Keeping Evidence & Memory: Archives Storytelling in the 21st Century (Presidential Address, SAA Annual Meeting), August 17, 2018 by Tanya Zanish-Belcher

A pre-recorded video version of this address is available here.

Good morning and welcome again to the annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists. I am honored to be speaking to you this morning as SAA’s 73rd President and would like to express my gratitude for having the opportunity to represent our organization this past year.

Three years ago, our SAA annual meeting theme was about Telling the Story of Archives as part of President Kathleen Roe’s Year of Living Dangerously. Recently the term storytelling just kept popping up everywhere for me. I subscribe to the Brain Pickings newsletter (edited by Maria Popova) which has the literary arts as a focal point. While I often delete the messages due to lack of time, I do save them if a subject catches my eye. And so, while I was reading what I had set aside, the word “Storytelling” appeared three times in conjunction with authors Iris Murdoch, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Susan Sontag. In the next day or so, the SAA Annual Meeting Program came out and I signed up to attend A Finding Aid to My Soul, an open-mic storytelling session tonight. In May, I was interviewed for a blog post on diversity in archives created by Pass It Down, which advertises itself as a digital storytelling company. And finally, just last week, I was standing at the elevator and saw a Wake Forest flyer advertising the MA in Sports Storytelling Program.

Beyond simply telling our own archives stories, though, I realized the term can also be used in how we consider the documentary record. Archives storytelling is, in every way, dependent on recorded evidence and memory. Researchers use the records we collect to make sense of the past, present, and future. Through archives and their use, there is a cycle of storytelling with multiple characters and perspectives, different endings, and even never endings.

As Murdoch observes “we are constantly employing language to make interesting forms out of experience which perhaps originally seemed dull or incoherent.” The making of sense belongs to the genealogists, researchers, scholars, and students who visit us or view our materials online. We can only hope that what we have acquired and collected can provide those interesting forms.

We need to remember that as Sontag points out “To tell a story is to say: this is the important story. It is to reduce the spread and simultaneity of everything to something linear, a path.” This is why we collect about inadequately represented communities, create a documentation strategy, or interview and capture the stories of those who have been left out of the historical record. Wherever archivists focus their attention and effort can expand the number of stories told.

Finally, Le Guin observed that One of the functions of archives is to give people the words to know their own experience… Storytelling is a tool for knowing who we are and what we want.”

However, how do we tell our story? The story of archivists? Who are we, and what do we want?

So, here is a short tale of what SAA (and when I say SAA, I mean all of us) has been working on over the past year. I’ll focus in particular on Advocacy, Diversity, the SAA Foundation, and Membership. There will be more to come in a forthcoming article in the American Archivist.

Advocacy
One of the primary ways we tell our story—for archivists, users, and the records, is through the practice of advocacy.  Nothing could have prepared me for the onslaught of historical record issues for this past year or two, especially at the federal record level. Public records, including local and state records, truly are essential to the functioning of American democracy. In my years as SAA President and Vice President, we have created numerous issue briefs and position statements, signed letters and petitions, and responded to external requests representing crucial national records concerns. The most recent relate to our support of the Presidential Records Act, concern over the illegal removal of Iraqi records from Iraq, and opposing the nomination of Gina Haspel as Director of the CIA (given her destruction of records documenting torture). We spoke about the importance of Net Neutrality, the Use of Private Email by all government officials, the need for Transparency in Public Records, the Value and Importance of the U.S. Census, and Police Mobile Camera Footage as a Public Record. For anyone interested in the labor-intensive and complex process by which these briefs and statements come to pass, please see my Off the Record blog post from July 16.

Why does SAA dedicate its time to advocacy and why is this important for us? Archivists play a special role in the preservation of the historical record and in many cases the preservation and access of these records are dependent on our local, state, and federal governments. Awareness building also allows us to share who we are with the public and why records are integral to their lives. Through these efforts we do our best to ensure that archival sources protect the rights of individuals and organizations, assure the continued accountability of governments and institutions based on evidence, and safeguard access to historical information and cultural heritage.

Diversity
Fostering diversity and inclusion within the profession continues to be a high priority for SAA. Fundraising for the MOSAIC Scholarship and the Brenda S. Banks Travel Award continues, and our key partnership with the Association of Research Libraries in the IMLS-funded Mosaic Fellows Program will last 2 and possibly 3 more years. I am also pleased to again announce that Council endorsed the Native American Protocols earlier this week.

The Task Force on Accessibility is updating our 2010 Best Practices for Working with Archives Employees and Users with Physical Disabilities and is expanding them to include neuro-disabilities, temporary disabilities, and others that may be in scope. A draft was shared earlier this week with Council, and member review will take place shortly.

