Poor Pay in Archives: How Our National Organizations are Failing Us

This is the second part of a two-part series.

By Mark Lambert, SSA President, 2018-2019

The Southwestern Archivist, Vol. 42, No. 1 (February 2019): 5-6.
See Part 1 of this column, “Top archives directors are failing the profession,” in the November 2018 issue of Southwestern Archivist.

Our two national professional organizations, the Society of American Archivists (SAA), and the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries Division of the American Library Association are also failing us, when they could be assisting on this issue so easily.

According to the SAA Mission: “SAA promotes the value and diversity of archives and archivists.” However, SAA does not require employers to list salaries on their website.

The RBMS Mission says: “It strives to represent and promote the interests of librarians, curators, and other specialists.” RBMS also does not require employers to list salaries.

Both organizations provide an easy platform for hundreds of employers to advertise jobs directly to thousands of archivists yearly, but set no pay minimums, or even require a salary to be listed at all.

Should I really have to apply for a job before I even find out what the expected salary or salary range is in the internet age, from two organizations that have as their core functions access to information and excellent customer service? NO, NO, NO…a thousand times NO!

These organizations will probably respond by saying “there are a multitude of factors that go into setting someone’s pay, and it can’t be reduced to a single number or range,” but that is total bunk. Every Archives prepares a yearly budget, and for each Archives there is either a set salary, or a set salary range, sitting in that budget, based on several factors like experience, education, benefits, etc. Why not advertise the job with a salary or salary range?

Not listing a salary or salary range give more power to the potential employer. Why would our professional organizations want to give power to our potential employers to underpay us? Possibly because our professional organizations are ethically compromised, since they are also taking money from these Archives to advertise for jobs, or in sponsorship money yearly. This should stop now.

Also, for “vagueness” in language in a profession that prides itself on precision, good writing, facts and essential evidence, these two phrases are award-winners: “competitive salary with benefits,” and “salary commensurate with experience.” These phrases have no fixed meaning and tell an applicant from across the country exactly zero. The use of these phrases should be stopped immediately.

Our professional organizations should require all advertisers and employers to list a salary or salary range, or not take their advertisement. It’s as simple as that.

In fact, it’s a little more work, but we should also advocate for setting minimum salaries for job advertisements by region. Surely national organizations with thousands of members can have one large, diverse committee that meets once a year to set minimum salaries per region. This should also be done.[1]

Our professional organizations need to stop trying to be advocates for Archives as well as Archivists. These are conflicting goals that allow Archives, our employers, to take advantage of Archivists. There are many other national organizations that can advocate for Archives, like COSA, NAGARA, NHA, NCH, AASLH, and the NCPH.

Archivists need their professional organizations to better advocate for them, or we can find someone else to advocate for us. We also need the top Directors in our profession to descend from their penthouse offices long enough to start paying their staffs better. Only when both things happen will salaries in the archives profession rise in general.

[1] If librarians can do it, why not archivists?

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