Caution: Pregnant Lady

Academia tends to have a reputation of being a fairly warm and fuzzy place of enlightened minds and progressive politics. Universities like mine pride themselves on liberal benefits packages that emphasize work-life balance and family friendly policies. This past year I got to compare perception to reality as I worked full-time, attended graduate school part-time (at a different institution), and gave birth to my first child. I found it really interesting, at times frustrating, to experience pregnancy from both sides of the ivory tower: as an archivist in a special collections library, trying to remain active and engaged with my job and the profession, versus as a master’s student in a history department, trying to graduate before my baby was born.

My workplace is pro-baby; many of my colleagues are parents, and the library administration is supportive of staff taking time off to have children. In regards to leave policy, the library is generous, particularly for its professional staff. I had no problems taking leave for doctor’s appointments or other medical issues during my pregnancy. My university offers three weeks of paid parental leave, which must be used following three weeks of the employee’s own leave. This policy seemed stingy at first, until I looked into other university policies and found that many institutions give no paid parental leave — the employee must use vacation or unpaid leave. The typical “family leave” policy bragged about by institutions basically just promises that you won’t lose your job or benefits if you need to take time off for family. Legally, according to FMLA, institutions of a certain size must offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for family members — so, most of these places are just following the law, and nothing more. In my case, I worked until the week I delivered my baby, and then took 13 weeks of leave, using a combination of my sick leave, the paid maternity leave, and my vacation time. I feel extremely lucky to have not had to take any unpaid leave. I also feel extremely lucky to work at a place that respected my time away from the office: My supervisor did not expect me to check email, call in to meetings, or answer for anything during my leave.

My experience as a graduate student was quite different than my experience as a university staff member. As someone working full-time, and not teaching or otherwise employed by the history department, I was already a nontraditional student for my program. But my pregnancy set me apart even more. My thesis adviser originally encouraged me to take a leave of absence for spring, believing that I would be too tired and distracted by my pregnancy to work on and defend my thesis. Another professor regularly made comments in class about my status as the “pregnant lady,” and at one point wrote a note on an assignment asking me if a mistake was due to “pregnancy brain.” Many of my problems stemmed from my professors’ inexperience in dealing with pregnant students. I was also inexperienced at dealing with being pregnant, and addressing these comments head-on. I gave birth exactly one month after my thesis defense. I cannot imagine returning to school and trying to write my master’s thesis now, as my adviser originally suggested a year ago.

On the one hand, I had a generally positive experience with my employer, especially in comparison to my concurrent experience as a graduate student. But, in the grand scheme of things, everything was still harder than it needed to be. I faced the same ignorant questions and unintentionally insulting comments that every pregnant woman faces, including plenty of remarks from colleagues and classmates. (I also received those same comments from friends, family, and strangers — many people outside of academia. People can become ridiculously invested in strangers’ lives and life choices, and pregnant women seem to attract the worst sorts of judgey, nosey comments at precisely the time when those women are feeling exposed, uncomfortable, and vulnerable.) I also found that my status as a pregnant woman put me at a disadvantage whenever it came to asserting myself. As our other bloggers have found, being labeled “too emotional” is already a common problem faced by women in the workplace. It can be very difficult to be taken seriously when sometimes you actually *are* emotional.

How does any of this relate to our theme of women and the archival profession? For one thing, the statistics suggest that pregnant ladies are all around. Survey respondents to the A*CENSUS were about 65% women, and nearly four out of five respondents under thirty years old were women. The census documents that three times more women than men began their archival careers between 2000 and 2004, the year of the survey. A 2010 survey about professional satisfaction among archivists under 35 ended up with a pool with women as 79% of respondents. With so many younger women entering the profession, it is time to improve the conditions faced by the pregnant women among us. Isn’t it a bit sad that three weeks of paid maternity leave was such a lucky break for me? Maternity leave for American workers is pathetic when compared to the rest of the world. But I was surprised that universities are not more generous in terms of parental leave for their staff — Duke is willing to pay for college tuition for my child to attend any school in the country, but is not willing to give me even a full month of paid maternity leave? Also, institutions that restrict parental leave to either vacation or unpaid time off are being needlessly punitive to their employees. My sick leave should be mine to use as I choose. Unfortunately, that is not the reality for many new parents, even when they work in the family-friendly world of academia. In addition, I should clarify that my institution’s paid parental leave is only available to the primary caregiver — so, if my spouse had also worked for Duke, he would not have been eligible to take that leave. Only one parent gets it. Considering that I spent my first six weeks of maternity leave recovering from major surgery, I find the designation of “primary caregiver” laughable and relatively insulting to fathers. This policy hurts everyone. Why are institutions encouraging the establishment of a “primary caregiver,” anyway?

