News flash: Jobs await talented digital archivists!

Floppy disks [from Pixabay]
Floppy disks [from Pixabay]
I’ve been watching job postings for digital archivists to get a sense of the responsibilities and skill sets being required these days, and it’s really interesting to see how the landscape has changed in the past couple of years. What was once a trickle of digital archivist positions, most of them vaguely defined, has gradually grown to something closer to a flood. Well, a flood relative to the totality of archival positions that are advertised, that is. As recently as two years ago, far too many of these—especially those advertised by university libraries—were for part-time or temporary positions and clearly expressed that the candidate would be designing a born-digital archival management program from scratch. Gack!!! Wildly inappropriate. Mostly sad. It was my strong sense that these hiring institutions didn’t yet know what a digital archives program entailed. They were taking a shot in the dark—but at least they were investing in a first step.

I recently decided to search out current ads to get a sense of how many positions are available and what patterns would emerge. And the good news is … nineteen ads in two weeks (U.S. only)! And all but one are for full-time, permanent positions. Clearly, more and more institutions are moving forward. I’d like to think that many have been inspired by Ricky’s terrific series of reports under our Demystifying Born Digital work agenda.

Three of the ads I like the best are from the New York Public Library, the Getty Research Institute, and the Rockefeller Archive Center. All three have programs already in place, which helps explain why they have a strong sense of both what these jobs entail and necessary qualifications.

A factor of particular interest to me is the number of years of experience that institutions are requiring. I’m a huge advocate for entry-level positions, and hiring officers in the born-digital realm need to realize that an impressive number of new MLIS/MIS graduates is entering the work force with the skills and savvy to hit the ground running. (For just one example, read here about Gloria Gonzalez, a 2013 graduate of UCLA, and her work to get the UCLA library’s program off the ground over the past year.)

Every job ad I’ve looked at requires some sort of experience, but not necessarily in a professional position or for any required minimum number of years. Most explicitly state a need for experience working with archival materials of any kind, including in analog formats; the required number of years ranges from one to five. Nine ads require experience working with born-digital materials, but six of these don’t specify a particular number of years; the minimums specified in other ads range from two to four years. Supervisory positions require more experience—no surprise there.

Is it feasible to hire an entry-level digital archivist and take advantage of all the new talent that’s entering our work force? I firmly believe it is, but with two provisos: 1) Some sort of archival experience is important, whether analog or digital, internship or part-time temporary, or any other; and 2) the hiring manager must ensure that the new hire has plenty of support for connecting with experts across the organization who will also play a part in planning, implementation, and infrastructure for the digital archives program. You can’t expect a new hire to be successful in a position that inevitably requires broad teamwork without providing strong support up the food chain.

Watch this space for two more posts. The next one will describe the responsibilities being described in ads for digital archivists, and the third will explore the skill sets being required.