A specter is haunting the library archives and museums sector, a specter called, The Internship Discourse. We have written about librarianship eating its young, we have promulgated standards for ethical internships, and every half year or so we recommit to screaming about our exploited labor force. We are probably not going to tell students and new archivists not to work for free. Or, here, let Karly Wildenhaus start, and let me echo her: Do not work for free.
Just don’t do it! If someone says, Here, here is labor that you can do for my archives, and in return I will give you a Letter of Recommendation, do not work there! If someone says, Listen, my archives has a robust volunteer program, and we need you to handle collections, write exhibit captions, and do biographical research, and in exchange you can add my name to your list of references, do not work there either!
It is obviously the responsibility of archives’ management not to exploit the contingent position of students and young people by creating or posting unpaid internships or “volunteer experiences” but we just keep doing it, because it’s in our interests and in the interests of our funders, who are searching for the greatest possible return on investment, and we’re never going to learn. So. Dear students and youths, what are we going to do? Not work for free!
Do not work for free! Here, look, 50,000 students in Quebec went on strike over unpaid internships a couple of weeks ago. Check out the Young Communist League of Strasbourg, in a message of solidarity to the strikers in Quebec:
Au lieu d’investir dans de nouvelles infrastructures universitaires et d’embaucher davantage d’enseignants, l’État bourgeois préfère tout mettre en place pour envoyer rapidement les étudiants sur le marché du travail, pour constituer une masse de main d’œuvre potentiellement gratuite, taillable et corvéable à la merci des entreprises.
Hell yeah don’t work for free. Internships are designed to “build a mass of workforce potentially cost-free, scalable, and malleable to the will of business.” Refuse to participate in them! Why would you consent to become a massive scalable free workforce? Don’t work for free!
Okay it sounds like I’m putting the entire onus on ending a bad employment practice on the most-oppressed unit of the LAM sector workforce. Okay yes I am doing that. Ever since Dee Garrison, we’ve known that libraries were the first outpost of the educated and underpaid young woman. Any highly feminized labor sector will be underpaid because patriarchy is a motherfucker, and because of the running assumption that women’s jobs are second-incomes. That is, anyone, in the year of our lord 2018, who is attracted to this sector must have some awareness of the idea that her eventual salary is a secondary source, not a main source of income. And if the point of entering a profession is not to get money, but to sacrifice for the greater good, management is fine with that. Your altruistic instincts amount to a wage suppression mechanism, and for every paid position, to say nothing of every unpaid internship, there is a whole generation of affluent Pratt and Simmons grads, waiting to add a chit to their resumes and new names to their rolodexes.
Don’t work for free! Employment in the field thereby becomes social reproduction, instead of cultural production: people with certain experiences — BAs from tiny liberal arts colleges, rich parents, obscene admiration for the musical Hamilton — just somehow get to know younger people with the same life experiences, and absolutely fuck all else ever happens! The advisory body for a grant-funded project recommends the project manager for a spot as a reader for grant proposals! An Oberlin grad meets an Oberlin student at a professional mixer! Meanwhile our HVACs fail and millions of files of the Guatemalan secret police languish in storage, and the world’s stores of broadcast video on open-reel mag and U-Matic all go the way of the fucking dodo. At least Chad got a job though!
Some of us are probably in a position to make free work a thing of the past, and some of us are in a position to contribute to student strike funds, or to contribute to labor organizing efforts in the sector, but I guarantee you all of that goes down the toilet without a radical demand in our back pocket, and widespread intransigence is it. So fam. Don’t work for free!