The De-Evolution of the Archives and Archivists List

Back in the late 1980’s I made the decision to leave archives for a bit and start working reference at a college or university library. I’ve always loved reference and had I not discovered archives while in library school I think I might be working reference at a college or university. However after a couple of years the desire to go back to archives hit me hard. The university where I worked did not have archives and I made it my goal to start the university archives. I did take a few courses at another college but the thing that got me excited about archives again was the Archives and Archivists list.

Back then it was run by John Harlan and his mother Donna. His mother was a librarian and he was a technology specialist. (When he handed over the control of the list to Miami University archives he was awarded the Jameson Award.) The list was the perfect place for me to tune back into the archival profession. Where else could you read outstanding essays on archival issues by Luciana Duranti, Richard Cox, Richard Pearce Moses, Peter Hirtle and so many more archival bright lights written in response to someone’s question on the list. Yes there were some conflicts and some harsh feelings but there was much more knowledge transfer than anger transfer. In fact for a few years there would be a listserv bash at the SAA conference where we could actually sit and talk to the people we had corresponded with on the list.

I have such good memories of the list that it makes me incredibly sad that it has moved from a place where people could share information and develop collegiality to a place where anger, harassment, insults and meanness is the norm. Hopefully we can work together to change the culture of the list so that it is a place of positive, productive discourse and a place where those who need answers to questions can ask and receive an answer or a referral to a source or person who can help.

I have appointed a small, short-term committee to review the Archives and Archivists list and to determine what steps we can take to provide some direction to the list. The committee has been charged with exploring ways to modify or improve the list and to contact list members and the SAA membership at large and ask for suggestions on how to improve the list. I have asked them to provide a report by the August Council meeting so that we can consider our options and incorporate any changes to the list into our plan for the website and other electronic communications media SAA currently uses. Council has posted a message to the list documenting our next steps and our concerns about the list.

I encourage you to send your comments and suggestions about the list to me or to the SAA office or post them in the comments. We need you to help us find the best way to support the list and its members and to bring it back to a place where someone like me can ask questions on archival issues and get fascinating reasoned answers that made me want to learn more.

71 responses to “The De-Evolution of the Archives and Archivists List

  1. I’m so glad to hear that SAA is working on this issue. I talk to far too many archivists who tell me that they are afraid to post to the ‘big list’ for fear of being mocked, insulted, or ignored. It saddens me to think that my fellow archivists feel the need to be so childish. the roundtable lists never seem to devolve this the A&A list does. There is really no reason for this type of behaviour.

  2. I hope the committee is fruitful and the culture of the list can be improved. But part of me thinks that this phenomenon is an unavoidable part of Internet culture these days. It seems like the the norm at this point, and this kind of conduct spreads fast. People learn by example, react to it, and perpetuate it. Many individuals (in and outside of SAA) have gotten comfortable in making offensive statements in online mediums as if comments somehow hold less weight in writing than in speech – or at least less accountability. We see this kind of drama in all kinds of online mediums and I don’t remember it being so prevalent in the “earlier days” when the portion of the population engaged in online communities was much smaller. I do hope the committee can come up with some ways to mitigate these doubts, of course, and that A&A can become a safer space, regardless of how treacherous the rest of the ‘net gets! In an ideal world I’d love to see a shift in communication etiquette that extends far outside of SAA, though.

  3. Sarah Jackson

    I don’t believe that the 6000 list subscribers is necessarily accurate. I for one, have 2 emails that receive list messages — mainly because of difficulty receiving it one time and resubscribing under another email. You may want to query the list for a more accurate count. I am also under the impression that a large number of people now confine comments to Twitter accounts and blogs.
    I usually respond directly to the person with a query if I can help. I am intimidated by those complaining about the list and hesitate to engage them in discussions. The attacks on Peter, although a semi-annual occurrence, were particularly venomous this year. I will be sorry to lose his posts.

  4. these posts add little to what the actual function of a professional listserv should be and encourage a select few to garner unwarranted influence and dominance over the entire forum. I’m glad to see them gone, I may even sign up for the list again in hopes that it will be open to more than just the loudest voices.

    • How is the list not “open” to anyone? How does anyone “dominate” or “influence” a listserv if there is no rule stating how many posts can go out from an individual? So there are people with either a lot to say, or with a lot of information to post. So what? If you have something to say, or information that may be of interest to subscribers, post it. If not, don’t. If you feel intimidated, post about it, explain why you feel this way, and cite specific examples. Yes, it’s possible some sensitive employer won’t take kindly to your forthrightness. Do you really want to work for them anyway, if so? And the flip side is that if you DO stand up for yourself, perhaps some potential employers will take note and maybe be more inclined to hire you. In any case, if you don’t have the guts to stand up for yourself in the context of a listserv, how will you ever be able to do it in the context of a job?

