Updates from the Archives: Guest Post from our SAA Archivist

Thanks to SAA’s Archivist, Abbi Nye, at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee for her guest blog post and watch for periodic highlights from the collections:

SAA Archives

One of the delightful benefits in assuming the role of SAA Archivist is that I have a reason to meander through the years of SAA’s development.  It’s fascinating, of course, to gain a better understanding of our organizational history, but it’s the people and the stories that really seize my attention.  Prominent archivists cease to be merely authors of the seminal articles we read in graduate school; the documents bring their humor, their friendship, and their disagreements to life.

There’s plenty of humor in the SAA archives:  “Dear Herb,” F. Gerald Ham joked to C. Herbert Finch about Finch’s addition to the SAA archives, “The confidential “Finch File” arrived in fine shape; do you want a 10 or 15 lid on this hot stuff?”  Newspaper clippings and committee minutes document the internal debates around pronunciation: should archivist be pronounced “ARK-uh-vist” or AR-KY-vist”?  As with all organizations, there are warts on display as well; past lists of SAA leaders aren’t exactly overflowing with diversity.

At their core, the SAA records and the manuscript collections from longtime archivists such as Larry Hackman and Helen Samuels address issues of professional identity. The true value of SAA’s archives lies not in answering questions about when a certain committee disbanded, but in helping us to understand our story and who we are as a professional community.

Archivists understand better than anyone how important it is to know where we’ve come from and what our values are.  I suspect that in the next few years, it will be essential to ground ourselves and to re-appraise our professional identity, to borrow a phrase from Elizabeth Snowden Johnson.  Absorb strength from our Code of Ethics and Core Values, but don’t neglect to look at previous versions and the thoughtful discussions behind our current Code.

To study the SAA archives is to understand that our profession is constantly evolving; we have lost the Scientific and Technological Manuscripts committee and lamination—thankfully—is no longer an acceptable preservation strategy.  In that spirit, challenge yourself to expand your reach this year.  Perhaps you’re passionate about engaging with issues of social justice and community archives.  Perhaps you want to expand your technical skill set by participating in the Try5 initiative.  Perhaps you’re eager to be an articulate advocate for archivists and the value of our work.  However you choose to engage, remember that you aren’t alone.  We have 80 years of archival records to prove it.

Transparency in SAA Advocacy Governance and How to Build for the Future

By Michelle Light and Tanya Zanish-Belcher

Dear All:

We have received several questions about how SAA makes statements, how the most recent statements came into being, and how SAA members might become more involved in initiating statements. We are glad to see so much interest and hope this post will answer some of these questions. This will be the first of several blog posts on SAA’s advocacy efforts. Look for information about how you can be involved coming shortly!

The SAA Council (or its Executive Committee, which includes the President) may take a position on an issue of importance to the profession or the association. The Council is SAA’s elected governing body. Other groups and sections within SAA are not empowered to take action in the name of SAA without specific prior authorization from the Council. (See the Governance Manual for more information.)

The Council has determined that SAA will voice a position, make a statement, or take other action only on issues that are related directly to archives and archival functions. Priority advocacy issues are outlined in SAA’s Public Policy Agenda. The Council limits action to archival issues because SAA represents a diverse group of members with multiple perspectives and because SAA does not have the resources to gather a consensus of membership on a wide range of issues. (See SAA’s Criteria for Advocacy Statements for more information.)

Recently the SAA Council issued the SAA Statement on Executive Order Restricting Entry into the United States by Individuals from Seven Muslim-Majority Countries. In this case, an SAA member requested on the SAA Leader listserv that the Council make a statement opposing the executive order. The member cited a situation in which her work colleague was negatively affected by the order.  After this initial call for action, other SAA members forwarded to the Council and/or the SAA Leader discussion list more examples of the negative impact of the executive order on individual archivists (because of their country of origin or immigrant status), on archival research, and on the free exchange of information and ideas. In addition, more than 75 SAA leaders of sections and other component groups emailed the SAA Leader listserv in support of the Council taking action.

Simultaneously, SAA was reviewing statements issued by allied organizations, such as the American Library Association (ALA), the Association for College and Research Libraries (ACRL), the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA), the Association for Research Libraries (ARL), the American Society for Information Science and Technology, and the American Historical Association (AHA).

After reviewing member comments and examples, consulting with the chair of the Committee on Public Policy, and reviewing the Council’s criteria for advocacy statements, a subgroup of Council members drafted a statement for the Council to discuss as an urgent matter. The Council vigorously debated making a statement. In the end, we decided it was in the best interests of our members to stand with our members who are facing discrimination or whose archival research is in jeopardy because of the executive order. The Council called attention to how the executive order is at odds with aspects of SAA’s Core Values of Archivists. After we discussed the proposed statement, it was revised and shared broadly. This statement is now available on the SAA website, along with our other position statements, statements, and issue briefs.

