Author Archives: Dennis Meissner

Statement on the Orlando Shooting

Like so many people throughout America and across the world, we SAA members are shocked and saddened by the horrific violence that unfolded early Sunday morning in Orlando. Our wishes for hope and healing go out to all who have been harmed by this senseless act.

During this troubled time, I would call attention to the shared values that support us in our work. Let us redouble our efforts to ensure that our repositories become places of inclusion that celebrate the diversity of our society and the historical record. Let us strive to promote free and equitable access to the primary historical record that promotes understanding of the truth and that fights against ignorance and misrepresentation of the American experience.

We join with our colleagues in the library and museum communities in striving to create safe and welcoming places in which all might expand our understanding of and appreciation for our shared American culture.

 

Update June 17:

To my colleagues who have commented below and on social media—I thank you. Thank you for calling out what was missing in my statement. Thank you for sharing your frustration and anger about the erasure of queer voices and voices of color that happens all too frequently. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn. I hear you.

And I want to say: I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I didn’t name that the violent and ugly shooting at Orlando’s Pulse Club targeted people of color and members of the LGBTQ community. You are right: Context does matter, naming does matter—and we cannot forget that it is a culture of fear and hate, of racism and homophobia, that led to the shooting. The Orlando shooting is our problem, too. I’m sorry this sentiment wasn’t present in my original statement.

I feel deeply for the victims of the shooting and their loved ones, and for the LGBTQ community and communities of color for whom the Orlando shooting has said, “You are not safe and you are not valued.” This is one reason why I believe our work as archivists is so important. When we preserve the records and share the histories of our marginalized communities, we are working toward alleviating the fear and hate that led to the Orlando shooting and to so many other violent acts that our country has witnessed. I’m proud of the many archivists who are leading the way—and holding me and our organization accountable. SAA is its members. Thank you.

 

Update June 30:

To continue this thread, I would like to call attention to a recent statement posted on the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable blog that does a fine job of suggesting how we archivists might use the tragedy of the Orlando shootings to reflect on how we go about our work:  https://issuesandadvocacy.wordpress.com/2016/06/29/leaders-of-aacr-laccha-lagar-on-orlando-archivists-role-in-creating-a-more-diverse-society/

Diversity and Inclusion: Aspirations That We Must Realize

While not singled out in our strategic plan, one of SAA’s key strategic priorities is to grow and nurture greater diversity. Diversity within our membership, diversity within the archives profession, and diversity in the collections we hold. In a sense, this priority is too important to represent as a line item in a strategic plan. Rather, it is embedded throughout the plan and poured over everything we do. It is, perhaps, the area we acknowledge as needing the most work on the fastest timeline.

We have made small, measured starts in very positive directions. We have an active and dedicated Diversity Committee that helps us set a course. We have several roundtables that continue to increase our awareness and push us in good directions. We continue to develop and extend our scholarship programs and, in 2016, we have committed ourselves to placing more minority interns in SAA boards, committees, and working groups.

These are good steps, but small ones, that only scratch the surface. How do we gain traction as rapidly as possible so that we as a profession come to reflect the growing diversity we see in American society?  And how do we grow our own thinking so that we do not see “diversity” narrowly, but instead see it in its great fullness?

I think that part of the answer comes in working on ourselves, as individuals, first. We need to crack the nut that encloses us and begin to develop a true appreciation for diversity and, perhaps more importantly, a real desire for inclusion. Chris Taylor, a wise colleague at the Minnesota Historical Society who is dedicated to working on these issues in our own institution, reminds me that diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice. And that means a personal choice. I believe that when we as individuals come to appreciate the value of diversity, and inculcate a spirit of inclusiveness, then we will start to gain real, continuing traction in meeting our shared goal to diversify SAA, our profession, and the archival record. We then become forces that can help to reshape the policies of our employing organizations, as well as the ways in which we as individuals approach hiring, mentoring, and including. These are the sorts of things that have some power to diversify our work and our profession.

In the SAA Council, we are taking initial steps down that road by developing training in cultural competency that can eventually be rolled out to all of our members in a variety of formats. We are also working some additional content into the ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2016 program, including a diversity forum. And we are planning to build a much larger effort into the 2017 Annual Meeting program that relates to diversity and inclusion.

I look forward to this work and to realizing the aspiration that drives it. I hope that you do, too.

 

Advocacy: One Destination, Many Roads

Earlier in February I visited the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan and had the opportunity to discuss a topic vital to the profession. SAA’s strategic plan calls out “advocating for archives and archivists” as a key priority. My predecessor Kathleen Roe spent her presidential year pressing this stratagem forward with energy, resolve, and a very personal passion. SAA achieved some real successes as a result:

  • We established a Committee on Public Policy (CAPP) that shapes and drives forward the advocacy work that focuses on the public policies and resources necessary to ensure that archival records are preserved and made accessible. It is intended to engage with governments. To date CAPP has published a number of issue briefs that can guide thinking and action by SAA members on a number of important topics.
  • We established a Committee on Public Awareness (COPA). Whereas CAPP focuses on public policy, COPA is concerned with influencing opinions about the value of archivists and archives among the general public and among stakeholder groups other than legislators and regulators.
  • We continue to compile “elevator speeches” and personal stories that speak compellingly to the value of archives. This work is, and must remain, a continuous endeavor.
  • We have a created the first of what we intend to be a long line of advocacy video clips, each of which will be intended for a particular audience. The first one, “Archives Change Lives,” was unveiled at SAA’s 2015 conference and speaks directly to archivists, rather than to external audiences.

All these efforts amount to a good start, but only a start. We know that many other efforts must be launched to begin gaining traction in archival advocacy. Among them would be:

  • A robust lobbying presence in our nation’s capital.
  • Ongoing advocacy training for archivists.
  • Media kits that can be rolled out to support a variety of initiatives.
  • A rich array of advocacy tools and resource materials on SAA’s website that archivists can utilize for their own initiatives.

These resources will not come quickly or cheaply, but they are all important to build the sort of powerful and integrated advocacy effort that other professions have been able to create.

And I think one other advocacy endeavor is equally important. The advocacy pieces delineated above will only be truly convincing if they are supported by an infrastructure of convincing data.  Our great advocacy stories, which reflect singular experiences, need to be grounded in statistical data that suggest their cumulative value. When we can marry the stories to the underlying data, only then will we have created a compelling value proposition. Then, our advocacy messages will achieve impact and real sufficiency. There are models for us to follow in identifying and compiling such data, especially the work of the Center for the Future of Museums.

I’ll be talking more about this direction in days to come. In the meantime, I hope that you will comment with ideas about how we can begin to create a data-informed value proposition for archives.

Inside SAA’s Member Survey Results

Contributed by Dennis Meissner (Minnesota Historical Society)
on behalf of the SAA Council

N.B. The following article was originally published in the July/August 2012 issue of Archival Outlook.

At the beginning of the year, 2,151 SAA members—that’s 35 percent of us!—completed an exhaustive (and probably exhausting) web survey that tried to get at the value proposition undergirding SAA membership. What do we value most, and least? How loyal are we to the association? What do we like about SAA publications, education products, and annual meeting services? Which of us are most satisfied, and which of us want change? The SAA Council got its first peek into the newly compiled data in May, and will be spending the next year or so teasing as much meaning as possible out of it. And a lot of that meaning will come directly from a series of online conversations with SAA members, starting now. Continue reading