State of the Association, FY 2020

These remarks were presented at SAA’s Annual Membership (Business) Meeting, held virtually on Wednesday, August 5, 2020, 2:00 to 3:30 pm CDT.

Good afternoon, everyone.

Like all of you, I practice a profession that is not broadly understood. My profession is association management. My professional association, the American Society of Association Executives, has 46,000 members. My profession has a body of knowledge and best practices. It has areas of specialization – like Finance and Administration, Education, Publishing, Government Relations, and Governance. It has a certification process; I became a Certified Association Executive in 1993.

Like archives management, association management requires much more than standard operating procedures and manuals. It’s guided by principles and best practices, and it thrives with strategic thinking, understanding the marketplace, fostering engagement, bench-marking, knowledge-based decision-making balanced with creative thinking. As they say, it’s an art and a science.

Associations also differ from other types of organizations. They are made up of people who come together—voluntarily—to solve common problems, meet common needs, and accomplish common goals. What’s unique about associations is that their members are the owners, the customers, and the workforce of the organization.

Common sense tells us that associations thrive when many voices are heard. My experience—and that of many of my association management colleagues—tells me that the partnership between member-volunteers and paid professional staff is the secret sauce that makes or breaks associations. 

In my “State of the Association” remarks in past years, I’ve typically reviewed long lists of accomplishments. Today I will share a shorter list – along with a promise to provide a more detailed report in a future Archival Outlook column. (Treasurer Amy Fitch will give you a nice overview of our FY 2020 financials in a few minutes.)

For many years, SAA’s member-volunteers and staff have punched above our weight. Here are a few examples of that in the past year.

I know of no other professional association of our size, or even close to it, that produced seven new books in a year—books ranging from our first-ever consumer publication in Creating Family Archives, to three volumes in the Archival Fundamentals series, two books of essays in honor of thought leaders in the profession, to A Matter of Facts, our first venture in the new Archival Futures series published in collaboration with ALA.  

Publications Editor Chris Prom, with the Publications Board, our authors, and two staff members (Teresa and Abigail), made it happen. Chris’s 6-year tenure was remarkably productive for SAA.  And we were delighted to welcome Stacie Williams as SAA’s new Publications Editor as of April 1. She has a busy year ahead, as we have seven more books slated for publication!

In all, more than 280 members contributed content to SAA publications in FY 2020, including those books as well as articles in American Archivist and Archival Outlook, the Journal Reviews Portal, and cases in our seven open-access Case Studies series.

Another example of punching above our weight comes from our Education program. We started the year with an enthusiastic Committee on Education and DAS Subcommittee, some seasoned and some new instructors, an ambitious schedule of in-person courses, a dream to launch the much-needed and long-awaited Management Track, and three staff in our Education Department (Rana, Akila, and Taylor).

By December, several in-person courses were cancelled due to low registrations. But we had applied for grants from the SAA Foundation and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission for development of Management courses, and things were looking okay.

By March 16, we were down to 2.5 staff members and had to re-tool existing courses for online, AND launch several free webcasts to help members during the pandemic, AND continue with Management Track development (because both grant proposals came through!).  From April to June, we offered 11 online courses with 384 attendees. During the same period, 1,727 archivists attended a free or paid SAA webcast, including those on Best Practices for Team Management in a Crisis, Financial Planning in Uncertain Times, and Salary Negotiation 101.

We are now just 1.75 Education staff (Rana plus Akila in a consultant role), with no plans to fill Taylor’s position. And we are now fully committed to online education. I suppose that if there is a silver lining to this pandemic, it may be that we had to rip off the BandAid. Professional development at SAA will now be more affordable and accessible than ever before.

The Archival Workers Emergency Fund is a favorite example of the volunteer/staff partnership this year. You’ve heard the story:  A committed group of members brought to the SAA Foundation Board an idea to establish a fund to support archives workers who were unemployed or precariously employed due to the pandemic.  Amy, Peter, Felicia, and I worked with the group to develop a proposal for the Foundation Board’s consideration. The Board enthusiastically supported creating the fund and provided $15,000 in seed money to establish it.  The review group was established. Turns out that part was easy.

The hard part was developing a rubric for evaluating applications, promoting both the availability of the fund and donations to it, compiling applications, doing the emotionally challenging labor of evaluating them weekly, and then figuring out how to get funds into the hands of individuals experiencing precarity—all in the midst of a pandemic.

I logged the first message from lead organizers Jessica Chapel and Lydia Tang on Saturday, March 21. The fund launched on April 15. To date, some 840 donors have contributed more than $107,000 to assist 144 of their colleagues at a difficult time. That’s just plain awesome! 

