Author Archives: Nancy Beaumont

Exhaustion / Exhilaration

This article originally appeared as the Executive Director’s Message in the March/April 2021 issue of Archival Outlook.

We’ve slipped into another March, and the “before times” seem so remote. I’m both exhausted and exhilarated by our transition to a new way of doing things. Our need to connect—and the relative ease of doing so virtually—has meant more frequent meetings of SAA’s volunteer groups and a resultant uptick in activity. The SAA Council and the Foundation Board now meet every other month, and many of our committees, working groups, and task forces meet monthly. It’s exhausting to do the research, prepare the reports, conduct the Zoom meetings, write the minutes and action lists, and do the follow-up work in time for reporting out at the next meeting. It’s made all of us—volunteers and staff alike—more accountable for keeping things moving. And it’s resulted in a lot of good things happening! To cite a few:

Following its recent review of the Strategic Plan, the SAA Council will commit the time and talents of its own Internal Working Group on DEI to the following task: “By May 31 . . . draft a work plan for incorporating diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and cultural competency into all aspects of SAA’s work.” SAA has most assuredly—and intentionally—become a more welcoming and accessible organization over the years. But this much-needed focus by the Council on creating an actionable plan provides the best chance for SAA’s success. I know that the next executive director will benefit from having a plan in place as a path forward.

The SAA Foundation Board hopes to broaden its membership with its recent call for volunteers to serve on the Board. Check out the FAQs for Board service and volunteer by April 15! And Foundation committees are currently selecting a development consultant to assist in setting a direction for sustainable growth, reviewing Strategic Growth Fund grant proposals, and making timely decisions on requests for Archival Workers Emergency Fund support.

We’ve long aspired to broadening accessibility to our Digital Archives Specialist and A&D certificate programs. SAA Education recently announced that core courses are now available online in a new on-demand format. Behind this announcement is significant revision and updating of courses on grant writing, copyright, and privacy and confidentiality (for starters), each taught by an expert practitioner and consisting of multiple video presentations, slides, exercises, and a course exam. Our thanks to the Committee on Education and Digital Archives Specialist Subcommittee and to Gina Minks and Joshua Kitchens, our instructors for these first-out-of-the-chute offerings.

The Membership Committee’s very active subcommittees on the Mentoring Program, Key Contacts, and Career Development have made great strides. Be sure to check out SAA’s new Career Services Commons, a permanent online space for SAA members to access and offer career advising sessions, mock interviews, and résumé review services. Now all members—including those who can’t attend the Annual Meeting and its onsite “Career Center”—will have access to these services year-round.

We’re delighted that Laura Millar, author of SAA/ALA’s acclaimed A Matter of Facts: The Value of Evidence in an Information Age, will participate in our fifth annual One Book, One Profession reading initiative. The Publications Board is sponsoring a free online event on March 25 featuring Millar and panelists Valencia Johnson, Geoffrey Yeo, Louis Jones, and SAA Publications Editor Stacie Williams. We hope you’ll join in this book discussion to consider why archives matter today and how we can—and must—convince the world of their value! Register here and, if you’d like to conduct your own book group, find a study guide and tips on facilitating a reading group here.

Beginning with the Spring/Summer 2021 issue, we will publish American Archivist in an entirely digital format. This tough decision by the SAA Council acknowledges the ever-increasing production expenses of print (e.g., paper costs, fuel surcharges) and the impact of the pandemic on distribution and budgets. The good news is that we migrated all journal content to a new, much friendlier digital platform late last year. I love print as much as anyone. (At one point, I wanted to be a pressman so that I could spend my days steeped in the fragrance of ink on paper.) But this is a necessary step in responsibly stewarding SAA’s resources.

I could go on and on—as I often do—about the excellent and exciting work of the Committee on Public Awareness (with its ArchivesAWARE! blog), the team producing the charming Archives in Context podcast, the Committee on Public Policy (which is continuously at work monitoring the public policy landscape and preparing issue briefs), the Committee on Research, Data, and Assessment (SAA Dataverse, anyone?), the 2021 Program Committee, the A*CENSUS II Working Group, and others. Instead, I’ll ask you to keep your eye on the SAA website, In the Loop, the Announcements List, and your section lists for updates on SAA’s many and varied activities labors of love.

