NEA taking the past into the future

NEA Responds to A*CENSUS II

2022-11-29 12:12 PM | Julia Callahan

New England Archivists is pleased to read and respond to the report on A*CENSUS II (A*CII), a massive survey of archivists from across the profession conducted by Society of American Archivists and Ithaka S+R. We are grateful for this investment in learning about the state of the archives field and look forward to the forthcoming Archival Administrators Survey report. What follows are the primary concerns NEA has as an organization in response to the A*CII results when viewed in concert with NEA’s Contingent Employment Survey (CES), and some resources for individuals, especially managers, who want to respond to these concerns through changes in their workplace.

Salaries & Education
According to A*CII, 61% of full-time archivists make $40,000-$79,999 in gross salary a year; 69% of part-time employed respondents make $29,999 or less. Broken down further, 42% of full-time archivists earn less than $60,000/year.

New England is lagging behind. Our region has some of the highest costs of living in the country, with all six New England states in the top 25% cost of living indexes. CES respondents cited concerns about jobs paying a living wage for the area of employment. The most common net salary for archival workers in New England reported to CES is $30,000-$39,999, followed by $40,000-$49,999. A*CII’s most common salary range was $50,000-59,999; while AC*II uses gross (total) instead of net (take-home) salary data, the comparison still indicates New England archival worker pay is low. While these ranges are not broken down between full-time and part-time employment, the fact that only 10% of CES survey takers make $70,000 or more speaks volumes about the undervaluing of archival work. 

According to A*CII, 86% of archivists have an advanced degree. How do archivists’ compensations compare to those colleagues in other fields with similar levels of education? Not well. Examining the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data on salary information by degree level is sobering. The median weekly earnings for Master’s-holding employees nationally is $1,574, or $81,848 annually; over 73% of archivists earn less than this. Furthermore, despite the high concentration of Master’s degrees in the profession, over 50% of archivists earn less than the median salary for workers whose highest degree earned is a Bachelor’s.

Further information statistics on professions and salaries are available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While there is often institutional pushback against salary increases, salary is one of the areas where only managers and administrators can make a difference.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access
Discussions related to diversity, equity, and inclusion have become a mainstay of discussions in the field. However, A*CII indicates that there is a disagreement about the progress of those discussions. Responses indicate that 44% of respondents of color disagree with the statement “the archives profession has adequately addressed issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access,” compared to 35% of white respondents. Only 14% of people of color and 13% of respondents identifying as a person with a disability stated they felt included in the profession.

We invite very, very careful reading of questions 40-50 of A*CII and reflection on differing perspectives of colleagues across identities. It is clear that the effectiveness of DEIA efforts are experienced and viewed in a number of ways, and that intent of such initiatives does not automatically result in improvements for everyone. Our efforts to create a more just and inclusive profession must be intersectional across each of our complex identities and needs, and we must listen to one another in order to advocate for one another.

Participant Bias
At the A*CII Forum at the SAA Annual Meeting in August, Ithaka Senior Analyst Makala Skinner noted that there is some bias in the results due to self-selection and other factors, but that at this stage, the researchers do not yet know exactly what or how severe this bias is.

For example, over half of the AC*II respondents worked in college/university or government archives; this seems high given the results of the CES, which indicated a substantially smaller proportion of archivists working in those environments. It is possible that the two surveys did not capture significantly similar populations. This possibility is furthered by the limited responses from interns and students, suggesting that neither survey sufficiently captured their data.

Future Analysis
The A*CENSUS II data will eventually be available in the SAA Dataverse, allowing further research and analysis. Additionally, analysis is not yet complete on the Archival Administrators Survey conducted shortly after A*CENSUS II. A few questions are of particular interest:

  • How does education impact how memory workers identify professionally, if at all?
  • Are departments shrinking? Do retirements or departures from a department lead to replacements of the position?
  • One in five archivists are thinking of leaving the field within the next five years – what can we learn about those archivists?
  • Are the high salaries (over $100k) in A*CENSUS II correlated to PhD-level/curatorial positions and administrators?

It is clear that while future analysis will illuminate particular nuances in the careers and perspectives of archivists, we need to work and make solutions to ensure the sustainability of our profession and to look after ourselves. Please use the resources below to have serious discussions with your colleagues about how to help both in the immediate future and in the long term to create a more sustainable, equitable field for all archivists.

Archival Workers Collective,, Twitter:  @awefund2020
Isabel Espinal, April M. Hathcock, and Maria Rios, “Dewhitening Librarianship: A Policy Proposal for Libraries,” in Knowledge Justice: Disrupting Library and Information Studies through Critical Race Theory, ed. Sofia Y. Leung and Jorge R. López-McKnight, The MIT Press, 2021.
Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies (full issue), Vol. 3 No. 2 (2021): Radical Empathy in Archival Practice.
MIT Collections Directorate Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice Task Force. Creating a Social Justice Mindset: Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice in the Collections Directorate of the MIT Libraries. Cambridge MA: MIT Libraries, February 9, 2017.
Rachael Woody, “How to Create Paid Internships” (free webinar), November 3, 2022, 12:00 noon PST. Registrants will receive a link to the recording after the webinar.
Rachael Woody, “How Much Am I Worth? Summer 2022 edition.”  
We Here collective.

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