Advocacy Building Blocks

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

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

Guest Post: Becoming an Archives Consultant

At our most recent SAA Council meeting, we discussed potential changes for participating in the Directory of Archives Consultants.  In response to feedback received from their members, the Independent Archivists Section recommended that SAA reconsider the current pricing structure of the Archival Consultants Directory. The section leaders believe that reduced pricing would stimulate greater participation by section members and result in a more robust resource for those seeking a consultant.
The Council discussed the implications of these changes and ultimately directed this business decision to the staff to determine the best solution. Staff will be in contact with the Independent Archivists Section to discuss further.

However, this started me thinking about the practice of archives consulting, and how one might move into a consulting practice–whether part-time, full-time, or as a retirement job. Margot Note and Rachel Woody agreed to share about their transition experiences.

author/consultant bios

Margot Note has 20 years of experience in information work in the national and international sectors. She’s the founder and principal of Margot Note Consulting, LLC, a New York City based archives and records management consulting company. She is an author, a Certified Archivist, and a Certified Records Manager. She received her Master of Arts in History from Sarah Lawrence College, and holds a Master’s in Library and Information Science and Post-Master’s in Archives & Records Management, both from Drexel University. She is a professor in the graduate history program at Sarah Lawrence College.

Rachael Cristine Woody has 10 years of experience in archives, with expertise in creating or relaunching archival programs. She is the owner of Rachael Cristine Consulting, a firm that provides services to archives, libraries, and museums. Previously she was at the Freer|Sackler Museum of the Smithsonian Institution and the Oregon Wine History Archive at Linfield College. She is active in Northwest Archivists and the Society of American Archivists, and is an alumna of the Archives Leadership Institute, a National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC) program. She received her Master of Science in Library and Information Science from Simmons College.

  1.       Why Consulting?

Rachael Woody: As is true in many areas of the United States, archivists jobs are hard to come by in the Pacific Northwest. I have 10 years of experience in the profession which has placed me in the awkward position of no longer being a beginning-level archivist, but also not competitive enough for the few senior-level positions. There’s an unfortunate, but not uncommon phenomenon of mid-range archivist roles no longer being available. This is a huge problem for the profession as I see many of my colleagues leaving the profession entirely, or they’re left with the depressing prospect of staying in jobs they’ve grown out of. What will happen when higher-level jobs need to be filled? We’re not only losing talented professionals, we’re losing contributors to our field and institutional (individual organization and SAA) memory.

Margot Note: Becoming a consultant was coincidental. Like Rachael, I had worked for a decade as an archivist, and longer in the library field, and was considering my next steps. Two years ago, I anticipated a layoff and was job searching, but couldn’t find an employer who was the right fit. After I was laid off, I slowly realized that being an independent consultant was what I wanted to do, even though I knew it would be challenging. Now, I have a better work/life balance and can build wealth while doing work that I love. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

  1.       What surprises have you encountered?

Margot Note: The biggest surprise is the market. I first assumed that established archives would hire me. Most of my clients, however, are organizations that want to launch their archival programs. Potential clients abound, but they might not even know our profession exists or that they can hire archival consultants.

Rachael Woody: How interesting! I’ve found that to be true for me as well! While I do consult with a couple organizations that are more traditional in form, most of my client base are emerging archives and/or archives that exist in communities outside of the traditional museum, government, or school organization. These are archives that may not be able to afford a full-time/permanent archivist, but can afford a temporary expert to help provide them assessments, training, project creation and management, and expertise.

  1.       What challenges have you come up against?

Rachael Woody: I’ve spent the last year really investing in business fundamentals. While I’m an experienced and credentialed archivist, I’m was new to business basics when I started consulting. It was often hard to reconcile the uncomfortable feeling of having confidence in myself as an archivist, but having little confidence in my identity as a business woman. I have archival skills and expertise up to here *gestures to head* but only business skills to here *gestures to kneecaps*. As a result, I would sometimes sell myself short or battle with imposter syndrome.

Margot Note: Yes. My main challenges are conquering imposter syndrome and becoming comfortable with a fluctuating income. To battle imposter syndrome, I remind myself that I have the training and experience to offer my clients tremendous value and insight. As far as income, thriving in a feast or famine environment is part of the consulting experience. I supplement my income beyond project work through writing, teaching, and editing.

  1.       How does SAA support your consulting work?

Margot Note: SAA’s listing of consultants is invaluable to me. My entry has produced more potential than any other source.