Our Tragedy Response Initiative Task Force was proposed by our Diverse Sexuality and Gender Section, who were motivated by the Pulse Night Club tragedy as well as far too many other incidents in the past few years. The TF will provide guidance regarding policies, procedures, and best practices for acquisition, deaccessioning, preservation, and access of memorial collections. An update was provided in the Off the Record blog post on July 30 and a final report will be submitted by 2020.

Finally, sharing our expertise should be a priority. In my first job at the Alabama Department of Archives and History, I learned to process and describe collections and to grapple with the enormity, complexity and, quite often, the awfulness of American history. As a transplanted Yankee, it didn’t take me long to figure out the reason for the Confederate flag above the Capitol, or why the state holidays list included Confederate Memorial Day and Martin Luther King, Jr./Robert E. Lee Day (still). I understood too well why the street on which I was fortunate to attend the dedication of the Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center also hosted a Ku Klux Klan march several years later. This is not isolated to Alabama, or even to one region of our country. The symbols of oppression and our violent past are all around us.

Last fall’s events in Charlottesville point to the need for archivists to use our skills and experience to assist our communities in researching and determining the history of the names, images, and monuments in our midst. The Council’s Diversity and Inclusion Working Group has begun the process of creating a series of Diversity Toolkits available online for archivists and anyone else who needs its resources. The resources currently include materials for facilitating discussions, helping communities in crisis, researching monuments, and how to teach hard history at the K-12 level. A Bibliography for Monuments and Symbols of Oppression is also available on the SAA web site via an Off the Record blog post. The goal is to provide a starting point to learn more about these issues.

All this work is good. But more needs to be done. Diversity and Inclusion is not simply the purview of the Diversity Committee or our Sections or Council but is a responsibility for all of us.

SAA Foundation
Too many archival stories this past year have involved natural disasters–hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and the terrifying fires on the west coast. Fortunately, the SAA Foundation’s National Disaster Recovery Fund was expanded in 2017 to include eligibility for Mexico and non-US Caribbean Islands and to award up to $5,000 in grant funding. As you can imagine, Hurricane Maria and the Mexican earthquake damaged many archival repositories. To date, the Foundation has awarded nine grants to archivists and repositories in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Mexico. We are grateful to our Latin American & Caribbean Cultural Heritage Archives Section for translating the application materials. We have a growing role to play in the American hemisphere and it is important we take that responsibility seriously.

The Foundation also supported a new travel grants program for 2018 to provide grants of up to $1,000 each for travel to attend the SAA Annual Meeting. We received nearly 80 applications for 10 grants! Sustainable funding for professional development is an obvious problem for archivists and so as I transition to the position of Immediate Past President and remain on the SAA Foundation Board for (at least) one more year, one of my goals will be to explore how we can connect with external foundations and match their available funding and interests with our needs.  In the meantime, I am happy to report that SAA Foundation Board recently approved $10,000 in travel grants for Austin 2019.

Membership and Professional Development
Recently, SAA has undertaken two recent membership surveys, one focused on institutional support for professional development and the other for the needs and interests of mid-career archivists. The results provided key data about what our members need for their success. I mentioned exploring foundation support for professional development, but we also obtained good information about what continuing education archivists would like to see SAA provide—courses on career planning, management, and leadership, among others. Your feedback in these surveys provide a path for SAA to follow over the next several years.

SAA members have recently reviewed the updated Principles of the Annual Meeting, the Code of Ethics, Best Practices for Internships as a Component of a Graduate Archival Program, and Best Practices for Volunteers. Treat these as the opportunities they are for having your voice heard. And never feel hesitant to contact your elected officers and Council.

These are only some of the SAA stories from the past year.

Here are some Recommendations for SAA’s Future.

First and foremost, we need to refocus our energies for Diversity and Inclusion. How can we better document and share the unique diversity projects being undertaken in so many of our repositories?  Archivists need to create case studies, essays, and articles and make them available through the SAA  website–this can help us ensure our important collection development efforts inspire others to establish new programs. The Diversity Toolkits also need to be finalized and we need all our members to contribute ideas and sources. If everyone in this room submitted a 500-word annotated source, the Toolkits would be a tremendous crowd-based resource for all. There will be a call after the annual meeting, so please plan to send in your suggestions.

Second, we need more information about the makeup of our profession so that SAA can work to meet the many needs of its members. In his 2016 President’s Address, Dennis Meissner called for the creation of a Task Force on Research/Data and Evaluation. The Task Force, created last fall, presented some preliminary findings at the May Council meeting. What questions would I like to see answered about us?