The problems facing pregnant women go far beyond the archival profession or even academia as a whole, but, having experienced it firsthand, it has made me reconsider what it means to be a truly welcoming and accommodating workplace. I am so grateful that my colleagues were supportive and kind to me during this past year. Now it is time to push for broader changes at an institutional level. Ideally, I would like to see:

  • Paid family leave for women and men. Three weeks is not enough.
  • More creative approaches to keeping a work-life balance. One of my colleagues took 6 months of parental leave; another negotiated a 3/4-time schedule that gave her summers off to spend with her kids. I also know of several situations outside my institution where staff (all women, coincidentally) needed to take extended leave to care for elderly parents. All were able to keep their full benefits. These sorts of ideas should not be considered radical at the institutional level.
  • Protection and resources for pregnant women, especially graduate students, who find themselves treated differently by their departments or supervisors. Fortunately I wasn’t relying on my program for my livelihood. Other women are not that lucky and may feel unable to speak up, even when they have every right to complain about inappropriate comments or attitudes.

My transition to parenthood has changed my understanding of what it means for an institution to be accessible. I look forward to sharing more thoughts on what the archives profession can do for parents, particularly new mothers, in my next post.

Surveys referenced:
—“A*CENSUS: Archival Census and Education Needs Survey in the United States,” American Archivist, 69 (Fall 2006), 329-330.
—Cushing, Amber. “Career Satisfaction of Young Archivists: A Survey of Professional Working Archivists, Age 35 and Younger,” American Archivist, 73 (Fall/Winter 2010).

Self Promotion

Self promotion is hard. It’s something I struggle with. Maybe you’ve found yourself in similar situations:

Do you ever get one of those library-wide emails celebrating someone’s work that make you wonder why some of the great, valuable things you’ve done aren’t acknowledged in this public way? Or read an article about a project getting lots of praise highlighting work comparable to a project you did three years ago that no one praised?

For me, the answer is likely because I didn’t tell them. Let me repeat; I didn’t tell them. I might have communicated a project was over or a goal met, but I didn’t provide context of it’s importance or significance. Or, I did, but didn’t suggest that this is worth other people knowing about too.

Do you find yourself saying things like “We implemented this new tool/service/policy”, “We shifted our strategy and focused on x”, or “We decreased our backlog by 22 percent last year!” Who is the “we” in this situation? While there will certainly be team based projects that deserve the “we”, often these should be “I” statements. My tendency is to use “we” so it sounds like I’m not bragging or taking all the credit. I even do this in job interviews.

You’ve probably heard this before. Men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments. Or, men apply to jobs when they feel they meet 60% of the requirements and women apply when they meet 100%. Many assume that if you do good work and have talent,  it will be recognized and somehow people will just know. It turns out this usually isn’t the case and the thing that can make the greatest impact for women in career advancement or pay increases is self promotion.

Studies show that self promotion can be uncomfortable for women. When women do self promote, they tend to do it in ways that minimizes their contributions. For a while, I didn’t realize that even when I did discuss accomplishments, I did so in a minimizing way. Women are not usually taught to promote ourselves. We live in a social context where modesty norms have discouraged women from promoting themselves. Women who do self promote can encounter a backlash and be cast in a negative light.

So, what can we do?

  • Keep concrete examples of your accomplishments. Bring these to the attention of your supervisors and others in your workplace.
  • Connect your successes with the interests of those in decision-making positions. Show the impact of the work. Discuss your potential for doing more.
  • Communicate with your supervisor that you need their help in highlighting your accomplishments if they don’t already do this for you.
  • Ask for time to write about your work or present at a conference (and block/guard said time on your calendar and then follow through on completing said product)
  • Encourage others to promote their work. This can be a simple “Have you considered sending an email to so and so about this?”
  • Actively promote the work of our colleagues. This can go a long way. It’s been shown that women are more effective at highlighting the accomplishments of others or negotiating for others than themselves.
    • Fun fact: I didn’t tell people at my institution about this blog. Instead, two months after starting a co-worker brought it up at a department staff meeting and encouraged others to read it.
  • Actively promote the work of those you supervise.
  • Nominate people for awards. SAA has them, regional associations have them, your institution likely has them. Most award committees are hurting for more and stronger nominations.

What are some of your experiences in this area? What’s worked for you? What hasn’t?

Lean where, now?

At and around the most recent Society of American Archivists annual meeting I heard and participated in a lot of great (and not so great), official and unofficial conversations about being a women in the archival field and being a female professional in general. Between the discussions about the availability of childcare and lactation rooms that happened in advance of the meeting, the Women Archivists Roundtable meeting that focused explicitly on helping women self-promote even in uncomfortable situations, and the Lean In Panel that prompted so much discussion, feminism became a sort of subtheme of the conference for me.

