Speaking up on archival issues: Supporting the District of Columbia Archives

Since 2003 SAA has periodically written letters or submitted testimony on behalf of the District of Columbia Archives.   Another round of budget hearings are beginning in the D.C. Council, so we have taken the opportunity to reach out again to submit testimony in support of that very rich and important archival collection.   The testimony submitted can be found at: http://www2.archivists.org/news/2015/roe-submits-testimony-on-district-of-columbia-archives

One of my Council colleagues, Tim Pyatt, puckishly suggested that perhaps instead of calling this the “Year of Living Dangerously for Archives” we ought to instead call it the “Year of Making Statements about Archives.”    There are indeed a lot of things going on that raise archival issues of concern and challenge us as an organization, and those of us in leadership positions, to try and determine what we can say that draws attention to concerns and options or solutions in a productive but compelling, way.

Many of us in the membership have different views or different concerns that we feel SAA should be addressing.  When you do, I encourage you to contact me, our executive director, Nancy Beaumont, or a member of Council to raise those concerns.   Please help us to be better informed on issues you’d like considered by using the suggested format for sharing information on the issue located on the web at http://www2.archivists.org/groups/committee-on-advocacy-and-public-policy/procedures-for-suggesting-saa-advocacy-action

Will we always develop statements that make everyone satisfied/happy?  Not likely given the diversity of opinion in our profession, but I can honestly assure you that we will give all requests serious consideration, and as elected leadership, will do our best to indeed  be representative of SAA.  (and here’s another good reason you need to vote by April 13 for SAA leadership–these will be the people to make future such decisions!)

The extent of “issues” in the past year are more evidence that we need to take a strong role in demonstrating the importance and value of archives and archivists.  Archivists have much to offer, and we continue to seeks ways to effectively make contributions to  national, state or even local discussions and debates.

Please contact me anytime you have issues to raise at:   president@archivists.org

The Year of Living Dangerously for Archives, Challenge #7: Ask Your Representative to Join the Congressional History Caucus

When we want to advocate for archives in Congress, it will certainly help if our members are aware of archives and why they are important. So here’s an opportunity to reach out to your member of Congress and ask him or her to join the Congressional History Caucus. This is not hard–you can do it! Don’t count on someone else writing—because they may be waiting for you to do it instead. So please, read the information on the SAA website at  http://www2.archivists.org/living-dangerously/congressional-history-caucus   and then contact your member of Congress.

I’ve done some time walking the halls and underground corridors of the various Congressional office buildings—and when we get time with staff or a member of Congress, it’s frustrating to spend the first part of that precious 10 or 15 minutes trying to explain what archives are and where archives and archivists exist in that member’s district. The more Congressional members hear from us, the more we become a “known” group of constituents.

The Congressional History Caucus is one way to get the name and idea of archives in front of our federal legislators, to raise their “awareness” of our value. Please use this opportunity to contact your Congressperson. It’s an easy ask—they don’t have to vote on money, challenging policies, or politically hot issues. They just have to sign on to become a member of the Caucus. Not hard at all for them, and if they know their constituents want it—well, even better.

But the bottom line is, as Wayne Gretsky used to say, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” You have to ask.   And don’t assume someone else will take care of making the contacts—because they are probably waiting for you to make the contact instead. It is honestly amazing how many issues people feel passionately about—but don’t take that very simple first step of contacting their member. Getting Congress to understand the value and importance of archives begins with us—each of us speaking up every chance we have to let them know who we are, and why the records we manage matter. So please, celebrate the return of Spring by helping to grow Congressional awareness of archives. We can do this!

Developments at the University of Oregon

News media indicate that two members of the University of Oregon library archives staff, James Fox and Kira Homo, who previously had been put on administrative leave “will not be returning to their positions.”  See background here: http://www2.archivists.org/news/2015/saa-response-to-member-request-re-university-of-oregon-records-release-incident.
 
SAA has no information beyond what is in the media.  We have not yet heard from University Librarian Adriene Lim, who indicated that she would be in contact with SAA following the investigation. 
 
As this is a personnel matter, it is confidential and we are unlikely to receive substantive information.  We have had no communication with the two archivists, both of whom are SAA members, and they are unlikely to be at liberty to discuss this situation.
 
Although SAA is not in a position to comment responsibly on this specific situation, it raises real concerns for those of us who manage access to records, especially in the digital age.  We are engaged in conversations about what SAA might do to support education and training in navigating the challenges associated with access, restricted records, attorney-client privilege, redaction, and related issues and practices.   If you have thoughts, suggestions, or concerns, please share them with the SAA Council, relevant component group leaders, or with me (president@archivists.org).

Statement on the Use of Non-government Email Accounts for the Conduct of Public Business

Over the last few weeks, substantive press attention has been focused on the use of a non-government email account by Hillary Rodham Clinton during her tenure as U.S. Secretary of State. We all understand there are many layers of reasons for the press focus on this particular issue at this time. Nonetheless, there is an essential issue of concern to archivists here, and I asked the Committee on Advocacy and Public Policy to develop recommendations for the SAA Council to consider as a statement on the use of non-government email accounts by officials conducting public business. After reviewing the group’s recommendations, the Council has agreed to issue the statement now available on the SAA website at: http://www2.archivists.org/news/2015/statement-on-use-of-non-government-email-accounts-for-the-conduct-of-public-business?