      I understand that people may be having negative experiences with others being inexcusably rude to them off the list, either in person or over private email, but that is NOT a fault of the list structure. If anyone has a solid idea about how the list could be changed to make it “nicer,” by all means post about it. But no changes in how the list is run will change the fact that some people are jerks. If you think someone is being unprofessionally nasty to you within the listserv, call it out. In public. It will come up for discussion right then and there, and perhaps further discussion between the individuals in question will cool the situation. Or, if a lot of people agree with the accusation, the perp will be shamed. (I recall hearing that years ago, somebody WAS banned from the list, correct?) In any case, more dialog, more postings, more participants (especially younger ones!) are needed on the listserv, not fewer.

      • Thanks for your comment Matt. We did ban one person many years ago but I don’t think we have since.

      • Marge Inoverra

        Matt: would you agree that if one account posting 46% of the list messages, that account dominates the list?

      • Matt Snyder

        No, I do not agree with that. Just because one account is posting a lot doesn’t mean anyone else can’t post a lot as well if they have something useful to say or ask. Again, where is the rule saying anybody else can’t post something as well? Nobody is given a privileged position by the list rules. And list rules are really what we’re talking about here, aren’t we?

      • Marge Inoverra

        Whoops! “is posting”.

      • I did call it out when one member insulted me and repeatedly refused to address what I was saying in favor of going on attacking a straw man. His behavior (which took place on-list) did not change. Other members of the list did not step forward to help. I got support off-list, but nothing changed on-list. After that I left because it was obvious there were better places to go for civil, productive discussion.

      • Matt Snyder

        Kathryn, can you please point to the exchange in the list archives? Thank you. There are times, when I’m quite busy, that I simply don’t read a few days’ worth of digests and eventually delete them in favor of keeping up with what’s going on now rather than a few weeks ago. I’ll also unsubscribe temporarily if I’ll be away from work (which is the only place I read professional mailing lists).

      • Sorry for the wall of text, but this is really the first time I’ve publicly addressed my reasons for leaving the list and I’d rather get it all done in one go.

        It’s in the “do we eat our young” discussion Crowgirl pointed out in another comment, which took place over several days in January.  The parts I took issue with were the rude, unprofessional response to a difference in opinion (“sure wish LIS schools would teach Econ 101” – Peter Kurilecz, 1/22/2014), followed by Kurilecz’s repeated insistence that a “liveable wage” was a non-concept that could not be defined in any way shape or form (and therefore my entire argument against unethical hiring practices was invalid) after another user and I provided him with both the definition and links to living wage calculators in multiple emails.  I got fed up with repeatedly providing the information demanded of me only for the substance of my replies to be ignored. Instead of a real response, I kept getting repeated demands for that same information accompanied by condescending remarks based on the premise that I had not backed up what I was saying (later responses from Kurilecz and others to the list of sources provided by T.A. Tiballi were strikingly similar).  I did not feel like I was talking to someone who was interested in engaging in discussion; instead I felt like I was dealing with someone who was addressing his own imaginary version of me and following his own imaginary version of our conversation.  Attempts to call Kurilecz out on this kind of behavior seem to either go unheard (no on-list commentary from anyone other than Tiballi on my departure from the discussion) or else get construed as “attacks” (as in the comments on this very page).

        I do realize that the end of my participation in the discussion was abrupt, but I knew that I could not continue to attempt conversation with someone who refused to extend me basic courtesy while maintaining a professional tone of my own. I regret that I did not call him out on it earlier in the discussion, but considering the general refusal to address what I and others were actually saying and the lack of response from the rest of the on-list community, I don’t have much faith that having done so would have had any effect other than to make me feel slightly better about my part in all of this.

        Remember that all of this took place within the context of a listserv full of established archivists who may or may not be potential employers.  Even stating my case here I feel uneasy about who might see it; it’s easy to talk about having “guts” when you’re not the new professional on a project position, knowing that in the next year or two you’ll be submitting job applications to people who may remember any objections you’ve made to the status quo. And no, it’s not like I want to work for someone who would belittle me or refuse to hear me, but I have to be realistic about how much choice and power I have when searching for employment in a market that doesn’t favor the job seeker.

        That’s not something only new archivists perceive as a factor in the discussion, either.  Shortly after I left the list another user took up mocking Tiballi, who had started the discussion (“People should not be held accountable for their choices and all archival ills are related to the commoditization of the… what you said”)  which segued within the same email to an overt attempt to intimidate him and other dissenters into silence (“But I think the ultimate lesson in all this is that the only thing more unappealing to peers and prospective employers than smug self-seriousness is sarcastic message board trolling nonsense” — both Bradley J. Wiles, 1/25/2014).  So it’s not just in our heads.  It’s not just us being sensitive.  Job insecurity is something people in positions of professional privilege are aware of and either implicitly or explicitly hold over our heads.

        Tiballi called Wiles out on that when he followed me in leaving the discussion.  I haven’t read the archives beyond that point; maybe someone who remained involved in the discussion can tell me whether calling it out on-list got any results that time.

        And I’ll say it before someone else can: while I fully agree with the opinions he stated, I do recognize that Tiballi responded to condescension from other members on the list with condescension of his own. However, I would strongly question any suggestion that anything he said justified the aggressive, threatening email from Wiles that precipitated his departure from the discussion.

