroverts: those who are energized by being with other people. Introverts and those living with conditions where they can be emotionally or sensorially overwhelmed need a place to retreat to in order to take care of their needs and reenergize. My attendance at the American Alliance of Museums was the first time I encountered the Quiet Room. The Quiet Room also served as the Nursing Room, which was not the wisest decision as kids don’t care to be quiet. But, the room had the lights dimmed, talking was frowned upon, there were comfy chairs, and water and tea were provided. It was seriously heaven within the conference din. Studies show that at least 50% of the population are introverts, so why are conferences extrovert-centric? We need to find a more balanced approach in order for both personalities to thrive within a conference setting.

We Are Not Kidless Automatons

Kids are a thing. Many people have them and yet you wouldn’t know it due the complete lack of acknowledgement or support from our places of work or professional conferences. Some conferences are beginning to offer nursing rooms and that’s a start. But can we get a daycare in here?! By not offering subsidized childcare, conferences are forcing professionals to choose between personal or professional sacrifice. As a society, we know this burden impacts women disproportionately. And again, women make up the majority of the library, archive, and museum communities. So, certainly we should be doing a better job of supporting women and families, right?

Also, kids or not, conferences need to take place during the work week. In our profession we already sacrifice a lot, we shouldn’t be required to sacrifice our personal time, time with our families, to attend a work conference.

We’re All Here to Learn, But Can We?

There’re the above issues I’ve mentioned and each have their own nasty outcomes when needs aren’t met. The universal outcome of not supporting these groups is that their opportunity and ability to learn will be negatively impacted.

We’re also (still) failing those who live with different physical abilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 and almost 30-years later we still suck at including this community.

Here’s how we can do better:

  • Collect all slides ahead of time and provide them on the conference website for download so that screen readers and other ADA tools can be used during presentations.
  • Require the microphone to be used at all times. I don’t know what it is with people thinking they’re loud enough that they don’t need a mic. You may not think you need a mic, but guaranteed there are other people who need you to use the mic. Additionally, I’ve been to locations where microphones weren’t automatically provided. They need to be there every time, no matter what.
  • Presenters need to audibly describe the images and text on their slides so that all contextual information to the presentation is conveyed.
  • Make sure your font is at least font size 22 and clearly legible.
  • Resources should be provided to presenters and speakers to assist them in crafting their presentations to be as accessible as possible.

This is Costing Me and It’s Costing Us

Conferences cost money. It costs money to attend (which goes towards all my salads). It costs me more money to feed myself outside the conference food. And it costs me money if I have to leave the conference to find food. If I or others can’t attend a conference then it costs us the professional development opportunity and the ability to connect with colleagues. This can have a repeated negative impact on our careers.

And it costs the profession if I or any of the persons who fall in the groups I’ve covered decide we can’t attend a conference because our attendance isn’t supported. That means the profession misses our contributions to the professional community with the compound effect of limiting diversity within the participating profession.

 Can We Do Better?

Can you imagine discriminating against the following?:

  • LGBTQIA persons
  • Women
  • People of faith
  • People with dietary restrictions
  • People with health issues
  • People who need mental and/or emotional introversion
  • People with children
  • People with varying physical abilities

That’s a long list with many on it belonging to communities that have been repeatedly and systematically discriminated against. Discrimination doesn’t have to be an active act to prevent or stop a group or persons from participating. In this instance, discrimination can be passive and impede or prevent a group or persons from participating through thoughtlessness or lack of prioritization. By not providing a conference experience built to include everyone in the library, archive, and museum communities we are discriminating against these groups.

With so much focus on DEAI we (as a conference community) need to start our practice by including and caring for the very people who attend our conferences.

RESPONSES AND RETROSPECTIVES: RACHAEL WOODY ON THE DECLINE OF HISTORY MAJORS AND ITS IMPACT ON ARCHIVES

This post was originally published on SAA’s “Archives AWARE” blog, December 19, 2018. Please view the original post here.

This is the first post in our new series Responses and Retrospectives, which features archivists’ personal responses and perspectives concerning current or historical events/subjects with significant implications for the archives profession. Interested in contributing to Responses and Retrospectives?  Please email the editor at [email protected] with your ideas!

This post was written by archivist and COPA member Rachael Woody as a response piece to the recent articles published in November and December 2018 stating that the History major (as well as the majority of other Humanities majors) have reached a “crisis” level of decline.