As part of this process, many individuals expressed an interest in participating in this kind of advocacy work. We encourage members, and especially sections, to engage in the advocacy process and to work on compiling and researching information to support well-informed, balanced issue briefs and statements. To suggest that SAA take action on an advocacy issue, individuals and groups will have the most success if they follow the Procedures for Suggesting SAA Advocacy Action. The procedures ask you to provide an overview of the issue, explain why the issue is important to archives and archivists, and consider the pros and cons of SAA taking a stand. Most issues should be referred to the chair of the Committee on Public Policy.  This Committee conducts research on public policy issues and provides strategic advice to the Council about SAA’s positions and statements. The Committee on Public Policy is responsible for drafting the issue briefs outlined in the Public Policy Agenda. Sometimes, however, an issue requires a more timely response, and a brief statement is more appropriate than a well-researched issue brief. In these urgent cases, members or groups should contact the Executive Director or the SAA President with their request. The SAA President, Executive Committee, or Council may choose to seek advice from the Committee on Public Policy or other groups before responding.

If SAA chooses not to take action or make a statement on an issue, SAA sections and other component groups may still make efforts to educate members and others about the issue, even if they are not authorized to take a stand on behalf of SAA. For example, the Oral History Section sought to educate archivists about the issues surrounding the controversial Belfast Project/Boston College Subpoena Case. The Issues & Advocacy Section maintains a blog with several informative posts about a variety of issues, and also provides a way to suggest an advocacy issue.

SAA will continue to work with a variety of individuals, groups, and allied organizations to ensure that we advocate on issues of importance to archives and archivists, especially those outlined in SAA’s public policy agenda. In the coming weeks and months, SAA’s Committee on Public Policy will examine in depth the impact of the current Administration’s recent decisions on numerous issues affecting our work as archivists. These include questions of continuing access to federal data, transparency and accountability of government, adherence to federal records management regulations, privacy, and more.

A brief note at the end of the year …

As this year ends and the next is about to begin, here’s a brief note to wish you the best for 2017.  As I wade through the long list of astonishing things in 2016, I’ve been appreciating the thoughtful words of others at year end, so I’m sharing some of those with you in hopes you also find them to be timely and encouraging.

First from Brenda Banks, past president of SAA and much-missed colleague who passed away this year, this wonderful quote from her 1996 presidential address you may have seen in the SAA Foundation Board’s annual letter:

“Armed with the lessons of the past, the willingness to accept or adapt to an ever-changing society, and commitment and conviction… we move confidently ahead to meet  the challenges of the future with knowledge, courage, and determination.”

And two more encouraging statements from nearby communities – in  each case, if we fill in “SAA” the words fit well.

From Mike Furlough, Executive Director of HathiTrust:

“At the end of a stressful, fractious, and divisive year in the US and beyond, I hope we can all agree that it’s good to see it drawing to a close.  That said, all of us at HathiTrust have been buoyed all year long by the work we do, and that’s in no small part because our membership so strongly believes in the necessity of our work and in developing community focused solutions to our common challenges.”

From President Reif of MIT:

“We live in a moment when, in our public conversation, familiar standards of decency and open, respectful discourse can no longer be taken for granted. These unwritten rules of a healthy society are especially significant in a community like ours; at MIT, our differences of opinion, perspective, training, identity and background, and our ability to navigate and learn from those differences, are essential to our creative excellence. These shared values have even greater importance in this charged time, when incidents of discrimination across the country have left many members of our community uneasy about their own safety.”

With your ongoing help and support, SAA will continue to accomplish great things for archives, archivists, and the broader community. On behalf of SAA, thank you for all of your hard work!

In the new year, I’ll continue to work hard with SAA Council, leaders, and individual members to advance our goals and to address issues and challenges as they arise; and on my own, to seek causes to contribute to and support – please do share your accomplishments and concerns as you do the same. Renewed by the holiday break, I’m looking forward to working with and hearing from you.  All the best!

