July 23, 2018
The leadership of the DLF Working Group on Labor in Libraries, Archives, and Museums supports the open letter distributed by six temporary archivists from UCLA Library Special Collections. We applaud their assessment of the effects of precarious positions on the institution and communities it serves, on all workers within that institution, and on workers who hold such precarious positions. Their insights contribute to a larger discourse on precarious labor within libraries, archives, and museums, including issues and impacts that this working group addresses.
We recommend this letter to administrators and leaders of libraries, archives, and museums, particularly within academia. We acknowledge that term positions may be tied to external funding and project-specific work, and our group is developing best practices for creating term positions. However, choosing to create multiple part-time positions to meet full-time needs, or term positions to perform core work, negatively affects all involved. Unfortunately, many LAM institutions create such positions as their leadership responds to budget cuts while expanding services and meeting the expectations of their communities.
These positions result in unnecessary turnover, leave gaps in institutional memory, slow the progress of work, and damage morale. Such harms affect all within an institution but have outsized effect on temporary workers. Such positions neither respect nor reward the experience and credentials (often post-graduate) required to obtain the positions and perform the work. In search of greater stability, workers must often become hypermobile, disconnecting for years from local communities as they repeatedly move hundreds or thousands of miles in search of successive term or permanent positions. Holding temporary positions impairs their ability to build the relationships with communities, institution, and donors that are particularly important to archival practice. It encourages overcommitment to professional service on personal time, as robust CVs and networks are critical to securing stable employment. Early-career workers expend energy that might otherwise help them grow into seasoned practitioners, while experienced archivists may find themselves equally vulnerable to the impacts of temporary employment, a toll that affects their capacity to mentor students and new archivists.
We encourage administrators and leaders to identify such inequities within their own institutions, to assess the effects on both workers and institution, and to prioritize repairing these inequities and transforming temporary, term positions to permanent status, a vital commitment to the future of our field.
Ruth Kitchin Tillman, Sandy Rodriguez, Amy Wickner, co-facilitators
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