  • What is the current breakdown in percentage of degrees held by archivists? Thirty years ago, the predominant source of archives degrees was history programs. In A*CENSUS (2004), the breakdown was 39.4% for the MLS/MLIS vs 46.3% for the MA/MS/MFA. It now appears that most archivists entering the field are coming from library school programs—but it would be good to have those numbers confirmed. However, there are still many, many people working as archivists who chose another path to this profession. How can archivists coming from different backgrounds—and, in some cases, philosophies—communicate and collaborate most effectively? How can our continuing education programs assist in fostering community among such a disparate group?
  • How can we better collaborate with the graduate programs which funnel students into the profession? I have heard comments about the number of graduates and the perception they are overwhelming a small job market. SAA has done many evaluations and reports which indicate we simply cannot afford the cost of an official accreditation process. So, it may be time to think creatively about what SAA CAN do.
    • We can collect better documentation of all archives graduate programs, no matter the discipline, and increase the understanding of their strengths
    • We could collaborate with archival educators and host an annual forum as an invited opportunity for all archives program representatives, educators, and practicing archivists to meet and discuss issues?
    • We can foster forums for the various degree programs to discuss curriculum and other issues impacting archives students
    • We can explore collaborative assessment projects for programs and highlight student projects from a variety of programs?
  • As a profession, we also need more information about archivists’ salaries, organized by location, type of degree, type of repository, and geographic location. These data would give us important information that would enhance our programming and advocacy efforts. Increasingly, job ads with no salaries are the norm—how can we encourage more transparency for the profession? The National Council on Public History and the American Association for State and Local History recently introduced policies that any job ads shared on their site must have salaries posted. And as with the American Library Association, it would be good for SAA to provide an average salary by state in order to strengthen archivists’ negotiating power.
  • Knowing more about the various subsets of SAA membership would also be helpful, as we try to collect more valid and useful data. As I mentioned previously, what has happened to the Mosaic Scholarship participants, Mosaic Fellows, and Harold J. Pinkett Scholars? Are they still in the profession or have they moved to other careers? Why? How can we truly assess and improve our recruiting and retention efforts to expand the diversity of the profession? How effective is our mentoring program? Does our partnering structure work? How can we improve this experience? It is time to explore the ways we can truly examine our hiring and organizational practices.
  • It is apparent that the archives profession has many economic issues. These range from how graduates find the programs they attend, the lack of underrepresented communities participating as archivists, the increasing number of students, the limited number of permanent positions, and the overwhelming prevalence of Part-Time and Temporary positions, among others. SAA members recently reviewed the Best Practices for Internships and Volunteers, with many good ideas for revisions. However, in addition to these Best Practices I would suggest we proactively develop solutions for institutions to consider.Some possible ideas:
  • Investigate grant possibilities for the support, either profession-wide, or a consortium of institutions, much like our MOSAIC program to provide financial support
  • Fundraising in your home institution to create endowments or expendable accounts to support interns, and SAA-developed guidelines on how to make that happen.
  • Provide best practices to guide archivists communicating with their local graduate archives programs (who require internships as part of their degree process) to discuss these concerns further and develop ways to either provide support for interns, tuition remission, or provide the credit hours without cost to the student.

Given that the Task Force will most likely recommend the creation of an SAA Committee dedicated to Research, I would therefore propose the consideration of a subcommittee answering to the larger group. This subcommittee would be specifically dedicated to economic equity and collect data about employment matters, including benefits, internships, salaries, how and when graduates enter entry-level positions, promotions, retirement, and broader work topics such as developing apprenticeship programs and how to make our labor visible.

Until we have the data and the ability to thoroughly analyze the results, it is difficult for SAA to respond in a substantive manner.

It will always be difficult for a large/complex organization to move nimbly and be flexible, given competing priorities and SAA’s commitment to building consensus. Does SAA always get it right? Of course not.

However, I would argue that SAA succeeds more often than it fails. And I would like to believe that we are an organization that learns from its mistakes to do things better the next time.

Much like democracy, SAA is us, after all.

Challenges for the Archives Profession

While SAA faces significant tests, the broader archives profession also faces challenges. Sometimes these intersect and overlap, but not always. By joining SAA, you have already chosen a leadership position for the profession, and it is important to 1) be knowledgeable about organizations and affiliated professions other than your own and 2) consider how decision-making and discussions can also affect non-SAA members.

  1. The Value of the Public Record

Over the past three decades, there have been increasing pressures on the very concept of public records, something so key to the functioning of our American democracy. Secrecy and efforts to hide corruption and wrongdoing and “fake news” have been present in our political life dating back to the earliest days of the Republic. As we now live in a digital world, many of our basic beliefs about what can be controlled in the creation or alteration of a record, its authenticity and very meaning are called into question. Preservation and access to the public record, whether you are a government records archivist or not, should be a concern to you as a citizen.

