It’s a conversation only if you join in!

Hello, archivists! Welcome to the inaugural post on the new Society of American Archivists president’s blog, Off the RecordFor the next two weeks, I guess it’s actually the vice president’s blog, since I won’t be taking office until after the Annual Meeting in San Diego—but President Gregor Trinkaus-Randall has a few other things on his plate between now and then and so has graciously punted to me the privilege of launching our new communications channel.

You may be asking … do we really need one more venue for SAA to speak to its archival audience? Aren’t we all sufficiently bombarded with news and other updates? Well, like all blogs, this one is meant to be an informal mode of communication where conversations can take place about things related to SAA and things archival. Conversations are two-way, right?

Why have we named it Off the Record? It’s meant to reflect both informality and a connection to our work. This is an SAA site, but it’s not where you’ll find official news announcements, calls for volunteers, Council documents, or anything else that belongs on the main SAA website.

Others in SAA leadership positions will join in as guest bloggers. The more voices the merrier. In fact, the next post will be by Council member Dennis Meissner, who will introduce the results of the 2012 SAA member survey. Coming to your RSS feed in a few days.

Thanks to our incredibly active membership, a huge amount of work goes on in every corner of our Society throughout the year—not just during our Annual Meeting. Many of you contribute actively to that work, while others prefer to observe and learn. We seek to both highlight topics of broad interest and spark discussion. Speaking of which, watch for the third post (gosh, I feel so organized), which will be about the Annual Meeting Task Force.

Sign up for the Off the Record RSS feed! Plan to comment actively when there’s something that interests you!

Here’s my first question for you:  Are there particular things you’d like to see addressed here? Things you don’t understand about how or why SAA does some of the things that it does? Questions for the leadership? Anything within our stated scope is fair game for discussion. Please feed me your questions and ideas so that I can be responsive instead of just listening to myself talk.

Once again, welcome! I look forward to hearing from you.

–Jackie Dooley, SAA Vice President

10 responses to “It’s a conversation only if you join in!

  1. Elizabeth h Dow

    I’d like to know why SAA always chooses to meet in high-priced conference venues? Given the salaries archivists make, choosing the high-priced cities and hotels (I’m now enjoying a view of San Diego Bay at a price that’s going to cost me $1200 for the 6 days I’m here) the conference is restricted to those who can afford to come on their own bank account or who get subsidies from their employers. That leaves out the vast majority of working archivists and makes this a fairly elite conference. There are places that accommodate groups our size for a lot less per head.

  2. As a student, I’d like to hear advice for those of us still in school from those of you out in the “real world.”

  3. Hi, Elizabeth– Ah, such a complex question. SAA’s Annual Meeting Task Force, which was launched last autumn, is deeply engaged in looking at the full range of issues associated with the Annual Meeting. We/they are fully aware that cost of the meeting is one of the most important things we must tackle. As for hotel costs, the Society has met in some lower-cost cities over the years (Birmingham and Indianapolis come to mind), but as attendance grows, finding an appropriate venue becomes more challenging. I could go on and on about this topic …

    Over the past several months, the group has put out several calls for comment on their “microsite” on the SAA website, but input has been minimal. Chime in and become part of the solution! You’ll definitely see posts here relating to their work as well. We want to hear what the problems are–but we also want to hear from those who will learn from the facts we have to offer and help identify the way forward.

    I encourage you to watch the AMTF’s work closely, attend their open forum on Thursday at noon (the room is Aqua 308), stop by their table a few steps from the SAA reg desk, and participate in the discussion.


  4. Michael, that’s a great question. I hope you’re in San Diego, since I’m going to offer a response that depends on it. (If you’re not … well, that’s another blog post.) May I suggest that you spend this week walking right up to other archivists at the breaks and in the hallways, introducing yourself, and asking each of them a version of your question (e.g., “what’s the most important thing you would say to a …) ? Although it can be intimidating (depending on how easily your personality lets you do this), archivists generally are a friendly bunch, and we’re PASSIONATE about our work. Go to the section and roundtable meetings in areas of interest and approach the groups’ leaders after the meeting to give them feedback on their meeting and ask them questions. Do the same with speakers in the educational sessions who impress you. Nobody is going to make you prove yourself. 🙂 And definitely stop by the career center to see what’s on offer and talk to the archivists who are there to give advice.

    Above all, have fun! I hope I’ll be one of those people to whom you walk up and say hi.

  5. The expense of SAA publications is a concern to me. There are several publications that I would like to purchase, but even at the membership rates they are too expenseive. Has the SAA investigated ways to lower book prices? Would epublishing be less expensive?

