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

Meeting minutes: December 2, 2019


Facilitator/Note-taker: Amy Wickner

Complete 2019 schedule


Labor WG 2020 research priorities

  • Data gathering on unionization of digital library workers
  • Organizing tactics that minimize risk for workers
    • Looking for strategies that may not be part of the advocacy / organizing playbook in LAM but could be

Get in touch if you'd like to join one of these teams ⤴⤴⤴


What concerns do you have about the sustainability of this group and work?[edit]

We all have things we’re trying to balance professionally & personally

  • Details depend on work situations
    • Balancing this group with other commitments (e.g. service in an academic library, going up for tenure). Having to pull back from service because focus on publishing - although not this group!
    • Not an academic librarian so this not an integral part of job description. Hard to justify when groups are outside of the bounds of my job, don’t necessary tell my supervisor when I’m doing this work. Service work isn’t as much a part of special librarianship e.g. at a museum. Extracurricular work contributes to burnout - hard to fold it into the 9-5.
    • Hard to carve out space for web conferencing when already a solo archivist keeping up with lots of institutional responsibilities
    • Open plan offices! Everyone can hear what I’m saying, hard to be candid when other people are listening
    • Including this work on peer review / tenure material but don’t highlight because of local politics, which doesn’t adequately capture the amount of work put in although the emotional impact is the same
  • Emotional component - can be exhausted by the nature of this, so much to do. How do we stay energized? What small victories can we focus on?
    • Burnout is real! Majority of people doing the same work over & over
    • Hopeful that these conversations are picking up in different professional organizations → new energy
    • Monthly phone calls good way to maintain momentum, bring in new voices

Hard to make change at national level

  • Executive director of one national organization sent out a caution about kinds of information being shared via their platforms because of a previous FTC warning & guidelines
    • For example, can’t say a certain salary range is “unethical” or that a certain range is below a living wage
  • Why this reluctance?
    • Do previous pushback & risk of legal battle have anything to do with why national organizations are cautious?
    • Some organizations point to job postings as large source of revenue (although it isn’t necessarily the case when you do the numbers)
    • Pushback from some communities within professional organizations that listing salaries would detract from getting quality candidates for their postings
    • Reticence may have to do with concern about losing nonprofit status if they become “political” & take specific sides. This means not being willing or able to condemn specific instances such as this nightmare, and working on general statements instead
  • It's not all bad news at national level
    • Pay transparency & unpaid internships have percolated up to board level in some organizations
    • AMIA just announced no longer accepting no-salary job postings so there is national precedent
  • Regulatory / legal threats are worth paying attention to, whether real or imagined, because they shape how managers, boards, organizational leaders think and act

Re: unionizing, some concerns about how archivists & librarians are positioned within the organizations involved in bargaining

  • In a museum library, the museum is seen as more important than the library or archives
  • Often a problem in special libraries - being an appendage, similar to how technical services etc. are less visible within libraries & archives themselves
  • Can those structures work against libraries and archives?
  • Also looking at e.g. sectoral bargaining - not by employer but within a field, not something we do in the US but has come up in Warren & Sanders campaigns
  • Divisions within libraries by role or class about whether/how to unionize
  • Unionizing brings forward divides between professional & paraprofessional staff, about who thinks they need to be in a bargaining unit with whom
  • Real desire, in addition to unionization, for other tools for organizing e.g. in a state where can’t unionize
  • National Emerging Museum Professionals Network - anonymous messages on behalf of people reporting

What will it take to sustain this group and work?[edit]

Sustainability of the group specifically

  • Within format of DLF working group makes the most sense, rewarding to get work done at DLF Forum itself
  • Trying to push work in other professional organizations too but it’s an uphill battle. We’re all working across multiple groups with varying degrees of resistance. Can bring frustrations with a more bureaucratic group to this one.
  • This still feels like the right format
  • Wiki research highlights how this work spans different kinds of librarianship
  • New leadership etc.?
  • Can justify going to DLF, can combine Labor WG with other talks & programming that can justify as more relevant to job; other groups might be more of a stretch
  • Do Collective Responsibility next steps include possibility of becoming a group unto ourselves with no umbrella organization? To discuss.

Looking to regional groups for models & partnership

  • Regional groups seem to have more capability of being nimble, maybe because of less reliance on funding & advertising from the field / employers
    • Archivists Round Table of New York
    • Society of Southwest Archivists moves towards transparency in job postings (salary etc.)
    • New England Archivists
    • Society of California Archivists
  • How can we be supportive of membership re: labor issues, what ways are appropriate?
  • Facilitating lateral dialogue among regional organizations for consistency & solidarity
  • Coordinating is more prospective for now via advocacy committee
  • In touch with art workers group meeting monthly, representing art workers at a variety of levels - art handling, conservation, education → cross-disciplinary conversations
  • Because of unionization effort, people reaching out to ask what did & didn’t work for us
  • Looking to be in closer communication with groups that have signaled interest in this conversation
  • What are we legally allowed to do with job postings?
  • Why can regional organizations do more? What can we learn & adapt from them?

Ways to organize our work

  • For 2020 research projects, looking for ways to break up the work to meet different kinds of availability
    • Tasks that need a longer chunk of time to focus v. 15 minutes whenever & easy to pick up
    • Monthly calls haven't been convenient for a lot of people so doing monthly check-ins via email instead
  • We have a Slack! Maybe an alternative to phone calls so we could work asynchronously
    • But there are also issues with getting on Slack at work, not immediately accessible like email
    • Also Slack is kind of the worst, not secure, saves all messages, etc.
  • What can we do to continue working with and support people who are in work transitions?
    • Not always clear how to help when you don’t know what the exact strategy is that you’re dealing with / fighting
    • This is intentional ⤴


This was the last monthly Labor WG call for 2019, possibly for the near future as we put monthly calls on pause to move ahead on research and Collective Responsibility-related initiatives. Thank you so much to everyone who joined! Facilitators encourage everyone to continue using the list for announcements, questions, etc.