The political spoils of our election system do have consequences for the historical record and have a direct impact on the efficacy of the archival enterprise. Current challenges for government archives sustainability include the overall shrinkage of governments and budget cuts for archives; the political appointments of individuals without archives experience or backgrounds; archives being subsumed by government bureaucracy and overwhelmed by unfunded mandates; and officials not understanding the role or importance of electronic records and digital preservation.

Citizens still have ways to challenge and question records restriction or destruction and protect open access, including FOIA requests, Sunshine laws, and calls for public comment on appraisal decisions. Just two weeks ago, CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) have brought Federal Records Act (FRA) lawsuits against the EPA, filed a FOIA request with the State Department, and after filing a complaint with NARA, an investigation is underway to determine if the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) violated the law by deleting records of immigrant families split at the border.

I would ask of you to serve as archives experts and responsible citizens to closely monitor your local archives, state archives and SHRABS, and NARA. Be an advocate and stay informed. Write letters to the local newspapers and talk with your legislators and representatives about the importance of archives. There are advocacy publications and affordable webinars forthcoming from SAA—use them. SAA and individual archivists have an important role to play as consistent and constant advocates.

  1. International Human Rights

I represented SAA at the International Council on Archives in Mexico City last fall and I came to some conclusions about the importance of SAA’s international activities. We have a major role to play in the American hemisphere and world, not only as a role model, but also sharing resources such as disaster funding, copyright discussions, and developing collaborative projects which can impact archivists in multiple countries. Given our meeting location in Austin next year, I would very much like to see a concerted effort to invite archivists from throughout the American hemisphere, especially Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and Southern America to join us and discuss both the questions and possibilities.

The documentation of human rights was also discussed. Past SAA President and former Interim Archivist of the United States Trudy Petersen reported on her work with Swisspeace, an effort (in collaboration with ICA) to preserve records in digital format in different geographic locations for protection purposes. They recently shared the draft Guiding Principles for Safe Havens for Archives at Risk for comment from the archives community. Amnesty International is also announcing a project for the preservation of digital records. According to their press release, “the new archive will accelerate investigations into human rights violations and protect digital records of significant historical importance to the global movement.” It is important we support this work and recognize that both activists and archivists play a role in ensuring the preservation and access to these records.

  1. Allied Memory Organizations and Professions

The various communities comprising digital humanities, digital libraries, history, library, museum, and public history fields that overlap with the archives profession continue to expand and splinter. There is a distinct need to map our associated collection and memory professions and how our grants, projects, and research activities impact all of us.

Later today, we will be meeting with representatives of nearly 20 organizations, including the American Association for State and Local History, the Association for Moving Image Archivists, the Coalition for Networked Information, the Digital Library Federation, and RBMS, among others. We plan to discuss how we can more effectively collaborate and share information about data gathering, advocacy strategies, research methodologies, and user infrastructure, when we remain so incredibly siloed.

  1. Leadership and Service

I want to conclude this presentation with some brief points about your own leadership practice as I believe this is where SAA truly has so much to offer to each of you. Both SAA and the archives profession need you. It needs every one of you—your energy, your willingness to work hard, your perspective. Keep these things in mind as you write your own story.

Be strategic and mindful about your archives career and service. Dedicate yourself to what you truly care about and are willing to spend the time on.

Leaders are made, not born. Consider every experience you have as an important step on your path and as a part of your individual story.

Believe in yourself and share yourself with others. Smile and say hello to someone at this meeting you don’t know. Share a story from your archives. Find a mentor. Be a mentor. When a colleague calls on you for advice, answer.

Finally, I would also advise the following given how emotionally taxing our work can be at times.

Remember why you do what you do. Take time for reflection and introspection.

Take comfort in the friendship and support of your archives friends and colleagues.

Appreciate and feel the gratitude of your donors, no matter if they are individuals, offices, or agencies.

Remember the integral role you play in creating the historical record. Be creative and strategic on how you accomplish your vocation.

And here’s my final thought. While archivists are about records, what we really are about is people. The people who created and saved the records, present, past, and future and the people who want to use them to construct new narratives. Our mission is how can we best serve as thoughtful and dedicated intermediaries to ensure their stories and lives are not forgotten.

Thank you for sharing this time with me today.

What About Invisible Labor? by Tanya Zanish-Belcher

Invisible labor has been a hot topic in the archives profession over the last couple of years. The invisible labor of archivists, so often unseen and underappreciated, is a constant theme on Twitter and a source of real angst. It is difficult to do work you believe in when that work remains discounted. The increasing presence of temporary positions—full time, part time, project archivist, and unpaid internship—has resulted in a growing sense of frustration in the profession, as indicated by the recent letter from UCLA Temporary Faculty. I will discuss these issues briefly in my presidential address (Keeping Evidence and Memory: Archives Storytelling in the 21st Century) on Friday morning, August 17, at the Joint Annual Meeting.

