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

Meeting minutes: June 3, 2019

The Maintainers

Facilitator: Jess Farrell

Note-taker: Amy Wickner

Complete 2019 schedule

Overview of the Maintainers

Started ~5 years ago - Lee & Andy Russell thinking through ideas / but also sort of as a joke re: Walter Isaacson Innovators book

Happy hour → 2 conferences @ Stevens Inst 2016 & 2017 → word of mouth → global interdisciplinary research community

Started out pretty academic (historians, historians of tech, archivists, artists)

2017 conference included practitioner-focused day (community development groups, NGOs, CEOs of companies, activist groups)

Moving into more of a practitioner focus

  • Recentering cultural attention away from new things to the work maintainers do to keep society going
  • Quickly moves to labor policy because maintainers are so underpaid

Maintainers in the workforce

Project just getting off the ground - maintainers as prompt to rethink labor policy

  • United Way - Asset Limited Income-Constrained Employed - 40% of Americans struggle to pay monthly rent & other costs
  • Divided workforce in to innovator/maintainer/[care?] roles
  • BLS occupation statistics → divide into innovative/inventor / maintainer roles → 95% of Ohio (first state looked at) are maintainers; holds across all states

Connect with Maintainers

Overview of Information Maintainers

Why it’s a compelling framework for information professionals

  • Got involved starting with first conference, immediately connected with conversations happening there
  • Interdisciplinary nature of the conference, always some practitioners, conversations between history/theory people & people doing maintenance in their real lives
    • From the chat: librarians and archivists talk about the need for interdisciplinarity all the time, not even from a power-building perspective, but from an advocacy perspective, and to just build relationships...and we never actually practice that in our in-person meeting spaces (conferences etc)
    • From the chat: Perhaps one reason is that by being truly interdisciplinary others can’t place you in the square peg world, thus we try to ‘fit’ in, when we are mutli-faceted
  • Hoping to connect people across sectors that were traditionally isolated, information professionals thinking more broadly about who we might build labor power with - janitors, not curators
  • Connects with thought happening in archives (and sort of libraries) world re: care ethics

Started at 2nd Maintainers conversation (2017)

How to operationalize ideas - LAM people already doing maintenance work but not talking about it

Librarians, archivists, digital preservation people

White paper

Maintainers III coming up in October, Washington, DC

  • Bigger, focused on practitioners, 4 tracks
  • Looking at proposals for Information track right now

Discussion (Q&A)

How did this group come together? (DLF Labor WG, all info is on wiki)

  • [long-ass overview by Amy]

To what extent have Maintainers used the Valuing Labor research agenda? How do they connect?

  • Yes - looked at both research agenda & guidelines for grant-funded positions
  • Forthcoming white paper has sidebars / exemplars of where the work we’re talking about is already going on, including Labor WG
  • In the bigger Maintainers project there’s quite a bit of overlap (not just info maintainers)
  • Recently funded grant to look at maintenance etc. are valued within engineering, where it’s often defined as “not engineering”; encouragement to look at city planning & architecture → these dynamics happen in many different fields
    • From the chat: One of the consequences of devaluaing maintainers is that people perceived as maintainers who are actually more like innovators(?) also get devalued. So I mean all the digital archivists who make literally $100k less than someone in the IT/corporate tech world who could map their job competencies almost 1-1
  • Interested in institutional self-assessment & measurement in general - how do you measure well-being of maintainers in general?
  • Shared focus on research as one way in which these things happen
  • Maintainers community framework
    • Sloan grant to build up Maintainers org
    • Looking across different professions & sectors for common structures & phenomena
    • Aggregate lessons learned, metrics

Early impressions on where to talk about metrics, assessment, etc.?

  • Shock of the Old
  • We don’t have good measures of maintenance as a portion of economic activity → makes it hard to talk about in anything other than subjective terms
  • Things: How do we get better at maintenance e.g. digital preservation, maintaining the stuff around us?
  • People (especially uncomfortable re: metrics): Human resources, conflict resolution, ombudspeople, not just how satisfied workers are but also whether maintenance workers feel recognized & respected; whether they feel they have the resources they need
    • e.g. in libraries, new initiatives introduced → people responsible for them without recognition or resources and with stress

Follow-up: How does gender play into that?

  • Digital archives request for resources
    • Women leaving digital archives & citing inequitable allocation of resources
    • “Digital” brings in a lot of gendered attitudes re: technology x work
  • Thinking more broadly, women do far more maintenance in the world
  • Connect to feminist literatures on invisible / feminized work
  • OSS communities
  • Women tasked with maintenance roles more often in organizations

What actions do you envision being taken by the research you're building

  • Long-term action: valuing labor
    • Core hypothesis about Info Maintainers is we need to think about who we align ourselves with to build labor power differently than we have in the past
    • As long as we continue to look inward, to divisive credentialing to build power as a workforce we’re not going to be effective
    • Maintainers gives us a framework to rethink that: who out there is doing work that’s similar to us, understands these experiences of not being seen?
  • Short-term
    • Start building maintenance-centered conversations at existing information professional gatherings, SAA, other conferences
    • Virtual roundtables for the white paper
    • Curriculum development (Amelia Acker)
  • Trying to be realistic about institutional self-assessment & managers → building tools to empower workers to begin conversations at their place of work
  • We don’t have to reinvent from scratch - use existing tools

What role do labor unions play in building power for maintainers? And how do we confront the fact that very few infomaintainers are unionized?

  • How to build power without a union?
  • Trying to involve unions in MIII e.g. transport unions
  • Don’t really see these things happening without actual labor politics
  • Conversation about labor x information workers has been happening forever
  • Emphasis that Maintainers is not an innovation! Building on past work, bringing together people who are already doing this work.

What can people in Labor WG do to support / get involved in Maintainers?

  • White paper - get it out there, participate in roundtables
    • Possibly including one on labor
  • Not looking for a cookie! Looking for substantive engagement, including “you were wrong” (if necessary)
  • Always looking for ideas, feel free to pitch ideas, collaborations
  • Info Maintainers is looking to grow, will offer ways to join when the paper comes out


Job alert: Research Librarian @ AFSCME

Museum workers’ salaries:

Next meeting: Monday, July 1, 3pm Eastern / 12pm Pacific - facilitator needed