It pretty much does take a village, in this case the ad hoc organizing group, the review group, Felicia and Peter—and, of course, our many generous donors.

To the extent possible, we made a lot of strategic decisions after the pandemic struck:

  • We temporarily lifted the embargo on the six most recent issues of American Archivist, through August 15.

  • We went green with American Archivist and Archival Outlook. We’ve been promoting online-only access as a conservation matter, but then made a business decision not to mail periodicals to addresses that were closed during the pandemic.  Archival Outlook will be digital-only through at least the September/October issue, and we will be phasing out print entirely by June 2021.

  • We’re eagerly awaiting a major upgrade to the journal’s online platform, and we’re looking at alternatives for a more interactive platform for Archival Outlook.
  • Speaking of the Journal, we also conducted a search for its next Editor while under quarantine.  An announcement will be forthcoming soon.  But I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Cal Lee for his work as American Archivist editor as he completes his three-year term this December. Two statistics of particular interest, I think, are that journal submissions have increased significantly during Cal’s tenure, and 138 additional people volunteered to serve as peer reviewers in response to Cal’s invitation in September.
  • The gorgeous new Dictionary of Archives Terminology went live in April and already is one of the most trafficked areas of the SAA website. You’ll be hearing a bit more about the Dictionary Working Group today.

  • On April 11 we submitted an IMLS grant proposal for conduct of A*CENSUS II—and on July 23 we learned that we got it! $249,500. Work begins on September 1—and that, too, will take a village! 
  • We appreciated your patience—and that of the 2020 Program and Host committees, some 350 speakers, and our industry partners—as we negotiated a release from our Hilton Hotel contract, issued an RFP for tech vendors, and retooled the Joint Annual Meeting for a virtual environment, with an eye to giving all accepted sessions an opportunity to participate and to meeting the needs of our 46 sections and 16 appointed groups. We were able to make the square peg fit in a round hole this time.  Going forward, however, we really must rethink the conference in light of the likelihood of a fully virtual or at least hybrid annual meeting.  But first – let’s get through this one!

We’re grateful to several industry partners and the SAA Foundation for making it possible to reduce conference registration fees significantly. Keep in mind that, although we might not be enjoying $130-a-gallon hotel coffee (thank goodness), virtual conference technology platforms are certainly not free. As of an hour ago, we have 2,470 registrants for this meeting, the second highest attendance in SAA’s history. There were 2,488 attendees at the 2018 Joint Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, but we’re likely to beat that number before this virtual conference is over.

Gosh, I promised you just a few examples of the member/staff partnership at work—and here I’ve gone on and on….and haven’t even mentioned the three Council listening forums that have been conducted since June (the Community Reflection on Black Lives and Archives, the Investing in Your Membership Forum, and the Diversity Committee-led Black Lives and Archives Listening/Strategy Session). Stay tuned for more of these opportunities in the coming year.

And now, I’d like to share a few reflections.

On display in a corner of my office are some artifacts that mean a lot to me. There’s the bottle of The Archivist wine, a gift from an archivist friend. (It’s getting a little long in the tooth at this point.)  There’s “We Believe in Miracles,” a gift from my journal editor at the American Physical Therapy Association.  I learned there that it’s not about the big, earth-shuddering miracles, but the small ones—those good things that come from thinking big, planning well, surrounding yourself with good people, working hard, and, yes, having some good luck and fun along the way. And there’s the print, which says “Most people don’t know that there are angels whose only job is to make sure you don’t get too comfortable… and fall asleep… and miss your life.”  That’s my reminder that, in this line of business, those angels are our members….

As I’ve informed the staff and the Council, I do not intend to seek a renewal or extension of my current employment contract, which ends on June 30, 2021. I want to make space for someone who will see SAA through its next phase of development. And I need to make space in my life for the many other things that I would like to do. And so this is my last opportunity to provide a “State of the Association.”

SAA punches above its weight. Its volunteers certainly do. I could give you many more examples—but I’ll use this opportunity to call out the 2017-2020 “class” of the SAA Council:  Steven Booth, Brenda Gunn, Audra Eagle Yun, and Meredith Evans. As a class they seemed to have a unique bond. As a class they were supremely creative, initiating work, doing work, taking on any project thrown their way and acing it. As individuals, they are simply remarkable.  And, of course, Meredith—as I’ve often said to her—is a force of nature. Thank you to these wonderful individuals for their many contributions to SAA and the archives profession.

SAA punches above its weight. And so does its staff:  Matt Black. Teresa Brinati. Peter Carlson. Abigail Christian. Felicia Owens. Akila Ruffin. Carlos Salgado. Rana Salzmann. Michael Santiago. Lakesha Thaddis.

