Prepared by Courtney Dean, Carady DeSimone, Bridget Malley, and Lydia Tang, on behalf of the Archival Workers Emergency Fund Organizing Committee.
Alongside fundraising efforts to aid archival workers impacted by COVID-19, the Archival Workers Emergency Fund (AWE Fund) Organizing Committee has been issuing surveys to track the impact of the pandemic on the archival field to identify trends which may result in or amplify inequity and precarity. View the summary write-up of the Summer 2020 survey. The Winter 2020 Survey, distributed during December 2020, was closely modeled on the earlier Summer 2020 survey with occasional tweaks to questions and approaches.
The Winter 2020 survey was distributed via social media channels and received 198 responses—53 more responses than the Summer 2020 survey. The summary below presents key takeaways. Full information and analysis on survey questions is available in the Survey Response Analysis section of the report.
We wish to acknowledge with gratitude the volunteer labor of the authors and proofreaders for this report.
To share feedback on this survey or to suggest questions for a future survey, please contact us at email@example.com.
The anonymous survey instrument consisted of 18 questions with a mix of multiple choice and free text answers. While the questions paralleled the Summer 2020 survey in many ways, we made intentional choices to shift emphasis and scope of questions to better focus the survey in this second iteration on themes that arose in the first survey. Particular shifts included moving demographic questions to the end of the survey, and making more of them optional, in order to respect the privacy of respondents. Questions gathered information about respondents’ work status (employed or not, working from home or other locations); data on repository responses to COVID (closures, expected re-openings, budget changes); changes in job duties and responsibilities; and qualitative data on respondents’ perceptions of their current work situations as well as their expectations for the future; and optional demographic data such as age, gender, and race/ethnicity.
We used Google Forms to construct the survey and utilized the included basic data visualization functions to analyze the results. We distributed the survey via the Archival Workers Emergency Fund Organizers’ Twitter handle, the Archivists Think Tank Facebook community, and multiple Society of American Archivists email distribution lists. The survey was open from December 1-31, 2020.
The survey was approved by the Michigan State University Institutional Review Board (IRB STUDY00004607).
Although the AWE Fund Winter survey (December 2020) received more responses than the summer follow-up (July 2020), it remains difficult to tell whether the survey respondents are fully representative of the experiences of U.S.-based archival workers. For example, there was proportionally significant representation of archival workers employed by academic repositories. We do not know whether the ratios of repository type reflect the profession-wide distribution of archival workers in various categories of repositories. Additionally, no efforts were made to track or verify repeat respondents between the two surveys. This was an intentional decision made by the team in order to maintain respondents’ anonymity.
In this second survey we included a greater number of free text questions because we wanted to avoid potentially influencing survey outcomes as a result of the assumptions inherent in constructing controlled value answers. We also wanted to capture the voices of respondents’ lived experiences in the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic. As archivists, introducing these free text questions was vital not only for the rich data they provide, but also for the door this opens to preserving some of COVID-19’s impact on our field. This approach succeeded in compiling rich data but also proved to be particularly challenging and labor-intensive for analysis.
Illustrating Themes with Word Clouds
With appropriate documentation and a systematic approach, word clouds are a creative way to visually illustrate complex intellectual concepts. Calculating the frequency of repeating terms can reveal concrete themes. When used in this way, quantitative and qualitative methods can be blended to accurately develop collective themes through investigation. The process of “Code Landscaping” is performed through the action of creating word clouds, an abstract representation of the frequency of words in a body of text. This practice involves using “textual and visual methods to see both the forest and the trees.”
In addition to standardized quantitative data, word clouds can help anonymize responses and highlight themes from corpora of data (e.g., our free-text survey results). Graphs and graphics used to summarize data were created using a combination of Google Sheets, Gephi, Canva and the online tool WordClouds.com.
Simple manipulations through Google Sheets can easily organize and reorganize metadata to reveal patterns, themes, and conclusions, while ensuring the continuity of the original survey responses. In this context, manipulation implies movement and adjustments supporting standardization (such as sorting, counting, and coding), rather than forcible, covert changes that may corrupt original data.
Word cloud analyses are performed by processing text in an application which counts the frequencies of each word. Additionally, the algorithm is programmed to ignore “stop words” such as it, and, the, forms of “to be,” among others. Unfortunately, programming a custom list of stop words is very labor intensive. However, researchers are able to filter out extraneous data by using a process of recursive refining – running the “clean” processed data through the filter a second time. This can be replicated by editing the in-app Word List (on wordcloud.com) after reviewing the raw results.
For a detailed description of data analysis steps, see Appendix II: Data Processing Notes.
No repository was unaffected by the COVID-19 crisis; all respondents reported that their repositories shut down for a time. However, decisions made locally by leadership determined the shape of ongoing responses at the individual repository level, and subsequently the impact on repository staff.
Negative COVID-19 responses included permanently shutting down, laying off and/or furloughing staff; budget and benefit reductions; and hiring or salary freezes. However, as individual repositories navigated unprecedented operational decisions, some found pathways for innovation and creative perseverance such as increasing online programming and reference services, redirecting staff to work on metadata projects, and addressing crucial “rainy day” projects that support organizational infrastructure.
We speculated that furloughs, layoffs, and impacts on pay or benefits would increase as the COVID-19 crisis endured. The overall numbers of respondents reporting that they had been furloughed, laid off, or experienced pay/benefits cuts did increase. Table 1 compared the survey respondents reporting how the pandemic had impacted their work status. Key summary:
- 9.1% of winter survey respondents reported they had been laid off, an increase of 7.7% compared to the summer survey.
- 17.2% of respondents in the winter survey reported having been furloughed, an increase of 5.5%.
- 12.7% of respondents reported a reduction in pay and benefits in the winter survey, a decrease of 5.2%.
Table 1. Comparing Summer 2020 and Winter 2020 survey responses on job impact of COVID-19
|Summer 2020 (145 total responses)||Winter 2020 (197 total responses)|
|Impact Reported||# responses||% of total||# responses||% of total|
We examined who had been impacted the most from several different angles. In Figure 1, we visualized the Question 4 (“How has COVID changed your work status?”) responses by repository type to see if there were clear trends on who was being laid off by sector. The results were inconclusive because we received a proportionally low response from non-academic repositories. Another challenge for interpreting the results is that many repositories identifying as “nonprofit” may have also indicated an additional status.
