Archival Pay and SAA: Some Modest Proposals

By Mark Lambert, SSA President, 2018-2019

The Southwestern Archivist, Vol. 42, No. 2 (May 2019): 5-6.

I am pleased that my recent articles on low pay in the archives field and the recent SSA Board resolution adopted requiring salaries or salary ranges in all SSA job advertisements have been so well received in the archival community, and that the SAA Council has also apparently taken notice.

However, more can be done in these areas. For example:

  • We need the SAA Council to pass a resolution to no longer accept job advertisements without a salary or salary range listed;
  • We need the SAA Council to set recommended minimums for archival pay by region, using financial figures for each region, such as those that list salary requirements for owning a home in a region;
  • We also need to have a Pop-Up Session at the SAA annual meeting in Austin to continue this important discussion, solicit more ideas on the subject, and so more voices can be heard (I am currently in the middle of drafting speakers and preparing the paperwork to propose such a session in Austin this August).
  • Also, annual dues to SAA are based on a sliding scale according to pay, with the scale topping out at $90,000/year. As I’ve found from my recent salary research, there are folks in the profession making much more than that. Right now SAA is giving those big earners a partial pass. SAA needs to push that sliding scale up to at least $250,000/year. I’ve already found a use for that extra money: funds to help provide better representation for all archivists on the SAA Council.
  • SAA claims to represent all archivists, but it is totally dominated by academic or other elite archivists. Looking at the current SAA Council list ( and ignoring SAA staffers), fully 8 of the 12 councilors are academic archivists or work in academia; two are from Presidential Libraries (which I call an elite archive due to their national prestige), another member is from the Rockefeller Archive Center (another elite archive, since it is one of the best funded foundations in the U.S.), and the final councilor is a vendor. In other words, 11 of the 12 councilors are from academic or elite archives, and there is also one vendor (for-profit) representative.

For SAA to validly represent all archivists in the U.S., and for all archivists to want to join SAA and continue to see value in their membership year-after-year, the SAA Council needs to better represent the great variety of archivists in the United States.

I propose seats on the council be divided up better between the several major types of archives in the U.S. For example: academic archives (public and private), private research library archives, federal govt. archives, state govt. archives, local govt. archives, museum archives, corporate archives, non-profit archives, religious archives, tribal archives, and vendors. (This list is just off the top-of-my head; please don’t consider it exhaustive, and feel free to suggest your own type of archive to SAA if its not represented in my list above. I also suspect if this better representation actually happened, archivist satisfaction and retention in SAA would also go up tremendously.)

An obvious question is why are there currently so many academic or elite archivists on the SAA Council, and why do academic archives dominate SAA annual meeting programming so heavily, if there are so many other types of archives in the U.S.? My best answer is one word: Funding.

While academic or elite archivists don’t necessarily make a lot of money, in one way they are usually head and shoulders above the rest of us: their travel and continuing education funding is usually at least partially provided by their institutions, since continuing education and tenure requirements in those types of archives are the strongest (i.e. as a legal and equity issue, your institution can’t really require you to do continuing education for job retention or advancement unless they at least partially pay for it).

SAA currently funds most of the work of its councilors. In order to get better representation on the SAA Council, SAA needs to more fully fund other types of archivists willing to serve on the SAA Council. Where would the money come from? I propose it come from those highly paid Archives Directors currently not paying their fair-share in SAA dues.

Finally, the regional archival organizations in the U.S. provide tremendous value to archivists in keeping their annual dues low (e.g. SSA’s is $25), by providing a newsletter, by providing scholarships for students and early-career archivists, by providing regional advocacy, and by staging relatively inexpensive regional annual meetings and workshops for archival training, socialization and comradery.

However, American archivists also desperately need our national organization, and all that it does, including providing socialization, comradery and training at annual meetings and workshops, by underwriting archival publications, by provide a professional journal for reporting new advances in the profession, and by representing us in Washington D.C. in both the federal agencies and the Halls of Congress and in the public sphere generally. We just need SAA to better represent all archivists in the U.S., not just the academic and elite archivists.