To the SAA staff:  You’ve been a joy and an inspiration to me. The lessons I’ve learned from you have everything to do with intentionality, empathy, kindness, and grace….  I hope I get to see you in person sometime soon—we have a conference to celebrate!

It has been my privilege to serve as Executive Director of SAA. Be assured that I will always be an Archives Advocate. Please be safe; be well. Thank you, all.

What’s Next? Looking at the Next Year for SAA

These remarks were presented at SAA’s Annual Membership (Business) Meeting, held virtually on Wednesday, August 5, 2020, 2:00 to 3:30 pm CDT.

Thank you to everyone who is here at our member meeting today. As I have often said, this is the Society OF American Archivists, not FOR, and each one of you being here today is an affirmation of that.

While our virtual platform is allowing us to do things in a new way, I bet most of you, like me, wish we were sitting in a ballroom in Chicago right now. For me, I’m coming to you from my auxiliary work space, in the hallway between my front door and laundry room. Not quite the view of the Rocky Mountains that I have in my office at the Denver Public Library.

I think we should begin by acknowledging that 2020 is not what any of us expected or wanted. It’s been one unprecedented development after another and I’m not just talking about the murder hornets. And while I am a pragmatist at heart, I remain optimistic about SAA even in the face of the challenges our institutions, profession, and organization are facing.

The Society of American Archivists was founded in 1936, which was not during a pandemic, but certainly was not an easy time in the history of the United States, with the country still reeling from the Great Depression and on the brink of another world war.

In his 1983 presidential address, Frank Cook referred to this early SAA era from 1936 to 1945 as “Growing Up in Depression and War.” Much like our parents and grandparents who lived through that era, SAA is fortunate to have leadership and staff who have prepared for this challenging time and continue to be prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to keep our Society strong and able to maintain our professional leadership role and services during a time that includes both financial and societal challenges.

My optimism comes from several examples from the past few months.

First, when the COVID-19 pandemic began to create real challenges for many of our friends and colleagues, a group of archivists quickly formed to propose the Archival Workers Emergency Fund. To date, the fund has raised more than $100,000 and supported more than 140 archival workers with grants of up to $1,000.

Then, at the beginning of June, the SAA Council released a statement on Black Lives and Archives. The statement was followed by a town hall meeting attended by more than 800 people, a forum led by the Diversity Committee last week, and a follow-up forum this Friday morning.

Those events have included small group discussions about what we as archivists and as an organization can do to begin the important work to address the systemic racism that has been pervasive in our nation throughout its history. As the keepers of that history, we play a significant role in how THAT story is told, what is remembered, what is forgotten. It’s a critical role, one which many outside our work don’t truly appreciate.

More recently, we received the fantastic news that SAA was successful in its application for an IMLS grant to support the A*CENSUS II project. Does anything feel quite as good as the notification of a funded grant you’ve worked so hard on? In partnership with ITHAKA S+R, we will develop a set of data about the profession and create an ongoing plan to keep that data up to date. Work will begin on that project this fall.

Finally, with the challenges of the current situation, we’ve all learned to utilize virtual spaces in new ways. This year every SAA member from my library was able to attend the Annual Meeting, which unfortunately doesn’t happen in most years!

And I know that’s true for many of you who are able to attend this year for either the first time or maybe the first time in a long time.

The SAA Council has also gotten much better at meeting online. I’ve definitely appreciated the hard work of the SAA staff to help us make those meetings go more smoothly, including our meeting on Monday that was attended by more than 30 members.

And as I mentioned, we’ve been holding town halls–which I’ve found to have an important role in making sure the leadership of SAA and the members have regular ways to interact. It is my plan to continue those sessions in the coming year, so please stay tuned for more information about when we will do that next and what we will be discussing. If you have suggestions, please let me know.

I look forward to the coming year of serving as your president of this organization that has had such an impact on my career and life. I’ve been thinking about what that will mean during these past few months of working and staying at home more than usual. And I’d like to say that I’ve read 100 books on the important topics of the day and plotted my own personal strategic plan, but honestly after reading the news of the day and being in meetings for hours on end, my natural tendency has gone to binge watching a variety of TV shows and catching up on podcasts while walking my dogs.

In a time when so much of what will happen in the next few months or year seems unsure or likely to change, I remain excited for my time serving this organization, for the new and seasoned members of our leadership, and for this organization. This year we will face a major transition in leadership. Many of us only know SAA during Nancy’s time as executive director. You helped us grow up! We are not the organization that greeted you when you arrived in this role. We also look forward to celebrating your career and impact on SAA.

