Making Room for Everyone

This article originally appeared as the President’s Message in the March/April 2020 issue of Archival Outlook.

One of my favorite SAA Core Values is Professionalism. I use it as a lens when at work. To me, although some may disagree, Professionalism refers to a competence in a specialized skill, not necessarily a behavior.

Professionalism: Archivists encourage professional development among their coworkers, foster the aspirations of those entering the archives profession, and actively share their knowledge and expertise. (See https://www2.archivists.org/statements/saa-core-values-statement-and-code-of-ethics.)

Our Core Values Statement and Code of Ethics should be applied holistically to the operationalization of our by-laws and governance in general. We should avoid and discourage the bureaucratic politics described by Miles’ Law, which refers to people pursuing policies that benefit the groups they represent rather than collective interests. This can lead to words and actions that cause tensions that do not support the equitable, inclusive, trusting, and safe environment we’re working so hard to create in our organization and within our practice. If we believe in the future of our organization, then we must recognize that our foundation and track record are firm and that change is inevitably part of our growth. It is too restrictive to promote only from within; while legacy and institutional knowledge are valued assets, so, too, are new ideas and new voices. As an organization dependent on volunteer administration, we should welcome and embrace participation at any stage of association involvement or professional development. We should be working to eliminate obstacles that prevent the full participation of our membership. This does not mean that we cannot or should not disagree. Disagreement does not have to divide us. Look at the recent fruit of our differences when we listen and then step out of our traditions and comfort zones to do something for the greater good of our association:

  • An elected Council that represents public, private, academic, and corporate institutions who work together across all four time zones,
  • The addition this year of hundreds of new peer reviewers for American Archivist,
  • A Salary Task Force that grew from a group of archivists, then to a section, and then to a task force, and which is aligned with our Strategic Plan and newly formed Committee on Research, Data, and Assessment,
  • A Tragedy Response Group to aid archivists around the country to sustain evidence of societal history,
  • Additions to the SAA 2020 election slate,
  • A record number of Strategic Growth grants given by the SAA Foundation, and
  • A call to give to the #52Fund on Twitter which donated funding directly to many who haven’t been financially able to be fully engaged in SAA and to SAA showing the value and importance of our organization.

This is not the time to let your membership lapse. This is the time to vote and to step up your engagement. This is the time to talk, heal, mentor, and pass the baton to those who have yet to serve because they have not been given an opportunity to or because they weren’t ready. I ask us all to embrace and encourage each other and to trust those we elect to lead. There are enough barriers and cliques in our lives. How do we minimize or remove the ones in our organization?

Stability doesn’t look the same every year; it anticipates risk, change, and difference. It is okay to step back and wait your turn or simply pass the baton. It doesn’t mean you’re out of the game—you’re just on the bench with other teammates waiting to be put in again or you’re coaching. It may seem risky to put others in the game not knowing the outcome, but how else will they learn? How will you learn? And what happens when the usual players can’t play anymore?

I am confident that, as we grow as an organization and rally around our Core Values, we will learn to respect different opinions, acknowledge all member accomplishments and qualifications, and become open to other ways of doing things.

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