      • Matt Snyder

        Kathryn, thank you for posting a solid example of not-so-good behavior on the list. I have to admit that when I’m scanning a digest, if anything starts to looks like it’s devolving into conflict between people, I tend to tune it out, especially when there’s other content that looks to be more fulfilling. This is a fault of mine, I now realize. I’ve been posting to listservs (and, years ago, ye olde Usenet) long enough to have seen plenty of online arguments that should simply have ended earlier when one party realized they were talking to a brick wall, but in your case someone should have said something in defense of your sources and argument. In any case, Michele stated this earlier, but it bears repeating: if you’re expending energy on an argument and don’t feel like you’re being listened to in good faith, simply ignore the offending party. Go on posting about what concerns you, please, but don’t be intimidated, and don’t leave the list! I understand that you feel insecure because of your employment position and early career status, but I strongly feel that being assertive and standing up for yourself can only be for the good, ultimately. But as you stated, it might be too easy for me to say that.

      • And thank you for reading and for not dismissing my account. I think I’ve psyched myself out about discussions on or regarding the list to some degree; I know intellectually that not every conversation is going to spiral into negativity but I am wary of a repeat of the loss of productivity January’s kerfuffle caused for me while I was caught up in it. It’s frustrating to me that a major professional resource is also a potential source of drama…I’m familiar with those kinds of arguments from my own time on message boards, but I like to pretend that I’m too old for it now.

        I honestly did not intend to leave the list forever when I unsubscribed in January. I only meant to leave for a few days in order to remove the temptation to re-involve myself in that particular discussion, but a mixture of inertia and repeat floods of #thatdarnlist tweets about these same arguments getting rehashed on what sounds like the same terms has kept me away. I don’t really know the current state of the list though I’m cautiously optimistic about the survey going around; in the meantime I’ve been taking my questions to the Lone Arrangers list and have had pretty good luck there despite (or maybe because of?) the smaller size of that community.

  5. Former SAA Member

    I agree with Sarah’s comments regarding the attacks on Peter. (If you want to see venomous, check out some comments made about him on Twitter!) Online conversations are now held in a variety of places, and the language I have seen called into question on the List pales in comparison with the rampant intolerance of any opposing point of view being expressed in other online venues (Twitter or non-affiliated blogs). I can only speak about my own personal experiences and how they formed my personal beliefs.

    While I do make time to rapidly scroll through my A&A folder of emails, I don’t have a lot of time to follow multiple blogs. I have read and commented politely, but anonymously, on blog posts only to later see my comment attacked with glee on Twitter. That’s my personal experience.

    Despite being very involved in the past, I am no longer a member of SAA, in large part because of the organizational cultural shift away from Archives standards and practices. The organizational focus now stresses the Diversity – LGBT/Feminist/Progressive advocacy agenda. It is my personal choice not to support SAA in that direction. However, I do continue to follow the A&A List and engage in email conversations with my colleagues about archival practices, standards, emerging technologies, etc.

    As your task force looks at the List, I hope you will keep it open as a place where non-SAA members may continue to gather and engage in the conversations.

  6. “they are afraid to post to the ‘big list’ for fear of being mocked, insulted, or ignored.”
    personally I think this is a myth and is used by many as an excuse not to post to the list. I believe that many are overly sensitive to the responses. Want to see mocking and insults? then go to #thatdarnlist on twitter.
    What happens is that the individuals don’t like the answers they get. they may be straight forward and honest answer, but they aren’t sugar-coated. I would suggest that SAA look to the recmgmt-l listserv to see how a group of professionals acts and interacts. That list contains individuals from around the world. It is independently operated and managed by a small group of listadmins.

    • PAK152 is one of the listadmins for recmgmt-l. I subscribed to that list briefly about a decade ago but unsubscribed after about a year for a number of reasons. I’ve looked in on it from time to time since then. Although I’ve resubscribed to A&A as of today, I do not plan ever again to subscribe to Recmgmt-L.

      • Yes I am one of the listadmins for recmgmt-l and have been for almost 10 years now. for those who are not subscribed to recmgmt-l I would suggest that you check in on it via the listserv archives to see what it is like.
        http://lists.ufl.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A0=RECMGMT-L
        I think you’ll find the tone there is professional with some humor thrown in. check out the Friday Ponders.
        I’ll leave it to Ms. Krusten to explain why she left the list.

    • This derisive tone is exactly what I’m talking about. When someone posts a question to the list the responses tend to be “we discussed this 4 years ago. Search the list archive and how dare you bring the topic up again”. The list is almost always insulting to archivist new to the field with legitimate questions that the ‘masters of the list’ deem to unimportant to discuss. But let’s have more posts about flowers. Because as a working archivist that’s what is most important.