So, on that note, I must turn to the inspiration of one of my favorite TV presidents—President Jed Bartlet—and ask you all: What’s next?

SAA Community Reflection on Black Lives and Archives

As noted in the Society of American Archivists’ June 2 Statement on Black Lives and Archives, the vitality of American archives depends on the safety of archives workers and an explicit commitment to social responsibility, justice, and anti-racism in the work that we do and the organizations we work within. 

The SAA Council is convening a forum of reflection to move toward healing and understanding. We invite the archives community to participate in a reflection on the continuation of anti-Black violence and an affirmation of the importance of Black lives. This event is open to all.

Community Reflection on Black Lives and Archives

Friday, June 12, 2020
3:00 pm – 4:00 pm ET
 (12:00 pm PT / 1:00 pm MT / 2:00 pm CT)

RSVP required for Zoom security. 

Moderated by Dr. Meredith R. Evans, Director of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta and 74th President of the Society of American Archivists

The SAA Code of Conduct governs expectations of appropriate conduct for this and all SAA events.  

The magnitude of support and interest from the archival profession toward the development of tools and resources to dismantle structural racism in our work is inspiring and powerful. We will also be hosting a facilitated planning forum to gather constructive feedback and develop anti-racist goals in July 2020. We look forward to continuing this work with you.


Additional Resources

SAA Statement on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 
https://www2.archivists.org/statements/saa-statement-on-diversity-equity-and-inclusion

SAA Council Statement on Black Lives and Archives
https://www2.archivists.org/statements/saa-council-statement-on-black-lives-and-archives

SAA Code of Conduct
https://www2.archivists.org/statements/saa-code-of-conduct

SAA Education: Cultural Diversity Competency (free course)
https://www.pathlms.com/saa/courses/4839

A People’s Archive of Police Violence in Cleveland
https://www.archivingpoliceviolence.org/ 

Archives for Black Lives in Philly (A4BLiP), Statement of Principles
https://github.com/rappel110/A4BLiP 

DocNow: Ethical Considerations for Archiving Social Media Content Generated by Contemporary Social Movements: Challenges, Opportunities, and Recommendations
https://www.docnow.io/docs/docnow-whitepaper-2018.pdf   

National Museum of African American History: LET’S TALK! Dialogues on Race Initiative
https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/educators/lets-talk 

Rhizome: Digital Resources for a Movement Against Police Violence
https://rhizome.org/editorial/2020/jun/03/digital-resources-for-a-movement-against-police-violence/

Sixty Inches from Center: The Blackivists’ Five Tips for Organizers, Protestors, and Anyone Documenting Movements
https://sixtyinchesfromcenter.org/the-blackivists-five-tips-for-organizers-protestors-and-anyone-documenting-movements/ 

WITNESS: Activists’ Guide to Archiving Video
https://archiving.witness.org/archive-guide/ 

WITNESS: Community-Based Approaches to Archives From the Black Lives Matter Movement
https://blog.witness.org/2015/09/community-based-approaches-to-archives-from-the-black-lives-matter-movement/ 

SAA Council Statement on Black Lives and Archives

We, the Council of the Society of American Archivists, unanimously condemn harassment and violence against the Black community. As archivists, we learn from history that this country was founded on genocide and slavery. We continue to witness the legacy of this history with systemic and structural racism that lead to marginalization, disenfranchisement, and death. The murder of George Floyd, and countless others, at the hands of the police manifest the continuing atrocities faced by Black Americans today. As a profession, we stand by our community and acknowledge, unequivocally, that Black Lives Matter. 

During this time of dramatic and traumatic historical significance, the Society of American Archivists remains committed to its core organizational value of social responsibility, including equity and safety for Black archives workers and archives of Black Lives. A truly open, inclusive, and collaborative environment for all members of the Society cannot exist without justice for those affected by anti-Black violence. We acknowledge the trauma Black archives workers face, in particular. The labor of dismantling white supremacy and structural racism in archives, and beyond, does not rest solely upon our Black membership and other people of color. White archivists, who comprise a vast majority of the field, have a responsibility to disavow racism daily in society and in our profession. 

As the Council, we are committed to developing and advocating for solutions that contribute to the public good and affirm the importance of Black Lives.[1] Archives workers should follow current guidance on ethical recordkeeping and archiving of social movements during this time of crisis, with special care taken toward the protection and safety of Black Lives amidst anti-Black violence perpetrated by the police. We particularly center Black-led archival documentation efforts and memory-keeping organizations as we continue our collective effort to repair the legacy of structural racism and acts of state-sanctioned violence. 

