Annual Meeting Remarks by Tanya Zanish-Belcher

Hello! Here is an expanded version of my remarks given at the 2017 Annual Meeting in Portland during the SAA Business Meeting, where I was given some brief time to share what I plan for us to work on together during the coming year. A year-long presidency is very short, but I believe we can achieve some tangible goals while also considering the future of the Society and of the archives profession. This post may be rather long, but I also think in the interest of transparency, it is important to share SAA’s current priorities.

It probably comes as no surprise for anyone that advocacy and outreach as well as diversity and inclusion will remain a focus for the Council and the Society in the coming year. Certainly we have already dealt with a number of diversity-related issues, including the tenor of discussion on the Archives and Archivists Listserv, the problem of white supremacy and how archivists can assist communities, and challenges associated with placement of the 2019 Annual Meeting in Austin.

Our Advocacy and Outreach efforts will include an SAA-ACRL/RBMS Joint Task Force on Access, which will review the 2009 Joint Statement with a goal of adding guidelines for born-digital materials. SAA’s Committee on Public Policy will also be reviewing and suggesting revisions to SAA’s Public Policy Agenda, which guides our decision-making in regard to making position statements and creating issue briefs. And given that we will be meeting with CoSA and NAGARA in Washington, D.C., there are already preliminary plans for lobbying training, Hill visits to implement this new training, and a possible meeting with the Congressional History Caucus. Stay tuned.

Diversity and Inclusion continues to be a high priority for SAA. This year we will implement the new Brenda S. Banks Travel Award (proposed by the Archives and Archivists of Color Section), which recognizes and acknowledges individuals of color employed in archives who manifest an interest in becoming active members of SAA. This award, which will be given to one individual per year, provides full financial support for attending the annual meeting and a 1-year membership. Thanks to the following Awards Subcommittee members for getting things started: Kathryn Neal (Chair), Gerald Chaudron, Shanee Murrain, and Margarita Vargas-Betancourt. As noted in my last blog post, the Council’s Diversity and Inclusion Working Group will be creating and developing a toolkit that will be available to communities as they assess the historical value of the historical monuments in their midst.

Your Membership:  I want to explore ways to help every SAA member feel connected and valued. I would encourage every member to think about the value of SAA and why you are a member in the first place. What benefits does it provide that you need? Is it access to publications, the Annual Meeting, networking, opportunities for volunteering, leadership and skill development, standards, or continuing education?

And what should SAA provide that it currently doesn’t? What can we do to break down barriers to participation? The Council will be working on what we can do to make it easier for every member to achieve her or his true potential as a professional. For our November “Mega-Issue” discussion, Council members will review the most recent survey conducted by the SAA Membership Committee and consider ways in which to eliminate barriers to participation.

Archives and Archivists Listserv. When does a good thing become a liability? How do you balance free speech needs with professional development? Hard questions, indeed, and the SAA Council will be discussing the future role of the A & A Listserv at its November meeting. For those of you who may not know, the A & A Listserv was an independent entity for many years, with thousands of non-SAA members. SAA agreed to host the listserv as a service to the profession—both those in it and those considering joining it.  The Council has been down this road before, and I thought it would be helpful to share the report and minutes from that 2014 experience (see motions 5 and 6 on pages 12 and 13 of the minutes). Do you have comments you would like to share with me? Please let me know at, and you are welcome to request anonymity. Unfortunately, whatever way Council decides to go, there will be people left unhappy. However, this also may provide us with new opportunities to discuss how we might better connect with each other, especially when we disagree.

Our Portland meeting was our second-best-attended conference ever, and I have no doubt that had a good deal to do with our excellent program. However, part of the Listserv discussion was more than a simple disagreement and may have put some of our members at risk, and that is completely unacceptable. These are dangerous times, and we must watch out for each other.

An important component of membership is assessing where we are. The recently appointed Task Force on Research/Data and Evaluation will be anticipating SAA’s future efforts to conduct, facilitate, and evaluate research that will be useful as we make decisions about the future. Task Force members are: Michelle Light (Chair), Sarah Buchanan, Mahnaz Ghaznavi, Dennis Meissner, Dan Noonan, and Stacie Williams.

Finally, one of the most important responsibilities of each Council member is to practice Fiscal Responsibility and Stewardship of SAA’s finances through these challenging times. While our decision-making process is certainly not always about the money, funding does mean SAA can provide much-needed member services and even expand those services as we hope to do in Austin 2019. The SAA Foundation is also establishing additional financial resources for SAA members to access when needed and the Foundation already has awarded three grants for special projects. This is in addition to our very important National Disaster Recovery Fund for Archives.

Of particular interest to me in the long term is my interest in expanding SAA’s financial support by collaborating and partnering with private foundations and other organizations that believe archives are important. We have long been reliant on federal funding agencies, but the time has come for us to find other resources that match our core values and give us more flexibility in decision-making.

I would ask all SAA members to think, for a moment, of the many individuals who attended the Annual Meeting and those who were not able to do, a total of more than 6,100 members—the depth and breadth of the experiences, energy, and commitment of all of you. During my time with SAA, I have always been impressed with the level of volunteerism our members demonstrate in doing the work of the Society and the profession. It is my job, in this brief time as your leader, to collaborate with you to harness all of that for SAA and for each other. The work we do is hard. It is emotionally challenging and sometimes difficult, and we face many of society’s broader challenges as well. I cannot guarantee this year will be easy for archivists or SAA (in fact, I already know it is not!), but I can promise that I will be there for you. I will also promise to guide SAA as we make very difficult decisions about our future with the goal being to do the best we can. If you have an idea or concern that you think should be considered or discussed, please contact me using the e-mail address. Our organization is only as successful as our willingness to listen to each other.

As I close, I look forward to seeing you at the 2018 Joint Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., where I will share a “State of SAA.” This address will compare and contrast today’s SAA to its past, review the results of the coming year, and provide some thoughts about where SAA’s future lies. In the meantime, let’s get to work!


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