Hello and welcome to Collections on Contract! CoC was started by two people who have both made our living for the last few years contracting in museums, and have a drive to connect and collaborate with fellow heritage professionals doing the same.
This project aims to be a community hub for sharing thoughts, opinions, and resources regarding the museum and heritage industry’s increasing reliance on temporary, contract-based labor. We’d like to know how working on contract has impacted you as an individual, and how it impacts institutions and ongoing heritage projects.
For example, we are interested in determining the impact that reliance on short-term contract labor in museums has on institutional memory and project continuity. The Society for American Archivists defines Institutional Memory as: “The information held in employees’ personal recollections and experiences that provides an understanding of the history and culture of an organization, especially the stories that explain the reasons behind certain decisions or procedures.” We are also interested in how reliance on short-term contract labor impacts the continuity of multi-year projects within the museum, such as collections digitization or cataloging, or the planning and execution of a large exhibit or education/outreach program. What specialized and/or vernacular knowledge is lost when the museum opts to (or has no choice but to) cycle through a number of short-term contract employees vs. bringing on a full-time staff person for the duration of the project? Does some work have to be re-done when a new person is brought in? Is there a reliable system of transition and training for new contract hires? What time is lost, if any, when a new contractor is brought on to an ongoing project, and what might this cost the institution?
Additionally–contracting is hard. In some cases institutions take steps to ensure their contractors make a sustainable living and do not have to go without vital resources like health care. Some institutions hire contractors through contracting agencies, which come with their own contingencies, logistics, and resources. And yet others do neither of these things, often creating an atmosphere of job insecurity, abandonment, and precarity. This severely impacts our ability to do our work to the best of our ability and our mental and physical health. People of color, Native people, and members of marginalized groups disproportionately feel these effects.
Collections on Contract wants to explore these issues through first-hand accounts and essays by people from across the museum industry who have been impacted by the effects of temporary labor, especially contractors themselves. Contractors are often highly educated, specially trained heritage practitioners who, for a number of reasons, do not have the option of applying for or attaining full-time salaried positions within the institution they are contracting with. Collections on Contract seeks to amplify the voices of contractors and other temporary workers, whether they work independently, for the state or federal government, or through a contracting firm. It is also our goal to aggregate useful resources for ourselves and our colleagues in order to make contracting for a living a little more feasible. We appreciate all your engagement and feedback!