Figure 1. Impact of Work Status by Institution Type
Table 2 compares Question 4, which was asking about the respondents’ personal work status, and Question 11, which was respondents reporting about activities at their workplace that may not have affected them directly. In this way, we were attempting to predict future trends. Overall, respondents reported a greater amount of furloughs and layoffs than what they personally experienced. Hopefully future studies can confirm or deny if furloughs and layoffs continued to increase.
Table 2. Furloughs and Layoffs by Institution Type
|Institution Type||Total respondents||Furloughs Reported, personal||Furloughs Reported, institutional||Layoffs Reported, personal||Layoffs Reported,institutional|
Survey respondents reported wide-ranging budget impacts for their institution but marked patterns of response. Overall, respondents reported that their institutions were implementing hiring freezes, departmental position reductions, and other cost-preserving measures. The actual impact on individual archival workers manifested as layoffs, furloughs, salary and benefit reduction, or as no financial impact at all. This range can be due to many factors, reflecting leadership decisions and capacity for remote work. This survey didn’t focus on gathering data on individual repository capacity for adaptability during the pandemic. While we couldn’t assume that all institutions were operating from the same place in their pandemic response, we assume that larger institutions might have had more of a cushion for weathering the pandemic.
Survey Response Analysis
1. Archival tasks (select all that apply)
Why we asked this question: This was a type of screener question for us to verify our intended survey audience as archival workers and see if workers whose job involved certain aspects of archival labor were impacted more than others performing different tasks. Respondents could choose more than one of the provided categories and could share further information in a free text field.
Figure 2. Pie Graph of Survey Respondent Archival Job Duties
A majority of respondents reported 5-9 of the archival tasks above in their job description.
A clear theme didn’t emerge from the survey data on what types of job duties were most greatly impacted. The job duties respondents reported doing who had been laid off included:
- Processing collections
- Providing reference
- Providing instruction, outreach, or public programming
- Creating and maintaining metadata/finding aids/catalogs
- Preservation and conservation treatments
- Digitizing and digital preservation services
- Paging Materials
- Supervising student workers and interns
While many duties that seem closely tied with interacting on-site with physical materials or people were impacted, there were also plenty of respondents who performed the same type of duties whose job was not impacted. This greatly demonstrated to the survey authors that the impact of COVID on archival workers was more a matter of institutional impact and leadership decisions than specific archival tasks.
2. Have your job scope or duties changed due to COVID-19? (free text)
Why we asked this question: With many archivists pivoting to remote work during the survey period, we were curious whether job duties may have changed due to COVID-19 and if so, how. What tasks are archivists doing more of? What are archivists doing less of?
Table 2. Term Instances by Reported Increase/Decrease in Job Duties
|Question #||Responses||Total terms||Repeating terms|
Table 3. Most Frequently Used Words by Reported Increase/Decrease in Job Duties
|Most Frequently Used Words|
|What we’re doing Less of:||What we’re doing More of:|
Observations: There were interesting dichotomies of respondents describing doing more of one thing with other respondents reporting doing less. This particularly emphasized the impact of individual and leadership choices in how to navigate the unprecedented pandemic. Partially also, it might be respondents interpreting the question for a specific period of time, which in this survey was abstractly throughout the pandemic and not specifically for the past six months. In hindsight, this approach, while we had debated about taking it, had been declined but probably would have been useful to take.
Figure 3. Word Cloud of Question 2 Free-Text Responses for “Doing Less”
Apart from instances of a complete cessation of in work, respondents reported that they were doing less or none of:
- Physical processing of collections
- In-person instruction
- In-person reference
- Supervising student workers or interns
- Exhibit creation
- Interaction with donor
Contrastingly, respondents reported an increase in the following activities accomplished from home:
- Virtual programming
- Remote reference
- Improving legacy finding aids
- Digital collections work
- Data remediation/cleanup projects
- COVID-19 documentation projects
- Social media and online exhibits
- Documenting policies and procedures
- Professional development
- Web archiving
- Oral history transcription
- Accessibility work
Figure 4. Word Cloud of Question 2 Free-Text Responses for “Doing More”
- “I’ve shifted more towards online-based projects – virtual instruction, digital exhibit creation, digital collection preservation, online reference work (increased providing of scans due to patrons not being allowed to visit).”
- “It’s all online. As a digital curator, this should allow me to get more work done than before, but structural and personnel changes within the institution have made this difficult.”
- “Donor communications continue, but collection acquisition has slowed do to reluctance for on-site visits. Reference duties are now by-appointment, or are handled whenever possible strictly through email or phone calls.”
- “More online work including; converting legacy PDF finding aids to EAD, accession-level MARC cataloging of incoming acquisitions, authority work in SNAC and NACO, creating working group to address racist and biased language in legacy descriptive products.”
- “Definitely! No physical processing, can’t go in to check on our spaces, can’t accept physical donations, can’t do in-person outreach to potential donors, can’t assign the usual tasks to student workers.”
- “Yes. Less touching physical collections, more online- and remote-friendly work like digital image QA, metadata management, file management, documentation.”
- “Reference services have been impacted greatly. Our collection is mostly analog so our materials are not available to researchers. When we opened briefly, we moved from drop-ins to scheduled appointments and had strict protocols for health and safety.”
- “While stuck at home, I could do nothing that I normally do (no network access, lack of access to key software); a few co-workers do work that could more easily transfer home.”
- “I’ve lost staff that I supervise through early retirement incentives instituted because of budget shortfalls from COVID-19 (which have also led to hiring freezes and my inability to replace said staff), so my job scope has changed in that my supervisory responsibilities have dropped off and anything I might have delegated before, I no longer can.”
3. Before COVID-19, I was — (select all that apply)
Why we asked this question: To determine whether any relationship exists between employment status and the impact of COVID-19 on respondents’ work environment, and to capture responses from archival workers with multiple jobs. Respondents could choose more than one category and use a free text field to provide more information.
Figure 5. Pie Graph Visualization of Respondents’ Pre-Pandemic Job Status
Observations: The majority of respondents (81.8%) were employed full-time pre-pandemic.
Of all respondents, none reported being unemployed at the time of the survey. Three clarified that their full-time status was the result of two (or more) part-time jobs. Only one respondent indicated that they were an intern/volunteer at the time of the survey.