      • This is a prime example of how people can interpret things differently. I don’t see pak152’s comment as at all derisive in tone. I see it as simply stating an opinion. You may not agree with that opinion; that opinion may or may not be correct. But there is no aggressive language, no insults, no anger, no personal attack in those words. Such a statement may inspire people to offer evidence to the contrary, but it should not intimidate anyone.

        I agree that responses like “Go check the archives” are not particularly helpful. They are also not particularly threatening. The best way to counteract such responses is to post one that IS useful.

      • ““we discussed this 4 years ago. Search the list archive and how dare you bring the topic up again”. ”
        yes people do suggest searching the list archives to see if the topic has been previously discussed. Isn’t that the purpose for maintaining an archives? as for “how dare you bring up the topic again” I don’t remember seeing that unless you are reading between the lines.

        ‘The list is almost always insulting to archivist new to the field with legitimate questions that the ‘masters of the list’ deem to unimportant to discuss. ” could you provide us with some links to specific postings that support this opinion?

  7. “I have appointed a small, short-term committee to review the Archives and Archivists list and to determine what steps we can take to provide some direction to the list. The committee has been charged with exploring ways to modify or improve the list and to contact list members and the SAA membership at large and ask for suggestions on how to improve the list.”

    i hope that this list contains individuals who have been active participants on the list, both short and long term. the last time that SAA appointed such a committee it was to determine whether or not to keep the listserv archives. That committee contained no individuals who were subscribers to the list and as a result their recommendation was to destroy the archives. Fortunately the members of the list complained long and loud and SAA changed their decision.

  8. Thanks, Danna. I tried to unpack some of the issues at my own blog earlier this month, referring to the List as having changed and shrunken: http://nixonara.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/open-community-closed-society/ As you do, I remember a time when a number of archival educators and archives thought leaders engaged on the List.

    Jess makes some good points about engagement on the Internet. In workplaces, facilitators and counselors are available to work through communications issues. Many workplaces offer training on Myers-Briggs-Type Indicators, mindfulness, diversity, inclusiveness. However employees react to or absorb that training, they are exposed to a common set of concepts. On the web (not just on a Listserv), you don’t know for sure what framing and filters any given person brings to a discussion. So it’s easy to set a foot wrong and have things go awry, for any number of reasons.

    As for discussion and debate, some of the problems, such as information asymmetry, are especially difficult to work through. Message discipline keeps some specialists silent ib sine ussyes due to their employing organizations or other factors. (This was a problem on the list in 2008.) People with unfettered speech are able to opine about issues others cannot speak on. This is not just an issue for government employees, it can affect academic and corporate archivists, too. Creating a solution oriented forum under those conditions is challenging, especially when certitude runs up against missing facts.

    I do applaud SAA’s willingness to look at how to make it a more welcoming List, especially for younger archivists and students.

    Have you considered posting a link to your essay to A&A?.

    • Apologies for the gobbldygook, fingers on the wrong keys. That should be “keeps some specialists silent on some issues due to their employing organizations or other factors.”

  9. Danna,

    Longstanding wisdom has it that “Good fences make good neighbors.”

    I welcome a review to establish expectations and formulate a plan to get everyone on the same page regarding boundaries.

  10. The “culture” of the list is much better than it used to be, so I am perplexed by those who feel intimidated to post. More attention needs to be given to how to make the list better in content — more discussions and reports about new literature, conferences, public policy issues, etc. Leave the list alone. The environment of the list is no different, certainly no worse, than what we encounter in society; if archivists are to be effective advocates for their mission they need to learn how to cope in the world.

    • In one sentence you acknowledge that potential contributors are intimidated, in another you lament the lack of substantial content.

      — If you want to attract good content, it is unwise to rebuff those who might provide it. —

      In one breath you acknowledge the atmosphere is noisome, in another you suggest that those who will not hold their noses in order to dive into the sewer are somehow inadequate.

      — If you want to attract prudent discourse, it is naive to ask participants to do something foolish. —

      • So far as I have seen, “anger, harassment, insults and meanness” are NOT the norm on the list. They are occasional anomalies.

        I too am perplexed that anyone would feel intimidated to post on the list. I have never felt intimidated or as if I were being discouraged from posting. I have rarely, if ever, observed behavior that a reasonable person might think would intimidate someone else from posting. If as someone said this discouragement is caused by negative emails sent to folks offlist, this is shameful and juvenile behavior on the sender’s part but I fail to see how any amount of adjustment to on-list policies will solve this problem.

      • @Michele (10 AM comment)

        The fact is that the atmosphere has driven participants away.

        When you say you haven’t felt this way, that’s great–it’s just not helpful in solving the problem of those who have been driven away.

        I think the list can be of value–but its value to me is significantly diminished by the fact that newer, more tech-savvy professionals have turned away from it.

        The dedicated SAA roundtable and section lists are quite useful, and through Twitter I have found helpful, technologically astute colleagues.

        Ten years ago, losing A&A as a channel would have been a significant barrier to communication with colleagues. While I do think it remains a valuable means of communicating broadly, it is hardly necessary, nor is it the first stop for anyone involved in my professional interests.

