What’s Next? Looking at the Next Year for SAA

These remarks were presented at SAA’s Annual Membership (Business) Meeting, held virtually on Wednesday, August 5, 2020, 2:00 to 3:30 pm CDT.

Thank you to everyone who is here at our member meeting today. As I have often said, this is the Society OF American Archivists, not FOR, and each one of you being here today is an affirmation of that.

While our virtual platform is allowing us to do things in a new way, I bet most of you, like me, wish we were sitting in a ballroom in Chicago right now. For me, I’m coming to you from my auxiliary work space, in the hallway between my front door and laundry room. Not quite the view of the Rocky Mountains that I have in my office at the Denver Public Library.

I think we should begin by acknowledging that 2020 is not what any of us expected or wanted. It’s been one unprecedented development after another and I’m not just talking about the murder hornets. And while I am a pragmatist at heart, I remain optimistic about SAA even in the face of the challenges our institutions, profession, and organization are facing.

The Society of American Archivists was founded in 1936, which was not during a pandemic, but certainly was not an easy time in the history of the United States, with the country still reeling from the Great Depression and on the brink of another world war.

In his 1983 presidential address, Frank Cook referred to this early SAA era from 1936 to 1945 as “Growing Up in Depression and War.” Much like our parents and grandparents who lived through that era, SAA is fortunate to have leadership and staff who have prepared for this challenging time and continue to be prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to keep our Society strong and able to maintain our professional leadership role and services during a time that includes both financial and societal challenges.

My optimism comes from several examples from the past few months.

First, when the COVID-19 pandemic began to create real challenges for many of our friends and colleagues, a group of archivists quickly formed to propose the Archival Workers Emergency Fund. To date, the fund has raised more than $100,000 and supported more than 140 archival workers with grants of up to $1,000.

Then, at the beginning of June, the SAA Council released a statement on Black Lives and Archives. The statement was followed by a town hall meeting attended by more than 800 people, a forum led by the Diversity Committee last week, and a follow-up forum this Friday morning.

Those events have included small group discussions about what we as archivists and as an organization can do to begin the important work to address the systemic racism that has been pervasive in our nation throughout its history. As the keepers of that history, we play a significant role in how THAT story is told, what is remembered, what is forgotten. It’s a critical role, one which many outside our work don’t truly appreciate.

More recently, we received the fantastic news that SAA was successful in its application for an IMLS grant to support the A*CENSUS II project. Does anything feel quite as good as the notification of a funded grant you’ve worked so hard on? In partnership with ITHAKA S+R, we will develop a set of data about the profession and create an ongoing plan to keep that data up to date. Work will begin on that project this fall.

Finally, with the challenges of the current situation, we’ve all learned to utilize virtual spaces in new ways. This year every SAA member from my library was able to attend the Annual Meeting, which unfortunately doesn’t happen in most years!

And I know that’s true for many of you who are able to attend this year for either the first time or maybe the first time in a long time.

The SAA Council has also gotten much better at meeting online. I’ve definitely appreciated the hard work of the SAA staff to help us make those meetings go more smoothly, including our meeting on Monday that was attended by more than 30 members.

And as I mentioned, we’ve been holding town halls–which I’ve found to have an important role in making sure the leadership of SAA and the members have regular ways to interact. It is my plan to continue those sessions in the coming year, so please stay tuned for more information about when we will do that next and what we will be discussing. If you have suggestions, please let me know.

I look forward to the coming year of serving as your president of this organization that has had such an impact on my career and life. I’ve been thinking about what that will mean during these past few months of working and staying at home more than usual. And I’d like to say that I’ve read 100 books on the important topics of the day and plotted my own personal strategic plan, but honestly after reading the news of the day and being in meetings for hours on end, my natural tendency has gone to binge watching a variety of TV shows and catching up on podcasts while walking my dogs.

In a time when so much of what will happen in the next few months or year seems unsure or likely to change, I remain excited for my time serving this organization, for the new and seasoned members of our leadership, and for this organization. This year we will face a major transition in leadership. Many of us only know SAA during Nancy’s time as executive director. You helped us grow up! We are not the organization that greeted you when you arrived in this role. We also look forward to celebrating your career and impact on SAA.

So, on that note, I must turn to the inspiration of one of my favorite TV presidents—President Jed Bartlet—and ask you all: What’s next?

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