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.