REPS Insights: Interview with Meredith Lowe of Archives Gig

If you’ve never checked out Archives Gig, it is really the best place to find archives and archives-related job announcements from around the world. The blog’s curator, Meredith Lowe, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s SLIS program who works in Continuing Ed, sees hundreds of job postings every year, and so we thought we would tap into that knowledge and ask her for some advice for job seekers in our profession.

What inspired you to start Archives Gig?

The archives job market has fascinated me since my graduate career, and this is a way for me to give back to a profession that I love.  I started sharing job postings with students in my own program at SLIS, the iSchool at University of Wisconsin – Madison.  Then I decided to share more widely, and Archives Gig was created.


What are some common skills that employers are looking for in the job postings you list on your site? Do you think archives programs are adequately preparing students with these skills?

Obviously, employers are looking for people who have a range technology skills and a spirit of innovation.  I think that LIS programs are pretty cognizant of that, and students can often get those skills in the classroom, in student jobs, and through internships.  It’s really difficult to balance the need for a strong base in archival theory with deep technology training with a limited number of credits, so choose your classes carefully.  One thing that is sometimes overlooked by students and library schools is the need for administrative and management skills.  Schools need to steer information professionals of all stripes into management classes and students should seek out experiences that will help them here – managing a budget, gaining supervisory skills, working well in teams, and learning how to advocate for your department and yourself are a few key skill areas.  It’s not glamorous or fun stuff all the time, but management is something that you will have to do ever more of throughout your career, so learn what you can.

The last skill to mention is more something that comes with practice, and you’re not necessarily going to learn it in a classroom. Networking!  Volunteering for professional organizations (even your student groups count!), serving on committees, presenting at conferences, writing articles and blog posts… all of these are ideal ways to meet people and cultivate your great reputation.  This is a really small field, and people talk to each other.  I cannot emphasize the advantages of a good network enough.  Get out there, meet great people, and get involved!


In your opinion, how can students prepare to enter a job market when many “entry level” jobs require two years’ experience? What would you say constitutes a truly entry-level position?

Any hands-on archives work experience you can get as a student (including internships) can usually be counted toward your experience level.  (N.B.: some places do ask for “professional” experience, which some will argue cannot be fulfilled by student positions.)  Other than that, if you have work experience outside of archives, that can usually be leveraged when you’re looking at that “1-2 years of experience required” piece.  Letting your resume speak for you here is important, and it is key to address in your cover letter why you have the skills to do well in the position.


How do you think the proliferation of project gigs has affected the job market? What advice would you give recent graduates who consider applying for project jobs?

There are a lot of project positions out there, but the permanent postings outpace them greatly!  In the past 6 months or so, I have posted 426 permanent jobs, vs. 146 temporary jobs.  So, about 25% of the jobs I post are temporary, which is still quite a lot, and a good deal of those project positions are entry-level.  Therefore, there is a lot of frustration among new archivists and students who are looking at the job market, because the landscape looks like a big wash of temporary jobs.

Project positions tend to be good for people who already live in or have strong connections with a particular city, or for people who are fairly mobile and don’t mind moving around.  They may also be attractive to those who would like to grow a certain skill set.  These positions are a great way to get really valuable experience, but the downside is that they do lack longevity.  If stability is really important to you or if you hate the idea of having to move every few years, a project position is probably not the best option for you.


Many new professionals find themselves moving between library and archives because of the scarcity of archives positions. How do you think this impacts an aspiring archivist’s career trajectory? Will taking a job in a library hurt their future chances of later being employed by an archives?

Quick story time: I’m a trained archivist who took a job outside the archives field five years ago.  I needed to pay the bills, the economy had just bottomed out, and I expanded my job search.  I ended up with the job I have now, which is an Outreach Specialist in Continuing Education at SLIS, the iSchool at UW-Madison.  It turned out that this job is a good fit for me, and I’m not looking to return to archives.  At this point, I probably couldn’t do so anyway without significant work on my part to re-learn professional basics.

