Researcher’s Corner: The New Archivist’s Job Search

Note – added 2/26/2013 – If you’re interested in learning more about this project, Shannon’s presentation, Rebecca Goldman’s presentation, and the survey and anonymized responses are all available here:

I am so excited to be able to present this guest post by Shannon Lausch, in which she reports on her very current research, conducted in partnership with Rebecca Goldman, into what it’s like to job hunt as a newly graduated archivist. I heard about their work via the SNAP listserv.  If you’re a new archivist, you should check it out.  I’ve been very impressed with both the discussions and level of collegiality that can be found there.

Shannon’s analysis is fascinating – there are both expected and surprising results.  Please leave a comment to let us know what you think!


At the 2012 annual conference of the Society of American Archivists (SAA), Rebecca Goldman and I were panelists for a session called “The Thin Line between Supply and Demand: The Pesky Business of Archival Education.” Like many areas in the library and information science field, the competition for archives-related jobs is fierce, and this panel addressed the high number of job applicants versus the low number of positions available.

For our presentations, Rebecca and I conducted a survey of those who completed a graduate program with an emphasis in archives within the past five years. Rebecca was interested in job and life satisfaction as well as alternatives to the archives profession, while I focused on the job search itself. Specifically, I wanted to provide answers to the many questions new graduates may find themselves asking, such as the following: how long is the average job search?  Is relocation usually necessary? What kinds of jobs are applicants ultimately finding?

Survey Methods

We sent out the survey to SAA’s Archives and Archivists listserv and Students and New Archives Professionals listserv. It was also advertised on the ArchivesNext blog and on Twitter. We received 248 responses.

Designing the survey was challenging, and we had to make some difficult choices of how to phrase questions and what options to include. We were also careful in distinguishing between those who found a position after graduation and those who are currently searching for a job. Among those who are currently searching for a job, we included those who found a job after graduation but are looking for a new position and those who have yet to find a job after graduation.

Our Findings

I would like to highlight what I found to be the most interesting findings in the job search section of our survey.

Some graduates do find full-time positions, but a significant number report finding temporary or part-time work for their first position after graduation

One of the first job-related questions we asked in the survey was the basic “have you found any kind of employment post-graduation”: 73.2 percent reported finding a position after graduating, 15.6 percent said that they continued to work in a position that they had before graduating, and 6.7 percent stated that they did not find employment of any kind. Of the 4.5 percent who stated that none of the options applied to them, common answers included finding employment before graduating or having paid internships.

In the next question, we asked those who were employed to describe the type of position of their first job. 49.8 percent said that they were employed as professional archivists; the next highest, at 14.4 percent, stated that they were employed in a related field, and a total of 15.8 percent were employed in a paraprofessional position. 6.2 percent were employed in an unrelated field.

We then further inquired about the status of their first position. 48.3 percent reported holding full-time and permanent positions. The next highest at 31.7 percent reported having a full-time position that was on a temporary or term basis or based on a contract or project.  Part-time positions accounted for 19 percent of employment.

The job search may not be as arduous for everyone

After hearing so many anecdotes of people applying to a hundred or more jobs for over a year before finally landing their first position, I expected our results would illustrate a similar story. I was wrong.

In searching for their first position post-graduation, 31.2 percent reported it took 1 to 3 months to find a job, and for another 31.2 percent, it took 4 to 6 months. 8.7 percent reported that it took more than a year to find a job.

Before finding their first position, the majority, at 48.9 percent, applied between 1 and 20 positions, and 21.3 percent applied between 21 and 40 positions. Four percent applied to 100 or more positions.

If we were to do this survey again, I would further break-down the 1-20 segment to have a better understanding on the average number of positions graduates apply for, since I did not expect it to be our top answer.

Getting an interview is a huge deal

Next, let’s take a look at interviews. For those employed, out of 165, 131 reported receiving just one interview. If we include everyone currently looking for a job, these numbers have a little more variety. Still, the most frequent responses were zero or one.

