What to Watch for at ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2021—Reflections from Ithaka S+R.

by Makala Skinner

Next month, archivists from across the country will convene virtually to discuss emerging and ongoing issues in the field at the Society of American Archivists (SAA) Annual Meeting, ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2021: Together/Apart. This year’s meeting will take place from August 4 to 6 (with some pre-conference activities earlier in the week) and will showcase 10 live sessions and 20 pre-recorded sessions with live Q&As. The conference will feature keynote speakers, general sessions, networking opportunities, poster sessions, and conversation lounges for informal discussion.

The SAA Annual Meeting takes place each summer, historically in-person at different locales across the US. The virtual format, necessitated in both 2020 and 2021 by the ongoing global health crisis, has offered some benefits distinct from in-person convenings. Along with expanding access by removing travel and lodging costs as a barrier to attendance, participants will have on-demand access to all sessions, providing attendees with the ability to view sessions at their convenience even after the conference has concluded.

As I look ahead to attending the 85th Annual Meeting, the schedule includes salient topics worth previewing.  Here I discuss two notable themes across sessions that are particularly important at this juncture in time.

The impact of the pandemic on archivists and archival work

The SAA Annual Meeting is showcasing a number of sessions that grapple with the impact of the pandemic on the archives profession. Session topics range from the implications and ethics of collecting items relating to the pandemic to how the shift to online work has affected project management and archival activities, including:

Critical approaches to collecting and describing collections

The conference also has several sessions highlighting reparative work in archival collections. Documented materials and histories have come under greater scrutiny in recent years, and addressing exclusionary narratives and racist language in archives is a prominent priority for the field. Here are just a few sessions on this topic:

Both of these themes are crucial to the current context. We’re a year and a half into a global pandemic that has had a dramatic impact on how archivists work and brings up questions of how to record such a consequential event. Likewise, the US is in the midst of a renewed reckoning with racism and unequal power structures. Archives and archivists are central to this work because of their role in how history is captured and relayed to future generations. I’m looking forward to attending sessions on these topics and hearing insights from practitioners in the field.

At the Annual Meeting, I will also be presenting with Beth Myers, Director of Special Collections at Smith College, on A*CENSUS II at two events: Research and Innovation @ SAA: A*CENSUS II (5:00 PM – 6:00 PM EDT on Thursday, August 5) and a Forum on A*CENSUS II (4:00 PM – 5:00 PM EDT on Friday, August 6). A*CENSUS II is a collaborative, large-scale survey initiative being conducted by SAA and Ithaka S+R, funded through the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The survey results will present an updated snapshot of the perspectives, practices, and needs of archivists and leaders of archival organizations across the country. This fall, we will launch a survey of every self-identified archivist/archives and community memory worker in the US to gather information about their demographics, educational background and needs, job placement and status, and salaries, as well as their perspectives on key issues in the field. This survey will represent the first large-scale census of the archives field in 17 years, building on the foundation of the first A*CENSUS initiative in 2004. A second survey of senior leaders and directors of archival organizations/institutions will be fielded subsequently in early 2022 to gather data about institutional characteristics, resources, strategic directions, and diversity, equity, inclusion, and access issues. I hope to see you at the conversation lounge, forum, or one of the other sessions planned for the SAA Annual Meeting!

Makala Skinner is a senior analyst at Ithaka S+R on the Libraries, Scholarly Communication, and Museums team.

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