As it turns out, it is a pretty good moment to be talking about the intersection of women’s workforce issues, technology, and professional advancement. Whether it’s Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer’s two weeks of maternity leave or Sheryl Sandberg’s advice to young women to “lean in,” strong, professional women talking about workplace issues have been in the national news headlines with some frequency as of late.  These women and their colleagues, commentators, and critics have sparked a healthy national debate and plenty of heated water cooler conversations.

I am thrilled that these conversations are happening. We all need to be willing to share our experiences, encourage our colleagues, and call out bad practice when we see it. I am also particularly gratified that these conversations are highlighting highly successful women with serious skills in realms often thought of as guys’ domains such as the tech world. What I am less excited about is how quickly we have accepted Sandberg’s “Lean In” model as the logical and appropriate framework for that debate.  I cannot believe that encouraging young professionals to make some serious sacrifices in the areas of family, relationships, friendships, personal time, and leisure of all sorts and instead to go into professional overdrive all the time is the path to more equitable workplaces or happier, healthier professionals . Not all women have the ability to follow that path, and I seriously doubt that most of us want to.

I seriously question a model that asks us (all of us, women, men, black, white, religious, queer, ALL OF US) to figure out how to succeed in a system that doesn’t take our needs as workers and as people into consideration. Perhaps even more importantly, I find it very dangerous to posit a critique of structural, systemic inequities and then suggest solutions that are about individual action not systemic change. Sure, learning how to lean in will help many of us to assert ourselves more often, to negotiate a bit harder, and to promote our work more stridently, but honing those skills is not going to alter the wage gap, change parental leave policies, or eliminate all of the invidious, subtle forms of discrimination that we face in the workplace.

We don’t need to lean in as much as we need to change what it is we are leaning in to.

Women and Archives — Living with Legacies

And now for something not so very different

The subtitle of this blog talks about four archivists’ battles with legacy description. And it’s true that what we have in common is that we’re all in technical services roles at big institutions, dealing with big problems at a big scale. This means that we’re constantly on the look-out for automated fixes and methodical approaches. This blog is a way for us to help each other think through challenges, and to publish our results as we find them, with the hope of helping others.

It’s also true that we’re all women who take our involvement in the profession very seriously. Some of the legacies we face aren’t just the clean-up work we have to do — it’s also a legacy of gender, race, and class inequity within the profession. Obviously, none of us are overtly suffering. But there are weird things that we notice in our workplaces, in search committees, and in the wider dynamics of who has power in the profession that make our lives harder than they need to be. Most challenging is that even though there’s pretty good information out there to show that inequities persist, it’s very rare that this is treated as a problem at the institutional or professional level.

Perhaps you’ve asked yourself some of the following questions:

  • Why do I feel like it’s so hard to break through as a domain expert?
  • Why did that guy get promoted/hired when he has less experience and gets less done than the rest of us?
  • Is it just me, or am I getting an especially surprised/negative reaction to this salary negotiation?
  • Why are my colleagues treating my paid family leave like a special favor?
  • Why do I feel reluctant to promote my work? Why wasn’t my work publicized? Why do others take credit for my work?
  • Why doesn’t anyone expect me to be interested in technology? Why is it so hard to find opportunities to learn?
  • I really wish that folks would stop characterizing my reasonable ideas/comments/critiques as “emotional.”
  • With a full-time job and family care responsibilities, I don’t know how I’m going to volunteer time to my professional organization.
  • Why doesn’t my organization have paid family leave?
  • I have a master’s degree and a very specialized skill set. Why do I make so little money?

Over the next two weeks, we’re going to be writing blog posts that address these and other concerns in the context of institutional/professional/social legacies. We are speaking from our own experiences and from the perspective of having lived our lives as white women. However, it’s not a secret that men and women of color in our profession face an intersection similar issues, as well as a whole different set. I’m not in a position to speak authentically to these experiences, but we would welcome any writers that might have something to say.

We hope that you’ll comment, and perhaps even join in. That having been said, this is our space. Comments will be moderated. I’m too old to reply to anti-feminist mythologies regurgitated by strangers on the internet.

A technical fix to a supervisory fumble

One of these days, I’m going to create a checklist for students creating file lists in Archivists’ Toolkit. You know how this goes, right? Maybe a colleague has a student whose time she needs to fill, and you happen to have a data entry project on hand. You get the student set up with the application, you talk through how to format titles and find dates, you explain title case and spelling out abbreviations. And you send him on his way, with a few check-ins along the way.

But drat! It’s two weeks later, he’s done, I’m checking his work and I realize that none of the publications in the box of publications were encoded with a title tag.

