By Jacqualine Price Osafo
This column originally appeared as the Executive Director’s message in the March/April 2022 issue of Archival Outlook.
The first eight months of my tenure as SAA executive director have unsurprisingly been filled with learning about archival work. It’s also included a deep dive into archival advocacy!
- A significant project has been SAA’s response to recent media reports about former-president Trump’s regular practice of tearing up documents required to be preserved under the federal Presidential Records Act. SAA President Courtney Chartier with the assistance of the Committee on Public Policy sent a letter to the editors of the Washington Post, New York Times, Politico, The Hill, and Chicago Tribune regarding the critical role of the National Archives in preserving government records. Read it here.
- On February 13, Lee White, executive director of the National Coalition for History (NCH, a consortium of more than fifty organizations including SAA), was interviewed by Greta Brawner, host of the daily call-in show Washington Journal on C-SPAN about the importance of the Presidential Records Act. Check it out in the video library at C-SPAN.org. And speaking of NCH, as a member of its Policy Board I have been invited to serve on a working group on the future of NCH.
- In light of David S. Ferriero’s announcement of his retirement this spring, SAA has endorsed a statement prepared by the Council of State Archivists regarding the essential characteristics of the Archivist of the United States. Read the statement here.
I like to think of these opportunities as SAA’s “Got Milk” campaign for archives. Everybody was talking about the catchy 1990s campaign—and many still do! It was everywhere. With national attention focused on presidential records, this is our opportunity to increase public awareness of the value of enduring records and the important work of archivists in preserving our history.
On January 18, SAA, together with the American Library Association (ALA) and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), invited members to observe the US National Day of Racial Healing with reflection and action. This day is part of a larger movement for Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT)—a political and cultural framework developed by Dr. Gail Christopher and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. Each organization created a list of resources and invited its members to devote time for a Healing Hour in their organizations and departments for discussion, education, and reflection and to share their organization’s learning with colleagues and users. You can find resources to spark your thinking, discussion, and action on the SAA website.
We are collaborating again with ALA and ARL on a virtual event on March 30 featuring Dr. Charles Chavis, founding director of the John Mitchell, Jr. Program for History, Justice, and Race at George Mason University’s Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution. In addition, SAA’s four DEI webcasts for archives managers will be available for free through April 30. Learn more.
Another exciting project we’ve been working on is A*CENSUS II, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and collaboratively developed by SAA and Ithaka S+R. In October, SAA and Ithaka launched the All Archivists Survey to gather information from every archivist and community memory worker in the US on their demographics, educational backgrounds, job placements, and salaries, as well as perspectives on key issues in the field. More than 5,500 people participated in the survey. Thank you to those who did and especially to those who helped spread the word!
As I write this, SAA has launched part two—the Archives Administrators Survey. This survey, to be taken by the most senior leader and decision maker of an archives, will gather data about institutional characteristics, resources, strategic directions, and diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA). While part one of A*CENSUS II focused on archivists and memory workers, part two will give us a better understanding of the strategic direction, resource capacity, and DEIA across archival institutions. A*CENSUS II findings will be shared widely with the profession later this year, so stay tuned.
The SAA Foundation enters its eleventh year of providing resources and enhancing the work of the archival community through professional growth opportunities, recognition of archivists, and research about the profession. As its mission and reach continue to evolve, the Foundation is in the midst of developing a strategic plan to guide it in the next few years—I’m excited for what’s coming!
The first eight months of my tenure have also included getting to know archival collections! In September 2021, I toured my very first archives with Chris Prom at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, my alma mater. I was on campus for an alumni event at the Gies College of Business, where I earned my MBA. My visit was a fabulous introduction to archives stacks and rare books collections, and Chris was a great guide.
In November, I continued my tour of archives with a stop at the Chicago Public Library (CPL), where SAA Publications Editor Stacie Williams is chief of archives and special collections. Among the materials she showed me was a historic map of Chicago’s Douglas Park—which, unbeknownst to Stacie, I lived across from and walked to school through every day as a child! I also viewed CPL’s new exhibit “Called to the Challenge: The Legacy of Harold Washington,” on Chicago’s first African American mayor to be elected in 1983. I wasn’t old enough to vote for him, but I remember his desire to seek racial peace in the city, and it was a pleasure to see his life and legacy honored publicly.
The more I learn, the more I’m amazed by archivists and the work they do. I look forward to growing my own awareness of archival work as SAA continues to advance awareness of archives in the public.
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