More or Less

SAA has always been small and cost conscious, and has long subscribed to the “doing more with less” habit of thought. (As I’ve mentioned a few times recently, our habit is to punch above our weight!)

But lately we’ve had some challenging conversations, born of COVID fatigue, about how we might do less with less. That concept is difficult for me, and I’ve preferred to reframe those conversations more along the lines of “what’s really important and what can we stop doing?”—the same questions that we should always be asking when thinking strategically.

SAA’s 5,800 members represent diverse interests and needs and preferences, and we have adjusted somewhat to the COVID world while attempting to maintain critical products and services and to continuously improve them. Like everyone else, we have had to make some business decisions that will suit many, but not all, members.

In keeping with SAA’s pre-pandemic “Go Green” initiative to reduce our carbon footprint and better steward financial and professional resources, the Fall/Winter 2020 issue of American Archivist will be the last print issue of the Journal. As a former journal managing editor, this breaks my heart, but it’s an inevitability to which we must adjust. The good news is that the journal has migrated to a new digital platform that includes many enhancements to the reading experience, including mobile-responsive web design, optional split screen reading, suggested articles based on browser history, and saved searches, alerts, and notifications. The new system also provides metrics for the number of downloads, shares, and citations—information that will help the Editorial Board as it shapes the journal going forward. Read about how to access issues.

Archival Outlook is on a similar path, though we’re phasing out print editions more slowly: The May/June, July/August, and September/October 2020 issues were digital only, and the November/December, January/February, and March/April 2021 issues will be available in both print and digital editions. As we explore more user-friendly digital platforms, we may well move the magazine to online-only.

SAA Education is now online only, but that doesn’t mean less in the way of offerings. In fact, it means more: More access—with no travel expense—to individual courses, to the new management track (including personnel, finance, facilities, and career management skills), and to the Digital Archives Specialist and A&D certificate programs and exams. View the on-demand webcast catalog at or check with education@archivists.org for information about upcoming courses.

You’ll note in the Call for Proposals for ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2021 that, although the SAA Council is hopeful that some aspects of the conference may be conducted in person at the Hilton Anaheim, the Program Committee “is issuing this call for proposals for sessions to be presented virtually.” The majority of sessions will be pre-recorded. With more time to plan and more opportunity to entice attendees, we hope to build an even better virtual conference in the coming year. Please submit your proposal by January 13!

And in the meantime:

SAA’s dynamic Membership Committee will soon be rolling out a virtual career center that offers key services year-round, not just at the Annual Meeting. And the Mentoring Program is undergoing some refinements that will make it even more responsive to individual needs.

The Finance Committee is collecting data and perspectives on SAA’s dues structure and fee schedule in preparation for a Council discussion about membership dues in January. Thanks to the more than 1,300 individuals who responded to our dues survey!

The Committee on Research, Data, and Assessment is putting the final touches on a memorandum of agreement with the Odum Institute to host the SAA Dataverse; establishing policies for collection scope, technical requirements, access procedures, and copyright and privacy limitations for the data repository; creating a Facts & Figures microsite to serve as a portal for research and advocacy information for the profession; and planning a series of forums and workshops that will “demystify data analysis” for archivists.

A*CENSUS II, our IMLS-funded comprehensive survey of archivists and institutions, gets underway in earnest when the ten-person working group convenes with our partners at Ithaka S+R in January to begin survey development.

And the SAA Foundation continues both its fundraising efforts (watch for the “Archivists Are Up For Any Challenge!” annual appeal messages) and its financial support for Strategic Growth Fund grant projects, the Archival Workers Emergency Fund, the Mosaic Scholarship, and the Annual Meeting travel awards. We appreciate your support of the Foundation.

Doing less with less? I’m not sure that’s in SAA’s DNA. But if you have ideas about what we can stop doing, please share them with me at nbeaumont@archivists.org.

State of the Association, FY 2020

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.

Good afternoon, everyone.

Like all of you, I practice a profession that is not broadly understood. My profession is association management. My professional association, the American Society of Association Executives, has 46,000 members. My profession has a body of knowledge and best practices. It has areas of specialization – like Finance and Administration, Education, Publishing, Government Relations, and Governance. It has a certification process; I became a Certified Association Executive in 1993.