Rachael Woody: Yes, I agree with Margot. I’ve found SAA’s consultant directory to be the place my clients will go to in order to find a credentialed consultant. In addition, SAA members William Villano and Michelle Ganz recently (in the last year) started the Independent Archivists Section. The group has grown quickly with 460 archivists listed as members of the Section. While it’s still young, I believe this group has great potential to support consulting archivists who are navigating consulting fundamentals, seek solopreneur support, and provide business referrals. I look forward to seeing where this Section evolves.

  1.       What do you wish your fellow archivists knew about consulting archivists?

Rachael Woody: Consulting doesn’t appear to be common for our profession and as a result, I think archivists in traditional, brick and mortar organizations have a hard time knowing how we operate or how they may engage with us. There can be misunderstandings of what my time looks like – usually people assume I have a lot of free time to come out and meet them or take on an additional volunteer task. Sometimes I do have that flexibility, but the misunderstanding seems to be that non-consultants aren’t aware of how much work goes into a business before, after, and outside of the direct client work. In addition, I’ve noticed consultants aren’t often thought of when it comes to professional programs, events, resources, or education offerings. As consultants we’re in a variety of environments and often have a depth of experiences we can draw on to help inform partnerships, panels, papers, and the profession as a whole. I’d like to see us more represented when it comes to what we can offer our colleagues and the profession, and what our colleagues and the profession can offer us. As I mentioned above, there are 460 SAA members that have joined the Independent Archivists Section – clearly there’s a solid portion of membership that identify as an independent archivist.

Margot Note: Yes, and even more specifically, I wish the field would better address and advocate for archivists that work as lone arrangers or independently. Understandably, academic archives that are reasonably funded and staffed are well-represented in our profession–in membership, in the  professional literature, and at conferences. The exciting stuff happens at the edges with community archives, family and personal archives, and institutions with burgeoning archival collections. Work beyond traditional repositories is where our sustainability as a profession lies.

Rachael Woody: Yes, exactly! SAA and regional membership outlets have clearly shifted to community archives as a priority, and yet, the consultants who have extensive exposure to community archives through their consulting work are not nearly as well-represented! Something for us to work on, for sure.

  1.       When should an organization bring in a consultant?

Margot Note: An organization hires a consultant when there is an urgency. Most people will agree that information assets are significant, but a crisis has to be eminent enough to have someone contact a professional. This pain point can be either physical,  such as building renovations or moves, or fiscal, such as sales of collections or the potential to receive grant money. Having a burning need presses the client not only to take action by hiring a consultant, but also allows the consultant to manage change within the organization successfully. Hire an archival consultant if you want to fix that pressing problem!

Rachael Woody: Yes, Margot brings up excellent points. In addition, many of the clients I work with are interested in archives, but either 1. Don’t have an archives background; and/or 2. Don’t have the time necessary to dedicate to the project. A lot of pressure is placed on my clients to meet grant, stakeholder, and/or regulatory requirements and they need a temporary person with a high-level of experience and expertise to help them successfully execute their archival projects.

Grappling with our Difficult Past: How Can Archivists Help?

Last fall, after the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, I wrote a post concerning memorials and monuments of oppression and how we, as archivists, could help communities grappling with these difficult issues. I also promised that the SAA Council’s Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion would begin working on a toolkit for archivists that would provide these kinds of resources for archivists working with their communities. This work is continuing, and if you have any resources you would like to share, please send it to Courtney Chartier, the Working Group chair.

This past month, I compiled some resources specifically on the topic of Memorials and Monuments of Oppression and thought I would share some of them here. The entire list should be available via the SAA website soon. I also hope we will be able to work with archives students to annotate these entries to provide further context for users.

As South African professor, activist, and artist Pitika Ntuli has said, “Monuments and memorials are vivid manifestations of a people’s heritage. They are a form of capturing history for generations to come. They instantly inform observers about where we have been, and what we achieved historically, culturally and politically. The need for monuments appears to be innate in human nature. This is evident from the many various markers that humans create.”

Although many of the resources I have found reflect the issue of Confederate memorials, there are also international examples that may prove helpful in confronting and documenting traumatic events, ranging from South Africa to Yugoslavia as well as contentious moments from our own past.