We take action in response to our shared outrage and sorrow from continued attacks on the Black community, including archives workers. We are committed to dismantling structural racism in the interest of a legitimately inclusive profession and to positioning SAA as an organization welcoming of, built by, and led by persons of color. As archivists, we are not neutral in matters of social justice and politics.

The vitality of American archives depends on the safety of archives workers and an explicit commitment to social responsibility, justice, and anti-racism in the work that we do and the organizations we work within. We intend to create and convene a space for constructive discussion toward progressive change in the archival profession and true inclusivity of the archival record, in a profound engagement with our values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Please be on the lookout for an invitation to join us for a community reflection event in June, followed by an action-oriented forum. 

The SAA Council
June 2, 2020

[1] https://www2.archivists.org/statements/issue-brief-police-mobile-camera-footage-as-a-public-record 


Additional Resources

SAA Statement on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 
https://www2.archivists.org/statements/saa-statement-on-diversity-equity-and-inclusion 

Archives for Black Lives in Philly (A4BLiP), Statement of Principles
https://github.com/rappel110/A4BLiP 

DocNow: Ethical Considerations for Archiving Social Media Content Generated by Contemporary Social Movements: Challenges, Opportunities, and Recommendations
https://www.docnow.io/docs/docnow-whitepaper-2018.pdf 

WITNESS: Community-Based Approaches to Archives From the Black Lives Matter Movement
https://blog.witness.org/2015/09/community-based-approaches-to-archives-from-the-black-lives-matter-movement/ 

A People’s Archive of Police Violence in Cleveland
https://www.archivingpoliceviolence.org/

Zooming

This article originally appeared as the Executive Director’s Message in the May/June 2020 issue of Archival Outlook, available soon.

Zoom is our new and ubiquitous reality. We use it daily—some days, hourly—to connect as a staff, to facilitate the work of SAA groups, and to provide free webcasts. But SAA has been “zooming” in more ways than one since our world and work changed in early March. To wit:

March 10: As COVID-19 interrupted the best-laid plans of SAA’s Committee on Education and staff, the team—and our super-hero instructors—pivoted quickly to convert nine in-person courses to online and craft three free webcasts in response to the pandemic: Suddenly Working at Home: Best Practices for Team Management in Crisis (March 30), Financial Planning in Uncertain Times (May 6), and Managing Your Career in Crisis (June 10). All online courses are available on demand.

March 18: The SAA Council created a “Pandemic Response Resources” page that compiles resources created by SAA groups, external groups, funding agencies, and others on coping with the pandemic. Submit your ideas for resources to saahq@ archivists.org.

April 1: We were delighted to welcome Stacie Williams (University of Chicago) to the position of Publications Editor. Stacie inherits a long list of works in progress, including six titles that are due out this summer. Watch for announcements about Advancing Preservation for Archives and Manuscripts, Reference and Access for Archives and Manuscripts, Engagement in the Digital Era, Making Tools Work For You, and more.

April 1: SAA’s “Go Green” initiative invites you to opt out of the print version of American Archivist and Archival Outlook to help SAA reduce both costs and climate impact. To make the switch, log in to your SAA profile, click “Edit My Profile,” scroll to “Communications and Mailing Preference,” and click “opt out” of the journal and/or magazine. You’ll enjoy the same great content—now a little greener and in the format you prefer.

April 12: We submitted a grant proposal to the Institute of Museum and Library Services for conduct of A*CENSUS II, a comprehensive survey of archivists and archival institutions that will enhance our understanding of the profession’s demographics, work patterns, and practices. Fingers crossed for an award letter in late July!

April 15: The SAA Foundation announced the Archival Workers Emergency Fund, an idea originating with an ad hoc working group led by Jessica Chapel and Lydia Tang that clearly resonated with the archives community. To date, the AWEF Review Committee has awarded 106 applicants a total of $92,300 from the donations of more than 580 individuals and $15,000 in SAAF seed funding. We are blown away by your generosity….  Read more, apply, or donate here.

April 23: The SAA Council’s Archival Compensation Task Force began its daunting two-year assignment under the leadership of SAA member Greta Pittenger (National Public Radio) to identify compensation-related issues, including benefits, salary negotiations, and working conditions; study compensation using existing and new data; survey SAA members; and explore creation of a standing body to advocate on behalf of archivists with O-Net, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and others. (See SAA’s Strategic Plan 2020–2022, Goal 2.1.H.)

April 29: The Dictionary Working Group did it! With hundreds of new items, thousands of citations from more than 600 sources, and a brand-new online platform, the Dictionary of Archives Terminology  premiered. DAT is a work in progress; updates are made weekly as new terms are defined and existing terms are revised. Your feedback and suggestions for new terms will help shape the lexicon.