Like archives management, association management requires much more than standard operating procedures and manuals. It’s guided by principles and best practices, and it thrives with strategic thinking, understanding the marketplace, fostering engagement, bench-marking, knowledge-based decision-making balanced with creative thinking. As they say, it’s an art and a science.

Associations also differ from other types of organizations. They are made up of people who come together—voluntarily—to solve common problems, meet common needs, and accomplish common goals. What’s unique about associations is that their members are the owners, the customers, and the workforce of the organization.

Common sense tells us that associations thrive when many voices are heard. My experience—and that of many of my association management colleagues—tells me that the partnership between member-volunteers and paid professional staff is the secret sauce that makes or breaks associations. 

In my “State of the Association” remarks in past years, I’ve typically reviewed long lists of accomplishments. Today I will share a shorter list – along with a promise to provide a more detailed report in a future Archival Outlook column. (Treasurer Amy Fitch will give you a nice overview of our FY 2020 financials in a few minutes.)

For many years, SAA’s member-volunteers and staff have punched above our weight. Here are a few examples of that in the past year.

I know of no other professional association of our size, or even close to it, that produced seven new books in a year—books ranging from our first-ever consumer publication in Creating Family Archives, to three volumes in the Archival Fundamentals series, two books of essays in honor of thought leaders in the profession, to A Matter of Facts, our first venture in the new Archival Futures series published in collaboration with ALA.  

Publications Editor Chris Prom, with the Publications Board, our authors, and two staff members (Teresa and Abigail), made it happen. Chris’s 6-year tenure was remarkably productive for SAA.  And we were delighted to welcome Stacie Williams as SAA’s new Publications Editor as of April 1. She has a busy year ahead, as we have seven more books slated for publication!

In all, more than 280 members contributed content to SAA publications in FY 2020, including those books as well as articles in American Archivist and Archival Outlook, the Journal Reviews Portal, and cases in our seven open-access Case Studies series.

Another example of punching above our weight comes from our Education program. We started the year with an enthusiastic Committee on Education and DAS Subcommittee, some seasoned and some new instructors, an ambitious schedule of in-person courses, a dream to launch the much-needed and long-awaited Management Track, and three staff in our Education Department (Rana, Akila, and Taylor).

By December, several in-person courses were cancelled due to low registrations. But we had applied for grants from the SAA Foundation and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission for development of Management courses, and things were looking okay.

By March 16, we were down to 2.5 staff members and had to re-tool existing courses for online, AND launch several free webcasts to help members during the pandemic, AND continue with Management Track development (because both grant proposals came through!).  From April to June, we offered 11 online courses with 384 attendees. During the same period, 1,727 archivists attended a free or paid SAA webcast, including those on Best Practices for Team Management in a Crisis, Financial Planning in Uncertain Times, and Salary Negotiation 101.

We are now just 1.75 Education staff (Rana plus Akila in a consultant role), with no plans to fill Taylor’s position. And we are now fully committed to online education. I suppose that if there is a silver lining to this pandemic, it may be that we had to rip off the BandAid. Professional development at SAA will now be more affordable and accessible than ever before.

The Archival Workers Emergency Fund is a favorite example of the volunteer/staff partnership this year. You’ve heard the story:  A committed group of members brought to the SAA Foundation Board an idea to establish a fund to support archives workers who were unemployed or precariously employed due to the pandemic.  Amy, Peter, Felicia, and I worked with the group to develop a proposal for the Foundation Board’s consideration. The Board enthusiastically supported creating the fund and provided $15,000 in seed money to establish it.  The review group was established. Turns out that part was easy.

The hard part was developing a rubric for evaluating applications, promoting both the availability of the fund and donations to it, compiling applications, doing the emotionally challenging labor of evaluating them weekly, and then figuring out how to get funds into the hands of individuals experiencing precarity—all in the midst of a pandemic.

I logged the first message from lead organizers Jessica Chapel and Lydia Tang on Saturday, March 21. The fund launched on April 15. To date, some 840 donors have contributed more than $107,000 to assist 144 of their colleagues at a difficult time. That’s just plain awesome! 

