In response to several member requests for SAA to consider commenting on the recent incident relating to the release of records at the University at Oregon, I sought advice from several groups, the Council discussed options, and we reached agreement on a response. For background on the issue and the Council’s response see http://www2.archivists.org/news/2015/saa-response-to-member-request-re-university-of-oregon-records-release-incident
I’m gratified to hear from members when they think that SAA should make a statement or respond to a current situation, as well as their thoughts on what we do or don’t “say.” Each situation that emerges poses challenges when a response is requested on behalf of SAA rather than by individuals. In the two most recent cases—the acquisition by the University of Texas at Austin of the García Márquez papers and the University of Oregon records release incident—there has been considerable traffic via email, twitter, and Facebook. Members and other archival colleagues have written that “SAA ought to do something.”
Those requests can seem simple enough, but they do trigger some considerable work. When we have existing positions, as reflected in our issue briefs, http://www2.archivists.org/initiatives/saa-advocacy-agenda, the Code of Ethics and/or our Core Values Statement http://www2.archivists.org/statements/saa-core-values-statement-and-code-of-ethics, our Strategic Plan http://www2.archivists.org/governance/strategic-plan, or other association policy documents, those are part of our consideration. We typically seek further advice, information, and input from committees, working groups, sections, and/or roundtables. It is rarely a simple process to gather accurate and verifiable information. My Council colleagues and I recognize that in each situation there are several options:
• We can make no response. Some may equate this “action” to not being willing to engage, but it may also result from a conscious decision that the issue is not within SAA’s or the profession’s “wheelhouse.”
• We can take a specific position. To do so responsibly requires verifiable information (which can be challenging to assemble) and then arriving at a position that we can agree to on behalf of the membership.
• Or we can do as we have in both of the recent cases: Give the matter the best assessment we can with the information available and let members know that we are, in fact, paying attention, but that there is not sufficient information or development for SAA to be making a responsible statement.
We also recognize that, each time, the response may not be what some members might have wanted SAA to put forward. But we are a professional association of 6,200 members. Perfect unanimity of thought is, well, you know the answer…. As archivists, we know how to do research, consider context, and balance perspectives. Frequently that is not a simple process. But it is part of what you elected us to do, and we take it seriously.
If you want to raise issues of concern, it helps when you use the recommended process for raising issues to the Council: http://www2.archivists.org/groups/committee-on-advocacy-and-public-policy/procedures-for-suggesting-saa-advocacy-action. For additional insights on what it takes to develop a “statement,” see CAPP Chair Frank Boles’s article in the January/February issue of Archival Outlook entitled “SAA Should Say Something!” http://www.bluetoad.com/publication/?i=243618&pre=1
And feel free to contact me before, during, or after deliberations on any issue if you have comments, concerns, or even a word of support: firstname.lastname@example.org.