Thanks to SAA’s Archivist, Abbi Nye, at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee for her guest blog post and watch for periodic highlights from the collections:
One of the delightful benefits in assuming the role of SAA Archivist is that I have a reason to meander through the years of SAA’s development. It’s fascinating, of course, to gain a better understanding of our organizational history, but it’s the people and the stories that really seize my attention. Prominent archivists cease to be merely authors of the seminal articles we read in graduate school; the documents bring their humor, their friendship, and their disagreements to life.
There’s plenty of humor in the SAA archives: “Dear Herb,” F. Gerald Ham joked to C. Herbert Finch about Finch’s addition to the SAA archives, “The confidential “Finch File” arrived in fine shape; do you want a 10 or 15 lid on this hot stuff?” Newspaper clippings and committee minutes document the internal debates around pronunciation: should archivist be pronounced “ARK-uh-vist” or AR-KY-vist”? As with all organizations, there are warts on display as well; past lists of SAA leaders aren’t exactly overflowing with diversity.
At their core, the SAA records and the manuscript collections from longtime archivists such as Larry Hackman and Helen Samuels address issues of professional identity. The true value of SAA’s archives lies not in answering questions about when a certain committee disbanded, but in helping us to understand our story and who we are as a professional community.
Archivists understand better than anyone how important it is to know where we’ve come from and what our values are. I suspect that in the next few years, it will be essential to ground ourselves and to re-appraise our professional identity, to borrow a phrase from Elizabeth Snowden Johnson. Absorb strength from our Code of Ethics and Core Values, but don’t neglect to look at previous versions and the thoughtful discussions behind our current Code.
To study the SAA archives is to understand that our profession is constantly evolving; we have lost the Scientific and Technological Manuscripts committee and lamination—thankfully—is no longer an acceptable preservation strategy. In that spirit, challenge yourself to expand your reach this year. Perhaps you’re passionate about engaging with issues of social justice and community archives. Perhaps you want to expand your technical skill set by participating in the Try5 initiative. Perhaps you’re eager to be an articulate advocate for archivists and the value of our work. However you choose to engage, remember that you aren’t alone. We have 80 years of archival records to prove it.