May 5: Weeks of soul-searching and hotel negotiations ended with our announcement that ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2020: Creating Our Future is going virtual! Program development and logistics for our annual three-ring circus are complicated, but pale in comparison to deconstructing and retooling for a different environment. We’re learning from others’ experiences (via many Zoom meetings) every day. Be assured that we hear your concerns about slashed professional development budgets and furloughs and we’re exploring ways to keep registration fees as low as possible while also providing a great conference experience for you.

May 13: Members of the Committee on Public Awareness researched and drafted “Archivists Rally to Document COVID-19,” a release that we issued nationwide via wire services. Watch for articles in your local media, and use every opportunity to reinforce that archives and archivists are essential!

By June 17: As every spring, we’re working on the budget. The FY21 Budget that the Council discusses will be very different— less detailed—than in past years as we ponder a few broad scenarios for the impact of COVID-19 on virtually all of SAA’s programs. I expect we’ll hope for the best but plan for something less. . . . Like you, SAA faces some challenging financial times ahead.

My apparently unshakeable habit of awakening to NPR reinforces the surreality of these times every morning. And so I look for something to calm me before sleep. My friend Abbi has introduced me to a whole new world of artists, writers, photographers, musicians, and (even) YouTubers via her lovely online weekly “Joy in the Time of Corona.” She reminds me that even though we all seem to be busier and more stressed than ever . . . there is time and space for joy

Be safe, be well, be kind.

We Are Resilient!

This article originally appeared as the President’s Message in the May/June 2020 issue of Archival Outlook.

Nothing connects people more immediately and universally than a shared emotional event. Over the last year we have been through a lot, but nothing like this global pandemic. Our societal, organizational, and individual value systems have been challenged recently, but even more so by COVID-19. This shared situation puts everything in a new light. In some ways it may highlight or exaggerate our differences, but I hope that it will highlight our similarities. I know that we are all experiencing change within due to this pandemic. What are we learning about ourselves and others during this time? I can’t help but wonder how we will treat each other when this is over. 

The differences and divisiveness seen as obstacles months ago may be diminishing and we are moving toward a collective sense of cooperation and understanding. Now, even more so due to the pandemic, we engage with our colleagues and friends differently and hopefully for the good. We are learning to put our differences aside, accept risk, and work together.  I am so proud of our membership for your boldness, passion, and fervent desire to want what’s best and representative of our organization and profession. I am thankful that everyone who wanted to had an opportunity to run for SAA office and am grateful for those of you who exercised your right to vote. This election reflects the growth and strength of our membership and is a testament to faith in our governance and willingness to support equity.

Although this global pandemic has challenged each of us in various ways, I appreciate the underlying sense of understanding, benevolence, and care that many within the archival community are demonstrating to help one another during this catastrophic time. I am especially proud of our SAA leadership and staff for their fortitude and thoughtful recommendations, and, most importantly, for our members’ generous support as we work diligently to ensure the safety and well-being of SAA and the archival community. 

I recognize the uncertainty, anxiety, and concern that our association may never be the same. Let us value the support and connection to our community. Let us value our resilience and know that we can and will overcome. Let us emerge with renewed appreciation, gratitude, determination, and resolve. None of us could have imagined that we would enter a new year and a new decade in a global state of emergency. However, despite the odds, I know that we will lift our voices and rise to the occasion and overcome this test together. We are resilient.

How Do You Measure a Volunteer?

This article originally appeared as the President’s Message in the November/December 2019 issue of Archival Outlook.

As I reflect on the past few months, I’m reminded of Kathleen Roe’s remarks at the 2014 Annual Meeting, in which she opened with the lyrics from “Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent:

“525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear.
525,600 minutes—how do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee.
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
In 525,600 minutes—how do you measure a year in the life?”

My mind raced to zip drives, email, defunct blog posts, tweets, and SnapChat. How do we measure a year in the life? I reflect on what I said and didn’t say about the profession in my interview for An Archivist’s Tale (listen to episode 83 at http://ow.ly/2jIV30pEOvx). I am reminded why I do this work—why I hope we do this work. I believe, as Dennis Meissner so eloquently stated during the Leadership Plenary at SAA’s 2015 Annual Meeting, that “archives provide essential evidence to protect and enhance our rights as citizens, providing fundamental information that supports and shapes our understanding of historical events and cultural heritage. We help people understand the human experience” (https://www2.archivists.org/am2015/leadership-plenary-video#.XZYOCGBKhhG).