Disclaimer: There were instances of multiple selections, particularly around full-time respondents also indicating that they were tenure or tenure-track as well as students indicating that they might be part-time or temporary.
4. How has COVID changed your work status? (select all that apply)
Why we asked this question: We were seeking to gather tallies of how COVID has impacted the archival workforce – particularly around layoffs, furloughs, pay and benefit reductions. We debated about whether to impose a time frame on this question, such as limiting it to between July 2020-December 2020. At the time, we chose to not specify a time frame because if someone had been impacted prior to July and hadn’t filled out the earlier survey, their experience would not be reflected in the data. However, in hindsight, imposing this more narrow time window could have been helpful to more accurately and consistently chart any potential “waves” in job impact fallout.
Figure 6. COVID Impact on Work Status
Slightly less than half of all respondents indicated that their job status was impacted by COVID-19. We looked at the correlated data from multiple angles to see if there were deeper trends but due to our limited sample, the results are inconclusive.
Table 4. Demographic Breakdown of Respondents Indicating “No Change in Employment”
|No Change in Employment||Overall Survey||% of demographic reporting ‘No Change’ in employment|
|Declined to Answer||6||18||33%|
|More than one race/ethnicity||3||5||60%|
5. If you are affiliated with a union, how has your affiliation influenced the impact of COVID-19 on your employment? (free text)
Why we asked this question: While a small percentage of archivists belong to a union (15.2% of respondents according to our previous survey), we were curious whether unions have played a role in continued employment during COVID-19.
Observations: The majority of respondents who are affiliated with a union indicated that the union had a positive impact (66.7%) on their employment situation during COVID-19. Others noted that their union had little impact or that their union was not doing enough to advocate on workers’ behalf. 87% of respondents for this question indicated that it was not applicable to them, which reflects anecdotal observations that many archival workers are not affiliated with a union, in the absence of a profession-wide union and low availability of allied eligible unions. Notably, no respondents indicated negative impacts as a result of their union affiliation–only mixed, neutral, or positive impacts.
- “I am associated with a union and believe my job may have been saved as a result.”
- “My union affiliation has likely been a factor protecting my job from cuts.”
- “Our furlough was minimal in large part due to our union’s advocacy. I strongly feel that our union has our backs.”
- “I am in a union, but it hasn’t had much of an impact. Our library is handling covid-19 safety precautions and sick leave very well, for the most part, or that may have been different. I do feel more secure in my position knowing that it’s [sic] union and I have plenty of seniority.”
- “Hard to say, if at all. I was reprimanded for alleged union work during working hours.”
6. How do you believe COVID-19 will impact your career and/or the broader archival profession going forward? (free text)
Why we asked this question: This question asked respondents to share thoughts about the impact of COVID-19 on future work status, employment prospects, and the broader profession.
Table 5. Overall Term Instances in Responses to Question 6
|Question #||Responses||Total terms||Repeating terms|
Observations: Many felt that the financial impact of COVID-19 will make it harder to enter the field and will increase reliance on precarious workers, with some saying they felt they may need to leave the profession as a result. Others speculated that institutions will prioritize digital archives and digitization projects given that the need for remote access to archival material has increased; still others predicted that being able to successfully work from home will allow for a more flexible work arrangement going forward.
Figure 7. Word Cloud on Question 6 “How do you believe COVID-19 will impact your career and/or the broader archival profession going forward? (free text)”
- Will (144)
- Job (83)
- Work (68)
- Position (63)
- Think (54)
- Year (33)
- Covid (32)
- Archives (26)
- Archivist (26)
- Going (26)
- “It hasn’t impacted my career but I think it will be devastating for the profession. Many archivists have lost their jobs or had hours reduced. That’s vital institutional memory and technical skills that we’re losing. For archives that are closed, some administrators will take that as the opportunity to say those functions aren’t vital and may not fund them in the future.”
- “There will be a heavy push for more outreach work and digital projects. We currently do not have the infrastructure or funding for digital projects.”
- “Personally, it has and will make it harder to find another job after my most recent contract expires. Prior to COVID, I wasn’t applying to term or contract positions but now I am again. I was hoping that I was finally in a spot in my career where I could snag one of those elusive non-term or contract positions.”
- “I think it will continue to be even harder to break into this field, which already relies so much on archivists’ willingness to do jobs that are some combination of part-time, non-benefitted, and temporary. We want to see increased diversity in our field, but this is a huge barrier to entry for folks who are not in positions of economic privilege.”
- “COVID-19 is pushing expectations of online access and discovery. Archivists will be expected to conduct outreach, instruction, and reference online from now on.”
- “I think there will be massive destabilization in the already-bad job market — the issues we’ve been fighting of stagnant wages, unpaid internships, and precarious grant-based employment are all going to double down.”
- “Sadly, I believe that more jobs will be consolidated into single positions that burn the workers out in the interest of saving costs. Our field is already underfunded, and COVID-19 has seen our budgets slashed without mercy. In terms of my own career, I have little hope of ever finding permanent work and foresee myself cobbling together contract after contract. I also know that my work performance this year is not very impressive – while I have managed to perform the basic functions of my job, our profession constantly demands that overachieving is actually the bare minimum. I haven’t done any presentations, I haven’t written anything, I haven’t attended any conferences because I AM BURNED OUT. Trying to make myself look like the best librarian/archivist that ever existed just seems trivial when THERE IS A GLOBAL PANDEMIC.”
- “On one hand, I am terrified that the draw down in funding will cause further cuts to the programs which I support. However, I also feel that more light has been shed on archival workers as a whole and the importance of “archiving the present.” Additionally, the shift to a majority/mandatory telework has allowed me to self-manage and (I feel) rise to the challenge. I think the work we have been able to complete off-site is a huge benefit to GLAM workers with disabilities who have struggled with administrators to get their personal needs met (e.g., telework, micromanagers, excessive meetings, etc.). Although the budgetary impacts are still looming and a large number of workers are in extremely precarious positions, I feel that archivists in particular have managed to ‘pivot’ quite well.”
7. What type of repository do/did you work in? (select all that apply)
Why we asked this question: We asked this question to get an idea of the perspective and representation of respondents from various repository types. We hoped to correlate if particular types of repositories were impacted more than others.
