Question about tattoos from a Prospective Archivist

Sorry for the delay, Prospective Archivist, who posted this question in response to the post “Honest tips for wannabe archivists out there,” (which is one of the more popular ones from the site’s recent “archive”):


So, I know this is a very silly question and it focuses on maybe one of if not the least important statements that you listed, but when you say ‘absent that, drink beer and get a tattoo’ what exactly do you mean / imply?

I ask because I do have a few tattoos, one that is visible if I do not wear sleeves, and I have worried to myself that this career maybe is one that does not generally encourage visible tattoos. Would you say that it is generally okay or even common to have visible tattoos in the career field? I know every institution is different, but like I said just in general.

It is something that has been in the back of the mind for a while. If there is no clear answer, that is okay. I have been looking for someone to ask this for a while and your statement reminded me. Thank you for your response in advance!

I’ll give you my personal response, and then I’ll throw the question about the community, and I particularly encourage comments from our colleagues who do regular interviewing and hiring.

In general, I’d say that today it’s ok. As you point out, every place is different, and maybe more traditionally conservative repositories would be less accepting of them, but honestly, I’d have to say that it might not be wise to generalize even about those. I’m really in no position to judge since I don’t have them, but I get the sense that the culture at large has become more accepting at a faster past then one might have expected. I mean, as long as you don’t have a swastika or something in which the content itself might be objectionable, I think you’re ok.

But, what do you say, archival community? I know there have been sessions at SAA annual meetings about tattoos, and there may even be someone out there with a Hollinger box on their body, but when you’re looking across the table at a someone as a prospective hire or promotion, or just as a colleague, does it make a difference?


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15 thoughts on “Question about tattoos from a Prospective Archivist”

  1. When hiring, I’m much more interested in a person’s knowledge, enthusiasm, personality, and ability to communicate than their ink. The tattoos don’t matter, but behaving and dressing professionally does. But then again I’m from the Pacific Northwest, so it’s more unusual to interview people without tattoos or piercings….

  2. One in three Americans over 30 have at least one tattoo. I’d say preofessionally that it depends. 3/5 of my shop has at least one. I’d just be up front and ask your prospective employer. If they are oppositional it may not be a good fit in other ways too. Ymmv

  3. I hire and I wouldn’t care. Except for the aforementioned offensive content, since tattoos like those would not only bother me but many of my colleagues, donors, and researchers. In that case I’d have some questions about how well the applicant would fit at a repository actively collecting from underdocumented and marginalized communities (non-offensive content might actually do some good with some donor/researcher interactions). But I’m from the Pacific Northwest, where it seems that a tattoo and piercings are application requirements for grad school so in general, no it wouldn’t matter to me. I’m curious as to how others from older, more formal institutions might respond.

  4. I’ve been on 1-2 search committees every year for the past decade and I’ve never considered someone’s tattoos when evaluating their qualifications for a job. I actually can’t think of a single time tattoos have even been mentioned during a search. Same goes for observing searches as a non-committee member. My experience is exclusively in academic archives at state universities in the south. Corporate or records mgmt environments may be more conservative.

  5. In my experience, most archivists are a pretty tolerant and accepting bunch. I know quite a few archivists (men and women) with visible tattoos. Personally, a couple of times, I’ve had a “Wow!” reaction to tattoos, but it’s more a ‘I wouldn’t do that’ than ‘[He | she] shouldn’t have done that.’ Sometimes, it’s a more aesthetic ‘Wow! That’s really brilliant.’

    I think it’s important for professionals to consider how they dress. First impressions are important, and one does have to consider donors and patrons, not just coworkers. So using a sleeve when meeting a donor might be a good thing, in the same way wearing a tie (or female equivalent) is a way of showing some respect to someone you’ve not met when trying to make a good impression.

    Your mileage may vary, and I’m not arguing that we all need to look like preppy Brooks Brothers clones. I like people – men and women – with creative flair (in part, I’m envious because I can never pull it off).

    Do be prepared with an answer to questions about your visible tattoos. One friend recounted being asked about a visible tattoo, and she replied “I got it in memory of my father, and I wanted it where I would be constantly reminded of him.”

    Best of luck!

  6. I would readily hire a tattooed archivist, with the disclaimer for egregiously offensive tats mentioned above. I’ve been on numerous search committees (academic libraries in PA) in the last decade and the topic has never come up. Rarely has the applicant’s appearance ever been even a small factor.