It pretty much does take a village, in this case the ad hoc organizing group, the review group, Felicia and Peter—and, of course, our many generous donors.

To the extent possible, we made a lot of strategic decisions after the pandemic struck:

  • We temporarily lifted the embargo on the six most recent issues of American Archivist, through August 15.

  • We went green with American Archivist and Archival Outlook. We’ve been promoting online-only access as a conservation matter, but then made a business decision not to mail periodicals to addresses that were closed during the pandemic.  Archival Outlook will be digital-only through at least the September/October issue, and we will be phasing out print entirely by June 2021.

  • We’re eagerly awaiting a major upgrade to the journal’s online platform, and we’re looking at alternatives for a more interactive platform for Archival Outlook.
  • Speaking of the Journal, we also conducted a search for its next Editor while under quarantine.  An announcement will be forthcoming soon.  But I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Cal Lee for his work as American Archivist editor as he completes his three-year term this December. Two statistics of particular interest, I think, are that journal submissions have increased significantly during Cal’s tenure, and 138 additional people volunteered to serve as peer reviewers in response to Cal’s invitation in September.
  • The gorgeous new Dictionary of Archives Terminology went live in April and already is one of the most trafficked areas of the SAA website. You’ll be hearing a bit more about the Dictionary Working Group today.

  • On April 11 we submitted an IMLS grant proposal for conduct of A*CENSUS II—and on July 23 we learned that we got it! $249,500. Work begins on September 1—and that, too, will take a village! 
  • We appreciated your patience—and that of the 2020 Program and Host committees, some 350 speakers, and our industry partners—as we negotiated a release from our Hilton Hotel contract, issued an RFP for tech vendors, and retooled the Joint Annual Meeting for a virtual environment, with an eye to giving all accepted sessions an opportunity to participate and to meeting the needs of our 46 sections and 16 appointed groups. We were able to make the square peg fit in a round hole this time.  Going forward, however, we really must rethink the conference in light of the likelihood of a fully virtual or at least hybrid annual meeting.  But first – let’s get through this one!

We’re grateful to several industry partners and the SAA Foundation for making it possible to reduce conference registration fees significantly. Keep in mind that, although we might not be enjoying $130-a-gallon hotel coffee (thank goodness), virtual conference technology platforms are certainly not free. As of an hour ago, we have 2,470 registrants for this meeting, the second highest attendance in SAA’s history. There were 2,488 attendees at the 2018 Joint Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, but we’re likely to beat that number before this virtual conference is over.

Gosh, I promised you just a few examples of the member/staff partnership at work—and here I’ve gone on and on….and haven’t even mentioned the three Council listening forums that have been conducted since June (the Community Reflection on Black Lives and Archives, the Investing in Your Membership Forum, and the Diversity Committee-led Black Lives and Archives Listening/Strategy Session). Stay tuned for more of these opportunities in the coming year.

And now, I’d like to share a few reflections.

On display in a corner of my office are some artifacts that mean a lot to me. There’s the bottle of The Archivist wine, a gift from an archivist friend. (It’s getting a little long in the tooth at this point.)  There’s “We Believe in Miracles,” a gift from my journal editor at the American Physical Therapy Association.  I learned there that it’s not about the big, earth-shuddering miracles, but the small ones—those good things that come from thinking big, planning well, surrounding yourself with good people, working hard, and, yes, having some good luck and fun along the way. And there’s the print, which says “Most people don’t know that there are angels whose only job is to make sure you don’t get too comfortable… and fall asleep… and miss your life.”  That’s my reminder that, in this line of business, those angels are our members….

As I’ve informed the staff and the Council, I do not intend to seek a renewal or extension of my current employment contract, which ends on June 30, 2021. I want to make space for someone who will see SAA through its next phase of development. And I need to make space in my life for the many other things that I would like to do. And so this is my last opportunity to provide a “State of the Association.”

