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

Meeting minutes: September 6, 2019

Tech Workers Coalition

Facilitator: Jess Farrell

Note-taker: Amy Wickner

Complete 2019 schedule


Tech Workers Coalition

Collective Responsibility white paper (draft): quick overview of what it is and what it tells us

  • IMLS grant to bring people together to talk about precarity in libraries, archives & museums
  • In the white paper: how the forum was brought together, findings, plans to put together guidelines for granting agencies

Context: a lot of library work is on soft money → problems when a lot of your workforce is precarious

  • What can granting agencies which are filling in gaps in our labor market do to actively make the situation a little better for ppl in those positions?
  • Guidelines for institutions seeking money from those institutions
  • What does the report have to say about digital work?
    • One example is fetishization / pairing of youth & technology, manifested as considering tech positions to be entry-level, lower compensation but high expectations of technical skill
    • See also: complicated digital library work as just one aspect of someone’s job
  • Forum structure, what it was like to have funders & managers as part of the conversation?
    • Productive uses for conflict e.g. topics that aren’t CoC violation but might make people uncomfortable - how to use those to move the conversation forward?

Discussion questions for the guest

Who is the TWC? Where are you? How did you form?

  • Desire to see the sector we’re in vastly more democratically organized & responsive to workers
  • Central challenges: raising consciousness, expanding who is a tech worker (including workers downstream in tech companies), who can we be in solidarity with?
  • How the org is run: decentralized, started ~4y ago in Bay Area, larger chapters are on West Coast (?), democratically run, communicate over Slack, anyone can start projects
    • Boston: learning clubs around different issues e.g. tech ethics, #metoo + worker power, 996 movement, Google walkouts, digital media organizing; working groups around different topics
  • Tech sector notoriously difficult to organize

What has the TWC won or supported through collective action?

  • See ourselves less as direct organizers and more as creating a space for learning & solidarity
  • Wayfair walkout
    • Boston furniture company with purely online presence
    • A few employees uncovered that Wayfair was selling furniture to a contractor for camps on the border
    • A few 100 workers walked out, support from the community
    • Part of longer-term organizing at the company
    • Helpful thing they did: Allied with existing internal affinity groups e.g. LGBTQ & other identity groups already organized within the company
  • People organizing committees within their companies e.g. getting conversation started about unionizing
  • Seattle chapter: organizer training adapted from IWW, 16-hr → 1-day
  • Boston chapter also working on organizer training

What are your reactions to the Collective Responsibility draft report?

What similarities and differences do you see between the labor situations that TWC members and DLF Labor members face?

  • A lot of us aren’t unionized although AFL-CIO considers librarians one of the highest-unionized groups of professionals 30-something%
  • Lots of library workers are tech workers too
  • Looking at IT project manager v. library project manager salary: IT person gets paid a lot more
  • Experiences working with tech workers who aren’t perceived as such by the rest of the world
    • Right now mostly relationship-building
    • TVCs = temps, vendors, contractors, often doing same exact work as FT engineers but paid half as much
    • See this e.g. at Google: flashy office v. TVCs segregated to another building, company using this to depress labor costs
    • Surfacing inequities: we’re doing the same work, pay inequity is bs

Where might the TWC fit into our goal of building solidarity among digital library workers in order to change our current labor realities?

  • Welcome folks from this group at TWC meetings (ty!)
  • Do members get access to resources e.g. if they’re thinking about unionizing?
    • Check in with your local chapter
    • Always looking to show up for other tech workers
    • Any resources on how walkouts, demos, organizing have been done before? Uncovering exactly what an institution was doing and then doing something about it
  • In libraries, there are also ties we can uncover e.g. where are university endowments spent?

Discussion questions for the DLF Labor group

How do you think the TWC might fit into our goal of building solidarity among digital library workers?

Does your employer view you as a “tech worker”? Do you view yourself as a “tech worker”?

  • What kinds of people at your workplace are considered tech workers?
  • Academic library: IT folks, work at library but not classified as librarians, possibly not unionized (while librarians are)
  • Research database (producing records for secondary academic literature, reads the thing & tells you what the subject headings are): work for technically a nonprofit, library assn within a library assn, funding comes from database product. Technically a librarian but only 3/10 people who do indexing are LIS graduates. Self-understanding of people doing the job that we do is pseudo-academic rather than tech worker or industrial production, even if nature of work feels more like industrial production. Ambiguity of non-scholarly production within nonprofit that gets all of its budget from the product.
  • People considered tech workers based on the department they’re in, regardless of the type of work they do.
  • People who maintain the infrastructure = tech workers; people who maintain data = not

What would be some benefits or downfalls of employers perceiving digital library workers as "tech workers"?

  • People who are perceived as tech workers seem to be paid more although not sure about benefits - a big problem across LAM
  • Would it be good for us? Not good for us?
  • Do we want to be expanding the box of “tech worker” to include more people or is that just creating scarcity elsewhere?
  • Libraries hiring a programmer is often like “this is a big new thing” - link to institutions fetishizing youth & tech
  • Connection to tech downstream workers not being perceived as tech workers, line drawn between who’s considered an engineer even inside of tech companies
  • More about a word in a job title rather than the work people are doing

Logistics & announcements

Next meeting: Friday 10/4, 2pm ET/11am PT: Building a working group initiative around an issue