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DLF WG on Labor in Digital Libraries, Archives and Museums: Valuing Labor Subgroup

Meeting minutes: May 12, 2017

Note-taker: Melissa Chalmers. Names redacted.

Focus and Goals


  • Five months to DLF Forum, present with other group
  • Deadline for DLF Forum proposal coming up quickly: May 22

Suggestions so far:

  • Narrative evidence for how to value labor

What topics should we focus goals and outputs on?

Organizing labor

  • Ways of organizing groups of workers, not just about me and my relationship to boss
  • Update the list, totally relevant!
  • At [my institution], the GEO is the grad teaching union. But, it was determined that the LIS students working in preprofessional grad assistant positions in the library were not part of that union, and that LIS grad students not part of union.
  • Implications: taxability of income
    • Tuition waiver is taxable if you're not in a union, so our grad students get no paycheck in April as they hit the threshold for taxability and so the taxes are suddenly taken out.
    • Applicability of recent rulings on graduate student employees to library workers is up for question.
    • Huge issue, run training in fall to prepare students to warn student workers to plan ahead.
  • Public/private context matters!
  • Library Workers Formally Announce Plans to Unionize
  • Are any digital workers in libraries/archives organized?
    • I wonder if there are any cases of digital workers organizing either within unions or in some other ways to improve working conditions.
    • Struck by how little discussion there is of working together; is the conversation about grad student labor as work happening in LIS students, groups?
    • Undergrad and grad students who work for our library are part of the staff (non-librarian) union here at [institution]
      • A session or project focused on student labor workforce models might be good
      • It is great for students and grew the local significantly... but over time staff work has flowed to students, causing many issues (morale, sustaining operation, invisibility of librarian labor of managing this)
      • I can definitely see how solving one problem would make a whole bunch of other ones...

Contingent positions, apprenticeship positions

  • As someone training to be next generation digital preservationist, my job focuses on maintenance.
    • Digital preservation cannot be done by someone hired for short term, project based positions.
    • What recommendations could we make for people/institutions hiring for project based, short term positions?
    • Seems like these two things (the maintenance nature of digital preservation and the term-limited nature of project based positions) don’t go together.
  • Working with volunteers
    • Echo recommendations on staffing maintenance, preservation, other long term work appropriately
    • Even as a not-formal-manager now I struggle with how to keep my digitization volunteers feeling good about their work.
      • They are part of a large volunteer eco system here with perks, but their work is really different.
      • How to best show them that their different work is valued too.
    • Issues of sustainability, de-valuing professional librarian labor
      • Volunteer thing is interesting as well in terms of sustainability, and the different ways that the visibility of volunteers sometimes drives the invisibility of professional librarian labor that manages it and supports it
      • Work of supporting volunteers is something that should be recognized too.
  • Contingent and volunteer work: related, but different?
    • In special collections, volunteers are frequently people who want to be there, occasionally older or retired workers who just enjoy the work and aren't looking to get money out of it.
    • I have been able to apply a lot of my experience of managing student workers to managing volunteers.
    • The creation of a contingent class of workers however is a different concept, the ways in which we are devaluing people who are interested in building careers over time.
    • Where I work, we also rely on skilled contingent workers who are no longer students, but are temporary with no benefits.
    • I've worked with both retired volunteers, but also get A LOT of library students interested in building careers too. So, I try to give them appropriate opportunities for whatever stage they are at.
    • I am always wondering what the line is when increasing responsibilities for some and not others when it comes to volunteers.
    • In the manager position the question I find interesting is how we build those opportunities in a responsible way that doesn't create a systemic system of exploitation.
      • Many +1s for this point
      • How not to create these positions and also try and push back against those that exist/are created by others

Where is the line between professional digital library work and para-pro/clerical/anyone can do it work?

  • Is there any guidance for digital libraries, digitization? e.g. in libraries, have parameters: only librarians can do reference.
  • Can we clarify if and whether these lines should exist in digitization or digital libraries?
    • e.g. plan for phd students to do a school’s digital library building. Other examples?
  • Professional/nonprofessional line is not a new question in libraries.
  • Rather than absolute guidelines, take a step back and offer tool kit for an institution assessing itself?
    • e.g. [an institution] has a library school, so as they think through that they have to take the library students into account.
    • Is there a way to support a library in making judgements about who does what with a kind of responsibility and ethics (e.g. not taking advantage of people, valuing labor)
    • Principles, practices around figuring out the varying contexts in which work takes place.
    • I don't mean to jump ahead but I think what I just said could be a proposal for DLF - people giving talks about work analysis, workforce models, etc. to generate discussion?

Labor ethics, in/visibility, who is doing the labor and are we valuing the people doing the labor of digital work?

  • What happens when you as the individual start moving up, start answering to more people?
  • How can you continue to keep own progressive or radical politics at the center when you’re a manager, forced to make much harder decisions about labor and how it fits into the bigger picture.
  • Being part of a group thinking creatively about valuing, compensating labor or giving valuable enough experience.
  • Managers may feel like they don’t have resources or people to talk to about this.
  • Giving resources for how to provide that feedback, making effort to create those spaces.
  • Any experiences from managers in the group?


Coalescing of topics so far: organizing, student labor

Panel proposal(s)

  • Three possible topics: 1) contingent (part time, students); 2) volunteers 3) sub-theme of manager role v. worker role
    • 1 v 2, 1 and 2: how are they similar, different, valued differently etc.
  • Here’s how x, x, x are thinking about labor in our settings
    • Here are the motivating principles of how we might think about labor
  • Organizing labor not being talked about, doesn’t get named, doesn’t become an object of analysis but could be useful and powerful here
  • Now that we know that contingent labor is under-valued, how do I go from seeing it as something that I experience to something I share with others?
  • One way issues become important is through volume
    • We’ve practically had a panel discussion today.
    • Encourage separate panels, raise attention through volume of sessions.
    • Take up space as an important strategy!


Google Drive, Slack discussed as options. Will check out and report back

Next steps: Check in with the other sub-group and report back over email about updates to structure, focus, and status of a DLF proposal. Everyone is welcome to be involved in working on that proposal once we have a plan!