At the 2013 SAA Annual Meeting, I (as the Council liaison, 2013-2016) attended a meeting of the Government Affairs Working Group (GAWG) with myself, Past President Frank Boles, soon-to-be President Kathleen Roe, and SAA Executive Director, Nancy Beaumont. A topic of our discussion was how to reconfigure this moribund group, which eventually became the Committee on Public Policy (Originally named the Committee on Advocacy and Public Policy). I also chaired COPP, 2016-2017.
Over the past 5 years, SAA has continued creating foundation blocks in its advocacy work and begun the transition into an established program. The output has included 16 issue briefs, 14 statements, and serving as signatories on multiple letters and petitions. The most recent statement related to the reported destruction of Executive Records by the President and includes a response from NARA.
Numerous Committee and Council members also drafted the Public Policy Agenda, the Criteria for Advocacy Statements, Procedures for Suggesting SAA Advocacy Action, and a recently approved (2018) Legislative Agenda and Action Plan. There is also ongoing and regular communication with the SAA Committee on Public Awareness and other allied organizations, such as CoSA, NAGARA, NARA, and the National Humanities Alliance.
But I thought I would write a bit about the process of how and why SAA decides to make a statement, write a letter, or develop an issue brief. This is a necessarily gray area of decision-making, and in the majority of cases, dependent directly on the SAA President (while in consultation with others, of course). Each case is considered independently of others because there are always internal and external circumstances to consider, such as timing and other priorities. In some cases, as President, I have made the decision to sign on to a letter or petition myself when we only have 24 hours to respond to a request from an allied organization. At times, an issue may be referred to the Committee on Public Policy for further research and writing (sometimes the issues come directly from COPP too). Sometimes, I will confer with the Executive Committee, which is composed of the elected officers in addition to a Council-elected Representative. Sometimes, the entire Council is brought into the discussion where more feedback and discussion are needed, and we have enough time to drill down especially as SAA Council does approve all issue briefs and position statements. Issues are also brought to SAA from individual members and groups, and we ask that they conduct much-needed research prior to submitting that issue for consideration.
Actual authorship can include 1 or 10 individual archivists or input from the SAA staff and Executive Director. Some draft. Some revise. The most difficult part of this is coming to an agreeable consensus, because, believe it or not, not all archivists agree on everything. As the years have passed, it has become clear that our foci should be those issues where there is a definite records implication, but there again, not all archivists agree on every tenet of archives.
While this is a core responsibility of SAA as the national professional organization for archivists, the act of creating, revising, and coming to consensus on any contentious archival issue (again, often the most difficult part) is very labor intensive and time consuming for what are primarily archivist volunteers with various areas of expertise and interests. At this point we now have core statements and language which allow us to sometimes craft new statements without as much effort. Another observation—who are these statements for, and who cares about them? In too many cases, unfortunately, they are for ourselves, and our next building block is to expand our circle of influence. To that end, last fall, I developed a list of groups and organizations who should receive notifications of our briefs and statements when appropriate:
American Alliance of Museums
American Association for State and Local History
American Library Association
Congressional History Caucus
Council of State Archivists
Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR)
Digital Library Federation
International Council on Archives
Legislators at the local, state, and federal levels
Library of Congress
Local and national media
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
National Coalition for History
National Council on Public History
Regional Archives Association Consortium (RAAC)
If there is another group or organization you believe should be added to this list, please send it to email@example.com
Finally, no letter or statement, or lack thereof, will ever please every member of SAA. And that’s ok. Your elected leadership must balance our overall responsibility representing archivists with the resources we have available. Our end goal is to consistently and effectively share our records expertise with the wider world, and make sure the archives voice is heard.