SAA punches above its weight. Its volunteers certainly do. I could give you many more examples—but I’ll use this opportunity to call out the 2017-2020 “class” of the SAA Council:  Steven Booth, Brenda Gunn, Audra Eagle Yun, and Meredith Evans. As a class they seemed to have a unique bond. As a class they were supremely creative, initiating work, doing work, taking on any project thrown their way and acing it. As individuals, they are simply remarkable.  And, of course, Meredith—as I’ve often said to her—is a force of nature. Thank you to these wonderful individuals for their many contributions to SAA and the archives profession.

SAA punches above its weight. And so does its staff:  Matt Black. Teresa Brinati. Peter Carlson. Abigail Christian. Felicia Owens. Akila Ruffin. Carlos Salgado. Rana Salzmann. Michael Santiago. Lakesha Thaddis.

To the SAA staff:  You’ve been a joy and an inspiration to me. The lessons I’ve learned from you have everything to do with intentionality, empathy, kindness, and grace….  I hope I get to see you in person sometime soon—we have a conference to celebrate!

It has been my privilege to serve as Executive Director of SAA. Be assured that I will always be an Archives Advocate. Please be safe; be well. Thank you, all.

Zooming

This article originally appeared as the Executive Director’s Message in the May/June 2020 issue of Archival Outlook, available soon.

Zoom is our new and ubiquitous reality. We use it daily—some days, hourly—to connect as a staff, to facilitate the work of SAA groups, and to provide free webcasts. But SAA has been “zooming” in more ways than one since our world and work changed in early March. To wit:

March 10: As COVID-19 interrupted the best-laid plans of SAA’s Committee on Education and staff, the team—and our super-hero instructors—pivoted quickly to convert nine in-person courses to online and craft three free webcasts in response to the pandemic: Suddenly Working at Home: Best Practices for Team Management in Crisis (March 30), Financial Planning in Uncertain Times (May 6), and Managing Your Career in Crisis (June 10). All online courses are available on demand.

March 18: The SAA Council created a “Pandemic Response Resources” page that compiles resources created by SAA groups, external groups, funding agencies, and others on coping with the pandemic. Submit your ideas for resources to saahq@ archivists.org.

April 1: We were delighted to welcome Stacie Williams (University of Chicago) to the position of Publications Editor. Stacie inherits a long list of works in progress, including six titles that are due out this summer. Watch for announcements about Advancing Preservation for Archives and Manuscripts, Reference and Access for Archives and Manuscripts, Engagement in the Digital Era, Making Tools Work For You, and more.

April 1: SAA’s “Go Green” initiative invites you to opt out of the print version of American Archivist and Archival Outlook to help SAA reduce both costs and climate impact. To make the switch, log in to your SAA profile, click “Edit My Profile,” scroll to “Communications and Mailing Preference,” and click “opt out” of the journal and/or magazine. You’ll enjoy the same great content—now a little greener and in the format you prefer.

April 12: We submitted a grant proposal to the Institute of Museum and Library Services for conduct of A*CENSUS II, a comprehensive survey of archivists and archival institutions that will enhance our understanding of the profession’s demographics, work patterns, and practices. Fingers crossed for an award letter in late July!

April 15: The SAA Foundation announced the Archival Workers Emergency Fund, an idea originating with an ad hoc working group led by Jessica Chapel and Lydia Tang that clearly resonated with the archives community. To date, the AWEF Review Committee has awarded 106 applicants a total of $92,300 from the donations of more than 580 individuals and $15,000 in SAAF seed funding. We are blown away by your generosity….  Read more, apply, or donate here.

April 23: The SAA Council’s Archival Compensation Task Force began its daunting two-year assignment under the leadership of SAA member Greta Pittenger (National Public Radio) to identify compensation-related issues, including benefits, salary negotiations, and working conditions; study compensation using existing and new data; survey SAA members; and explore creation of a standing body to advocate on behalf of archivists with O-Net, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and others. (See SAA’s Strategic Plan 2020–2022, Goal 2.1.H.)

April 29: The Dictionary Working Group did it! With hundreds of new items, thousands of citations from more than 600 sources, and a brand-new online platform, the Dictionary of Archives Terminology  premiered. DAT is a work in progress; updates are made weekly as new terms are defined and existing terms are revised. Your feedback and suggestions for new terms will help shape the lexicon.