I have listed additional resources (sans annotation) further below. If you are interested in receiving the entire bibliography before it is available online, please contact me at president@archivists.org

Online Resources:

American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) Webinar: Grappling with Confederate Monuments and Iconography
Recorded in 2016, this free webinar recording includes AASLH’s Bob Beatty as he moderates a discussion with author and public historian Kevin Levin, Gordon Jones of the Atlanta History Center, and Dina Bailey of the Center for Civil and Human Rights to learn how those involved with history can respond to tragic events, such as the shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

National Council on Public History, Special Virtual Issue of the Public Historian. Monuments, Memory, Politics and Our Publics
This volume contains several articles and essays ranging from the study of public history and memory, memorializing historic sites ranging from Manzanar, Horseshoe Bend, Fort Sumter, and examining issues relating to the architecture of racial segregation, the Holocaust, and the role of public art.

Organizations:

International Coalition of Sites of Conscience
The Coalition is the only international organization dedicated to historic sites, museums, and memory initiatives. Their focus is on documenting for the purposes of truth and justice, especially in war-torn countries. For more on this issue, please see the previous call for comments on Guiding Principles for Safe Havens for Archives at Risk

The Coalition also provides a Toolkit for Essential Engagement, Training and Coaching

Articles and Monographs:

Bonnell, Jennifer and Roger I. Simon. “‘Difficult’ Exhibitions and Intimate Encounters.”
This article provides a comparative analysis of two recent Swedish exhibitions: The Museum of World Culture’s No Name Fever: AIDS in the Age of Globalization; and Kulturen’s Surviving: Voices from Ravensbrück. The authors describe how these exhibitions “attempt to position their viewers in relation to violence and suffering of ‘others’ distant in time, place, or experience.”

Additional Resources

Selected Online Resources:

Confederate Monuments Syllabus: A Crowdsourcing Project About Confederate Monuments and Civil War Memory: From #NOLA to #Cville

History and Heritage, Memory and Memorialization: Confederate Monuments After Charlottesville: A Collection of Articles, Interviews, and Statements made by Historians

Labode, Modupe. Reconsideration of Memorials and Monuments, American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) (2016)

Southern Poverty Law Center: Teaching Hard History

Organizational Toolkits and Training:

History Relevance Toolkit

Selected Articles and Monographs:

Araujo, Ana Lucia, Editor. Politics of Memory: Making Slavery Visible in the Public Space. New York: Routledge, 2012.

Levinson, Sanford. Written in Stone: Public Monuments in Changing Societies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998.

Linenthal, E. T. and T. Engelhardt, Editors. History Wars: the Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past. New York: Henry Holt, 1996.

Savage, Kirk. Monument Wars: Washington D.C., the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

Schwartz, Barry. “The Social Context of Commemoration: A Study in Collective Memory.” Social Forces. Vol. 61, No. 2 (December 1982): 374-402.

 

 

 

 

Guest Post: National Humanities Alliance Annual Meeting and Advocacy Day

Guest Post: Barbara Teague, Executive Director of the Council of State Archivists (CoSA):

In my new position as Executive Director, I joined the Society of American Archivists delegation (Executive Director Nancy Beaumont, Committee on Public Policy chair Dennis Riley, and COPP members Kathleen Roe and Samantha Winn) for the National Humanities Alliance Annual Meeting and Advocacy Day, March 11-13 in Washington DC.  NHA’s Advocacy Day continues to grow, attracting more attendees each year to advocate for several federal programs specifically related to the humanities, including the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), and the Department of Education International Education Programs: Title VI/Fulbright-Hays.

In Sam Winn’s guest post for “Off the Record” last month, she outlined the specifics of the conference and advocacy event – Sunday evening reception; Monday traditional conference presentations, including sessions on advocacy strategies and successful humanities programming; and Tuesday’s visits to Capitol Hill with our state delegation.  She also noted that  CoSA and SAA representatives attended the NHA conference to learn more about the process of this advocacy event, since SAA, CoSA, the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA) and the Regional Archival Associations Consortium (RAAC) are planning our own advocacy day, “Archives on the Hill” in conjunction with the Joint Annual Meeting in DC in August.  We did learn a great deal from attending NHA, helping us prepare for our August 14 event. 

NHA’s excellent event worked for four reasons:

Preparation and planning.  Prior to our arrival in DC for the conference and advocacy event, NHA forwarded useful materials, including: 

  • Advocacy Guide: Overview of how to prepare for, conduct, and follow up after meetings on the Hill.
  • Advocacy Training Videos, Preparing for Advocacy Day and Anatomy of a Meeting:  Recap of recent funding trends, an overview of the budget and appropriations process, and an explanation of how to conduct a meeting, and examples of what meetings with the offices of three different Members of Congress might look like.
  • Issue Briefs: Fact sheets on NEH, Title VI/Fulbright Hays, NHPRC, and IMLS.

