A Work in Progress: Improving Labor Practices in Digital Libraries

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Labor sustains cultural heritage and yet it is undervalued across libraries, archives, and museums (LAM). LAMs furthermore normalize contingency through practices like using short-term funding to create short-term positions in support of long-term programs and services. Conversations about labor practices and workers’ well-being in LAM often frame these issues as individual concerns. However, the impacts of LAM labor practices spread beyond the growing number of undervalued, invisible, and contingent workers that characterizes this field. In academic libraries, for example, workers with job protections (such as non-contingent faculty status) face mounting workloads as they find themselves unable to support and retain talented colleagues. These protected workers may also find it difficult to scale down their units’ responsibilities, even as undervalued and contingent workers depart. And when library workers depart or become burned out, what becomes of libraries’ ability to sustain access to information, teaching and learning, and high-quality research collections?

In this session, we’ll discuss our recent work with the Digital Library Federation Working Group on Labor in Digital Libraries, Archives, and Museums (https://wiki.diglib.org/Labor), which focuses on two research areas: foregrounding the experiences of contingent and precarious workers; and developing a research agenda for valuing labor. We’ll briefly review each research activity in the first half of the session and devote the second half to discussion with participants. This session will be interactive but we hope you’ll stay!


Interactive session presented at the UMD Libraries Research and Innovative Practice Forum, June 11, 2019.