  7. I’m in a Special Collections and University Archives environment, and I would not consider a tattoo when thinking about a hiring decision. For me personally, it simply doesn’t matter. I agree that professional skill, professional behavior and (yes) professional dress all are important, and convey something about how you see the position and your place in it. But a tattoo is entirely a personal matter. I also tend to agree with Kate, that social norms around tattoos are more accepting — again, personal choice.

  8. Some of these comments are a little troubling to me. I think that judging “professional attire” opens doors for gender, racial, and other cultural discrimination. Sure, I get that there is a baseline requirement for dressing for a job interview, which I’ve followed, and fit into certain roles begrudgingly (I’ve never brought my “whole self” to a job interview and I think I’ve had success because of that). I also believe it’s discriminatory to base a first impression on what someone is wearing and how “appropriate” it is versus how easily and naturally they are conveying their knowledge of the subject/position. And to think that someone is disrespectful to you if they don’t dress in a certain way…well, I don’t want to offend the person who made this statement with too harsh of an opinion on that. But I don’t take personally what other people wear around me, and it’s hard for me to understand that concept.

    That said, to Prospective Archivist – yeah, plenty of archivists with tattoos, you’re fine. And NO ONE should be asked about a tattoo during an interview!! That’s so much less professional than actually having them. It’s not even okay to do that in a public setting. Just don’t!

  9. I generally cover mine up in interviews just be on the safe side of creating “good first impressions” but I have never had anyone complain on the job. When I started my present job, an older woman said, (almost the first thing out of her mouth to me), “Oh I don’t think we’ve had a tattooed employee before!” But that was that, and it hasn’t been mentioned since.

  10. I would say that your professional dress matters WAY more than tattoos or piercings. To the person above who is troubled by that: it’s not cool that we judge colleagues by what they wear and I try to be mindful of that POV in myself and my colleagues, but it does happen and I think it is disingenuous to claim otherwise.

  11. For a bit of background: I’m a still-in-school-but-recently-gainfully-employed archivist, who just went through the job hunt. A lot of my interviews occurred — via Skype, and / or in person — in the middle of a very hot, unrelenting summer, which meant that, because I was wearing short-sleeves (or: no sleeves), my tattoos were always visible. And nobody doing the hiring, at any point, mentioned them.

    My only caution: I worked, for a year, as a corporate archivist and, I feel like, if someone is going to get pushback, re: tattoos, it’ll be in a corporate environment. My organization — known for fast food and milkshakes — had very strict dress codes that both restaurant and corporate employees had to respect. No open-toed shoes, dress pants, a certain color shirt (when on site), no excessive jewelry (that might fall into a fryer, of course), and on. Our policy didn’t mention tattoos — and several employees had very large tattoos that never seemed to be a problem — but make sure you ask if you accept a job in this environment.

  12. I have 7 tattoos, and they’re not easily hidden – chest, neck, forearms, upper arms and upper back. I have never had any comments at all that are negative. Most are really positive or just “okay, whatever”. I wouldn’t worry at all about having tattoos or getting more – it’s your body.

  13. In academia, I would say visible tattoos and piercings aren’t an issue. I see several comments above about a comment on “offensive tattoos” but I don’t see the comment itself, so I’ll just add that if anything were to give me pause, it would be the content/iconography of the tattoo (i.e. racist iconography) rather than the iconography being in the form of a tattoo. I would have the same reaction if the symbol was on a shirt, patch, etc. being displayed a way that the person clearly intended to show personal agreement with the symbol.

    That being said, I have a hard time imagining that implicit bias (and possibly even explicit, if not documented) bias doesn’t play into hiring decisions, especially from people who were been brought up to have negative associations with tattoos (for example, both of my parents were very, very anti-tattoo and piercings). You don’t learn those associations/get those social norms in childhood/adolescence and then just have them magically disappear as soon as you become a hiring manager, even if you have the best of intentions.

  14. Late reply, sorry! I have an archives-related tattoo and this summer interviewed at an organisation where *almost* I felt comfortable enough to show them (it’s on my upper back so I just need to shift my dress or shirt a bit to make it visible). I don’t think they would have minded but it was a great indicator for me that it would have been an organisation where I would have been very happy to work. (It fell through because of money of course…)

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