Nance

p.s. watch for an update to SAA’s Strategic Plan in 2017 …

2017 SAA Annual Meeting Program

I’m pleased to share this guest blog post from Terry Baxter, Program Committee chair for the 2017 Annual Meeting. I’ve mentioned in previous updates how  exciting  the 2017 program theme is: Alike and Different and how important the Saturday event is -The Liberated Archive: A Forum for Envisioning and Implementing a Community-Based Approach to Archives. The 2017 program embraces SAA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. The SAA Council Working Group on  Diversity and Inclusion will be organizing discussion sessions and providing additional resources to encourage the broadest and most active participation  in discussions during the forum and throughout the Annual Meeting. Looking  forward to seeing you in Portland OR this year and please be sure to include Saturday in your plans! Thanks for your update, Terry:


It’s hard to think about summer, and the upcoming Society of American Archivists annual meeting in Portland, Oregon, during such dreary early-winter days. But the Program Committee has been hard at work to ensure that the education programming offered in July will be informative, stimulating, and useful.

The committee has already begun evaluating proposals. We received 196 proposal submissions (160 education sessions and 36 poster presentations) and will be working to evaluate and rank them prior to our in-person meeting in Chicago, January 9-11. At that time, the committee will select education sessions and poster presentations to reinforce the conference theme of alike/different, which acknowledges that we archivists sit under a very large tent and, although we have many similarities, there are ways in which we differ—sometimes fundamentally.

Work also continues on The Liberated Archive: A Forum for Envisioning and Implementing a Community-Based Approach to Archives, which will take place on Saturday, July 29, as part of the conference. A subcommittee consisting of Natalie Baur, Jarrett Drake, and Jennifer O’Neal has been working to develop both structure and content for the forum. (A full report of their activities to date was presented to the SAA Council at its November 14-16 meeting.) Both the subcommittee and the full Program Committee will continue to build on this work. As noted in the original conference call for proposals, a call for Forum content will be issued in January 2017.

The Liberated Archive asks: “If the archive is a site of social control, how might archivists partner with the public – especially at this critical junction for the profession – to repurpose the archive as a site of social transformation and radical inclusion?” At its core, the Forum is intended to bring together archivists and members of various Portland communities to identify ways in which archivists can support these communities in their pursuit of justice, self-awareness, and freedom. If we believe that archives have power—and more precisely the power to effect positive change—then it is our responsibility as archivists to assist others in using them as widely as possible.

How will archivists benefit from this exchange? The future of diversity and inclusion in archives is not an exercise in collection, description, and access. It is rooted in communities that want to hold power accountable, connect their members with each other, perpetuate language and religion, preserve locations and bioresources, and tell their stories through time. Archivists can participate in this future or they can sit on the sideline and watch their relevance diminish. The Liberated Archive will expose archivists not only to the mechanics of working with communities, but also the sense of commitment and joy that comes with deeply connected work.

The Program Committee welcomes your thoughts and ideas about the 2017 program and the Liberated Archive Forum. Feel free to contact Program Committee Chair Terry Baxter at terry.d.baxter@multco.us or conference@archivists.org.

“All Archivists Stick Together”

I had intended to post sooner this week – it won’t surprise you that I struggled to find words to share. As I pondered, I read through the stream of messages on various SAA listservs and on social media. It’s reassuring to be reminded that archivists are so many things and we accomplish a lot together – we document, inform, assist, encourage in a variety of ways. Just one example, messages about capturing post-election twitter are being shared from the Women Archivists Roundtable (WAR) to other lists – that’s great.

There are also expressions of concern an uncertain time. SAA has a strong, demonstrated, and increasing commitment to diversity and inclusion. We have accumulated resources and groups we can build upon. I revisited the suggestions about things we can do in the Message from Council and I hope it’s okay and helpful to re-post them with modest adjustments.

Individuals:

  • We can each continue to work at being a diverse and inclusive community, even when we experience fear and even when it’s difficult.
  • We can be active bystanders.
  • If you see something, say something. Let someone know.
  • Reach out to people who may feel threatened, who may need encouragement, or who may just want to talk, share, and understand.

Groups:

Association:

Community:

  • We can share what we’re doing on diversity and inclusion, including lessons learned.
  • Engage other communities, learn from what they are doing, and share what we learn.

And we can do more. The SAA Council will open with a diversity and inclusion session with DeEtta Jones to identify opportunities and strategies for challenges that will lead into a review of our strategic plan that will result in a revised action plan. Updates will be forthcoming and your ideas, suggestions, and other feedback are always welcome.

I had the great pleasure on Wednesday to visit the SAA Archives at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee – you may have seen a brief note from about my visit on Twitter or Facebook. Abigail Nye, SAA’s Archivist, talked  about what the SAA Archives team is working on (impressive!) and gave me tour – there will be more updates about the SAA Archives watch this space… Like every archives, ours is full of treasures to be re-remembered. After my visit, Abbi sent me a link to a wonderful reminder of one other thing we do – “All Archivists Stick Together”  – it’s awesome, and possibly time for an update?