Figure 8. Bar Graph Visualizing the Survey Response Rate by Repository Type
Table 6. Chart of Responses by Repository Type
Notes and Outliers:
- We realized upon analyzing the responses that “nonprofit” was indicated often in combination with other repository types, so the interpretation of “nonprofit” as a category is ambiguous.
- 44 respondents (22%) used multiple tags to describe their institutions. Of those who selected “Academic,” 19 respondents (18%) included other, possibly supplemental, descriptions of their institution.
- Of those who did not select “Academic,” 25 respondents (27%) reported overlapping institutional designations.
- One respondent indicated that they were affiliated with several repository types: Community, Corporate/Business, Family/Personal, Non-profit, Public library. It is unclear, but possible, that this was due to having held multiple, possibly overlapping, positions. It is also possible that the respondent misunderstood the question, and applied it to their full archival career, rather than the specific time frame of the Covid-19 crisis.
8. What support have you utilized during COVID-19? (select all that apply)
Why we asked this question: To see what types of resources archivists have been engaging with to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19. Respondents could choose more than one category and provide more information in a free text field.
In the Summer 2020 survey, we asked what support was needed as a free text question. In the survey results, an overwhelming response at that time (July 2020) was that respondents were seeking professional development opportunities, mentoring, networking, and financial assistance. This question and the following question originally had been created under the assumption that the requests for support had been met due to anecdotal observation on greater availability of financial assistance, online professional development, and local tenure clock pauses. In hindsight, this and the following question might not have been angled in the most insightful way.
Figure 9. Bar Graph for Question 8: “What support have you utilized during COVID-19?” (select all that apply)
Observations: Most respondents (86.8%) were able to take advantage of remote or hybrid work environments. A large number of respondents (52.3%) were also able to utilize flexible work arrangements. In hindsight, distinguishing and clarifying any scope overlap between those two categories would have been helpful. Other frequently cited categories of aid were government stimulus checks, paid time off, and unemployment benefits. Among the 5 respondents who reported that they received “no support,” three also reported in Question 4 “No change” to their work status. Two of the five received pay cuts, one of whom was also furloughed.
9. Was the support sufficient? (free text)
Why we asked this question: In our July 2020 survey and previous informal surveys, we were asking what respondents needed. In the previous survey, several months into the pandemic, with some assistance formally or informally available, we wanted to understand how respondents are continuing to need support. We wanted to determine if the level of support offered to archivists in the workplace were sufficient, or left more to be desired. Additional hopes included capturing ideas that may better support and assist colleagues.
Table 11. Overall Term Instances in Responses to Question 9
|Question #||Responses||Total terms||Repeating terms|
Figure 10. Word Cloud on Question 9 Responses: “Was the support sufficient?”
- Work (54)
- Support (21)
- Time (14)
- Unemployment (14)
- Home (12)
- Enough (11)
- Feel (11)
- Lucky (10)
- Remote (10)
- Sufficient (10)
Additionally, we correlated the responses to multiple demographic categories to try to see if there were trends on who was most unsupported. While the majority of respondents primarily identified as white, female, and employed at an academic repository, we can begin to see clear disparities of satisfaction according to age and experience groups, regardless of other demographic factors.
Table 12. Satisfaction with Institutional Support by Gender Identity
|Gender Identity||Sufficient Support||Mixed Response||Insufficient Support|
Table 13. Satisfaction with Institutional Support by Race/Ethnicity
|Race/Ethnicity||Sufficient Support||Mixed Response||Insufficient Support|
|More than one race/ethnicity||5||0||0|
Table 14. Satisfaction with Institutional Support by Age Range
|Age Range||Sufficient Support||Mixed Response||Insufficient Support|
The age range category of 25-34 appears to be the least satisfied with their institutional support. This contrasts with the next age group (35-44), which represented a support rating of almost two-thirds satisfaction. There are many potential reasons for this, which hopefully could be delved into more detail in further studies.
Figure 11. Bar Graph Ranking Satisfaction With Institutional Support By Age Range
Selected responses organized into themes:
- “If my husband wasn’t working full time, we’d be fucked.”
- “Luckily, my spouse and I were not laid off. We both remained employed. While it has been a difficult time, it hasn’t personally impacted us the way others have been, and I realize this is a very privileged position to be in.”
- “Our institution didn’t give any raises this year but didn’t furlough or lay off anyone so the financial impact was minimal.”
- “no support for increased WFH costs (electricity, stationary, peripherals)”
- “Yes, I was very fortunate to have only been furloughed 12 days and received unemployment and the additional $600 weekly during 10 of those days, resulting in minimal impact on my finances.”
- “Yes, though I do consider myself lucky or well-situated for this situation. (I might change my tune when I have to pay student loans again.)”
- “Yes, but I don’t have children or elderly parents and my job was already largely digital (digital preservation, born-digital archives)”
- “Yes. But my needs are very minimal. I am healthy, youngish, have no children, and have savings enough to cover me if that support wasn’t enough. I’m in an extremely privileged position.”
- “Four months of paid leave was quite remarkable”
- “Yes, unless I had contracted COVID. If I had contracted the virus I wouldn’t have had sufficient sick leave.”
Unemployment and governmental support
- “No, the unemployment benefits and stimulus barely cover basics like rent, utilities, and health insurance, and I’m dipping into savings and relying on family support to get by.”
- “It was, although the support provided by New York’s shared work program expired after a certain amount of time, leaving me with much less income until I was returned to full-time employment.”
- “My second position ended too late for me to take advantage of the extra federal unemployment benefits, which I wish I could have gotten. I currently work part-time and collect partial unemployment and am having trouble keeping up with my portion of the bills. I am extremely lucky to have a partner who has a well-paying and stable job.”
- “The support while I was working was sufficient. When I was unemployed for a month, I didn’t know how to access unemployment. And I don’t know if I have access to any additional resources now that I’m only working part-time.”
- “Having worked as an independent contractor and a part time employee prior to COVID, I was unable to receive any additional unemployment benefits from the state or federal government other than the stimulus check. I found this support to be insufficient, especially in light of an un-renewed contract and decreased hours.”
- “I actually made more money while furloughed than I do while working due to stimulus and CARES Act funding tied to unemployment. The hybrid remote/in-person work is going okay for me, though I have been waiting months to be provided with an adequate computer.”
