How Do You Measure a Volunteer?

This article originally appeared as the President’s Message in the November/December 2019 issue of Archival Outlook.

As I reflect on the past few months, I’m reminded of Kathleen Roe’s remarks at the 2014 Annual Meeting, in which she opened with the lyrics from “Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent:

“525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear.
525,600 minutes—how do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee.
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
In 525,600 minutes—how do you measure a year in the life?”

My mind raced to zip drives, email, defunct blog posts, tweets, and SnapChat. How do we measure a year in the life? I reflect on what I said and didn’t say about the profession in my interview for An Archivist’s Tale (listen to episode 83 at http://ow.ly/2jIV30pEOvx). I am reminded why I do this work—why I hope we do this work. I believe, as Dennis Meissner so eloquently stated during the Leadership Plenary at SAA’s 2015 Annual Meeting, that “archives provide essential evidence to protect and enhance our rights as citizens, providing fundamental information that supports and shapes our understanding of historical events and cultural heritage. We help people understand the human experience” (https://www2.archivists.org/am2015/leadership-plenary-video#.XZYOCGBKhhG).

In the same plenary, Helen Wong Smith spoke of the active process of cultural relativism, which includes self-reflection, a nonjudgmental attitude, and accepting a holistic approach to change. Along those lines I stand by my words from last year: “We must be willing to listen to one another. Really listen. Not necessarily to agree but to understand, build trust, and work together to effect change, minimize or remove obstacles, and resolve conflict.”

So I ask you to share your expertise, network with colleagues, and enhance your résumé by volunteering with SAA. Our members are busy thinking of inventive ways to engage current audiences with the intent to bring in new ones. As we prepare for the next Annual Meeting, I get giddy thinking of what great work we’ll hear about along with the bumps and bruises from the journey. I think about the growth of our organization and the ways we strive to improve, shift organizational culture, and meet members’ needs. It is challenging to meet everyone’s needs and to hear everyone’s voices, but we’re trying. We are grateful that, despite being busy, you take the time to read SAA’s publications; to support the various sections and committees with your perspectives, funds, and expertise; to schedule and run meetings in person or online; and to create reports, implement surveys, and help other archivists with your resources and talents. Everything you do to support your colleagues around the country and the world makes SAA better and more relevant.

One of the joys of SAA is the variety of perspectives (and objectives) of our members alongside the shared love for what we do. We embrace archival standards and theories and identify new ways to maintain and provide access to content that will inform generations of their histories. We are bold yet quiet; we are advocates advancing the needs of our members to stakeholders and the public through collection development, publications, programming, and outreach. We speak out and we write with allied organizations. We discuss policy and funding and fight to ensure government transparency and accountability. We advocate for the best management of records in any format under any circumstances. So what are you waiting for? Volunteer, get active, stay engaged.

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