I recently attended the International Council on Archives annual meeting in Mexico City, held jointly with the Asociación Latinoamericana de Archivos. The conference sessions were interesting (for the most part, conducted in English, Spanish, and French with translation), and Mexico City was a fascinating hubbub of 22 million people and their cars. The conference itself was held at Unidad de Congresos, the Centro Medico Nacional Siglo XXI and the theme was Archives, Citizenship, and Interculturalism. There were participants from 83 countries, including many from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. This was the first time the ICA conference has been held in Latin America.
Margarita Vargas-Betancourt has shared her conference experiences on the International Archival Affairs Section blog: https://iaartsaa.wordpress.com/2017/12/12/weekly-news-roundup-and-report-on-ala-ica-december-12-2017/
SAA Past President Gregor Trinkaus-Randall also shared his opinion on the value of attending ICA in Mexico City: “As to the conference, I always find it enlightening to talk to archivists from other countries. Now that I have been going for six years, I now have some colleagues with whom I connect each year. I thought that the sessions that I attended were interesting and informative and projected perspectives that we would not normally hear at SAA. Granted, the sessions that I attended were mostly preservation/disaster related, they were informative and wide-ranging.”
Meg Phillips from NARA shared her perspective in a previous guest blog post.
ICA is meeting next in Yaounde, Cameroon, in November 2018.
I was invited to meet with Dr. Mercedes de Vega, the current Archivist of Mexico and the President of the Asociación Latinoamericana de Archivos. A special thanks to translators and SAA members Margarita Vargas-Betancourt and Natalie Baur who also attended the meeting. Dr. de Vega is interested in learning more about how SAA is organized and possible collaborations between our two organizations. We discussed recent disasters in both Puerto Rico and Mexico, and how to better connect funding resources with damaged archives. As a reminder, repositories in the U.S., Mexico, and Caribbean are welcome to apply for funding, and thanks to SAA’s Latin American and Caribbean Cultural Heritage Archives Section (LACCHA), this information is also available in Spanish. Please share with anyone whom you think may be interested or in need.
I gave a presentation focusing on the recent activities of the Society of American Archivists, focusing on advocacy, diversity and inclusion, and membership. I also spoke about what I see as current challenges to the archives profession. Here is a condensed version of my remarks related to the challenges that SAA and the archives profession face:
Transparency and Public Policy
The number of requests we receive from SAA members demonstrate the high level of interest in public policy in the U.S., particularly with the most recent election. The SAA public policy agenda is defined as any government policy—federal, state, or local—that directly affects the archival record, through legislation, executive orders, judicial decisions, funding priorities, and other regulatory measures. SAA is committed to monitoring and supporting policies that will ensure the protection of privacy and individual rights and ensure the transparency and accountability of government at all levels. However, in just the past 2 to 3 years, we have witnessed growing challenges to so many archives-related policies, so much so that it is difficult for a primarily volunteer organization to react to every one of them as we would like, but we must continue to try. There are also additional records access issues related to declassification, copyright, confidentiality, freedom of information laws, and surveillance that also require archivists to contribute their expertise and to ensure that we are heard by those in authority.
Recently the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) shared a final report and hosted a forum assessing how their funding distribution has propelled the development of a National Digital Platform. Among their goals were the inclusivity of diverse communities and sovereign tribal nations that make up the United States; radical and systemic collaboration to advance services through collaboration; decentralization and interoperability—a coordinated effort to develop cooperative tools and services; and supporting the continuing education of the professional librarians and archivists who develop, use, and maintain these tools, among others. As librarian David Lee King noted in his blog review: IMLS is funding an incredible number of projects (such as the Digital Public Library of America and the Digital Library Federation) and yet, “Also – there are a LOT of institutions doing a lot of great things – but sorta on their own. Yes, they might have a project partner or two. But some of these projects could be made better, and have better sustainability, if they connected more directly with other organizations doing similar work, and maybe even sharing what they do with each other to build something better and bigger than they could on their own.” Development and sustainability, and inclusivity of all (especially smaller repositories), remain issues in this area.
Professional development is making sure archivists have the resources to be fully effective in all they wish to accomplish. Developing the appropriate programming and ensuring its availability and affordability is not easy. Recruiting and retaining a diverse profession, collaborative continuing education training with allied professions, and opportunities for leadership, mentoring, and networking are necessary for the success of archivists in the 21st century.
A*CENSUS, the first truly comprehensive nationwide survey of the U.S. archives profession, was fielded in 2004 and included reports on Graduate Education, Continuing Education, Diversity, Leadership, and Certification. Think about that: 2004. We need current and quantifiable information about ourselves, both as a profession and as professionals, to better assess where we fit into a complicated economy, culture, and world. There are so many questions, yet so few resources to answer them. This is one of the reasons why the SAA Council created the Task Force on Research/Data and Evaluation, which is considering the research needs of archivists and SAA as an organization.
Finally, archivists have long expanded their professional practice beyond a passive acceptance of records brought to us, although that may still be part of our work. Being proactive about our collection development practices and, in many cases, assisting in the very creation of records, can expand what documentation exists. Collaborating with communities who are creating and preserving their own archives can challenge our traditional modes of operation. They require us to step out of our previously understood professional role and place other groups, and their archives work, first. Records do exist beyond our repositories, and our skills can assist others in preserving their own experience and diversifying our cultural heritage.
Empowering these community organizations and groups can be a good reminder of why we are archivists in the first place and allow us to share our expertise for the greater good. Simultaneously, it can also remind us that history can be complicated, people may be uncomfortable with that complexity, and how we see the world as archivists is not necessarily how everyone else sees it.
Finally, a number of SAA members involved with LACCHA had lunch together to finish out the conference:
George Apodaca (Past Chair), Margarita Vargas-Betancourt (Past Chair and current Steering Committee member), Tanya Zanish-Belcher (Council Liaison to LACCHA, 2012-2015), Natalie Baur (Past Chair) and Joel Blanco-Rivera (Past Chair)