I spent the end of June in beautiful, temperate, layers-friendly Victoria, BC, attending the Association of Canadian Archivists’ annual conference. It was amazing, scary, inspiring, and weirdly comfortable — no business cards were exchanged, but plenty of people wanted to gush about ideas.
I presented on the student panel between two very intelligent and articulate colleagues — my presentation was, let’s say, a bit more informal than theirs, but I think it went well. It was gratifying to hear some of my sentiments echoed in the closing plenary by Laura Millar. The main point I ended my student presentation on, which was picked up again by Millar, was the idea that the archiving profession needs to delve into freelancing models of employment.
This theme has been covered by the usual GLAM publishers (HLS on freelancing librarians; Hiring Librarians on contract work; INALJ on freelancing) — as has, of course, the dearth of cushy, steady, benefits-laden jobs you can hold for thirty years (or at least until all our icons and role models retire). I haven’t seen much discussion on how to freelance in art libraries or art archives, but I’d like to think there’s plenty of project work to be done in preserving and cataloguing artists’ files, implementing digital asset management, developing metadata schemes or collections mandates, digitization, publishing and reproductions management, exhibits and auctions, conservation for artists’ books….
#aca2014 Millar: We cannot wait for records creators, we have to go to them. We cannot do this on our own, we must enlist society to help us
— Sweeney139 (@Sweeney139) June 28, 2014
Millar: we need to engage actively and persistently with our communities if we are to survive #aca2014
— Hannah (@hannahwiseman) June 28, 2014
Millar: funding cuts is not our crisis. Our crisis is a chaotic digital world crashing into itself, destroying trust, authenticity. #aca2014
— ACA (@archivistsdotca) June 28, 2014
My presentation focused on diverse and underrepresented communities that have media-collecting and -preserving needs not being met by institutionalized archiving systems. I focused on virtual communities (because social-network websites are where the best media are being collected, obviously), which meant that everything archival got put into a very technological framework.
I tried not to scare anyone off with the fear of archiving in the digital age (“Imagine you work for a historical society that has collected materials from each and every single resident of the town,” I suggested, to get a scope of the problem/potential of virtual communities), but I’m afraid it’s a very real part of the future of the profession, especially as we start moving from digitization projects to interface design for presenting our materials.
Bringing information-professional skills and techniques to your average website-builder or community-organizer is likely a consultancy task: you start with assessment, then they find enough money for implementation, you make some recommendations for maintenance, and eventually every community or arts group has an archivist-on-call, or a librarian for a half-day a week.
That means we all juggle multiple clients and bounce from one deadline to the next. Many people do not find this a very rosy picture of the industry’s future. Then again, there are those of us that can’t imagine working the same full-time processing or reference job day in and day out.
There are definitely ways to do it right. I’ll be interviewing some freelancing and entrepreneur archivists and librarians in the near future, on this blog, so you can see for yourselves. There’s even an association for independent information professionals, and plenty of opportunities for mentorship, entrepreneurial bootcamps, start-up funding, and guides to the legal and financial steps to declaring yourself a businesswoman.
Ideally, I’d love to do private archiving with artists — which is never high-paying. It tends only to happen when the artist is anticipating an eventual donation of their records to an institution — there, the benefit of getting things organized beforehand is the tax credit offered upon appraisal (in Canada, anyways). While an artist or arts group may want to get the job done, the money, often, simply isn’t there.
[Ironically, I just found contract archiving work in the private sector, which is not exactly walking-the-walk, but maybe I’ll have time for some pro-bono projects with individuals and non-profits. Stay tuned!]
I’m interested to know everyone’s thoughts. There were lots of nodding heads when Millar said it, but I still felt a bit radical suggesting it myself (ah, what the confidence a thirty-year career could give!).
What do you think: are librarians and archivists destined for lots of part-time, contract-based, multi-tasking jobs, helping everyone manage unique information needs? Or will the majority of us find the full-time, paid-vacation unicorn we dream of? Is there a balance between the two?
More scarily: will freelancing mean we all have to learn how to administer databases and provide cut-rate graphic design services? Is there a way to freelance in GLAM-related work that isn’t technologically dependent?