2013 Archival Program Graduates and the Entry-Level Job Market

Recently, the digital version of the Fall/Winter 2015 issue of The American Archivist was released. If I’m honest, I’m not yet on the Eira Tansey Timetable of Journal Reading, though I’d like to commit to that kind of professional growth – after grad school. As it is, I was pretty proud of myself for even having read the table of contents all the way through – though, when I did, I immediately clicked on one of the articles and read it.

That article is Matthew Francis’s “2013 Archival Program Graduates and the Entry-Level Job Market.” (I’m a Ravenclaw, but I clearly I have the self-preservation of a Slytherin.) For anyone who hasn’t had the time to read it yet – which is likely a lot of you – I wanted to make sure it got plenty of air time. Essentially, Francis conducted a survey for 2013 graduates of MLIS (and related degree) programs during the month of April 2014 to see how they had done in securing employment. He referenced Rebecca Goldman and Shannon Lausch’s 2012 survey a good deal to make comparisons, and of course brings in the excellent but now terribly outdated 2004 A*CENSUS data. Not mentioned in the article are the INALJ/Hiring Librarians’ job market surveys by Naomi House and Emily Weak, which included responses from 188 archivists in 2014 and 196 archivists in 2015.

The INALJ/Hiring Librarians surveys are hard to compare to the other two, as they include answers from the wide, wide world of MLIS degrees, making it hard to tell whether a children’s librarian or an archivist is answering the questions, and the focus is on experiences with interviews and the hiring process itself. Further, though there are older surveys available, the 2014 and 2015 surveys linked above were conducted after Francis’s survey. (They’re definitely worth a mention in this post, though, for your convenient perusal.)

What the surveys by Francis and Goldman & Lausch find is that, yes, upwards of 70% of the surveyed archival program graduates found employment within 12 months, but it’s much harder to find a full-time, permanent position focusing on actual archival work – and in fact, only a small percentage do so. In breaking down the data, Francis defines the “ideal” professional outcome for those of us obtaining masters degrees in archives-related fields as a full-time, permanent position with pay “commensurate with expectations” that is also fulfilling and actually a position in an archive or special collection. These all seem reasonable, but only 24 respondents (9.3%) got there within 12 months of graduation. Yikes, y’all.

Francis takes on the elephant in the room – project positions – but perhaps not with the force that some others may want:

“Part of the disappointment with seeing such a reliance on part-time and temporary positions is that studies indicate that such positions can lead to reduced wages, benefits, and job satisfaction.”

We’ll save the tar, feathers, and pitchforks for another day (because the project position is a topic that we should address) and just say that Francis points out that the reliance on temporary positions is higher in archives than related fields. Any perusal of Archives Gig will find ads with the word “project” in the title, though a 2015 study by Eira Tansey found that just under a quarter of job ads are for temporary positions, but they were more likely to be entry-level. It would be interesting to break down the entry-level positions only, looking at permanent versus temporary, given that fewer than 40% of Francis’s respondents were in full-time, permanent positions a year after graduation.

Is there hope for those of us searching today for archival jobs? How can we be part of the 9.3% of lucky folks who are happy, well paid and employed in full-time, permanent positions soon after graduation (and hopefully way sooner than a year later)? Francis has essentially the same suggestion that you’ve heard since day one of graduate school or before: BE INVOLVED!

Francis broke down six categories for what I call “involvement” and he calls “selected academic and professional experiences” – i.e., involvement. These included completing a for-credit archives internship, working in a paid archival job that did not include academic credit, volunteering/interning (unpaid) at an archive, attending a workshop or conference sponsored by a professional organization, joining SAA as a student member, and obtaining an additional masters degree in a non-library field. For individuals who do at least two of these things, there is an increased likelihood that you will end up in an archival job somewhere after graduation, and having a paid archival job prior to graduation is biggest piece of that – so if you only do one thing on the list, it should be that.

Because it’s, quite frankly, not great news for new graduates, we have to take the opportunities that come our way and make our own opportunities where we can. If you can’t afford to go to SAA this year, try to make it to a daylong workshop near you. Though the survey doesn’t explicitly say so, networking made a difference for some of these 2013 graduates. The ones who went to conferences and workshops, joined SAA, and worked with archivists in paid or unpaid positions came into contact with archivists in the field, who could recommend their good work to other archivists in the field. When someone you know or respect thinks highly of the work of someone else, you’re going to trust that opinion, so it makes sense to get to know other archivists through professional organizations or at a workshop or even at your job/internship.

I want 2016 graduates to beat the statistics. (The Slytherin self-preservation is back…) In all seriousness, though, I do hope when statistics come out for this graduating class that we see fewer of us relying on temporary or part-time employment than those from three years ago. We can’t know yet, though, but there’s still a semester to get in a final internship or join a regional conference just in case, right?

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