SAA 2015: Women Archivists Roundtable (WAR) Meeting

In advance of the 2015 Annual Meeting, we invited SNAP members to contribute summaries of panels, roundtable and section meetings, forums, and pop-up sessions. Summaries represent the opinions of their individual authors; they are not necessarily endorsed by SNAP, members of the SNAP Steering Committee, or SAA.

Guest author: Kelly Kietur, archivist at a private archive and SNAP Roundtable Vice Chair/Chair-Elect

Business Meeting

Old Business

  • Continuing topics:
    • Discussion of telecommuting/alternative work hours – the Twitter chat was very successful
    • The status of women within the archival field
  • WAR social media/blogs – putting publications and presentations on WAR blog
    • Contact people on WAR for more information on this
  • The establishment of the WAR internship
  • Three livetweet sessions
    • Lean In 2
    • Archival turn in feminism
    • Telecommuting/alternative work hours

New Business

  • New officers
    • Bethany Glenn Anderson – co-chair
    • Elizabeth Clemens – steering committee
  • Ongoing project – women’s employment survey/larger analysis of the profession
  • Projects for 2015-2016
    • Looking for topics for livetweet sessions
    • WAR internship


The Archival Mystique – Alexandra Orchard and Leslie Van Veen McRoberts

Some of the concerns about archives is that there are few women in leadership and tech roles, professional development concerns, hidden womens’ collections, and inadequate understanding and awareness outside of archives.

The percentage of women in SAA has increased over the decades. In 1936 23.% percent of SAA members were women. By the 1970s female membership had grown to 33% as well as brought about progressive change, such as the establishment of Archivists for Action, Ad Hoc Committee on the Status of Women in the Archival Profession, and the Women’s Caucus. SAA membership reached a female majority by the 1990s, with a 2006 census showing membership as 65% female.

These percentages don’t necessarily reflect the numbers of women in the profession, however. In the early days potential SAA members had to apply for membership. This requirement was removed in 1955 but many people still had the notion that this was still in effect. SAA was also seen as cliquey and very much a “gentlemen’s club” – women were discriminated against and were not visible in leadership positions.

As the archival profession becomes more feminized, salary and job status should be closely monitored to identify problems that occur in other feminized professions. The MLIS is becoming the degree of choice for archivists, and librarianship has been historically female. Margaret C. Norton was a prominent woman in the early days of the archival profession and was often characterized as someone who was shrill, strident, vociferous, and used venomous language.

There are various factors that could be holding women back in archival leadership. Only two of the Archivists of the United States has been female, and they were only acting archivists – none of them got promoted to the appointed role. Women’s collections are also subject to issues –  these collections may not be as visible as others or may be split between two different repositories, with the records of her public life going to one place and her personal papers to another. It is important to be vigilant in documenting women’s collections, and having separate women’s collections are critical to promote women’s history.

Professional identity is also a long-standing problem. A man is two times more likely to be the head of special collections than a woman. How do we remove the stereotype of cardigans, buns, and clunky clogs? How can we progress if we are only judged by our appearance? Who we are impacts what we do. Pregnancy does not define us as professionals, but working women are criticized for what we do and what we don’t do. Women are often dismissed as “emotional” and “hormonal.”

How do we counter this? We need to “live dangerously” – we need to participate and we need to step forward. We need to advocate for women – defeating stereotypes, pay inequity, and leadership – and we need to advocate for archivists and the archival profession.

Under Pressure: How Workplace Change Impacts Women Archivists – Alison Stankrauff and Kristen Chinery

Stress can come with both good and bad change, and stress can occur in toxic work environments. Dealing with stress is commonly put on the person with the experience and not on common stressors such as work environments and budget issues. Elevated cortisol levels in women with high workloads can affect them physically as well as mentally – “stress makes you fat, bitchy, and bald.”

Working women often have the stress of a double day with their roles at work as well as at home. They experience role strain and with more roles comes more stress. There is a cumulative risk with stress – stressors may not be harmful individually, but they can become harmful when combined. Workload and job expectations as well as discrimination, isolation, and stereotyping combine to make a higher cumulative risk for stress-related problems at work.

Some think that glass ceilings in the archival field aren’t getting broken, but becoming even thicker. Extra work is seen as a “gift” but actual commitment to projects and the job is downplayed. Lone arrangers often experience significant amounts of stress due to the fact that they are expected to wear many hats in their institutions.


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