What does this tell you?  Well, it tells you that my particular situation worked out okay.  Depending on your passions, your life situation, your career goals, and other factors, taking a job outside the field for more than a year or two may not be a good option for you, as it may imply to some employers that your skills are not up-to-date.  However, you do need to balance that with your own life situation: if you need to bring in a salary, you might have to look outside the field whether you want to or not.  If you’re working in a library and doing lots of things that would help you as an archivist (reference, metadata, bibliographic instruction, digital libraries, etc.), transitioning back to archives might not be too challenging.  To transition back to archives, it helps to be plugged into the archives profession through staying current with the literature and staying active in professional associations (that networking thing again).  On the other hand, you may end up in a situation like I did, where compromising for another type of library job ends up being a good fit for you.


If I want to move to a different location in the US, how should I approach applying for jobs in that location?

I’m actually going to refer to one of my favorite career bloggers to answer this one: Alison Green of Ask A Manager.  She recently wrote aquick guide for applying to jobs that are not local to you.

If you have strong network contacts in the area where you’re looking to move, ask them whether they’d be willing to be a reference for you. See if you can get any information from them about jobs that you’re thinking of applying for – they may have some information that would be good for you to know.


What is your opinion on professional coaches? Would you suggest students and recent graduates invest in professional coaches and/or should archives educators provide opportunities for students to meet with professional coaches?

I have no experience with professional coaches, so I am not able to answer this question directly.  My library school has outstanding career services, and students may also avail themselves of the career services office that serves the campus.  I think that you need to listen carefully to academic career services that serve the general campus, and sometimes take what they say with a grain of salt.  Run their ideas past other librarians and archivists – preferably people who hire – and see if they make sense.  Some career service centers are geared more toward undergraduates, and sometimes are hampered by misunderstandings about how job applications work in this field (especially for academic archives jobs).  Hopefully you can reach out to contacts in your network to see if they would be willing to read your resume and/or cover letter and give you advice.  There is a career center at the SAA Annual Meeting that does provide this service.

One possible use for a professional coach may be to help polish up your interview skills, if you are rusty or particularly worried about how you present yourself in person.  If your library school does not have someone who can help with this, I do suggest trying the campus career center.  They are an objective party who can give good tips about how to improve your interview skills.


What’s a good way to handle having to state your salary requirement? How do you begin to identify what a reasonable estimate for an archival position is without undervaluing yourself?

Hopefully, the job you’re looking at has already stated the salary range.  If it hasn’t, look at the pay of archivists and librarians in that area who are public employees (for example, government archivists or state university librarians) – their pay is generally public record, and that’s a good starting point for a base salary.  If you’re starting off in the work force, you will probably be paid at the low end of that range unless you have really highly exceptional skills in some key element of the job.  If you are just entering the work force and looking at the range and don’t think you can live on that low end, it may not be the job for you unless you think you’d be able to negotiate a higher pay in the range.

Research what industry norms are in the area where you want to work.  That can mean looking at other job postings in the LIS world, feeling out what the cost of living is, and making sure that you account for the benefits package as part of the overall salary (for example, how much will you need to pay out of pocket for coverage?).  If the employer won’t budge on the salary offer, see if you can negotiate things like professional development money, coverage for professional memberships, or a relocation allowance.

Maureen Callahan recently wrote a really interesting and insightful blog piece about salary negotiation for archivists that I recommend reading.


What do you think employed archivists who are hiring or are trying to hire can do to advocate for entry-level positions at their institutions?

Keeping an open dialog with LIS and public history graduate programs is really important.  You have to know what these programs are teaching, and how the graduates from those programs will use their expertise to the benefit of your archive.  Some positions truly do need to have more experienced professionals on the job, but I do see lots of job ads that seem entry-level but require 2+ years of experience.  Try and work with your HR and director, and please advocate for supporting new professionals through postings that they can actually apply for and achieve.


What other advice would you give to new archivists who are job hunting?

Look at job postings before and during your graduate program.  Don’t be the person who finds out that most jobs require expertise in Subject X right before your last semester – track the skill requirements of the jobs that interest you most, and get experience and take classes to gain and hone those skills.

Above all: network!  I’ll say it forever.  A strong network will help you all your life.  Get started now.

Thank you very much to Meredith Lowe! You can learn more about Archives Gig and its methodology here.



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s