        The fact that there are so many other avenues of communication indicates that, if A&A wants to thrive, it needs to be more welcoming in order to attract well-informed participants.

  11. Richard, you write that you’re perplexed at those “who feel intimidated to post.” From what I’ve seen posted on the List, on Twitter, and at blogs, there are people who reportedly have received unwelcome offlist messages after posting on A&A. (Not necessarily from any one person). This happens in other forums, too. (When I unsubscribed a decade ago from recmgmt-l, a few younger women sent me emails describing similar experiences with non-public, unsolicited contact with unnamed persons which they said led them to lurk only or to unsubscribe,)

    You and I and established professionals may not feel intimidated (although in my case message discipline and other elements affect some of what I can discuss). But clearly that is not the case with others and I for one am not going to define their experiences for them. I believe it is important not to marginalize them.for doing what everyone does, owning their own reactions, including those of feeling intimidated or silenced. And I think that this, too, is part of navigating the workplace.

    In my workplace experiences, effective leaders know how to intuit who is not speaking and why and factor in information asymmetry. And to make the workplace, if not comfortable, than tolerable, for as many people as possible.

  12. (Argh…somehow my comment showed up as a reply to someone else and I can’t delete it. It was supposed to be down here. Sorry.)

  13. As one of the individuals who became a flash point in a recent wrangle on and about A&A, I very much appreciate that SAA has decided to take steps to address the situation, Danna, and that you’ve taken the time to write this post. I will definitely take some time to reflect and send more substantive feedback by email, as requested.

    I’m struck by how a number of people in comments here construe the “anger, harassment, insults and meanness” described in the post above to to refer to “attacks” against Peter K. While debates about how to incorporate Peter’s link contributions to the list have been central to overall discussions about the list culture, the issue of the links has never been primarily about “attacking” Peter. It’s been a broader question of list culture and collegiality. I can’t speak for everyone who is on the side of welcoming the new Google Group “Archives in the News” as a positive solution to administrative / logistical issue at hand — but for myself, I am glad a solution has been found that would seem to meet everyone’s needs (that is, to still have access to Peter K’s links in email format, while not drowning out others on the A&A list on the way by).

    What I find most troubling about the way Peter K. continues to be framed as a unique victim or injured party in these tangles is that, to the extent aggression is a factor, those who raised questions about the list and some aspects of Peter’s participation (the initial spark of a much broader fire) were very much targets of “anger, harassment, insults, and meanness.” From my perspective, in fact, it was Peter’s / status quo supporters in this instance who came out with dismissive, defensive, rejecting responses to those proposing compromise solutions. Of course I am biased; I was the target of a number of those insulting emails. But my point is that our experiences matter also.

    This is not a situation where some people got “mean” toward Peter K. and now we need list moderation. This is a much wider question of lack of understanding that we are a diverse group of people with different experiences that must be taken into account in our collective professional culture if we care about including people, and treating them equitably and with kindness.

  14. Bruce P. Montgomery.

    Agree with Richard Cox. Quite puzzling.

  15. It’s always great to see the leadership of a professional organization taking on new issues and forming committees to respond to the concerns of its membership, but I’m a little concerned that SAA is moving forward without really taking the time to examine the claims from both sides and to place this conversation in context. I hear from one side that the list is “a place where anger, harassment, insults and meanness is the norm.”,and from the other side where that is perceived as “a myth and is used by many as an excuse not to post to the list.”

    Action is being taken based on a few people’s (out of 6000!) anecdotal experiences, and I would rather see SAA gather some actual data on the list, supported by evidence, before taking any further action regarding the list. Sure, everyone’s experiences and feelings are valid and should be taken into account, but just because something about the behavior on the list is stated as fact doesn’t mean that it is.

    • Thanks for your comment Signore. One of the reasons we formed a small group was to make sure we were getting both sides of the issue and getting a lot of information to review before making any decision regarding the list. We won’t take any action without clear and thoughtful deliberation on this particular issue.

    • I have talked to a large number of archivists who tell me that they received so much vitriol from the big list that they unsubscribed. I think that the rising number of people on the smaller lists is proof of this problem. I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last time i saw an actual question on the list. It’s really devolved into static postings. Don’t get me wrong, the posts have value, but they don’t really help those of us in the trenches who have uninteresting problems.

      • Matt Snyder

        People ask questions on the A&A list all the time, and they get answered. A quick glance through the recent archives shows that over the past month or so, questions on the following topics were asked, spurring responses and/or productive discussion:
        Archival description display and indexing in Primo
        Orphan works and Legacy materials
        Mental Health, privacy, and personal papers
        Epson scanners
        Permission to publish policy for “orphan works” photographs
        Handling collection title changes in MARC records
        Setting up a Digitization Project
        Discovery via finding aids
        ArchiveSpace and data migration
        E-mail Archiving in Digital Document Management System
        Microfilming
        Photocopying Guidelines and Policies

        Productive exchanges too place even when there was a lot of traffic regarding whether or not the list was or was not an intimidating place for young archivists. I agree that hard data has to back up any decisions that are made about the list. What percentage of postings over, say, the past year were insulting, or intimidating? How will “intimidating” be defined? I was too intimidated to post to the list early in my career (ten years ago), but that was because everybody knew more than I did and I was content to read and learn. If particular changes are going to be made on the list structure then they had better be justified.