NHA staff also communicated with attendees in group emails to state delegations, providing us with a schedule for visits to offices of our Senators and Representatives, so attendees knew what their schedule would be for making advocacy visits.  These pre-conference items helped attendees be prepared and to know what to expect.

Organization.  At the conference, attendees were given paper copies of the Advocacy Guide and Issue Briefs, as well as a fact sheet about each member of Congress that the state delegation would visit and their votes on key issues related to NEH, IMLS, NHPRC, or Title VI/Fulbright Hays.  These also noted whether the member belonged to the Senate or House Humanities Caucus, and had other invaluable information, such as committee memberships.  The attention to detail, from the extensive fact sheets about the members, to an appointments list that included information for state delegations visits (time of appointment, member of Congress, staff member and position, and location of office) helped ensure that the advocacy visits ran smoothly.

Action.  NHA provided attendees with several things to request during the Congressional visits.  There were specific budget amounts requested for all the agencies for which we were advocating, a request for the member to sign a “Dear Colleague” letter supporting NEH, and a request that the member join the Humanities Caucus. Having an actionable focus for the visit, rather than just saying that Humanities are good and should be funded helped focus the meetings and provided the staff members with an actionable item after our appointment was over.

Follow-up.  NHA prepared a folder for each delegation to leave behind at the House and Senate offices, including the issue briefs, information about the Humanities Caucuses, and “Dear Colleague” support letters.  Attendees also described their visits to the offices on a debrief form and followed up with emails to thank the staff member and member of Congress for the meeting. 

Archives on the Hill will benefit from our experience at the NHA Conference and Advocacy Day. I’ve been making advocacy visits for about ten years now, and this event did remind me that our advocacy for archives in a coordinated way is just beginning, compared to that in some of our related professions.  NHA has generously agreed to share the Member of Congress fact sheets with us for our use during Archives on the Hill, as well as providing other assistance.  We’re also receiving advice from the Congressional Affairs staff at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) and from the American Library Association Washington Office.  Stay tuned to Tanya’s blog, as well as to CoSA’s website and Twitter, to learn how we apply the lessons learned at the NHA gathering to our first “Archives on the Hill.”

 

Some Archives Questions Need Answers

The Task Force on Research/Data and Evaluation will present its preliminary findings to the SAA Council at its upcoming May meeting. Some of their initial findings include the following needs: standardized tools for gathering and analyzing data; a centralized repository of data, tools, and other authoritative aids; training on gathering, analyzing, interpreting, and using data; up-to-date, basic facts and figures about archives and archivists; and a clearinghouse to support archival surveys and research.

These are all areas we need to explore but, for the moment, I’m most interested in the up-to-date, basic facts and figures about archives and archivists. Some of the questions I would like to see answered:

  • What is the current breakdown in percentage of degrees held by archivists? Thirty years ago, the predominant source of archives degrees were 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?
  • 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. 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.
  • The SAA Foundation provided the financial support for Ben Goldman and Eira Tansey’s “Existence and Location of Originals: Gathering and Documenting Archival Repository Location Data,” a one-year project to identify, gather, standardize, and make publicly accessible United States archival repository location data. It’s difficult for me to believe this information didn’t already exist, but it’s true! Humanities groups have already expressed interest in these data, which could provide much-needed information for advocacy work. Once completed, the dataset will also be available for archivists and SAA, too, giving an opportunity for further research projects.
  • As the various digital, communities, historical, 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 allied professions. The more we know about each other, the more we can connect and collaborate. Knowing more about the various subsets of SAA membership would also be helpful, as we try to collect more valid and useful data. What has happened to the Mosaic Scholarship participants and Mosaic Fellows? Are they still in the profession or have they moved to other careers? Why? How effective is our mentoring program? Does our partnering structure work? How can we improve this experience? What continuing education do we need to provide for archivists—throughout their careers—including those who are not trained professionally? And finally, what can we provide for those community and citizen archivists who have needs?
  • Following the lead of the museum profession, as archivists, we must fully explore the process of audience building. How can we find those who have never used archives before? How can we determine what resources they need from us? How can we be creative about bringing our resources to new generations and groups?

Brainstorming is the easy part. My hope is that the Task Force will propose a way forward to creation of a robust research agenda that will lead us into the future.