Please know that you can always reach the current SAA President at: president@archivists.org – look forward to hearing from you.

Try5 – guest blogger: Bertram Lyons

I’m really pleased to welcome Bertram Lyons as the first of what I hope will be a sequence of guest bloggers on SAA’s Try5 initiative.  Bert is sharing some ideas for you in completing your Try5 as well as his own Try5 ideas – we can all try out new technical things and share our experiences together. Thanks Bert!

———-

In August, I had the honor of joining SAA Council and beginning a three-year term serving the SAA membership. At our first meeting, I was excited to hear about Nance McGovern’s plans for the Try5 SAA initiative over the course of this year. I volunteered immediately to participate any way I could to share skills with SAA colleagues and to spread the word about the initiative.

As a consultant at AVPreserve, I work as a partner with archives, libraries, museums, and other organizations who place value in the efficient management of collected information, whether the information is analog, digital, 2-D, 3-D, for forever or for now. For more than 15 years, I have been working with information technologies, analog and digital, as a core component of my day-to-day professional responsibilities. Yet, learning new skills is an indispensable necessity. In these days of insatiable technological change, each new project brings a slate of new challenges and, often, some concepts with which I am unfamiliar.

As a way to grow in knowledge, confidence, and abilities, I find the ethos of “try five” to be a guiding principle that I cannot do without.

At AVP, capacity development and technological independence are central goals that are at the heart of every project we take on with our partners. Just as we are always learning and growing, our mission is to ensure that our partners grow in capacity and confidence, especially when it comes to digital preservation and data management. It is an ethic of promoting independence for our partners, rather than one of dependence. This is why we share all of our tools freely, and provide access to all of our training materials and white papers publicly on our website (https://www.avpreserve.com) and with other portals, such as the Sustainable Heritage Network (http://www.sustainableheritagenetwork.org/community/avpreserve). And, this is why AVP staff members are active as trainers and workshop leaders at conferences and gatherings around the world. Because, as a community of information and material stewards, we can do more for our researchers and designated communities when we all have increased familiarity and confidence with technology.

To partake in the Try5 SAA initiative, AVP wants to share some resources that might help you as you look for new technologies to try. If we can be of any help or assistance as you try new skills, send an email to us (info@avpreserve.com) or tweet at us (@AVPreserve) and use the hashtag #try5saa.

Here are resources for 5 new technologies (or skills) that you could try out:

1) Command Line Interface: If you want to become more comfortable with the command line interface (CLI) of your computer, but need a kickstart (or, if you just could use a refresher), take a look at AVP’s CLI introductions for Windows and Mac OS (https://www.avpreserve.com/papers-and-presentations/an-introduction-to-using-the-command-line-interface-to-work-with-files-and-directories/). These documents provide an explanation of basic elements of the CLI, along with proposed activities to give you just enough experience to get started on your own. If you want more guidance, take a look at these other tutorials on CLI: CodeAcademy (https://codecademy.com/learn/learn-the-command-line), Princeton Computer Science for Windows, (http://www.cs.princeton.edu/courses/archive/spr05/cos126/cmd-prompt.html), and Lifehacker for Mac OS (http://lifehacker.com/5633909/who-needs-a-mouse-learn-to-use-the-command-line-for-almost-anything). Of course, there are many other great tutorials out there. These ought to get you started.

2) Checksums: Have you ever created a checksum? Would that help you understand what checksums are and how they are used? If you completed the CLI (#1 above) handout, you could now use this short handout (https://docs.google.com/document/d/13qOWYhErdtUXmtRgHHKMZfixbNL8g9BmVCrAmL57s9w/edit?usp=sharing) to try your hand at creating a checksum for a file on your computer. The handout explains how to do so on Windows and Mac OS. Try it out on a text file. Then open the text file and change a letter and then save the text file again. Then create another checksum for the file and see if it matches the first checksum you created.

3) Digital File Packaging: Have you heard of BagIt and wondered what it really is? AVP’s free tool, Exactly (https://www.avpreserve.com/tools/exactly/), has a friendly user interface that can help you create and send digital files using the BagIt specification. The Exactly user guide has a quick and easy explanation of BagIt. Additionally, this BagIt activity provides an example of how to use another BagIt tool, called Bagger, and talks through the elements and purposes of using BagIt to package files for sharing between donors and archives, or within archives: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1q9IeMw4S_yr0DvfmIqmmNHjtxCJLVs2SVXZTgeO9Xr4/edit?usp=sharing.