    Thank you.


  6. Jodi Allison-Bunnell

    I’m curious why SAA maintains an office in downtown Chicago in what has to be a very high-rent district. It doesn’t seem important to our member services and advocacy activities. Can you or Nancy fill me in on that?

  7. Thanks for your comments and questions, Kelly and Jodi. I need to get some data from the SAA office in order to answer accurately. Stay tuned.

  8. Kelly, here’s some info about SAA e-publications. We’ve been transitioning from print to e- gradually over the past few years, most importantly by digitizing the entire back run of AA and making it available as open-access content (except for the latest three years, which remain a members-only benefit. Also, the ePublications (Publications tab) section of the website has a long list of titles that are e-only or e+print, all of which are freely available. Some other SAA-published books are sold as POD (print-on-demand) to reduce both the sales price and eliminate the need to keep inventory on hand.

    As for print publications, SAA works very hard at making them as affordable as possible. If you compare to some of our allied professional associations such as ARMA and the American Library Association, you’ll see that SAA’s are significantly cheaper. One interesting fact is that when a new title is published with the usual first printing of 500 copies, we have no profit unless the book goes to a second printing (which some do not), hence the books that sell really well inherently subsidize the titles that are important to the profession but not big sellers. And it’s important to recognize that e-pubs have associated costs (authors’ royalties, editorial work, layout, etc.) other than printing and mailing. Many books issued by other publishers are distributed by SAA at the publisher’s list price as a service to the archival community–SAA recovers shipping costs only and so makes no profit while having significant costs for managing inventory.

    At the extreme end of the cost argument, some members would like to see all SAA publications be free, at least to members. How would the Society afford that? Any time we reduce or eliminate a product or service for which members pay, we must make up the $$$ somewhere. It’s a tough challenge, particularly in a profession where many members’ salaries are low or middling.

    None of this is meant to obviate your point. Rest assured, however, that **all** matters involving costs to members are closely scrutinized by Council and staff on an ongoing basis.

  9. Jodi, apologies for the delay—I wanted to confer with Nancy and Finance/Administration Director Tom Jurczak to get the facts about SAA’s lease. It’s logical to assume that the Loop is a high-rent district, but it’s actually a diverse area with lots of options for “A” (high-roller) through “C” (not-so-nice) space. The former office, which was outside the Loop at 527 South Wells, was considered “C-minus” for three reasons: the facility itself was not in good/safe condition, it was not convenient to public transportation, and the neighborhood wasn’t safe after dark.

    When it was time to review the lease in 2007, Nancy and Tom looked at “B” and “C” space in various downtown Chicago neighborhoods. An oversupply of space made it possible to negotiate a really favorable lease at 17 North State St., resulting in a contract that was roughly a wash financially with what Wells was offering and a huge improvement in all other respects. An extra bonus was that the leasing agents were targeting nonprofit organizations for tenancy and so offered a particularly good deal. The space is somewhat smaller than Wells but is more efficient. Plus, we have free use of conference rooms elsewhere in the building for Council and other meetings.

    Convenient access to public transportation is a huge consideration. We’re within three blocks of all downtown subway lines. All staff members use public transportation, and visiting members have easy/cheap access to/from both airports and the Amtrak station. We also have terrific contracts with two affordable hotels nearby for use during Council and committee meetings.

    The current lease expires in 2017, and there’s nothing that says we have to stay in Chicago (or in downtown). Do you have suggestions for the future?

    • Jodi Allison-Bunnell

      Jackie, thanks for your thorough follow-up. This is something I’ve wondered about for years! And it’s good to know that SAA got a great deal on its current offices–given economic conditions, it makes sense that there would be some possibility of prime-area office space being cheaper than you might think.

      So Chicago and the downtown location work for a lot of reasons, and it’s helpful to be reminded what all of those reasons are. I also have to wonder if it’s necessarily the long-term ideal. I have an unusual framework since I work for a consortium from my home in Missoula, MT, and my husband works for a company that is headquartered in Boston, does payroll out of Ithaca, and has its only physical office and most of its staff here! So as a general concept I wonder if a more central location (heh, geographically that would be Nebraska or Kansas) and a smaller city might be more to our advantage. Obviously, things like airport connections are a big considerations. Since the current model for the annual meeting plays a big role in this, that’s all tied in as well. If SAA decides to move toward a less “heavy” meeting model, perhaps our approach to administrative office space could mirror that.

      Just a thought and something to consider. I know it’s a pretty big change from the status quo!

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