In the same plenary, Helen Wong Smith spoke of the active process of cultural relativism, which includes self-reflection, a nonjudgmental attitude, and accepting a holistic approach to change. Along those lines I stand by my words from last year: “We must be willing to listen to one another. Really listen. Not necessarily to agree but to understand, build trust, and work together to effect change, minimize or remove obstacles, and resolve conflict.”

So I ask you to share your expertise, network with colleagues, and enhance your résumé by volunteering with SAA. Our members are busy thinking of inventive ways to engage current audiences with the intent to bring in new ones. As we prepare for the next Annual Meeting, I get giddy thinking of what great work we’ll hear about along with the bumps and bruises from the journey. I think about the growth of our organization and the ways we strive to improve, shift organizational culture, and meet members’ needs. It is challenging to meet everyone’s needs and to hear everyone’s voices, but we’re trying. We are grateful that, despite being busy, you take the time to read SAA’s publications; to support the various sections and committees with your perspectives, funds, and expertise; to schedule and run meetings in person or online; and to create reports, implement surveys, and help other archivists with your resources and talents. Everything you do to support your colleagues around the country and the world makes SAA better and more relevant.

One of the joys of SAA is the variety of perspectives (and objectives) of our members alongside the shared love for what we do. We embrace archival standards and theories and identify new ways to maintain and provide access to content that will inform generations of their histories. We are bold yet quiet; we are advocates advancing the needs of our members to stakeholders and the public through collection development, publications, programming, and outreach. We speak out and we write with allied organizations. We discuss policy and funding and fight to ensure government transparency and accountability. We advocate for the best management of records in any format under any circumstances. So what are you waiting for? Volunteer, get active, stay engaged.

Knowing What Shapes Us and Working Toward Equity

This article originally appeared as the President’s Message in the January/February 2020 issue of Archival Outlook.

As we enter this new year—and new decade!—I want you to know that I hear you. Regardless of the  medium used to communicate your thoughts or concerns, I hear you and the SAA Council hears you. Each day I work on listening, moving beyond my own distressing experiences, and healing. We all have learned biases—conscious or unconscious—that we bring to work, home, and SAA. As I prepared to write this column, I was mindful of how important it is for each of us to be aware of our impact on one another and to give people a safe space to share thoughts and opportunities to heal and right relationships.

Recently I read Chains, a historical fiction novel for tweens that is part of the Seeds of America trilogy by Laurie Halse Anderson. I wish this experience could have been me just reading a book, but it wasn’t. Chains follows a young female slave who is denied the promise of freedom upon the death of her owner, becoming the property of a malicious couple in New York. I was forced to address many layers: my son is reading this with his class; slavery was a new concept to more than half the students; he is one of four people of color in his class of 24 students; I identify as female and as a descendant of slaves; I grew up in New York City; I am middle class; I hold degrees in history; I am an archivist. My experiences can cloud my mind and, in this case, refuel upsetting moments in my life—just from reading this book! I share this not for sympathy or to create division, but to encourage us to consider how our experiences shape our interactions in the world.

Recognizing privileges and differences means simply being aware that some people have to work much harder to experience the things you may take for granted (if they can ever experience them at all). SAA has made great strides in fostering diversity (embracing people’s differences) and inclusion (creating environments where people feel heard and supported). Now I encourage us to work toward equity—making efforts to eliminate obstacles that have prevented the full participation of some groups. Improving equity requires fairness within our procedures and practices and an understanding of the origins of the disparities within our communities.

Many archivists have written about opening archives and collecting more expansively. F. Gerald Ham, Terry Cook, Thomas Nesmith, Kathleen Roe, Helen Wong Smith, Rebecca Hankins, Ricky Punzalan, Mario Ramirez, and many others have spoken and written about ways in which archival practice can be implemented to accurately reflect the history of our nation and the communities where we live, work, and play. All should be heard, recorded, and remembered. With equity comes balance, and when people are no longer minimized or erased, we will see each other in a new light and function more fully as a community of practice.

I find these discussion prompts from historian Howard Zinn’s address at SAA’s Annual Meeting nearly 50 years ago still worthy of review today:

  • That the existence, preservation, and availability of archives are very much determined by the distribution of wealth and power, and that collection materials are biased in documenting the important and powerful.
  • That one of the ways in which information is controlled and democracy denied is through the government censoring or withholding documents from the public.
  • That collections skew toward individuals versus movements, the written word versus oral history, and preserving what already exists versus recording new data and voices.
  • That archivists emphasize the past over the present, the antiquarian over the contemporary, the non-controversial over the controversial.

Read his full address here and consider what steps you might take toward creating a more equitable profession.

