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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?