The decline of students who pursue humanities education and the noted decrease of those who seek history undergraduate degrees has been a concern since the Great Recession of 2008. It’s recent resurfacing as a crisis in late-November and early-December 2018 is a direct result of Benjamin Schmidt’s report, “The History BA Since the Great Recession: The 2018 AHA Majors Report,” published by the American Historical Association in its series Perspectives on History(November 26, 2018).

In Schmidt’s report[1] the history degree has seen the steepest decline among humanities degrees since 2008. Schmidt notes that the decline began due to the economic reality post-2008, but warns that this is not a temporary shift. He states, “That the declines have continued among students who entered college well into the economic recovery shows that the shifts are not just a temporary response to a missing job market; instead, there seems to have been a longer-term rethinking of what majors can do for students.”[2] He continues with indicating that related subjects that make up the majority of humanities’ degrees are also seeing long-term signs of decline.

Schmidt and others[3] attribute this decline in large-part to be related to the inaccurate perception that there are fewer career options paired with concerns of less earning potential. In terms of “fewer career options,” there are actually substantial statistics out there that prove persons with history degrees are employable across a broad spectrum of jobs. The claim of less earning potential is viewed as more accurate when comparing the history degree against STEM fields; however, recent studies are showing that history majors earn more than other humanities fields, including English, psychology, and sociology.[4]

So, what else could be contributing to this steep decline in the humanities? When interviewed by The Atlantic last August, Schmidt states his frustration with old tropes being “trotted out” to explain the crisis: student debt, postmodern relativism, and vanishing jobs. To the job aspect Schmidt emphasizes a critical difference in our collective understanding of why students aren’t majoring in humanities:

“Students aren’t fleeing degrees with poor job prospects. They’re fleeing humanities and related fields specifically because they think they have poor job prospects.”

But it’s not just about jobs. To think so would inaccurately simplify what is amounting to a critical, evolutionary shift in how we perceive the humanities.

In response to Schmidt’s report, Jason Steinhauer published a Time.com article on December 6, 2018, “Fewer Students Are Majoring in History, But We’re Asking the Wrong Questions About Why.” Steinhauer recalls successful cases of history degrees rebounding at Yale University and also at Villanova University, where he is director of the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest. When Yale noticed a decline in history majors (historically one if its most robust degrees), they asked students about it. In response the students indicated that it went beyond perceived job prospects and earnings—they wanted a logical path to follow (through the degree and out of it) and a cohort. Interestingly, these are also the hallmarks of STEM programs. STEM has evolved as an educational program to provide a variety of pathways students can follow towards a degree and a career, cohorts are formed that build in support and community, and there are clear and direct entries into a variety of jobs.

From these recent articles there are two main calls to action:

  1. The perception of job prospects and earning potential for history (and humanities) degrees needs to be critically evaluated. In addition to gathering and publicizing statistics, an effort needs to be made to show clear and definitive pathways into a variety of careers that provide livable wages.
  2. The way history is offered in academic institutions needs to evolve in order to attract and retain students. A restructuring of how the subject is taught, the introduction of support and communities, the ability to specialize in non-Euro- and U.S.-centric histories, and the regular interaction with history (primary resources) as if it were a lab should be pursued.

Why is this important to archives and archivists?

The importance of the decline of history programs within academic institutions is two-fold for the archives’ profession:

  1. If the decline of history degrees continues it will greatly impact the pool of interested and qualified applicants into the archives profession. This could lead to the atrophy of the profession as a whole and impact the overall care and management of archives across the United States.
  2. If there are fewer history departments, history classes, history students, and history professionals, then there will be fewer people who access and use the archives regularly. Archives being used less will have a compounding effect that can lead to a decrease in resources for the care and maintenance of those archives.

The abandonment of the history degree is being tied to the perceived lack of its financial and societal value. It is not a big leap to then assume that institutions tied to the study of history—archives and museums—are also decreasing in perceived value.

We have some related problems to consider.

It’s no secret that many archivists are struggling within the profession. The recent Wars/SAA Salary Survey and resulting 2017 SAA Annual Meeting panel presentation revealed some depressing statistics on the health of the profession. If you’re thinking, “We love our jobs and aren’t in it to make money,” you’re right about one thing: We aren’t in it to make money. However, the assertion that we love our jobs is complicated by the documented and concerning levels of mental (and, I would argue, physical) health issues archivists have developed as a result of their employment in the profession.