Supervision and administration
- “Performance expectations have tightened, as far as showing/proving work done and surveillance. I have not gotten the 100% from home I would prefer.”
- “yes, and I’m very thankful that library leadership supports us continuing to work from home if we feel unsafe *and* do not work in “client-facing” roles”
- “Expectations from our top management and board seem way too high. I really wish we could have been more reasonable in what we expected of and asked of ourselves and our staff.”
- “In my position, yes. But people who work in circulation were asked to do way too much and put themselves at way too much risk, some of them without health insurance.”
- “Our library director and the library board committed to no pay reductions for any staff regardless of position or availability of work. There were no furloughs or lay offs. We’re incredibly lucky.”
- “I’m staying afloat, but my partner lost their job because of the pandemic and I spent several months as the sole earner, which was very tight. But the support I have received is sufficient insofar as I am still employed, without taking a pay cut, and my supervisor has adjusted productivity expectations during this time.”
- “It would have been nice to hear my dean say more to his direct reports and all employees that it is OK we cannot be as productive, focus, etc. As a result, I say this constantly to my direct reports in the archives department.”
Childcare and additional strains
- “Financially, yes. Generally, not quite. Flexible work has been helpful, but the stress of this year has been high. Juggling childcare, virtual school and working has been hard, not to mention the added stress of civil unrest and the election (and documenting those plus COVID-19). Somewhat, we were in the dark for the decision making process. Especially regarding reopening.”
- “Somewhat, but only because I was able to afford additional childcare. Otherwise, I would have had to take more time off work.”
- “Not really. you can’t meditate Covid family deaths away. And parenting while working from home has been a very difficult. I don’t know how our university could have supported parents more. There’s not substitute for in person school.”
- “No. It’s been really hard to take any time off because of a 4 department team, 1 position is empty, 1 is working completely offsite, which only leaves 2 of us onsite to handle scanning, onsite research for virtual customers. Of those 2, I also have administrative duties including endless meetings as the organization responds to the pandemic. I’ve been told to find unpaid interns to assist which was the case pre-pandemic but has increased in urgency now.”
Work from home (or lack thereof)
- “I’m glad we’ve been able to work almost 100% remotely when before covid our requests to do any remote work were denied.”
- “When I was furloughed, and the extra federal unemployment dollars ran out, it was hard to pay my bills on about 60% of my salary. Now that I’m working again, I definitely appreciate the flexible schedules my boss has allowed us to have, and the ability to work from home most of the time. (Currently, we are mandated to work from home unless it’s something we absolutely have to go into work to do/look at.)”
- “No. I was only allowed to work from home from March to June, despite infections being higher in the second half of the year. I am now forced to be in an open office space with a COVID denier who is living their life like normal. We have had 3 exposure scares because of this person. I do not feel safe at work. Working near that person is heightening my anxiety and creating contempt for work I otherwise love.”
- “#yesandnobut: The hybrid work arrangement has been mostly wonderful; however, there is an alienating quality to starting at a new institution in this method. I feel completely secluded from my non-archival coworkers; I have very little sense of office politics and culture, and I am unable to ‘read’ where I stand with others.”
- “Not really. Our University is OPEN… with little change. I think it effects morale knowing the university thinks about money more than people. we have remote work, but it only kicks in after someone needs to quarantine based on a scare. The libraries daily door count is over 2k cause it never closed. The provost wants to change rules regarding tenure for faculty, so despite the option of a delayed tenure clock, it is too risky to take for most.”
- “In my case, yes, this support worked well. I work in a location with few staff. We allowed to work on opposite sides of our building and also work two days remotely from home.”
- “Monetarily, yes. I felt very professionally supported. But it has been a hard year emotionally and logistically.”
- “Yes, in that I am lucky enough to not need financial assistance in this time. The support I received/used has been more to help with my self-care/mental health rather than taking care of a family, balancing work and responsibilities, etc.”
- “No, I still am experiencing burnout and have little motivation to do my job because the expectations of awesomeness are still in place.”
- “Mostly, yes. I’m exhausted and stressed but not in a “how am I going to keep the lights on” kind of way.”
- “My supervisor has mostly sent out articles to help us deal with stress and feelings, rather than addressing things head on in meetings. That has been disappointing.”
- “yes. I feel sometime that I am not giving my three employers their money’s worth. It has been very hard on me at 68 1/2 working from home but I do keep tract of the hours and do make up work.”
- “No, workload has increased since people are more available”
- “As a part-time worker I have to actually work for my money – some union workers at the same institution seemingly took months off – understandable – but also frustrating.”
Equipment or lack thereof
- “I would have also appreciated being given a work laptop to use remotely.”
- “No – had to buy everything needed for telework and additional sources required to do my work out of own pocket”
10. How was your employer’s/unit budget impacted due to COVID? Was it impacted more or less than you expected? (free text)
Why we asked this question: Observing that many archives implemented budget cuts and hiring freezes in response to the pandemic, we asked this question to gauge archival workers’ direct experiences and to see if budget impacts were as serious as initially anticipated.
Table 15. Overall Term Instances in Responses to Question 10
|Question #||Responses||Total terms||Repeating terms|
Figure 12. Word Cloud of Responses to Question 10: “How was your employer’s/unit budget impacted due to COVID? Was it impacted more or less than you expected?”
- Budget (87)
- Expected (53)
- Impact (53)
- Cut (40)
- Less (34)
- Year (34)
- Lose (23)
- Funding (21)
- Freeze (19)
- Library (19)
Observations: Responses varied widely depending on institution. Some respondents indicated that the pandemic had no impact whatsoever on their institution’s budget while others reported furloughs, layoffs, hiring freezes, salary freezes, and even the shuttering of the archives completely.
- “All hiring was frozen, acquisitions were paused, and raises were delayed. It was impacted more than I expected.”
- “Impacted more than expected; we laid off 40% of our total staff.”
- “The company closed permanently after a month of lockdown (March).”
- “30% budget reduction for 2021. About in line with what we expected.”
- “There appears to be a commitment to retaining employees through the pandemic. I believe that will change when there are ‘simply normal’ health concerns.”
