Earlier in February I visited the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan and had the opportunity to discuss a topic vital to the profession. SAA’s strategic plan calls out “advocating for archives and archivists” as a key priority. My predecessor Kathleen Roe spent her presidential year pressing this stratagem forward with energy, resolve, and a very personal passion. SAA achieved some real successes as a result:
- We established a Committee on Public Policy (CAPP) that shapes and drives forward the advocacy work that focuses on the public policies and resources necessary to ensure that archival records are preserved and made accessible. It is intended to engage with governments. To date CAPP has published a number of issue briefs that can guide thinking and action by SAA members on a number of important topics.
- We established a Committee on Public Awareness (COPA). Whereas CAPP focuses on public policy, COPA is concerned with influencing opinions about the value of archivists and archives among the general public and among stakeholder groups other than legislators and regulators.
- We continue to compile “elevator speeches” and personal stories that speak compellingly to the value of archives. This work is, and must remain, a continuous endeavor.
- We have a created the first of what we intend to be a long line of advocacy video clips, each of which will be intended for a particular audience. The first one, “Archives Change Lives,” was unveiled at SAA’s 2015 conference and speaks directly to archivists, rather than to external audiences.
All these efforts amount to a good start, but only a start. We know that many other efforts must be launched to begin gaining traction in archival advocacy. Among them would be:
- A robust lobbying presence in our nation’s capital.
- Ongoing advocacy training for archivists.
- Media kits that can be rolled out to support a variety of initiatives.
- A rich array of advocacy tools and resource materials on SAA’s website that archivists can utilize for their own initiatives.
These resources will not come quickly or cheaply, but they are all important to build the sort of powerful and integrated advocacy effort that other professions have been able to create.
And I think one other advocacy endeavor is equally important. The advocacy pieces delineated above will only be truly convincing if they are supported by an infrastructure of convincing data. Our great advocacy stories, which reflect singular experiences, need to be grounded in statistical data that suggest their cumulative value. When we can marry the stories to the underlying data, only then will we have created a compelling value proposition. Then, our advocacy messages will achieve impact and real sufficiency. There are models for us to follow in identifying and compiling such data, especially the work of the Center for the Future of Museums.
I’ll be talking more about this direction in days to come. In the meantime, I hope that you will comment with ideas about how we can begin to create a data-informed value proposition for archives.