American Archivist Editorial Board Responds to Article Controversy: Listening, Learning, and Building a Stronger, More Inclusive SAA

We offer a sincere apology to SAA members and our readership for how the Brown Bag Lunch event during Archives*Records 2019 and pre-publication of Frank Boles’ article unfolded last August, and for any ways in which those actions have alienated members or marginalized their work. These events have affected many people, in various ways, and we believe that it is important to acknowledge and recognize that hurt and pain. Most importantly, the conversations around these issues revealed that there is a lot of work to accomplish to ensure that American Archivist is a journal to which ALL people want to contribute and all will want to read.

After careful consideration and robust discussions during a meeting of the Editorial Board in Chicago in October, we identified areas in which we can strengthen our internal processes, particularly in our editorial policy and in the Brown Bag Lunch article selection process. These processes contributed both to the decision to accept the paper, and to its selection for the Brown Bag Lunch discussion. That said, we also want to underscore that the Editor followed those processes at the time the submission was reviewed and that he has acted according to current editorial policy and SAA governance throughout this challenging situation. We are working together to implement stronger processes and to ensure that the article is published in a manner that allows the journal and this important discussion to move forward to a more productive and inclusive place.

Many Editorial Board members do not feel that the article merits space in the journal. Yet we also recognize that it was evaluated through a double-blind peer-review process, and the article was accepted for publication by the Editor as the result of that process.  While people disagree with that publication decision, we also recognize that undoing it would have unanticipated and possibly deleterious secondary effects on American Archivist and the Society. We have listened to the concerns of a wide range of stakeholders and, in concert with the Editor, are taking this opportunity to examine, revise and improve the editorial policy, rubrics, and peer review processes. One resulting change in peer evaluation will be the addition of language in the editorial policy that requires accepted articles to align with SAA’s Core Values.

The Brown Bag Lunch article selection is another process that we are changing as a result of discussion and member feedback. Going forward, the selection will be drawn from all articles published in the previous two issues of American Archivist. Prior to the Annual Meeting, SAA members will have the ability to vote online for an article to discuss at the Brown Bag Lunch. This mirrors the process used to select Pop-Up sessions for the conference, and is meant to reflect current interests in the recent literature.

Diversity and social responsibility represent two of SAA’s Core Values, but these past few months have demonstrated to the Editorial Board that we have a lot of work to do in promoting and embodying these values in the journal and in this community. To do this effectively, we must better understand and confront structural power and issues of privilege that continue to perpetuate inequality in our profession, while recognizing that the controversy over Boles’ article reflects deeper tensions in society. As we continue this work, we plan to collaborate with other SAA groups, such as the Diversity Committee and SAA Council, in the spirit of transparent dialogue and intentional change. It is our hope that by working together with other groups, we can foster open, honest, and empathetic conversations between archivists regarding core values and ethics, as well as help to develop and support methods to constructively resolve conflicts when they arise.

There has been much discussion and debate about the forthcoming publication of this article in the Fall/Winter 2019 American Archivist. We expect and encourage the conversation around this article to continue, but also know that it raises the possibility of additional discomfort or hurt. The Editorial Board has established an email address for readers to directly communicate any feedback about our planned next steps: editorialboard@archivists.org. We are listening.

In the spirit of transparency, we will continue to share our progress and ask for constructive feedback. Our goal is to promote thoughtful, shared, and respectful discussions and debates within the archival profession. As Editor Cal Lee has stated in his Off the Record blog post, we also hope that readers continue to respond to the article, whether in the form of articles, as letters to the editor, or in other forums. We hope that our colleagues will share with us the journey of building a stronger and more inclusive American Archivist and SAA.

The American Archivist Editorial Board

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