I’m lucky that this mistake was isolated to the same container. In the future, I’ll have to do a better job supervising, but for now there’s an easy fix.

for $container in ead:ead//ead:dsc/ead:c[2]//ead:did/ead:container[@type eq "Box"]
let $unittitle := $container/parent::ead:did/ead:unittitle
where $container = 10
replace node $unittitle with <unittitle><title render="italic">{$unittitle/text()}</title></unittitle>

In short, this looks for unittitles in the second series, box 10 (my box of publications) and replaces <unittitle> with <unittitle><title render=”italic”>.


SAA 2014 Sessions of Interest

Here are a few sessions (not comprehensive!) related to the content of this blog at SAA this week:

Wednesday, August 13
3:30pm – 5:00pm

Carrie: Friday, August 15 • 2:45pm – 3:45pm; SESSION 503 – How Are We Doing? Improving Access Through Assessment

Maureen: Friday, August 15 • 2:45pm – 3:45pm; SESSION 501 – Taken for Granted: How Term Positions Affect New Professionals and the Repositories That Employ Them

Meghan: Thursday, August 14 • 3:00pm – 3:30pm and Friday, August 15 • 4:00pm – 4:30pm; P05 PROFESSIONAL POSTER – Mapping Duke History with Historypin

Steve: Thursday, August 14 • 5:30pm – 7:30pm; Graduate Student Poster Presentations: ArchivesSpace and the Opportunity for Institutional Change

A very brief guide to deleting records with the ArchivesSpace API, from a total tyro

If you’ve ever used cURL before, you don’t need this.

Also, the videos and documentation that Hudson Molonglo put together are really stellar and recommended to anyone starting with this.

This guide is a true project-pad of my notes of how I did this. It might also be useful for those of us who never had formal training with scripting, but are in charge of the archival data in our repositories and appreciate power tools. Obviously, the problem with power tools is that you can cut your arm off. Use this carefully. Use in test/dev. Ask someone to check your work if you’re doing something truly crazy.

Here’s what I did

This came up for me because I had done a failed test migration (we think there’s a weird timestamp problem in the accessions table) and I wanted to delete the repository and all records in the repository in ASpace before trying again. As far as I can tell, there isn’t a great way to delete thousands of records in the user interface. So, the API seemed the way to go.

I figured this out by watching the video and reading the documentation on GitHub, and then doing a little extra googling around to learn more about curl options.

If you’re using a Mac, just fire up the terminal and get on with your life. I use a Windows PC at work, so I use Cygwn as a Unix emulator. The internet gave me good advice about how to add curl.exe.

Note: you won’t be able to do any of this unless you have admin access.

Let’s start with “Hello, World!”

$ curl ''

In this example, the url before the colon should be your ASpace instance (use test/dev!) and “port” should be your port. The response you get should basically just tell you that yes, you have communicated with this server.

Connect to the server

$ curl -F password='your password' ''

Here, you’re logging on as admin. The server will respond with a session token — go ahead and copy the token response and make it a variable, so you don’t have to keep track of it.

export TOKEN=cc0984b7bfa0718bd5c831b419cb8353c7545edb63b62319a69cdd29ea5775fa

Delete the records

Here, you definitely want to check the API documentation on GitHub. Basically, this tells you how to format the URI and the command to use. For instance, below, I wanted to delete an entire repository. I found out, though, that I couldn’t delete the repository if it had records that belonged to it. Since agents and subjects exist in ASpace without belonging to a repository, and since accessions and digital records hadn’t successfully migrated, I only needed to delete resource records.

$ curl -H "X-ArchivesSpace-Session: $TOKEN" -X "DELETE" '[278-1693]'

So, I passed something to the header that gave my token ID, then I sent a command to delete some records. But which ones?

Let’s parse this URI. The first part is my ASpace test server, the port is my port.

The next thing to understand is that each repository, resource, accession, agent, whatever, has a numeric ID. URIs are formatted according to the record type and the ID. So, I go to repositories/3, because the resources I want to delete are in a particular repository, and that repository has the numeric ID of “3”. In order to find this out, you can look in the ASpace interface, or you can send a call to yoururl/repositories, which will give you a json response with id (and other) information about all of the repositories on your server.

After that, I tell curl which resource records I want to delete. There’s probably a better way, but I figured this out by sorting resources by date created, both ascending and descending, to find out what the first and last IDs are. I’d imagine, though, that if I didn’t want to look that up and I just asked for


I would probably be okay, because it’s only deleting resource records in repository 3 and I want to get rid of all of those anyway. I’d get an error for resources that don’t exist in that repository, but it wouldn’t break anything. I had wondered if there are wildcards for curl, so that I could get ANY number after resources, but (according to some brief googling) it doesn’t look like there are.

What does this all mean?

Uh, I don’t know? I mean, the API is obviously very powerful and amazing, and I’m glad I didn’t have to figure out a way to delete those records in the interface. But I’m really just starting to dip my toe into the potential of this. I’m sure you can look forward to more updates.