There’s also the, in my opinion, unethical predominance of unpaid internships and their inherent classism, the lack of availability of livable-wage entry-level jobs for graduate students, and the atrophy of mid-career jobs that are directly contributing to the overall devaluation from within the profession to address. From 2000[5], 2010[6], and 2015[7], SAA has published three separate articles in American Archivist studying the issue of the entry-level job market graduates face and revealing that inadequate salary is the number one or two reason archivists leave the profession. Across all three articles (spanning 15 years) these statements repeatedly occur:

  • Given cost of living, professional experience, and job scope, less than half of respondents indicated that their salary was “enough”
  • Due to the higher number of temporary and part-time positions paired with the evaluation that archivist salaries are insufficient in the majority of cases, many are leaving the archives profession
  • Two of the three studies (2000 and 2010) directly state that salary is one of the top reasons given for leaving the profession

Given that the cost of education to become an archivist is only increasing, it is understandable that many looking to join or who have recently joined the profession are alarmed at archivists’ relatively low salaries. And this isn’t just a problem for recent graduates, though much of what could be stated is only anecdotal as there’s not been an SAA census since the 2006 A*CENSUS.[8]Much has changed in the last 12 years, from technology becoming an integrated part of archivist’s jobs to the continued impact of the 2008 recession.

5 things we can work on right now. 

Both issues—the decline of history majors and the atrophy of the archives profession—are rooted in the fundamental belief that those things are no longer as valuable as they used to be. While either point can be argued, that doesn’t change the actions that can and should to be taken:

  1. Reduce the cost of education (debt) and/or increase the entry-level archivist salary so that the return on investment (ROI) increases
  2. Increase the perceived and actual value of archivists by paying commensurate salaries, paying interns, and ceasing the practice of temporary positions in place of permanent positions
  3. Frequently and voraciously speak to the value of the study of history, archives, and archivists
  4. Find ways to increase the intangible benefits of the job to increase the job satisfaction and overall health of archivists as people
  5. Be better as a profession about gathering statistics more frequently and take steps to implement improvements stated in the census reports[9]

In the end, we are in this job because we value history. I’m a big believer on change coming from within. If, through our conscious actions we can become better at valuing archives, our fellow archivists, and ourselves, we can return value to the profession.  By upholding the value of archives and archivists from within the profession, we can influence external audiences and how they value archives and archivists.

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[1] Schmidt’s report relies on data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), with the most recent data available from 2017.[2] Benjamin M. Schmidt, “The History BA Since the Great Recession: The 2018 AHA Majors Report,” Perspectives on History (November 26, 2018), accessed December 8, 2018.

[3] Paul B. Sturtevant, “History is Not a Useless Major: Fighting Myths with Data,” Perspectives on History (April 1, 2017) accessed December 8, 2018.

[4] Data provided by the University of Texas System and analyzed by Schmidt in an August 23, 2018, post.

[5] Elizabeth Yakel, “The Future of the Past: A Survey of Graduates of Master’s-Level Archival Education Programs in the United States,” American Archivist 63:2 (Fall/Winter 2000), 301–321.

[6] Amber L. Cushing, “Career Satisfaction of Young Archivists: A Survey of Professional Working Archivists, Age 35 and Under,” American Archivist 73:2 (Fall/Winter 2010), 600–625.

[7] Matthew R. Francis, “2013 Archival Program Graduates and the Entry-Level Job Market,” American Archivist 78:2 (Fall/Winter 2015), 514–547.

[8] Victoria Irons Walch, Nancy Beaumont, Elizabeth Yakel, Jeannette Bastian, Nancy Zimmelman, Susan Davis, and Anne Diffendal, “A*CENSUS (Archival Census and Education Needs Survey in the United States),” American Archivist 69:2 (Fall/Winter 2006), 291–419.

[9] The author notes that there were recommended actions provided “A*CENSUS (Archival Census and Education Needs Survey in the United States),” American Archivist, that were not (noticeably) implemented; such as the call for conducting surveys every 10 years.

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This post was written by Rachael Cristine Woody, a member of The Society of American Archivists’ Committee on Public Awareness (COPA). The opinions and assertions stated within this piece are the author’s alone, and do not represent the official stance of the Society of American Archivists. COPA publishes response posts with the sole aim of providing additional perspectives, context, and information on current events and subjects that directly impact archives and archivists.