4) Embedded Metadata: You often hear about embedded metadata in some types of digital files, especially images, audio, video, and proprietary document formats. There are many tools out there that have been developed to extract this information from within specific file formats. One example is Exiftool, which is useful for a wide variety of formats, including TIFF, JPEG, PDF, WAV, MP3, AVI, MOV, etc. This worksheet (along with this set of sample files) will give you instructions on how to install Exiftool on your computer (for use in the CLI), and how to use it.

* Mac worksheet: https://docs.google.com/document/d/17sjzAdLYkrDSVtI5uqjtmGDI2OgMhfZkb1NcAEd1rpU/edit?usp=sharing
* Windows worksheet: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Oy34fL7eao0CWEAaqTti1qwxG7-NldYnH_POXc9dyik/edit?usp=sharing
* Sample Files: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-FBppbZcJ2EYUJfb0NhVldFQWM/view?usp=sharing

There are three activities that walk you through the various capabilities of Exiftool. We also have a tutorial series on Exiftool here: https://www.avpreserve.com/papers-and-presentations/exiftool-tutorial-series/. If you like how it works, take a look at MediaInfo (https://mediaarea.net/en/MediaInfo), which provides similar functionalities as Exiftool does, but has better support for audiovisual files.

5) Digital Video: In a different realm altogether, if you would like an overview of the underlying principles behind digital video files, AVP put together an overview of digital video formats that provides a foundation for understanding the ins and outs of video in the digital world (https://www.avpreserve.com/papers-and-presentations/a-primer-on-codecs-for-moving-image-and-sound-archives/). If you want to learn more after that the following groups provide useful information:

* Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative (FADGI): http://www.digitizationguidelines.gov/guidelines/video_reformatting_compare.html (see the Part 5 Narrative for an introduction to target files for video digitization)
* Witness: https://archiveguide.witness.org/
* Memoriav: http://memoriav.ch/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Empfehlungen_Digitale_-Archivierung_EN_Version1.0_Web.pdf
* International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives: Keep your eyes open for the upcoming release of IASA-TC 06 Guidelines on the Production and Preservation of Digital Video Objects, to be released in early 2017. The release will be found here: http://iasa-web.org/iasa-publications.

To participate myself, I will spend time with 5 new technologies that I intend to try over the next few months. I will tweet about my experiences with these new technologies and hopefully that will inspire you to try some of these, too, for a grand total of 10!

Over the course of the next few months, I will study the following technologies about which I hope to learn more: EBML (Extensible Binary Meta Language), nosql data warehousing, digital video codec design (e.g., h264 [lossy], ffv1 [lossless]), virtual computing, and the internet protocol suite (TCP/IP). I have interacted in some way with all of these technologies in the past, yet I continue to side step true competence in them. I will use the Try5 initiative to challenge myself to intentionally focus on these technologies. I will share my experiences via Twitter using the #try5saa hashtag. If you try any of these, or any of the five above, share your experiences with colleagues on Twitter using #try5saa. And, if you have other technologies you want to try, or want others to try, share those as well! Let’s keep the conversation going. This is no competition; there are no winners and losers. As a community we can all share and grow together!

Try5 Update

A lot has been happening since the Annual Meeting in Atlanta. From this point on, I will be sharing updates on various things now that those activities are underway or ready to start so please do watch this space …

First up, the Try5 initiative I talked about at the Membership Meeting at the Annual Meeting has launched, continued that discussion in the President’s Message in the Sept/Oct issue of Archival Outlook, and we now have a  webpage that walks through the three Try 5 steps.

For Step 1: Try 5 Technical Things (however you define technical) the webpage has some examples and you will be seeing suggestions from guest bloggers and others about what you may try. If you have already started working on your Try5 list, great and keep going! If not, there’s plenty of time to think about what you might do.

For Step 2: Share Your Experience, we now have a webpage with a list of SAA’s communication channels so you can find a good fit for you to share your experience.  Do remember to use #Try5SAA when you share your experience. For example, you might simply send an email to the Archives and Archivists listserv or write a review for the The American Archivist Reviews Portal then also tweet the link to your review – whatever works for you. I know some people are working on Step 1 – be sure to also do step 2 to enhance your own experience (it’s good practice to explain technical things so others can understand) and to encourage others to also participate.

For Step 3: Help Someone Else, pick one of your five technical things or something you already know to help someone else do something technical. You’ll feel great and someone else will feel productive and hopefully continue doing and sharing their own technical things. Think about how you can share your experience of helping someone in a way that whoever you help will be okay with and will helps others, too.

I am working on the first two technical things on my Try5 list – explore Instagram and considering Tableau as one way to visualize data I use for digital preservation management. I’ll share my updates on my Try5 list in subsequent posts.

If you have questions or suggestions, sent them along to president@archivists.org.

Look forward to hearing about your Try5 examples!