Insights from the A*CENSUS II Archives Administrators Report

January 31, 2023—On Tuesday, January 31, Ithaka S+R published the A*CENSUS II Archives Administrators Survey findings. The Archives Administrator Survey Report is the second report in the A*CENSUS II series, the first being the All Archivists Survey Report published in August 2022. The Archives Administrators Survey gathered data from the most senior archives leaders and decision makers regardless of the size of the archives, including administrators who oversee large archives organizations, archives units within broader institutions, and small community archives collections. The report includes data on archives’ budget, collection sizes, staff recruitment and retention, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility practices.

Seven hundred and forty-six archives administrators representing academic institutions, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, for-profit organizations, and community archives across the United States participated in this survey. We share the key findings here:

  • The large majority (88 percent) of administrators lead an archives department positioned within a larger institution. Seventy-one percent of respondents are archives administrators at nonprofit organizations (36 percent) or academic institutions (35 percent).
  • The majority of administrators head archives that have relatively small staff sizes and budgets. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of administrators lead departments with three or fewer full-time equivalent (FTE) staff. More than half (59 percent) of administrators have a total annual operating budget (excluding staff compensation) of less than 100k annually.
  • Archives accession vastly more physical archives each year than they deaccession. On average, archives measuring physical collections by linear feet accession 100 linear feet of collections and deaccession less than one linear foot per year. Likewise, archives measuring by cubic feet accession 300 cubic feet of physical collections per year, deaccessioning just two cubic feet per year on average.
  • Over half of archives administrators noted that filling an archival gap of a historically marginalized population or subject is an important consideration for accepting a new archives collection. At 56 percent, this was the third most common consideration after whether the collection fits the collecting scope (91 percent) and whether it is connected to existing collections (78 percent)­­.
  • The most important skills for archivists in the next five years are related to technology and systems. A staggering 81 percent of archives administrators report that skills related to technology and systems, such as digital asset management and digital preservation, are the most important to the staff in their department in the coming years.
  • Eighty-one percent of archives administrators say communication skills are valuable in their current position. The ability to build and maintain strong relationships (61 percent) and the ability to manage change (56 percent) are the next most valuable skills for administrators.
  • In response to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, archives saw budget cuts in operations and staffing more than in other categories, with budgets for staffing the least likely to have recovered. Of archives that experienced staffing budget cuts, 43 percent report that their budget has not recovered at all; in other words, the archives staffing budget is the same today as it was when the cuts were initially made at the start of the pandemic.
  • Lack of staff is the primary constraint on administrators’ ability to execute strategy (75 percent), even more so than lack of financial resources (63 percent). This may help explain administrators’ prediction that their departments will increase or maintain the number of staff in their department over the next five years, with very few predicting reductions in workforce. This is true across all staff types (e.g. full time, part time, contract, volunteer, etc.).
  • Archives administrators underestimate the role of burnout in staff departures. Administrators, when asked about voluntary staff departures, reported limited compensation, retirement, and lack of career advancement as the primary reasons. While administrator responses are aligned with three of the top four reasons for archivists considering leaving the profession, there is a disconnect with burnout. In the All Archivists Survey, 35 percent of archivists considering leaving cite burnout, making it the second most common cause, while just 10 percent of administrators include burnout as a reason for staff departures in the Archives Administrators Survey.
  • Diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) practices and perspectives vary considerably depending on the specific aspect of DEIA in question. For example, 58 percent of administrators agree that staff members in comparable positions are paid equitably. On the other hand, 48 percent disagree that the senior management in their department is diverse.
  • BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) individuals are underrepresented among archives administrators. BIPOC individuals make up just 11 percent of archives administrators, while 88 percent of archives administrators are White.

At its heart, A*CENSUS II demonstrates the power of collaboration across the archives profession. This project was made possible through the work of a dedicated project team, working group, and several partner organizations. The study is funded by the Institution for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and was jointly developed by the Society of American Archivists, Ithaka S+R, and the A*CENSUS II working group.

It is our intent that the findings from both A*CENSUS II surveys circulate widely and freely throughout the archives community so that the information can be leveraged to positively impact the profession. To this end, SAA and Ithaka S+R held a free webinar on Friday, February 17, to delve into key insights from the Archives Administrators Survey and answer questions about the work. A recording of the session is available here.

For questions, read the All Archivists Survey FAQ or email