At its November 2017 meeting, the SAA Council approved the formation of the Tragedy Response Initiative Task Force. This initiative, proposed by the Diverse Sexuality and Gender Section, grew out of discussions held at the 2016 Annual Meeting surrounding the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, FL, and the need for resources and assistance to help local archivists who are personally affected by disasters/tragedies collect and preserve materials.
Since January 2018, the Tragedy Response Initiative Task Force has worked diligently towards fulfilling its charge of 1) creating and/or compiling material for ready accessibility by archivists who are facing a sudden tragedy, and 2) exploring the feasibility of creating a standing body within SAA that would update documentation as needed and serve as a volunteer tragedy response team.
Much of our effort to date has focused on researching and compiling policies and best practices, building relationships with allied organizations, and serving as contacts for communities and individuals that are managing tragedy-related collections. One of the first activities completed by the Task Force was a bibliography of articles and monographs related to archives, disasters/tragedies, and memorial and commemorative collections. We are currently using the bibliography to aid in our process of drafting policies and templates, and will continue to add resources to it, which will be shared with the SAA membership at a later date.
Additionally, we have successfully contacted numerous archivists and allied professionals from various repositories including the City of Boston Archives (Marathon Memorial), 9/11 Memorial Museum, Orange County Regional History Center, University of Houston Special Collections, Rice University, the HIstoric New Orleans Collection, Tulane University, the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and Louisiana State Museum to acquire information about their endeavors to document and preserve disaster/tragedy-related collections. We have also received samples of documentation from the Littleton Museum (Columbine High School Memorial), a memorandum of agreement between the Town of Newtown (Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting) and the Connecticut State Library, and an archival job description for processing memorial collections from Syracuse University. As we continue to have conversations with our colleagues and discuss best practices, the Task Force is tracking the types of policies and procedures we hope to compile examples of and create templates for.
Following one of the charged responsibilities to collaborate with allied organizations, the Task Force Chair, Lisa Calahan and others on the committee have connected with several national organizations about our efforts and has received positive feedback from the Special Libraries Association, American Alliance of Museums, Oral History Association, and National Council on Public History (NCPH), although what “collaboration” looks like is yet to be determined. One positive outcome is that Lisa attended the annual conference for the National Council on Public History and participated in a meeting to discuss potential collaboration and resource sharing opportunities with NCPH members.
Lastly, an unexpected activity of the Task Force that is not represented in the official charge, but that we expect to continue, is to provide immediate advice for community members and archivists actively collecting memories of tragedy. The Task Force has been contacted by a Parkland, FL city commissioner to advise on best practices for managing memorial material, and interviewed by WBUR (Boston NPR) for an article on the 5-year commemoration of the Boston Marathon Bombing.
The Task Force expects to submit its final report and recommendations to the SAA Council no later than January 2020. In the meantime, if you are interested in contributing sample documentation and sharing your experience with disaster/tragedy collections or have suggestions for the Task Force to consider, please contact us here or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, thank you!