From the Desk of the Vice President – Getting Involved in SAA

It is with great pleasure that I present a few words from Kathleen Roe, SAA’s Vice President. She is at the beginning of the appointments process, probably the most difficult responsibility of the Vice President.

We both have been asked how to get involved in SAA. Following up on my comments from last week, is her outstanding response. I hope you will respond to her call for comments and questions.

Recently during the appointments process a person asked how one gets “involved” in SAA. and after preparing an answer, I thought it might be good to ask Danna to share my response more broadly via the Off the Record blog since it is not the first time that has been posed.  What follows is my own take on all of this based on my own experiences, and that is of course affected by who I am, the support from my employing institution early in my career, and the colleagues who are interested in the areas I have been.  Others likely have different experiences and approaches—my caveat is only that this is my view—and you’re welcome to comment, provide different perspectives, or suggest additional ways to get involved.    All that aside, when I was asked by an individual who was wondering whether to become a member of SAA, and what might be the route to becoming involved, here is my response:

Let me address your questions mostly by making some suggestions to you on how to get to know and become active in SAA.

First, anyone who is a member can volunteer for various appointed positions.   In the process of doing appointments, we do look at trying to balance the membership of the various groups and positions to ensure that they include individuals with less experience.  Last year, for example, I think the percentage of “newer” archivists (those with one to five years of experience) who were appointed was around 30%.   That’s a very good percentage compared to what often happens in a professional association.   However, we do get more volunteers than we have appointed positions, so what information you provide and the groups for which you volunteer will have some influence on whether you are appointed.

If you are a new member of SAA (as I was once!),I think it’s first good to get a sense of the work that groups, committees, and task forces do so you use your time, energy, and talent to work on things that really matter to you, where things are really happening of interest to you, and where you can make a contribution.

For appointed groups like committees, task forces, and working groups, I’d urge you to plan to attend the SAA Annual Meeting if possible on the days when those of most interest to you meet and attend the meetings of those groups.  This year, we are meeting jointly with the Council of State Archivists and the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators in Washington, DC, and that provides an even wider opportunity to find out about professional groups and activities.    During the Annual Meeting, talk to the members before the group meeting, at breaks, or after they meet to get a better idea of the work and to let the members know of your interests.  Some groups may not be doing what you might have anticipated, and in a few cases, they may be highly technical or require some skills past your comfort zone at the moment.   If you can’t attend the Annual Meeting, the SAA website has a wealth of information on various groups, their charges, activities, and membership.  One of the options for students/new archivists is to offer to be an intern for appointed groups–a couple of the protégés I’ve had in the SAA Mentoring program have done this and found it a great way to get involved without being expected to be at full operational capacity in an area of interest to them (like advocacy or copyright).   It’s a good way to learn a bit as well as work with a group.

Another great route to getting involved are the sections and roundtables, and that’s a place where many of our colleagues really get into interesting projects, efforts, and get involved in the work of SAA.   The leadership and steering committees of roundtables and sections are not appointed by the vice-president, but come from within the group’s own membership.  Often at the Annual Meeting or in the group’s blogs/emails a call will go out for members of the roundtable/section to volunteer to work on various things for the group–maybe helping with a blog, newsletter, steering committee, and so forth.   Again, it’s great because with the number of roundtables and sections we have in SAA, you can find some areas where you are really interested in working and getting involved.   There is a lot of flexibility and openness to volunteers on most of the groups–and it’s a good way to get to know other members by working with them on various projects.  It is also a much easier process to volunteer for these kinds of roles–there are many more, and the number can often be flexible and include more people.

Sitting behind your email is the question of whether it’s worth it to become a member of SAA.   So let me tell you just a little about why I have been a member since my days as a student (I got an MLS with archival emphasis from Wayne State University) and continue to be so.   I actually really love what we do, and I believe there is an important role and contribution that archives make to society and to supporting the information needs, the rights, and the access of people to essential evidence.  Being a member of SAA has given me the opportunity to learn from colleagues at a wide range of repositories, and it has given me opportunities to work with them on a range of issues that I feel strongly need (or needed at the time) to be addressed.   Colleagues at the Annual Meeting, at workshops, and in various groups and sections have always been welcoming to me and to my interest in involvement, but I did need to step forward and offer to be involved–but when I did, there has always been a positive response.

I know some of the people with whom I’ve been matched in the SAA Mentoring Program (and I highly recommend that you seek out a mentor in that program) have felt SAA was intimidating–but when I’ve encouraged them to just go to group meetings, to talk to some of the “older” members, offer to help, and reach out during the year when some issue or project is being formulated by a group, they’ve found the same kind of welcome I did.  I’ve learned a lot, furthered my career, done things that matter to me, and made many very dear friends in the process of being involved with SAA.  I will also note that the SAA staff is very positive and supportive, so any time you have questions about membership or other issues, they are there as well.

So there, in very long form, are my thoughts on “getting involved” in SAA, and actually in most professional organizations.  Anyone who reads this and has questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to let me know either via this blog or call (yes, I do love to talk directly to people), tweet @KDRoe122, or email me (kathleen.d.roe@gmail.com).   And if you come to the Joint Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, in August, as I hope you will, please come find me and introduce yourself.


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