Listening to members’ comments in our 2012 member survey

Today we hear from Kate Theimer. Like the rest of us on Council, she’s listening to you carefully … and very much wants to hear what you have to say about her analysis of comments you made in your survey responses last spring.

This fall the Council divvied up the findings of the survey of SAA’s members so that we could try to get a clear sense of where changes need to be made and what the priorities of the membership are in order to prepare for the upcoming revision of SAA’s Strategic Priorities (to begin in January). Terry Baxter and I chose to work on reviewing the responses members provided to the open-ended questions. What follows is a summary of what I took away from reading those comments—more than 1500 of them.

I reviewed the responses to these three questions:

  • What additional benefits would you like SAA to offer its members that it currently does not offer?
  • If you could suggest one thing to improve the benefits, products, or services you receive from SAA, what would you suggest?
  • Do you have any additional comments that you would like to share with SAA?

Although there was a wide variety of topics and views presented, some common themes did emerge across the responses to the three questions, and these are themes that SAA can and should address.

Cost

Perhaps it is not surprising that keeping costs as low as possible for members—the cost of dues, the cost of attending the annual meeting, the cost of educational programs, and the cost of publications—was probably the most common concern. However, just because this is not surprising does not mean it should be ignored. It is important for SAA to acknowledge the economic realities that face many of its members (and non-members), and try to find ways to make SAA more responsive to those realities whenever possible.

Annual meeting

While many comments praised the annual meeting as the most valuable part of being a member, the majority called for some kind of change. The areas of desired change are all being addressed by the Annual Meeting Task Force: meeting in a wider variety of cities, cheaper meeting locations and registration, providing online access to meeting content, and diversifying the program content.

Based on the member comments, keeping the status quo is not acceptable.

Education programs

SAA’s education programs were largely praised in the member comments, although it was frequently noted that there was a wide range in the quality of the actual events. The most common request was for more of everything—more offerings that are “close to me” and more webinars, as well as for keeping costs low.

Communication

Based on their comments, many SAA members want more or different modes of communication, both with SAA as an organization and with each other.  Again, it does not come as a surprise that there was no widespread agreement on whether members wanted more or less communication from SAA, or whether they preferred email, print, or via social networking. This is perhaps an indication that the organization needs to allow members to tailor for themselves how they want to receive information.

Support for students, new members, and job-seekers

There were many comments calling for more support for students, new members and job seekers. There was no consensus around any one specific form of support, but there were some good suggestions and comments. The sheer volume of comments demonstrates that this is an area which SAA needs to address.

Barriers to participation/exclusion/disenfranchisement

Many of the issues raised under this general heading will not be new ones to many members of the Council. Commenters feel that SAA serves primarily academics, that the “same old faces” are always represented, and that SAA needs to be more focused on “the little guy” (quotations from actual comments). Members were also concerned that if you didn’t attend the annual meeting you were excluded from being able to truly participate in the organization.  As with the comments regarding cost, just because these are familiar concerns does not mean that they should be ignored. Rather if we keep hearing that members think SAA is exclusive or elitist, it’s important to pay attention to that perception, examine what the causes might be, and address them.

Advocacy

There was much praise for SAA’s work so far on advocacy and calls for more, but opinion was not unified on what should be advocated for. However “jobs for archivists” was a common topic. There were also some calls for SAA to avoid politics or “social justice.”

While it’s not clear how some of these these topics might feed into crafting SAA’s updated Strategic Priorities, they are all issues that will be on the table for discussion.  Do you think there’s a major area of concern that’s missing?  Which of these would be the most important for you?

7 responses to “Listening to members’ comments in our 2012 member survey

  1. Heavens to Murgatroyd

    Is SAA doing any analysis on this data across age demographics? From reading the generalized comments, none of this seems to me overly specific to SAA as an organization, or archivists, but appears to fall directly along the lines of generational differences in the workforce. This is not to dismiss the comments, but rather to contextualize them. Insofar as most new members would be coming in as younger professionals it is an important issue for growth and retention. But knowing if the results show that the tensions are primarily based on expectations of boomer-ish leadership not aligning with Gen Y-ish expectations about respect / inclusion, feedback, and training, for example, that would be helpful to know. There are many resources for managing generational differences in the workplace (or in this case the professional organization) and rather than SAA or archivists in general thinking we have special knowledge of this area, we should appraise ourselves of these, if this does seem to be the root of the matter, which it does have the appearance of in some measure.

  2. Like Heavens there should be more cross correlation of responses. not just with age demographics, but also years as members, position level etc.

  3. Although I obtained my MLIS in 12/2010, I am not a Gen Y-er. I am a career-changer, as were/are some of my peers at the time. If comments are wanting/needing to be further analyzed, perhaps we should be asked to include more information about ourselves, or to complete a demographic or even locale poll?

  4. Gen-X career-changer who enjoys social justice

    As a Gen X-er and recent graduate (MLIS ’12), I’m with Christina.

  5. The survey did gather demographic data for those who participated, including age, employment status (although there were some issues with the way that question was phrased), salary, and education completed. In addition the category of SAA membership and number of years of SAA membership could be calculated for each respondent. (If you want the gory details, the full consultants’ report was linked from Dennis’ August post about the survey http://offtherecord.archivists.org/2012/08/02/inside-saa-member-survey-results/#more-72.) However, this initial delivery of data didn’t break down the responses along all the demographic factors. I agree that this is something we need to do, although I’m not sure we’ll go so far as to do it for the comments sections.

    Thanks for your comments, and again, let us know if any of these issues jump out at you as being more significant than others,

    Kate
    (Gen X)

  6. “There were also some calls for SAA to avoid politics or “social justice.”” glad to see that some people called for SAA to avoid politics or “social whatever”. pushing such areas may turn off potential archives donors

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