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education described six stereotypes of archivists, none of them flattering. The author later tweeted that her “affectionate” article was simply misunderstood, that the Chronicle loved it, and that archivists were coming after her with “pitchforks.” One of the things I love most about our profession is that, although we may squabble and disagree with each other, when someone comes after our profession and our calling, our deep emotions about what we do kick in and are on full display. As SAA’s letter to the editor of the Chronicle noted, “…here’s something essential to know about archivists: We are passionate stewards of the collections we keep, and we are committed to providing access to the records in our care and assisting researchers in discovering records that are relevant to their projects. We are your allies in the stacks, and all of us—researchers and archivists alike—are on the same side.”

What might have been more relevant and helpful would be for the Chronicle to publish an article focused on an archivist and researcher, who could discuss the actual professional give and take of a collaborative relationship. How might we redirect our passion to make sure this is the kind of story told, as opposed to spending our energies on responding to a snarky and disrespectful one? It would reaffirm our efforts, both as individual archivists and as a professional association, to share more about who we are, what we do, and the impact we have. We need to connect and build alliances with our media partners to ensure that the deep complexity of our work is represented appropriately.

Finally, I also want to make the observation that we have invisible labor right in front of us, too, namely the SAA staff. We have 12 full-time staff. We employ people. They work for us. Our dues pay them and pay for the programs they run for us. They oversee the governance of our appointed groups and sections, develop workshops and organize the instructors to teach them, work with authors to write books. They build alliances with other organizations, plan the Annual Meeting, answer membership questions. Our dues feed back into financial support for the sections, the programming we do, our advocacy efforts, the workshops we teach, the publications we publish, and the support we provide for those who are willing to volunteer and serve. Many of the things that we worry about as archives professionals, such as burnout, life balance, and professional development, also apply to these individuals who work for our professional association.

Although I recognize the budgetary challenges that our small non-profit organization faces, I would be remiss if, at the end of my term, I didn’t share that I believe a lack of staff is holding SAA back in myriad ways. There are so many important chores done by volunteers, with a hardworking staff responding to fire after fire that we are often unable to focus our efforts where they would have the most impact. I would recommend the creation or reorganization of already existing staff to oversee the following (mind, these are only recommendations for consideration by the Executive Director):

First is the hiring of a Development Officer who would oversee grant solicitation and administration as well as fundraising for our Foundation. It’s time for SAA to examine how foundations can help us in our work, and while I do plan to spend some time on this issue next year, there is a distinct need for someone to permanently drive and supervise this work.

Second, given the impetus to conduct research about archives and archivists and the necessity for long-term permanent storage of these data, SAA has a distinct need for a Research and Standards Coordinator. The Coordinator would work directly with the Committee on Research (yet-to-be-created), the Research Forum, the Standards Committee, and others to develop long-term strategies.

Third, we have an Executive Director and a number of positions reporting directly to her. I would add a Deputy Executive Director, whose responsibility it is to respond to member requests and supervise the overall running of the SAA office. This would free the Executive Director’s time to focus on broader issues, including SAA’s mission and vision as well building alliances among our allies, the media, and external organizations.

I understand SAA’s budget does not necessarily support the addition of positions. However, there may come a time when we have no choice.

How do we make the invisible visible? By both documenting the important role of the archivist and the historical record, and demonstrating it constantly, consistently, and strategically. This is time-consuming and labor intensive, to be sure. However, as Tim Ericson points out in his article “Preoccupied with our Own Gardens: Outreach and Archivists” (Archivaria 31 (Winter 1990-1991), pp: 114-122) “Regarding our concern with image, awareness and education, it is important to keep our focus on the records we are preserving and the impact they have ( or may have) on the lives of people who would benefit from using them….As long as we stay in our reading rooms and avoid touching the lives of those whom we would serve, then all of our well-intentioned efforts to improve our image, and all our programs to explain what we do and why it is important will fall on deaf ears. We need to show people, not tell them. “

 

 

 

Update from the Tragedy Response Initiative Task Force: Guest Post by SAA Council Member Steven Booth

At its November 2017 meeting, the SAA Council approved the formation of the Tragedy Response Initiative Task Force. This initiative, proposed by the Diverse Sexuality and Gender Section, grew out of discussions held at the 2016 Annual Meeting surrounding the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, FL, and the need for resources and assistance to help local archivists who are personally affected by disasters/tragedies collect and preserve materials.

Since January 2018, the Tragedy Response Initiative Task Force has worked diligently towards fulfilling its charge of 1) creating and/or compiling material for ready accessibility by archivists who are facing a sudden tragedy, and 2) exploring the feasibility of creating a standing body within SAA that would update documentation as needed and serve as a volunteer tragedy response team.

