May Day, Revisited

MayDay_Archives_14It’s been about three years since I first mentioned that I thought SAA’s approach to May Day was problematic. And most of those objections still stand. I started that post with some definitions that are probably worth restating:

1. May Day is an ancient spring holiday celebrated by a whole bunch of European cultures.

2. May Day, or International Workers’ Day, dates back to 1886 and the first socialist protests in the United States.

3. “Mayday“, derived from the French “m’aidez” is an international distress call.

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It’s a joke, of course. We’d never break glass in our repositories.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that those of us in the archives field are feeling a bit of distress these days. While the prospect of a government shutdown next week has lessened, there is still the looming demolition of the Institute for Museum & Library Services, which provides funding for many archives projects and supports more than a few jobs in the field. In many states, like here in Ohio, budget shortfalls are growing by leaps and bounds, making state funding an uncertain proposition.

But let’s go back SAA’s focus on disaster preparedness, because this topic is vitally important. Having spent two years as a professional now, I can totally relate to the need to take some time and focus on how we deal with emergency situations. It’s dreadfully easy to spend so much time focused on collections that we forget to do the little things. The list of suggestions SAA provides is fantastic, and I plan on using some of these ideas.

But I keep coming back to funding and labor, even as I think of this stuff. For example, the two biggest issues we have on my floor of the library aside from lack of space, har har!) are the unreliable seals on our windows and the massive fluctuations in temperature and humidity we struggle with almost daily. Window leaks beget water damage, so we can be ready to treat that. And humidity fluctuations cause collections damage over time- we can even develop a plan to deal with that.

But to stop these two issues is not small thing limited to one day a year. We need to advocate to the administration and ultimately the state for fixes (in our case, a new building would be ideal). But if you scroll back up to that first paragraph, you’ll know that the money will be a long time coming.

So let me argue this for May Day (because SAA can’t, and I understand that). Let us use this time to let people know that archives are in the midst of a slow-motion crisis. Our labor funding is constantly endangered, leading too many positions to be temporary, grant-based gigs. Our repositories are in many cases falling apart, leading to greater danger of damage to collections. Reach out to the media. Contact your elected officials at every level. Raise the general alarm.

We are, as institutions, loathe to admit what’s wrong. To say that our building are falling apart or that we can’t ever hire enough staff can be seen as a sign of weakness and may erode public trust. OR. Or. We can take the bull by the horns and show the public that we’re being proactive to ensure that history is preserved.

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I might be using this image just to annoy you into action. I’ll never tell.
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