        One thing I cannot understand is why anyone felt Peter K. was “hogging” the list. There is no limit (at least, no non-technological limit) to how many postings can be circulated on a listserv on any given day. If you feel like you’re seeing too much about archives in the news, don’t read those postings or if you think some news item has been overlooked, post about it. The solution is MORE content, MORE postings, from MORE people, not fewer. My perspective on that issue is framed by the fact that I have been getting the list in digest form for years (it’s how I get all my lists). That really alters your perception of list traffic and content. I surf through the topics and read what I want within a few minutes. If digest was the default setting for everyone subscribing to the list, the technical problems might be solved.

      • Kathryn Kramer

        This reply is for Matt — I find that subscribing to lists in digest forms increases my technical problems, as it prevents replies in the same conversation from “stacking” correctly in gmail and makes it impossible for me to reply to an individual email without a lot of cutting and pasting. Following and responding conversations in digest form is significantly more difficult and irritating, plus it means always being a day behind the real discussion. It may work for you, but digest subscriptions are not a cure-all for the rest of us. Having the links posted in a separate place will allow those who want to look at them (which may include myself!) the chance to do so without forcing everyone to sift through them.

      • Matt Snyder

        I understand that people have different preferences and ways of working. For me, a little cutting and pasting is well-worth the reduction in the amount of emails I get per day. I’m on four active professional listservs (and several more that aren’t quite as active). There’s no way I could deal with the tsunami of emails that would result if I didn’t get digests. And I really could not care less that I’m a day behind the conversation. My replies will go out over the list in any case, and the dialog will go forward.

  16. While I have seen arguments that “your personal experiences aren’t that of the whole,” that is all some of us have to go by. I only joined A&A about a year ago when we had an organizational shift and archives came under my administrative purview. I’ve asked quite a number of questions that could be seen as naïve and have only been met with helpful, supportive responses both on and off list. I have found this list to be, on the whole, reasonable, except for some outliers; they occur on most lists. I have to agree with some others that I don’t see the terrible behavior that others seem to experience. Of course, YMMV.

  17. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Silver Blaze comes to mind.
    Scotland Yard detective: “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
    Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
    Detective: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
    Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

    Put another way: to look deeply at these issues, to understand those who are not commenting here and on the List, I would recommend the committee members follow Wayne Gretzky’s example. Be visionary. Skate where the puck is going to be, not where it is.

  18. Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook

    If you’re looking for ‘patterns’ for how a listserv should be run, may I suggest the (New) Humanist Discussion Group? http://dhhumanist.org/ A brief glance at the list archives will give you a sense of how long the list has been running; I’ve been on it myself for about three years at this point and at all times the discussion has been respectful, collegial, and polite. Without being in any way a digital humanist specialist myself, I have never felt that my contributions (infrequent and small!) were unwelcomed. I cannot say the same about A&A.

    • My (and many others’) experience on the A&A list has not been at all harassing or cruel, so I guess what I am saying is that it might help others to read exactly what it is that people are saying to you that makes you feel intimidated or harassed. My sense is that members will perceive the responses very differently than one another, and most will not be bothered by curt or impolite messages.

      This is not to be confrontational; I honestly just don’t see any examples of this behavior beyond what is obviously unavoidable in an open online forum. I think that claiming the culture of the list–or the profession–is inherently intimidating to new archivists or women is quite a serious accusation, and one that requires some serious evidence to back it up.

      • Christine Engels

        I agree with Signore. It almost seems as if everyone is talking past each other. What one person might feel is intimidating another might just think “That’s annoying, but whatever,” and move on. Is this a clash of personalities or sensitivities?
        I am hopeful that this committee will sort out what is what.

      • I’m not sure if anyone has noticed, but this is the sort of conversations that tend to clog up the list. I think that the point that many people are making is that esoteric discussions are wonderful and useful, but if I have a basic questions with a simple answer I just want the simple answer not the 14 emails telling me to check the archive, not the 12 emails about a similar situation somewhere else with no actual answer, not 3 articles about something totally unrelated. I hear over and over again on the smaller lists that people post to the small list if they just want a simple solution to their problem. It just seems like a lot of the people posting to the big list have a giant staff to do the actual work in their repositories leaving them oodles of time to wax philosophic. I suppose that if I had more time to do nothing but post to the list I would find it quite enjoyable.

  19. @Signore I find it useful here to factor in a range of interactions. I look at the Committee as a body assessing this A&A List situation holistically. This means assessing why people self censor, lurk, or feel reluctant to post. They are dealing with more evidence than anyone simply looking at the List and taking its interactions at face value. You ask for examples but the committee most likely is receiving input from some people whose interactions with List members have occurred off List as well as on List. This can be off web or also in other web forums (Twitter, blogs, other listservs).