Much of our effort to date has focused on researching and compiling policies and best practices, building relationships with allied organizations, and serving as contacts for communities and individuals that are managing tragedy-related collections. One of the first activities completed by the Task Force was a bibliography of articles and monographs related to archives, disasters/tragedies, and memorial and commemorative collections. We are currently using the bibliography to aid in our process of drafting policies and templates, and will continue to add resources to it, which will be shared with the SAA membership at a later date.

Additionally, we have successfully contacted numerous archivists and allied professionals from various repositories including the City of Boston Archives (Marathon Memorial), 9/11 Memorial Museum, Orange County Regional History Center, University of Houston Special Collections, Rice University, the HIstoric New Orleans Collection, Tulane University, the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and Louisiana State Museum to acquire information about their endeavors to document and preserve disaster/tragedy-related collections. We have also received samples of documentation from the Littleton Museum (Columbine High School Memorial), a memorandum of agreement between the Town of Newtown (Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting) and the Connecticut State Library, and an archival job description for processing memorial collections from Syracuse University. As we continue to have conversations with our colleagues and discuss best practices, the Task Force is tracking the types of policies and procedures we hope to compile examples of and create templates for.

Following one of the charged responsibilities to collaborate with allied organizations, the Task Force Chair, Lisa Calahan and others on the committee have connected with several national organizations about our efforts and has received positive feedback from the Special Libraries Association, American Alliance of Museums, Oral History Association, and National Council on Public History (NCPH), although what “collaboration” looks like is yet to be determined. One positive outcome is that Lisa attended the annual conference for the National Council on Public History and participated in a meeting to discuss potential collaboration and resource sharing opportunities with NCPH members.

Lastly, an unexpected activity of the Task Force that is not represented in the official charge, but that we expect to continue, is to provide immediate advice for community members and archivists actively collecting memories of tragedy. The Task Force has been contacted by a Parkland, FL city commissioner to advise on best practices for managing memorial material, and interviewed by WBUR (Boston NPR) for an article on the 5-year commemoration of the Boston Marathon Bombing.

The Task Force expects to submit its final report and recommendations to the SAA Council no later than January 2020. In the meantime, if you are interested in contributing sample documentation and sharing your experience with disaster/tragedy collections or have suggestions for the Task Force to consider, please contact us here or send an e-mail to president@archivists.org, thank you!

Archives Event on the Hill: Guest Post by COPP Chair Dennis Riley

The “Archives on the Hill” initiative, sponsored by SAA-CoSA-NAGARA-RAAC, is fast approaching and scheduled for August 14th as part of this year’s annual meeting in Washington, DC. For some background and context, please see previous posts by CoSA Executive Director Barbara Teague and Committee on Public Policy member Samantha Winn, or this recent article in the May/June issue Archival Outlook by yours truly.

To keep this advocacy event manageable, the coordinating committee, consisting of representatives from each organization, focused on our specific members whose Congressional representatives sit on the important House and Senate committees that handle appropriations and oversight of the National Archives and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). While logistical planning for the Archives on the Hill effort is still underway, 63 of our members are committed to meeting with 47 Members of Congress (most likely their staff given it will be the August recess). By limiting this event to a targeted group of archivists and Congressional representatives, we hoped not to overwhelm the coordinating committee (all volunteers, some of whom have day jobs) nor SAA staff and interns who have their hands full with the rest of the annual meeting (without adding yet another event).

The objectives of this initiative are twofold:

  1. To broaden the advocacy experience and expertise of our members; and
  2. To begin developing relationships with Members of Congress

Both objectives serve the longer-range objective of increasing SAA’s legislative and public policy advocacy work, in line with our strategic plan.

The principle “ask” of these meetings will be to ensure Congress maintains adequate funding for archival projects through the NHPRC, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Ancillary messages which will be part of our approach include explaining the challenges and importance of electronic records preservation; and advocating for the reauthorization of both NHPRC and IMLS as federal entities.

Pragmatically speaking, given the upcoming mid-term elections and other issues Congress will be dealing with in the coming months (pick your favorite federal acronym: SCOTUS, ICE, EPA, etc.) I think it’s fair to say archives funding will not be at the top of any Congressional agenda. However, if we don’t speak up on these issues, no one else is going to do it for us. The hope is that this is but a first step in an ongoing effort throughout the next year and beyond to implement SAA’s Public Policy Agenda in very concrete, active ways – to engage Congress on the importance of archives to our society and the communities Members represent, whether it’s funding or copyright, government transparency and accountability, or advancing the diversity of the archival record and documenting marginalized voices.

Be sure to keep an eye out in SAA communication streams for a readout on the August event and how you can pitch in by advocating with your Member of Congress.