I’ve already heard from members about this needing to be done in a more timely way, and I’m sure I will hear from those among us who feel the content should be different. I understand that commentary and encourage those who have comments to share them with me—it is truly part of the democratic process to give voice to your concerns, however “traditional” or “trite” some may think it is for me to say that. Nonetheless, after many, many years as an adult in this society who votes and watches my local, state, and federal government with responses ranging from pride (yes, it does happen sometimes!) to relief, amazement, and on to bewilderment and apoplectic anger, I remain a firm believer in what democracy CAN be. As a parent at my daughter’s school once said, it can be messy and chaotic to make decisions.

That seems to have happened in this case—it has taken longer than you or any of us in leadership would have wanted. I’ll work harder to see if we can expedite statements in the future. We are also working with our very good partners and colleagues in the Council of State Archivists and the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators to develop a fuller collaborative statement that can provide a basis for our position as archivists on this issue in the future.

And there certainly is a future for this issue. Just as a personal exercise, check out how many of your own government officials are conducting public business from personal email, Facebook, or Twitter. My own beloved city councilman (he gives me faith in democracy) uses a personal email, an issue that got a “Wow, I need to stop that right now” from him.

Further, I realized that although SAA is not a government agency, I have been using a personal gmail account that I set up solely for my “presidential” business. In the tradition of “people in glass houses,” I’ve asked the SAA Office to set up an email account for me (and for future presidents should they choose to use it). I’ll ensure that email constituting “records” is transferred, and will apply, as other presidents have, the SAA records retention schedule at the end of my presidency.
More issues and thoughts on this? Here’s where you can now reach me:

president@archivists.org

I encourage you to contact me now or in the future.

Call to Action #6: Voices from the Archives

One of the wonderful things about archival records is that they can “give voice” to people from the past:  a civil rights activist from Alabama, a farm wife from Kansas, a Chicano politician from Texas, a World War I pilot, a factory worker from Detroit, a fly fisherman from Montana, a schoolchild in Alaska.  What amazing voices exist in your archives?

This month we hope you’ll share some examples of individuals from the past who have a unique, surprising, or very compelling story to tell.  They need not be “famous.” In fact, we hope you will tap into the diversity of voices and experiences that our records represent — the people who might normally go unheard but who have compelling stories that we can share.

Please take time in March to share with us at least one “voice” from your archival collections.  Keep it simple and concise.  In just a paragraph (or two), tell us the highlights of the individual’s life or role and indicate why you think his/her voice is important.  You may want to include a quotation or photo if it helps to tell the story.  Here’s the website link:
http://www2.archivists.org/living-dangerously/voices-from-the-archives

After you’ve submitted the story through the SAA website, think about how you can share this person’s life with others — maybe via a Facebook or blog post to your users, tweeting quotations from a diary, engaging a journalist to do an article in your local newspaper.  Find a way yourself to give voice to the incredible people in your archival “neighborhood”!

Addressing Archival Issues: University of Oregon Records Release–and Beyond

In response to several member requests for SAA to consider commenting on the recent incident relating to the release of records at the University at Oregon, I sought advice from several groups, the Council discussed options, and we reached agreement on a response. For background on the issue and the Council’s response see http://www2.archivists.org/news/2015/saa-response-to-member-request-re-university-of-oregon-records-release-incident

I’m gratified to hear from members when they think that SAA should make a statement or respond to a current situation, as well as their thoughts on what we do or don’t “say.” Each situation that emerges poses challenges when a response is requested on behalf of SAA rather than by individuals. In the two most recent cases—the acquisition by the University of Texas at Austin of the García Márquez papers and the University of Oregon records release incident—there has been considerable traffic via email, twitter, and Facebook. Members and other archival colleagues have written that “SAA ought to do something.” Continue reading

Who is an archivist? Letter to the Editor of USA Today

Yesterday an article in the USA Today online edition referred to a man who collected child pornography as an “archivist”.  http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/02/11/child-exploitation-dark-web-prisoner/22100993/ (note: content is challenging to read).
Dean DeBolt posted information on this to the Archives and Archivists listserv, and several members urged a response from SAA.  After quickly seeking advice on this, I prepared a brief letter to the editor focusing on what an archivist is and appropriate use of the term.   It was an opportunity to point out (in less than 180 words) what defines an archivist–and that is much more than being a “collector” of anything however laudable or objectionable.

 

I’ve submitted the letter, and am not sanguine about whether it will be published.  I also posted it in the “comments” section on the article, and it is showing up on Facebook comments.  For the future, perhaps having something on this order that has been discussed and developed with more time and attention would be a good thing to have in our “toolkit”.   Meanwhile, if you have other comments or thoughts, let me know.   Here is the brief statement I submitted:

Continue reading