    I can tell you from my own experience that having an A&A List subscriber tweet to me of ethical quandaries people who work with records may face, “do you mean Fedland or the real world,” totally turned me off. It diminished my trust zone and decreased the likelihood of my engaging with the person on such subjects on A&A.

    This is a major difference between A&A now and the List of old that Danna describes. In the past, we may have known people in person or through the Listserv. Now, we have the option of engaging across platforms (commenting or submitting comments at other subscribers’ blogs, tweeting to each other). That means positive or negative impressions accumulate from multiple settings. Jill Hurst-Wahl wrote thoughtfully about “Identity, Reputation, Authenticity, and Community” at her Digitization 101 blog in 2009: http://hurstassociates.blogspot.com/2009/04/cil2009-identity-reputation.html

    But as people have pointed out, there is a lot of off-List interaction around some subjects which start out or only display tip of the iceberg interactions on List. The analogy I would use for what the committee is doing is this. Two, actually. If a couple is having problems, you may catch signs of tension in a social setting. Or if colleagues or a manager and subordinate are in a fraught relationship, you may catch glimpses in staff meetings. But most of their disputes (or worse yet, abusive behaviors) take place out of your view.

    They may or may not share them with an authority figure or counselor (the SAA committee equivalents) but you won’t know about it. And you don’t have the right to demand information provided confidentially to the neutral party to whom they turn.

    It is only after you hear that the parties in conflict have separated or that someone is transferred to another unit might you be you able to go back and perhaps realize, “hmmm, that’s what that weird vibe at that party or that meeting might have stemmed from.” And not everyone does that, you have to have fine antenna to catch some of that. Effective supervisors spot problems before things implode and place the employing organization at risk. Ineffective ones often are oblivious to them and enable behaviors that harm the organization..

    • Effective supervisors spot problems before things implode and place the employing organization at risk. Ineffective ones often are oblivious to them and enable behaviors that harm the organization..

      This is true, and such supervisors can be invaluable. However, the A&A list is not an organization, and SAA is not my employer, nor the employer of anyone on the list. I don’t believe it is the responsibility of SAA — or of *any* organization that operates a professional list — to attempt to intuit what is happening off-list. Yes, they could ban someone from the list, but if the negative interaction is happening off-list, that would have exactly zero effect.

      If someone is being a jerk on the list, the ideal solution is to simply ignore them, full stop. If they email you privately and you don’t want to hear from them, block or ban their email address. Jerks thrive on the drama they create. Deny them drama, and they will wither up 🙂

      • Michele, you interpreted my comment to mean SAA is acting in a supervisory role or in loco parentis. Not what I meant so your points are directed towards an assertion I did not make. If you read the blog post to which I linked in my first comment, you can see that I view the recent dispute as a missed opportunity for managers and supervisors and executives (who most often just lurk) who subscribe to the List to demonstrate how disputes are handled in a workplace. To display their managerial skillz and lead by example. A&A could have been a crowd driven (not SAA controlled) demonstration project for how professionals handle and leaders defuse miscommunications, bullying, intimidation, dominance tactics, etc. Instead, the recent comments, as also those in in January in which I watched Kathryn left stranded but could not partake as I had unsubscribed) showed little of that.

      • @nixonara = Ah, I see. Yes, I did misunderstand. Thanks for the clarification.

  20. Patricia Galloway

    I am just sad that this discussion is not taking place on the A&A list. I, too, have been a subscriber to the Humanist list, actually since the 1990s–and it is a wonderful list, but that is because it is a small group and the list has been masterfully moderated for many years by Willard McCarty, who knows just about everyone in its audience of digital humanists. In the case of A&A, it seems that what SAA doesn’t have is the time to moderate the list. I hope the committee seeks information about how much traffic now exists on the section and roundtable lists for comparison, together with some feedback from those lists about whether being more tightly-focused makes them more welcoming in some sense.

    Still I have to say that I see lots of questions answered and a lot of good interaction on the A&A list; though most of the time I lurk because of lack of time, I find that glancing down my digest I can get a feel for what issues are active, and I would really hate to lose that heartbeat sense to conscious direction.

  21. Signore!

    I’m sorry I don’t have the time to track down exact links for you but if you check the archives of the list (again, I’m sorry) for the thread that began as ‘do we eat our young?’ you’ll see where I started to feel there was something seriously wrong with A&A.

    I have no desire to point fingers at any single individual; I don’t think that’s a fruitful way to move any kind of discussion forward anywhere! But some of the language and insinuation I have seen go by on A&A would have gotten people strongly queried if not banned from fandom sites I follow. I realise the community is different but — aren’t we supposed to be professionals? Not simply enthusiasts?

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  23. Real Archivist

    To all those claiming there is no unprofessional stuff on the A&A list, please look at this example.
    http://forums.archivists.org/read/messages?id=129085
    This is a juvenile, uncalled-for, deliberately divisive, and completely unrelated to archives.