 

Advocacy Building Blocks by Tanya Zanish-Belcher

At the 2013 SAA Annual Meeting, I (as the Council liaison, 2013-2016) attended a meeting of the Government Affairs Working Group (GAWG) with myself, Past President Frank Boles, soon-to-be President Kathleen Roe, and SAA Executive Director, Nancy Beaumont. A topic of our discussion was how to reconfigure this moribund group, which eventually became the Committee on Public Policy (Originally named the Committee on Advocacy and Public Policy). I also chaired COPP, 2016-2017.

Over the past 5 years, SAA has continued creating foundation blocks in its advocacy work and begun the transition into an established program. The output has included 16 issue briefs, 14 statements, and serving as signatories on multiple letters and petitions. The most recent statement related to the reported destruction of Executive Records by the President and includes a response from NARA.

Numerous Committee and Council members also drafted the Public Policy Agenda, the Criteria for Advocacy Statements, Procedures for Suggesting SAA Advocacy Action, and a recently approved (2018) Legislative Agenda and Action Plan. There is also ongoing and regular communication with the SAA Committee on Public Awareness and other allied organizations, such as CoSA, NAGARA, NARA, and the National Humanities Alliance.

But I thought I would write a bit about the process of how and why SAA decides to make a statement, write a letter, or develop an issue brief. This is a necessarily gray area of decision-making, and in the majority of cases, dependent directly on the SAA President (while in consultation with others, of course). Each case is considered independently of others because there are always internal and external circumstances to consider, such as timing and other priorities. In some cases, as President, I have made the decision to sign on to a letter or petition myself when we only have 24 hours to respond to a request from an allied organization. At times, an issue may be referred to the Committee on Public Policy for further research and writing (sometimes the issues come directly from COPP too). Sometimes, I will confer with the Executive Committee, which is composed of the elected officers in addition to a Council-elected Representative. Sometimes, the entire Council is brought into the discussion where more feedback and discussion are needed, and we have enough time to drill down especially as SAA Council does approve all issue briefs and position statements. Issues are also brought to SAA from individual members and groups, and we ask that they conduct much-needed research prior to submitting that issue for consideration.

Actual authorship can include 1 or 10 individual archivists or input from the SAA staff and Executive Director. Some draft. Some revise. The most difficult part of this is coming to an agreeable consensus, because, believe it or not, not all archivists agree on everything. As the years have passed, it has become clear that our foci should be those issues where there is a definite records implication, but there again, not all archivists agree on every tenet of archives.

While this is a core responsibility of SAA as the national professional organization for archivists, the act of creating, revising, and coming to consensus on any contentious archival issue (again, often the most difficult part) is very labor intensive and time consuming for what are primarily archivist volunteers with various areas of expertise and interests. At this point we now have core statements and language which allow us to sometimes craft new statements without as much effort. Another observation—who are these statements for, and who cares about them? In too many cases, unfortunately, they are for ourselves, and our next building block is to expand our circle of influence. To that end, last fall, I developed a list of groups and organizations who should receive notifications of our briefs and statements when appropriate:

American Alliance of Museums
American Association for State and Local History
American Library Association
ARMA
Congressional History Caucus
Council of State Archivists
Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR)
Digital Library Federation
International Council on Archives
Legislators at the local, state, and federal levels
Library of Congress
Local and national media

NAGARA
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
National Coalition for History
National Council on Public History
Regional Archives Association Consortium (RAAC)

If there is another group or organization you believe should be added to this list, please send it to president@archivists.org

Finally, no letter or statement, or lack thereof, will ever please every member of SAA. And that’s ok. Your elected leadership must balance our overall responsibility representing archivists with the resources we have available. Our end goal is to consistently and effectively share our records expertise with the wider world, and make sure the archives voice is heard.

 

 

 

Preliminary Results from Mid-Career Archivists Pop-Up Survey by Tanya Zanish-Belcher

In April, SAA fielded a pop-up survey focused on mid-career archivists. “Mid-career” was defined as more than five years in the profession and more than 10 years until retirement. The goal of the survey was not necessarily statistical, but to collect ideas and issues for education programming and to ensure that we are considering the concerns and needs of this group in SAA’s strategic planning. Here are some preliminary results.

How long have you been working in the archives field?

There were 698 responses that broke down as follows:

5-10 years:         40.54% (283)
10-15 years:       28.80% (201)
16-20 years:       20.06% (140)
21+:                      10.60% (74)

What issues are of the greatest concern to you at this stage of your career?

The three issues at the highest level were burnout and stress; little opportunity for growth and promotion; and life balance. Although SAA may not be able to deal with these issues directly, it’s important that you can rely on your professional organization for support for your continued development, networking, and career progress.