- “My employer canceled cost-of-living pay raises this year and instituted layoffs in some units. My unit has not had any layoffs. The institution also offered an early retirement incentive package that did affect my unit in the form of quite a few premature retirements. Because the institution also mandated a hiring freeze, none of these now vacant positions will be filled for the foreseeable future. My unit abruptly and permanently discontinued its system of ranks and promotion for its professional librarians — effectively a permanent de-professionalization of librarianship at my institution. I feel fortunate that we haven’t faced more severe impacts so in that sense, I suppose the impact is less than I expected. At the same time, some of the impacts haven’t made any sense and have seriously eroded trust in my unit’s leadership. The de-professionalization fits this latter category.”
- “I was pleasantly surprised management chose to freeze acquisitions budgets rather than cut staff.”
11. At my institution, the following things are happening (select all that apply):
Why we asked this question: We wanted to get an “on the ground” impression of what has been happening, capturing what first comes to mind.
Figure 12. Bar Graph of Responses to Question 11 “At my institution, the following things are happening” (select all that apply)
131 respondents (79.6%) reported a hiring freeze/chill.
85 respondents (52.5%) reported stopped or delayed merit raises.
65 respondents (33.0%) reported furloughs.
65 respondents (33.0%) reported layoffs.
32 respondents (16.2%) reported reduced working hours.
28 respondents (14.2%) reported salary reduction.
24 respondents (12.2%) reported future contracts or projects canceled.
13 respondents (6.6%) reported benefits reductions.
10 respondents (5.1%) reported other impacts.
7 respondents (3.6%) reported no changes.
6 respondents (3.0%) reported early/incentivized retirements.
5 respondents (2.5%) reported non-wage budget cuts.
3 respondents (1.5%) reported complete institutional closure.
- “Retirement incentives, [are] causing us to lose many many experienced staff at once.”
- “Furloughs and layoffs haven’t happened specifically at the library, but are happening on campus.”
- “[Our] hiring freeze isn’t covid related, it’s from the budget issues we were having pre-covid.”
- “We have a long-expired bargaining agreement that our union was hoping to roll over, but will instead be renegotiated this coming spring. We may have salary “delays,” meaning that for every 5 days someone works, 1 day’s worth of pay will go into an account as a sort of loan to the college that will be paid when the employee leaves. We have only heard that this is being considered.”
- “Moving people around to various departments to make sure they always have work to do (ex: we have workers from another dept in the library when students aren’t on campus).”
- “Hours are being maintained and new methods of service are being explored and tested.”
12. Have you or your employer explored creating additional income/fundraising approaches? If so, what? (free text)
Why we asked this question: Observing the seemingly automatic application of austerity measures by archival repositories and/or parent organizations in response to the pandemic, we asked this to elicit alternatives that raise or sustain funding for archives and workers.
Observations: Many respondents indicated that their institutions had not explored creative fundraising approaches or that they were not privy to such information due to organizational hierarchies. Others noted that there has been emphasis on applying for grants. Among institutions that have pursued additional fundraising, many make donation appeals, online programming, and outreach on social media.
- “We are only allowed to seek funding with central approval, which hampers our fundraising abilities.”
- “We’ve been forced to apply to grants basically non-stop since April.”
- “Ha. I’ve become really experienced with selling stuff on Facebook marketplace, which has channeled nervous energy and given us a little extra income (i made back my pay reduction by selling on that platform). Re: my employer, I don’t think so. “
- “We have done online fundraisers, partnerships with websites and apps designed to raise funds, applied for grants designed to aid with COVID related budgetary shortfalls, etc.”
- “Our development department created a campaign just for trying to make up lost income due to COVID.”
- “There’s always talk of grants. Our foundation staff have had lots of downtime since they could not meet with donors and most asks were put on hold, so I have spent A LOT of time writing and rewriting development proposals for some of our priority development areas (creating an endowment for X collection, raising expendable money for Y, trying a new crowdfunding platform/initiative, etc.).”
- “We switched to asking for donations instead of charging digitization fees. We have received more money asking for donations than charging fees.”
- “As a department, we have started seriously organizing our fundraising efforts. We are in the process of selecting a CRM system to track donors. We are exploring the possibility of a newsletter and are sending out holiday cards for the first time this year. As an institution, I’m not sure of additional fundraising outside the usual Giving Tuesday efforts. I do know we smashed our previous record for donations this year, but I don’t know how much this is related to COVID.”
- “Our library has leaned in more on promoting fund raising efforts than before, tapping into social media and video promotions more.”
13. Are there some aspects of this current COVID-19 world that you would like to see continue into the future? (free text)
Why we asked this question: With COVID upending the status quo, members of the Archival Workers Emergency Fund Organizing Committee individually and collectively are committed to highlighting and promoting ways that our profession and broader society can build back better and stronger and not simply revert back to the status quo as an increasing number of the population is vaccinated and repositories reopen.
Observations: Overall, respondents overwhelmingly expressed support for some degree of continued remote work and online outreach/programming. Among the cited benefits of remote work included:
- Greater accessibility for people with disabilities to tend to their needs and less strain to be on site
- Less impact for people who have long commutes
- A greater focus and efficiency, particularly if someone is budgeting their time in a hybrid partially on-site and partially remote schedule.
They noted that sick leave is taken more seriously and that there’s an increased acknowledgement of external life factors. They also noted increased efficiency practices, whether it is being more efficient for on-site work, research visits by appointment, and reference interviews and meetings done by teleconference. Other overwhelming support was expressed for online professional development events such as conferences and trainings. The cited benefits included:
- Increased accessibility for people with disabilities
- Relative ease of being able to access trainings and conferences from other geographic regions or countries.
- Lowered costs for registering and participating in the conferences.
- “I realize I can do some of my job from home and expect that to continue, maybe one day a week post-COVID. I also expect to do online reference consultations and meetings.”
- “Remote work and online programming! The online archives/history community that has developed from this has been a real positive.”
- “Yes to remote work! Yes to online programming. Yes to allowing workers to stay home when they’re sick (as opposed to only when they are no longer able to stand up because they are so sick)”
- “I truly hope many of the teleworking and virtual reference aspects will stick around. From our feedback, it is creating easier access for users who would often have to make complicated arrangements to physically come to campus, sometimes to review very few documents. It is also great for employees to have the option to telework; I don’t wish for it to remain at 100%, but some percentage of telework (50-70%?) would be great for many.”