    • Did anyone claim that there is no unprofessional stuff on A&A? If so, I missed it. I don’t usually read them myself (I didn’t even read this link until it was posted here), but Friday funnies have been regularly posted on A&A for many years. They, too, can often be regarded as completely unrelated to archives, sometimes juvenile, usually completely uncalled for, and (if you dislike humor) divisive.

    • I don’t think anyone has claimed “There is NO unprofessional stuff on the list.” Of course there is occasionally, just as there is on any open list. What many people *have* said is that the unprofessional postings are few and far between, easily ignored, and not dissimilar to what we have observed on other professional lists.

    • The post to which this is linked is clearly intended to sow discord. It is precisely the kind of thing that will lead to me unsubscribing.

      I assume some possible results of the committee looking into A&A might be for SAA to just set A&A adrift, for SAA to set A&A adrift but start a new SAA-moderated general archives list, or do nothing.

      If SAA starts its own general archives list with clear rules of participation that eliminate this kind of baiting post, I’d be happy to join. If SAA still gives house room to this kind of behavior by leaving the list as it is, I will unsubscribe.

    • Lurking Archivist

      Or the link was intended to provide a perspective on how there has been a trend of late towards over towards more … dramatic reactions to common speech.

      I have rolled my eyes numerous times at the unhelpful “check the archive” response, which, for a digest consumer, requires several extra steps. I have only been lurking on the list for a few years but it does seem that while the content and tenor hasn’t really changed, responses have gotten louder and started shifting more towards irritation and anger at any perceived slight.

  24. It depends on the reader but sometimes “All back full! (Hunt for Red October)” works. An example here, with thoughts as well on grad school “toughening up” and the impact one professor ascribes to it. From my blog in 2011: http://nixonara.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/all-back-full-the-hunt-for-red-october/

  25. this devolution into unsolicited advice/dismissive thing of “pull yourself up by your own boot straps like I did, vote with your gmail filter, speak up if you want to – anybody can!” when attempting to bring up legitimate and large professional issues (that will probably destroy our “profession” and cause archivists to be treated as and paid like glorified IT assistants in 15 years) is pretty tiresome, all with the presumption that you must be a raging neo-liberal feminazi if you disagree. I expect we will all see the entire field of archives (not just the listserv) becoming more and more exclusionary, static, and downright boring to people outside and inside of our field because of this kind of accepted “professional” culture and tendency to let pretty hackneyed binary political rhetoric influence our perception of serious issues of sustainability. People are leaving the field because of this stuff, not just the listserv.

    • Former SAA Member

      It’s interesting Mr. Tibali mentioned archivists on the road to becoming “glorified IT assistants” because I’ve recently left academia and gone into “the dark side” working for a for-profit company. What I deal with now are managers/VPs/C-level who see “filing” as a “cheap temp job ie: $10-12/hr” and anyone who works with records, especially in the cloud/network drives, as “IT support.” (The salary range midpoint for this is roughly $51K which is a higher midpoint than what I was paid as a 15 yrs experienced mid-level Archives manager for a university). The future impact of IT/IG/RM on the Archives side will be something to study and watch with interest. I’m doing my best to advocate for better RM and archival policies and I’m doing it from scratch.

      I’m sorry that Mr. Tibali finds the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” comments tiresome. I find them motivational. I know that I’m responsible for me. In turn I can choose to give back to others and encourage them. What comes to mind is that movie Frozen – Anna trying to climb the side of the ice mountain and Olaf sticking his head around the corner and saying, “Not sure if this is gonna solve the problem, but I found a staircase that leads exactly where you want it to go.”

      I want to be both Anna (determined) and somebody else’s Olaf (helpful).

      • I wasn’t a subscriber to A&A during the January thread on employment to which Mr. Tibali refers. But I did read it on the web interface at the time. I understand why the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” comments came across differently to various readers. As an aside, we’re all responsible for ourselves, regardless of philosophical or political outlook, and I had no sense in the thread that anyone thought otherwise. I didn’t see anyone was asking for more than others have found in seeking employment. The way some of the advice was offered–the substitution of one’s own outlook, what one was willing to “settle for,” if that was the case, or one’s own “success story”–into the conversation created some barriers. Few first asked the job insecure or job seekers–the students and younger archivists–“what do you seek.” What we seek and what we settle for is so individual! The seeming imposition of templates without situational awareness that attempts at dialogue might have created left an impression of uncaring and lack of empathy, whatever the intent. I’m not familiar with Frozen but being determined and helpful sounds like an appealing combination. The challenge for all of us is to become architects of trust within our online communities — not just with those for whom we have easy affinity but for others as well — so that people will listen within an attractive framework rather than to tune us out!

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  28. Patricia Galloway

    Please note (below) that Off the Record is now being spammed–is there anyone there who is paying attention and knows how to deal with it? Might try sending messages to A&A…

    Pat Galloway

  29. Thanks Patricia. I’ve seen the spam messages but will make sure Matt Black, SAA’s Tech Person, is also aware.

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