The Ongoing Effort of Creating an Inclusive Profession

This article originally appeared as the President’s Message in the September/October 2019 issue of Archival Outlook.

What a successful and transformative joint conference we had in Austin in August!

The SAA Council carefully considered the then-pending legislation called the “bathroom bill” when determining to remain in Austin for our 2019 Annual Meeting. Council members value and acknowledge all gender identities, and it was important in this instance to show up in Texas in solidarity with those who identify as transgender, non-binary, and/or genderqueer, and anyone who would have been affected by this legislation.

In addition, the Program Committee wanted to intentionally continue discussions about diversifying the record as well as the profession at this meeting. They wanted to “confront issues—whether new or longstanding—that arise or are systemic in our work and in the relationships that we build.” The 2019 Call for Proposals sought ways to assist members in self care, navigating power dynamics, and preserving and accessing the histories of marginalized communities. By successfully creating an inclusive and safe environment, meaningful conversations were engaged on topics including assessing the impact of multigenerational settings, gender discrimination, racial power dynamics, and low salaries as well as examining efforts to make archival materials and facilities more accessible for those with disabilities.

It was evident that extra thought went into this meeting, as represented by genderneutral bathrooms, ensuring that areas were chemical/fragrance free, sensitivity to weapons, and handouts reminding us of the do’s and don’ts for bystander intervention. I believe that the Program Committee and SAA staff successfully created safe spaces for conversation and deep reflection.

I recognize the elephant in the room as well: The cancellation of the Brown Bag Lunch event to discuss the pre-print of an American Archivist article was done so as not to derail the conference or disrupt the many varying discussions about inclusion we had begun. While vibrant discussion is always welcome, the various responses generated uncertainty, a sense of lack of inclusion, and concern about how the conversation would have been moderated. There were so many sessions trying to help people thrive or survive under stressful, unfair, and inequitable conditions that tabling that conversation for more thoughtful future discussion seemed the most appropriate decision.

SAA cannot protect everyone from hurt, but we can create spaces for conversations to work through the hurt. And while we didn’t get to address everything in Austin, our meeting space was safe and comfortable for most attendees. As we continue to deal with the lingering hurt, I can only hope that we sustain the character of inclusive engagement that defined this past Annual Meeting to our in-person and online communities.

There has been a dramatic shift in our organization. I hope that people will continue to listen to their colleagues and engage constructively with their own fears, insecurities, and anxieties. I hope that we will all be more mindful of what we say and write and better prepared for people’s reactions even when we are misunderstood. I hope that we continue to express ourselves through formal and informal channels from contact with SAA leaders, email lists, and blog posts, as well as with a 33-character tweet.

We are all accountable for our thoughts, words, and actions and we all must learn to actively listen, acknowledge our privilege and bias, and work with a broad range of individuals. There is room for everyone—but working together successfully takes time, discomfort, healing, understanding, humility, forgiveness, awareness, self reflection, and—most of all—effort.

SAA Council Statement on Impact of COVID-19 Health Crisis on Archives Workers

The Society of American Archivists is committed to supporting archivists during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The SAA Council strongly recommends that leaders, boards and trustees, and administrators of archives close public-facing facilities until archives workers are significantly less likely to be exposed or contribute to the spread of the coronavirus. While this decision is made locally, we urge decision-makers to act swiftly and proactively to authorize closures and remote work to protect the health of archives workers.

Archives and their staff members serve a crucial role in preserving and providing access to the nation’s cultural heritage. The recommendation to close American archives is not taken lightly, especially as we see access to and use of archives as one of our professional Core Values. However, many members of SAA support or belong to communities that are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill from the virus, including older adults and people with compromised immunity. 

Archivists select, preserve, and make available primary sources that document the activities of institutions, communities, and individuals. This work is essential to our communities and our society. Nevertheless, the valued labor of archivists is not more important than the health of the people doing that work. 

The SAA Council encourages managers and employers to facilitate archives workers at all levels to perform remote work. We recognize that it can be challenging to develop remote work activities that support the material and unique preservation imperatives of archives. However, in this time of crisis, individual health and safety are of utmost importance.This includes the staff of SAA, who have the full endorsement of the SAA Council to work remotely (see this update on testing for preparedness) while continuing to support our members. SAA staff members are closely monitoring the pandemic for potential effects on other in-person activities of our members, including our education offerings and the 2020 Joint Annual Meeting in Chicago.

We have created a resources page on which we will provide links to tools for managerial advocacy, support for displaced archives workers, and other resources to help the archives community navigate this global health crisis. We invite members to submit additional ideas for resources to saahq@archivists.org