315: Survey of American Archivists

Archival Spaces 315

A*CENSUS II: Archives Administrators Survey

Uploaded 17 February 2023

National Archives, United Kingdom

Recently, ITHAKA and the Society of American Archivists published their findings of “A*CENSUS II: Archives Administrators Survey,” authored by Makala Skinner and financially supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Studies (IMLS). A*CENSUS II had previously published the „All Archivists Survey“ in August 2022, which gathered data on individual archivists and their experience in the field. The present study compiled data from “746 archives administrators representing academic institutions, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, for-profit organizations, and community archives across the United States.“ Among the participating organizations was the Association of Moving Image Media (AMIA). The survey’s goal was to create a snapshot of the archives field from the perspective of archive heads, key issues, and problems. Furthermore, the new study shared findings on “archives’ budget and collection sizes, staff recruitment and retention, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility practices.” Having been an archives administrator for 28 years, including at UCLA Film & Television Archive until March 2020, many of the findings were no surprise to me, but rather confirmed issues with which I was consistently confronted, whether in a non-profit or government archive. The survey is available at: https://doi.org/10.18665/sr.318227

National Archives, Washington, D.C.
Ford Motor Company Archives, Dearborn, MI

The great majority of participating archive administrators came from non-profit organizations (36%) and academic institutions (35%), while government agencies (18%), for-profit organizations (3%), and non-specified archives (7%) supplied the remaining participants. Fully 88% of the responding administrators head archives within larger organizations. More surprisingly, 75% of archives have no more than five full-time employees (FTEs) with 38% having only one FTE, namely the administrator themselves. In order to make up for the labor shortfall, 39% of archive administrators rely on volunteer help, while 32% employ students and 19% unpaid interns. While 52% of non-profit archives responded that they employ volunteers and unpaid interns (16%), only 25% of academic archives utilized volunteers and unpaid interns (22%).

If one excludes staff salaries, the operating budget for 72% of archives was under $100,000, while 44% had budgets under $20,000. With a budget of approximately $ 6.2 million in FY19, UCLA Film and Television Archive belonged to an exclusive club of 1% of respondents with budgets between $ 5-9 million. Of those responding with budgets larger than $100,000, 55% belong to government agencies. Income for operating budgets came primarily from endowments, government, and university funds (earned income) for academic institutions, from federal, state, and local governments for government archives, while donations and foundation grants accounted for 5% of income for academic institutions and 7% for government agencies. Non-profits, on the other hand, raised 15% of their funding from donations (11%) and foundation grants (4%), while memberships made up another 5%.

How did archive administrators allocate funds in their annual budgets? Supplies and office administration gobbled up 24%, while digital asset management accounted for 15% of budgets, collections/acquisitions merely 12%, 11% for preservation /conservation, and 10% for facilities. When asked how they would spend a 10% increase in budget in the next fiscal year, 50% would invest in digital preservation, 45% in staffing, and 36% in technologies and systems. This indicates that most archives are lagging behind in digital infrastructures for access, and are also seriously understaffed.

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In terms of digital archives collections, 40% of administrators maintain four terabytes or less of digital collections, with 21% concentrated at 1-4 TB. Surprisingly, 28% do not currently measure the number of digital collections in their archives. Meanwhile, 45% of archives have made their archives publically visible (not accessible) through standard online public access catalogs. However, nearly one-quarter of all archives have no or less than 10% of their collections accessible online, and only 12% have more than 90% of their collections visible online. Given the accelerating move to digital archives and digitizing analog collections, administrators place a high premium on digital skills for new hires with 81% listing digital competency as the most important.

Film Archive staff

At the same time, staffing and operating budgets remain critical issues that are slowing down digitization and access to archival collections. Administrators listed as primary constraints to executing archival strategy, a lack of staff (75%) and a lack of financial resources (63%). The pandemic has only exasperated this situation:  28% of archives administrators experienced staffing budget cuts, while 30% reported budget cuts to operations.  Less than a third of all institutions have seen their budgets return to pre-pandemic levels, while as we know, inflation has significantly increased all costs. Given these issues, staff retention is a major problem. Reasons for leaving the field include limited compensation /salary (37%), retirement (35%), and lack of opportunity for career advancement (30%). Interestingly, the previous “All Archivists Survey” listed staff burnout (35%) as an important reason for attrition but was not listed in the administrator responses.

My own conclusion, based on this survey and my own decades of experience, is that although the archival profession is seen as desirable, archivists are for the most part underpaid, overworked, and under-appreciated by both the larger institutions that house them and the public at large. 

Published by Jan-Christopher Horak

Jan-Christopher Horak is former Director of UCLA Film & Television Archive and Professor, Critical Studies, former Director, Archives & Collections, Universal Studios; Director, Munich Filmmuseum; Senior Curator, George Eastman House; Professor, University of Rochester; Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen, Munich; University of Salzburg. PhD. Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Münster, Germany. M.S. Boston University. Publications include: The L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema (2015), Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design (2014), Making Images Move: Photographers and Avant-Garde Cinema (1997), Lovers of Cinema. The First American Film Avant-Garde 1919-1945 (1995), The Dream Merchants: Making and Selling Films in Hollywood's Golden Age (1989). Over 250 articles and reviews in English, German, French, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Hungarian, Czech, Polish, Swedish, Japanese, Hebrew publications. He is the recipient of the Katherine Kovacs Singer Essay Award (2007), and the SCMS Best Edited Collection Award (2017).

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