I was surprised that so many successful candidates received only one interview. It illustrates that there may be nothing sorely deficient with job seekers who have spent a long time searching. They just needed a lucky break. But I’m also wondering what happened to those who were competing against the people who only had one interview and got the job. Surely, there should be more people out there with at least two interviews.

I would also like point out that if we were to do this survey again, we would consider distinguishing between preliminary phone interviews and final interviews as we’re not certain how our applicants decided to count interviews.

Relocation is a common reality for job finders

Finally, we also asked about willingness to relocate. Another common story for job seekers to hear is that you must be willing to relocate, and I was curious about how willingness to relocate relates to finding a job.

I cross-tabbed our data of whether job finders had to relocate and what their position was. For professional archives positions, 58.9 percent had to relocate for their position; for related professionals, 13.3 percent relocated; and 14.4 percent relocated for hybrid position.

So what about those who did not relocate but still found a position? 46.8 percent found a job as an archivist professional and 17 percent as an archives paraprofessional. But for those who did not relocate and still found a position, 29.8 percent already had the job before receiving their degree.

Final thoughts

It is a tough and strange market in the archives world, one where you may go from hearing nothing for months to landing a full-time professional position after receiving an interview from just one institution. Or you may have to face the uncertainties of the job market again and again, finding multiple temporary project positions. Having a strong network of those who can help you in making sure your resume, cover letter, and interviewing skills are in top form is critical for making sure when opportunity strikes, you’re ready.

Shannon Lausch graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a master’s degree in library and information science in May 2011. While studying for her master’s degree, she worked as a graduate assistant at the University Archives; completed a practicum with the Champaign County Historical Archives; and held an internship with the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum for her graduate school’s “Alternative Spring Break” program.

She is now an archivist for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, working at the UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture. Her job search lasted seven months.


Filed under Archives, Researcher's Corner

11 responses to “Researcher’s Corner: The New Archivist’s Job Search

  1. It´s a very interestig work realized for this librarian. In Perú some professionals librarians get jobs like archivists, but exists the National School of Archivists, wuere I have learned this career. In fact the survey done for Shannon Lausch shows a statistic very interesting in relation to the librarian-archivist and his jobs related in his enviroment.


  2. I think archivists must learn about librarianship tips and to apply his knowledge in relation qith those disciplines


  3. The young professionals involved in SNAP are doing great work, and I’m happy to see them featured here. I’ve been applying for both librarian and archivist positions over the past 17 months, and have received only two interviews (one for an unrelated position, and another for a federal position. in both instances, the interviewers assured me that I did NOT want the position, and they were probably right). I’ll be interested in learning more as their research continues to develop.


  4. I know I’m biased here, but I can’t help but to think the results of this survey are skewed based on the methodology. Because participants were recruited primarily through venues that appeal to archivists (except for Twitter), I think people who left the field are underrepresented. I can name several people who graduated from my MLIS program last year who completely left the information fields after graduation. Some of them simply decided they didn’t want to be archivists any more, but others couldn’t find a job in even an allied field. Those people are unlikely to be reading ArchivesNext or the SAA’s listservs. Also, many people are embarrassed to admit the couldn’t find a job. Personally, I stopped telling people I was looking for a job after 6 months of unemployment because I got sick of people insinuating that it was my fault.


    • Hi Rebecca,

      I don’t think you’re being biased. I agree and think that it is skewed in favor of those who found a position in the profession. Rebecca and I didn’t have the resources available to do a scientific survey like the ones that have been published in American Archivist (where survey givers typically contacted grad schools and worked with them to forward their surveys to their alumni). The fact that so many people reported receiving one interview and far fewer reported receiving multiple interviews also suggests those who haven’t found a job are underrepresented in this survey.