What do you find most challenging at this stage of your career?

The answers (in priority order) were staying current, career planning, salary, workloads, networking, and internal advocacy. SAA’s education programming is there to help you with training needs. We’re already planning a webcast on salary negotiation (see this past post too) and are working on gathering other online resources on career planning and advocacy.

What do you think that SAA, as your professional organization, should do or provide to help you at this stage of your career?

Online courses: 57.48%
Courses and training: 48.59%
Annual meeting programming: 42.81%
Certificate program in leadership and/or management: 40.89%

Overall, the survey answers were both enlightening and worrying. One resource that I hope more members will consider is participating in the SAA Mentoring Program, either mentoring others or being mentored. SAA will continue to advocate for the needs of archivists and explore programming to answer some of the difficult questions raised by the survey participants, but it is also up to us to take care of each other as much as we can.

 

 

Guest Post: What about Denver? Or Minneapolis? by Nancy Beaumont, Executive Director-SAA

What About Denver? Or Minneapolis?

Discussion of SAA Annual Meeting sites is cyclical and generally heats up in the spring, just as we begin registration for the upcoming conference. Members begin thinking about whether they’ll attend this year—and, inevitably, where they’d rather be going.

In a recent Twitter exchange, tweeters calculated the number of times the Annual Meeting has been held in each region of the country, commented about a return to the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel, and suggested that we consider Minneapolis/St. Paul, Cincinnati, Dallas, Vermont, British Columbia, Detroit, Milwaukee, Boulder, Fort Collins, or Denver.  I’ve been contacted directly about Salt Lake City, Raleigh/Durham, Charlotte, Miami, and a host of other cities.

So how do we go about selecting SAA’s Annual Meeting sites?

Every two to three years our meeting logistics firm, Conference & Logistics Consultants (C&LC), and I take on the resource-intensive task of site selection to ensure that we have sites booked at least three to four years in advance of a conference.

C&LC issues an RFP that is based on both SAA’s Principles and Priorities for Continuously Improving the Annual Meeting[1] and the realities of our conference as it has evolved. The Principles and Priorities stress affordability, accessibility, diversity and inclusion, technology, experimentation, fair labor practices, social responsibility, and “green” practices. And the realities? For starters:

  • Availability in July or August.
  • Regional rotation to ensure that all members can expect proximity at least every four to five years.
  • At least 600 sleeping rooms on two “peak” nights, and proximity to overflow hotels.
  • At least 60,000 square feet of meeting space to accommodate 8-11 concurrent education sessions + 46 section meetings + 30 appointed group meetings + various “affiliate” meetings + an 18,000-square-foot room for general sessions + additional space for an exhibit hall—all over the course of four days.
  • Free and reliable Internet access in sleeping and meeting rooms.
  • Inexpensive food options.
  • Access to cultural venues.
  • Reasonable weather.
  • Relatively easy and affordable access via air, train, or car.

C&LC’s continuously updated database includes details about convention centers and bureaus; hotels’ renovation schedules and room capacities; hotel chains’ announcements about new builds; and airlines’ services and hubs. To the extent possible without a government affairs staff, we maintain a list of states and cities whose laws and regulations may conflict with SAA’s Principles.

And so the matching game begins. I consult with the SAA Council all along the way—as we issue the RFP, receive responses, and narrow the list and craft a schedule.

In this last round the list was pretty narrow to begin with, particularly for western destinations. We hoped to consider Denver, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, or Seattle—each of which declined to bid. See Salt Lake City’s response: “Thank you for your consideration of Salt Lake. The SAA date range from early July to mid-August are some of our busiest weeks in Salt Lake. Unfortunately in reviewing the projected attendance, space and utilization on the convention center; Visit Salt Lake will not be able to offer a proposal utilizing the convention center and adjacent hotels. We asked the Grand America Hotel to review the RFP for possible opportunity to offer a proposal and they also declined.  While 2021/2022 did not provide opportunity for Salt Lake to offer proposals for SAA, we do look forward to future opportunity when perhaps SAA could be considered.” [Emphasis added.] We have been invited to reapply in July 2020 in case SLC has not yet sold the space.

Each year I encourage the Program Committee to consider alternatives to 11 concurrent education sessions x 7 blocks.  Each year I alert the Council to the challenges of accommodating 46 section meetings. How might we innovate?  As long as certain traditions remain, we’re locked into venues that can handle them….

With Executive Committee approval, I have just signed contracts for the Boston Sheraton Back Bay in 2022 and the Washington Hilton in 2023. I depart for a site visit to Anaheim on June 19 to see if it’s a good fit for 2021. Wish us luck!

[1] https://www2.archivists.org/statements/principles-and-priorities-for-continuously-improving-the-saa-annual-meeting