As the nature and understanding of digital work continues to evolve, there is little to no systematic understanding of experiences of contingency and precarity and the institutional impact of grant-funded work as a collective concern within libraries, archives, and museums (LAM). This IMLS-funded project, Collective Responsibility: National Forum on Labor Practices for Grant-Funded Digital Position builds on the research of the DLF Working Group on Labor in Digital Libraries, Archives and Museums. It seeks to create productive understandings, guidelines, and outcomes.

Collective Responsibility will run from October 1, 2018, to March 30, 2020, hosting two 1.5 day meetings of up to forty participants. The first meeting, Experience will focus on the development of a systematic understanding of the experiences of grant-funded laborers, preceded by a broad survey and resulting in a white paper. Practices, the second meeting, will provide an opportunity for funder and institutional participants to share and reflect on current practices and collaborate with each other and workers on developing actionable outcomes, which may vary by institution and funder type, and publishing more generalized best practices.

In this project, we seek to frame contingency in digital libraries, archives, and museums as a collective, not individual, concern. As we collaboratively improve our understanding of this concern, we will have the grounding to develop actionable outcomes, in the form of best practices. Through these, we will identify opportunities to enact change or improve current practices at both funding and LAM institutions. The forum aims to spark a national discourse into broader visions for worker equity and inclusion within this collective framework of concern and to model how such partnerships may respectfully engage all parties involved toward effecting change.

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In choosing the scope of grant-funded labor, we recognize that contingency and precarity in LAM are a far more extensive problem than positions created by grant funds. Grants provide an opportunity, as they already operate within a framework of assessment guidelines, rules, and regulations which affect both the applicant and the funder. The development of appropriate benchmarks for labor, informed by an understanding of worker experiences, of funder opportunities and barriers, and of the roles of institutions in this process will enable us to learn from those already doing such work, challenge barriers, and create appropriate outcomes, which may vary by institution and funder type.

Specific outcomes:

  1. An online survey soliciting qualitative and quantitative data from forum attendees who have worked in grant-funded positions and current and former grant-funded workers throughout the LAM community;
  2. A white paper documenting and systematizing the experiences of workers in grant-funded positions;
  3. A set of best practices guidelines for funders and grant writers which address concerned raised and synthesize outcomes of the second meeting;
  4. Pesentations on outcomes at libraries, archives, and museums conferences including Code4Lib, the DLF Forum, Museums and the Web, and the Society of American Archivists’ Annual Meeting.


This project is funded through the Institute for Museum and Library Services LG-73-18-0236. Funds cover 5% of PI salaries and the costs of the meetings — including travel for worker participants, co-Investigators, travel and stipend for one keynote speaker at each meeting, and on-site or nearby childcare accommodations at each meeting in order to facilitate participation of attendees whose attendance might otherwise be unfeasible.