      We hope that our survey could be a starting point for a more thorough (and more scientific) one in the future. Rebecca Goldman in particular had some great questions on life and career satisfaction for new grads, which hasn’t been addressed in great detail in archival literature. In the meantime, I thought that some of the results could still be helpful, even if the survey does have some flaws. For instance, I was fascinated to find out that many people do find themselves applying for jobs for months and months without hearing anything at all and then seemingly out of the blue, they get an interview and are hired.

      Rebecca G. is working on putting the full survey results at La Salle University’s digital repository, and I’ll comment here to let everyone know when it’s ready.

      Thanks for raising some important points!


  5. sean

    This is some really great stuff! It’s so great to see an NCC alumnus being recognized for such a great project.

    I’m wondering, though, about the geographical breakdown of the job seekers as it relates to supply and demand of talent. I think that this is particularly relevant to this research because supply and demand shifts exist from town to town as well as state to state. For instance, there is a greater supply and demand for IT talent in Silicon Valley than anywhere else in the US. This makes it extremely competitive for job seekers and employers.

    This labor pressure (labor supply over labor demand) is a good indicator of how competitive job markets will be for job seekers and employers. For instance, one interview may have been enough in an area of high demand and low supply, while a different market area might have high supply and low demand, allowing employers to be more selective in their hiring decisions and conduct more interviews.

    Because of these factors, could the data have been skewed based on overrepresentation of candidates from one area as opposed to another?


    • Sean, I believe when I went to the SAA session about this topic the research suggested that most job seekers were willing to relocate. Unless organizations are discriminating against long-distance candidates, then where the job seekers are currently located shouldn’t affect the data too much.


  6. Pingback: Guest Post: The New Archivist's Job Search | Hiring Librarians | Information Science |

  7. Boy do I feel frustrated after reading the study. I graduated in Dec. 2009 and have yet to secure a permanent position. I have worked a few full-time contracts for months on end but nothing. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few people like me that had full-time contracts during this survey but are now out of luck.

    I think I have had 15 interviews in museums, archives, and libraries since graduation. I don’t know how many applications I have put in, I lost count last year. Granted I really can’t move, but a classmate who graduated at the same time has had less luck.

    Maybe we graduated at the worst time possible. We had internships, kept volunteering while working retail, found ways to illustrate the skills gained in retail and merchandising can apply, and went to conferences. Yet we see graduates who finished after us and had less experiences after graduation (they graded papers for their assistance-ships instead of cataloging archival materials) get interviews and the jobs we never heard from. I decided to add to my MA to get a MLIS but it’s discerning to hear classmates say they don’t need to know how to catalog or how to interact with people.

    People in hiring positions say the fact that I graduated almost three years ago doesn’t matter and it’s good that I volunteer, but when I apply (and possibly interview) with them, they hire a less experienced recent graduate even though we are willing to accept the same pay. It’s almost like they think that because I have volunteered, then I should be willing to continue to volunteer. Never mind I usually include one or two volunteerships with ton of professional experience when applying.

    Point is that a survey like this makes me think that it’s me and I’m not worthy. Not a good feeling. Am I hurt career-wise because of when I graduated? Employers may say no but their actions suggest otherwise.


    • Morgan

      I feel like you just read my mind. As if I wasn’t depressed enough having basically the exact story you describe here, now they are saying so many others are doing pretty well. I graduated 3 years ago with a focus on digitizing collections. I have volunteered, interned, and done a couple very short contracts with archives and museums. I’ve applied to hundreds of archive positions with little to no response from potential employers. I’m even willing to move ANYWHERE. I guess I’m the problem and I’ll just keep working in the local record store until I die.


  8. Dear Shannon,

    I am sure you still remember me. It is Terry Weech’s favorite student. I have been looking for your email for a long time to email you. We kept in touch for a long time but then I lost the contacts. I would love to read from you. If you still remember our friendship, please find me on GSLIS community list, and email me. Looking forward to hearing back soon!




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