- “It has helped my reporting structure better understand the need for digital access to physical archives.”
- “For my personal work, I would like to see the opportunity to work from home one day a week (I have not missed my hour+ daily commute). For the profession, I’d love to see online classes/conferences/conversations be part of our choices in the future. I know I attended the virtual format allowed me to attend more of these than I ever can in a regular year due to budget and time constraints.”
- “Remote work, more flexibility for partial wfh. Greater emphasis on Zoom meetings so people aren’t obligated to travel across a large campus for meetings. People being more diligent about staying home when they’re sick.”
- “Increased focus on planning ahead for research appointments (e.g. extensive phone/video call/email reference interviews before researchers arrive for appointments), increased collaboration between institutions, increased online options for professional development”
- “Remote work. There are some perks to not having to be on-site, such as decreased transportation/parking costs, not experiencing microaggressions, and being able to take care of my pets more. I also really miss in-person conferences, but I do hope there are still plenty of virtual learning opportunities in the future.”
- “I am desperately hoping I will be able to continue remote work at least one day a week. It is great for my mental health, and feels like one “easy” perk for the organization to give us that is not as costly as, say, merit increases or more vacation time.”
- “As in my earlier comments, I think the telework and hybrid schedules we have seen emerging are a HUGE benefit going forward, especially for workers who struggle with disabilities. For example, if I have a migraine at home, I have all of my tools and remedies available at easy access; I can take an extended lunch break to recover and return to work when able. If I had a migraine pre-covid, I would likely have to fight through it until it became unbearable enough to merit going home. The added stress of regular commuting and societal expectations are greatly lessened – unless I have meetings to attend, I can be much more comfortable (and therefore more efficient!) in my own home than I could be at work. I am also able to control my environment to enhance productivity.”
- “I would like to see remote work continue to some extent. I’m a digital archivist and have been just as effective, if not more so, performing my core responsibilities at home. Being at home has been better for hea”lth conditions that I manage and has helped lower everyday stress levels as well.
- “I do like the option of getting to work from home occasionally, as I have chronic pain that sometimes makes getting in to work impossible, but if I had equipment I wouldn’t have needed to take a sick day and could work from the couch. I also liek having Zoom options for every meeting.”
- “I could see doing one day out of three days for one of my jobs remotely. [ Mainly because I take public transit , two hours each way every day.]”
- “I would be very interested in increased opportunities for remote work, online or hybrid programming, online educational and conference opportunities, online career center/career support from professional orgs. I actually really preferred most virtual interview processes I participated in, even for final round, although for in-person jobs it would be helpful to have an in-person component, possibly in conjunction with or following a job offer.”
- “Before our closure in March, I really couldn’t see how an archivist would be able to work from home. Maybe that’s because it would never have been possible in my previous position (for various reasons). I definitely think there needs to be more options to work from home–even if it’s just for a snow day/weather-related closures. I also think there needs to be more options for online programming–free and paid. I’ve seen so much dialogue, resource sharing, etc. in online forms that has come out of closures, and then the George Floyd Protests and the Election. I hope that spirit can continue.”
- “yes! I love the affordability, ease and access of remote professional conferences, training, meetings, teaching, and internships. Preparing to teach well online or train and supervise interns online takes time and thoughtful, creative effort but it is worth it. I do not see any of these things disappearing. I’d like the freedom to telecommute 2-5 days a week in the future, depending on if it is a day for me and my students to mostly process in the building versus everything else I can do at home.”
- “Being able to attend presentations all over the country, and even the world, has been an unexpected benefit of this current COVID-19 period. I would love to continue being able to attend presentations remotely. I would like for workers to keep being able to work partly or fully remotely if they wanted to and are able to carry out their responsibilities that way.”
- “Having to do things remotely (meetings, programming, etc.) has required creative thinking and lead to solutions that I think will be helpful in a post-pandemic world. For example, meeting through Zoom and other platforms — especially for committees and regional groups. Online programming has been less successful in my experience–student engagement has been a real challenge–but aspects of it are positive. I really had to up my social media game this year, and that was a good thing.”
14. Any additional comments? (optional free text)
Why we asked this question: To elicit responses that did not fit into other questions.
Table 15. Overall Term Instances in Responses to Question 14
|Question #||Responses||Total terms||Repeating terms|
Observations: Additional comments addressed anxiety about future job impacts, feelings of being overwhelmed and the emotional impact of the pandemic, the disproportionate impact on BIPOC archival workers, and the downside of working from home, including ergonomics and increased micromanagement from supervisors and administrators.
- “Admin has become increasingly micromangement focused over time, which is frustrating and requires us to put in reports on everything we’ve done.”
- “I think the field is going to be a huge mess for years to come because of this being the final straw in a long time of shitty labor practices and I honestly wonder if it’s worth trying to stay.”
- “I’m truly scared for the future of archives and GLAM institutions *and* their workers. Our field is about to be decimated and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. This is a second career for me and I’ve always felt so grateful to have it, so losing it is going to be both an identity and financial crisis. It’s also going to set back so much hard work that’s been done to make the profession more inclusive and equitable, which really hurts.”
- “I am disgusted by the recent layoffs of some of our most vulnerable staff, many of whom are BIPOC and trying to make a better future for themselves. This just continues the systemic white privilege in the profession.”
- “A lot of my work really can’t be done remotely, or done efficiently at least — so the pandemic has meant that I and my department have fallen behind on processing projects and regular general housekeeping (clearing off the hold shelf, etc.), both of which are vital for the health and usability of the collection. It’s pretty heartbreaking to have to put some of that work off. I’m hoping to be able to pick it up in the new year. But it has added delays to projects that were already years, and sometimes decades, beyond when they should have been dealt with.”
15. Demographics: Gender Identity (optional free text)
Why we asked this question:
We wanted to see what types of people were responding to this question and also observe if there were patterns of impact based upon various demographics. Because this could be a sensitive question, it was optional.
The survey responses seemed to reflect anecdotal observations that the archival profession has become more women-dominated (although not necessarily reflected proportionally in leadership levels).
Figure 13. Pie Graph Visualization of Survey Respondents According to Gender Identity
80.2% (148) of respondents identified as female
10.2% (20) of respondents identified as male
8.6% (18) did not respond
1.0% (2) identified as nonbinary
16. Demographics: Racial Identity (optional free text)
Why we asked this question:
We wanted to see what types of individuals were responding to this question and also observe if there were patterns of impact based upon various demographics. Because this could be a sensitive question, it was optional.
Figure 14. Pie Graph Visualization of Survey Respondents According to Race or Ethnicity
- 149 respondents (75.3%) identified as white
- 23 respondents (11.6) didn’t disclose their race or ethnicity
- 6 respondents (3%) identified as Black
- 6 respondents (3%) identified as Latinx
- 4 respondents (2%) identified as Mixed Race
The survey responses seemed to corroborate with widespread observation that the archival profession predominantly identifies as white.
Table 15. Employment Change by Race/Ethnicity
|by Race/Ethnicity||Laid Off||Furloughed||No Change|
|More than one race/ethnicity||1||2||3|
17. Demographics: Age (optional multiple choice)
Why we asked this question:
We wanted to see what types of people were responding to this question and also observe if there were patterns of impact based upon various demographics. This was an optional question.
Figure 15. Bar Graph Visualization of Survey Respondents According to Age Range
- 3 respondents (1.5%) were 18-24 years old
- 58 respondents (29.6%) were 25-34 years old
- 72 respondents (36.7%) were 35-44 years old
- 30 respondents (15.3%) were 45-54 years old
- 28 respondents (14.3%) were 55-64 years old
The survey responses seemed to gather responses primarily from people aged approximately 25-44 years old. This demographic range generally is in the early to middle stage of their career.
Table 16. Employment Change by Age
|Age Range||Laid Off||Furloughed||No Change|
18. Years in the archival profession (optional multiple choice)
Why we asked this question:
We wanted to see what types of people were responding to this question and also observe if there were patterns of impact based upon various factors, such as career stage.
Figure 16. Bar Graph Visualization of Survey Respondents According to Years in the Archival Profession
Out of 197 total responses:
8 respondents (4.1%) indicated that they had been in the field for 1-2 years
39 respondents (19.8%) had been in the field for 3-5 years.
61 respondents (31%) identified as having been in the field for 6-10 years
55 respondents (27.9%) indicated that they had been in the field for 11-20 years.
29 respondents (14.7%) had been in the field for 21 or more years.
Overall, survey results indicate that archival workers representing a range of repository types and job responsibilities have been impacted by COVID-19. For some, the impact was limited to pivoting to working from home, while others faced more drastic repercussions such as layoffs and furloughs.
The impacts of COVID-19 continue to shake a profession that is struggling with sustainability on many levels, and still recovering from the 2008 financial crisis. As the pandemic stretches on, projections on reopening, “returning to normal,” and reimagining better futures are illusive and ever changing targets. A follow up survey is being planned for Fall 2021 to aid in the longitudinal study necessary to track the lasting effects of COVID-19 on archival jobs and workers.
Appendix I: Survey
Appendix II: Data Processing Notes
Raw data often needs to be “cleaned” in order to extract themes. Respondents may use slightly different words or phrases to describe their experiences, while the overall interpretation remains the same. Due to current technological limitations, word clouds provide the most clarity when the data has been subjected to “manual stemming”—a preliminary phase of analysis used to consolidate related terms and reconcile disparities arising from typos, punctuation, or verbiage. While manual stemming at some point becomes a subjective task, the process of “collapsing” like-terms—generally a subject and its plural form, or various tenses of a verb—through rigorous cataloguing in spreadsheet form, is an acceptable tool for mixed-methods text mining analysis. When deletions are properly notated and parameters explicitly documented, these visual representations of qualitative bibliometric analysis can be helpful for researchers while providing a basis for replication. In order to maintain transparency and data integrity, it is imperative that any changes are both documented and distributed with results.
All long-text Questions, data-refining details to facilitate standardization and extraction:
- Long-text numbers (e.g. “four”) removed
- Names of days and months are removed
- Capitalizations collapsed (if possible)
- Pluralizations and verb tenses are collapsed to root word
- Unless the context is more clear by using another form, e.g. “exhibits,” “processing”
- Unless the root word is not present
- Unless the derivative term has significantly more occurrences than the root term
- E.g.: “intern” vs. “Interns”; “impact” vs. “impacted”
- Contractions that are combinations of stop words (it’s, I’m) are removed
- Some words needed to be manually split due to punctuation recognized as joining text (manually re-coded in spreadsheet)
Q2: Less/More Coding
- 20 respondents answered “No” or “N/A,” with or without additional qualifying text
- +1 unqualified “yes” (removed)
- Entries for More: 127, with 442 total final terms; 249 single-occurrence terms
- Entries for Less: 117, with 261 total final terms; 165 single-occurrence terms
- Phrases hyphenated so that they count concepts properly:
- Online reference (n=6)
- Online outreach (n=12)
- Physical collections (n=4)
- Laid off (n=3)
- In addition to the obvious tags of ‘more’ and ‘less,’ determinations were made based on indicators such as “All”/“No(ne)” and “instead of”/“due to” – when a causal relationship was encountered, there was usually an ability to infer the more/less dichotomy
- “Changes” in projects inferred, new duties listed under “more”
- If the shift in duties is unclear when more/less separated, text may be duplicated to balance out, e.g.
- “Online instruction” vs. “in-person instruction” [instruction would be duplicated for clarity]
- Positive/Negative not adjusted – e.g. “more lay offs” vs. “less employees”
- Pauses/stoppages coded under ‘less’ [less work to the point of none]
Q3: Consolidating pre-Covid Work Status
For the purpose of collapsing into standardized categories:
- Student/Temp/FT&PT = Temp
- FT/Tenure = FT
- Consultant/Freelance/Self-employed = other qualifiers stripped [except 3 problematic responses, highlighted in spreadsheet.]
Q9: Consolidating Sufficiency of Institutional Support
With commentary removed:
- Yes = 109
- No = 34
- Mixed = 26
Q11: Organizing some free-text answers into categories due to frequency of common response
New Categories added:
- Reduction in Benefits (13 responses)
- Cuts to Non-Wage Budgets (5 responses)
- Early/Voluntary Retirements (6 responses)
- Institution Closed/Closing (3 responses)
- N/A or None (7 responses)
- Else (10 responses)
Table 16. Overall Term Instances by Question
|Question #||Responses||Total terms||Repeating terms|