May 5: Weeks of soul-searching and hotel negotiations ended with our announcement that ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2020: Creating Our Future is going virtual! Program development and logistics for our annual three-ring circus are complicated, but pale in comparison to deconstructing and retooling for a different environment. We’re learning from others’ experiences (via many Zoom meetings) every day. Be assured that we hear your concerns about slashed professional development budgets and furloughs and we’re exploring ways to keep registration fees as low as possible while also providing a great conference experience for you.

May 13: Members of the Committee on Public Awareness researched and drafted “Archivists Rally to Document COVID-19,” a release that we issued nationwide via wire services. Watch for articles in your local media, and use every opportunity to reinforce that archives and archivists are essential!

By June 17: As every spring, we’re working on the budget. The FY21 Budget that the Council discusses will be very different— less detailed—than in past years as we ponder a few broad scenarios for the impact of COVID-19 on virtually all of SAA’s programs. I expect we’ll hope for the best but plan for something less. . . . Like you, SAA faces some challenging financial times ahead.

My apparently unshakeable habit of awakening to NPR reinforces the surreality of these times every morning. And so I look for something to calm me before sleep. My friend Abbi has introduced me to a whole new world of artists, writers, photographers, musicians, and (even) YouTubers via her lovely online weekly “Joy in the Time of Corona.” She reminds me that even though we all seem to be busier and more stressed than ever . . . there is time and space for joy

Be safe, be well, be kind.

The Art of Gathering

Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters (Riverhead Books, 2018) and founder of Thrive Labs, “helps activists, elected officials, corporate executives, educators, and philanthropists create transformative gatherings.” I’ve been making my way through her book for several months now, egged on by the notion of a “transformative gathering”—especially for a conference whose theme is “Transformative!”—and heartened that so much of what we’ve discussed and implemented aligns with her wisdom.

But she has also expanded my way of thinking about SAA conferences with her concept of generous authority:  “A gathering run on generous authority is run with a strong, confident hand, but it is run selflessly, for the sake of others…. When I tell you to host with generous authority, I’m not telling you to domineer. I’m saying to find the courage to be authoritative in the service of three goals”—protect your guests, equalize your guests, and connect your guests. 

See my column in the March/April issue of Archival Outlook (page 24) for many of the steps we’re taking to ensure that those goals are met at ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2019 in Austin. 

In addition, we’re plunging into live streaming in an attempt to connect with those who aren’t able to attend the Austin meeting, whether due to travel bans (as for California state employees) or other constraints (usually financial) that affect folks around the country. Our grand experiment this year is to live stream 18 education sessions and the two plenaries so that non-attendees may participate in real time with the conference. Why 18 sessions? Because live streaming is (still) really expensive (at $5,500 per room per day), and we decided to capture the two sessions across nine time slots that the Program Committee thinks will attract the most attendees. The sessions will not be interactive virtually; we encourage you to use Twitter to share thoughts and ask questions. (Use #SAA19 plus the session number, such as #101. We’ve asked the session chairs to designate someone in the live-streamed sessions who will follow Twitter and pose questions to the speakers.)

We’ll be packaging the live-stream option with on-demand (after-the-fact) access to the live-streamed videos plus audio recordings and dynamic screen (slide) capture of all education sessions and (for the first time) SAA section meetings. There are many technical details to be worked out, but watch the SAA and conference websites for announcements about the package. It will be available to non-attendee members for around $99—and to all conference registrants as part of their registration fee.

Never ones to let grass grow under our feet, watch the SAA website for the Call for Proposals for “Creating Our Future”—the next big gathering of CoSA and SAA at our 2020 Joint Annual Meeting in Chicago.

Enforcing SAA’s Code of Conduct

By Nancy Beaumont, SAA Executive Director

Like many professional associations, SAA has a Code of Conduct that applies to all SAA-sponsored events, online spaces, and formal mentoring relationships.

Development of a Code was proposed by SAA members Rebecca Goldman and Mark Matienzo in January 2014. Council members Terry Baxter and Lisa Mangiafico were appointed to work with Goldman, Matienzo, and me to prepare a draft for Council discussion. From the May 2014 discussion document:

“The ability of SAA members to participate fully in the various events and forums that SAA hosts is a key component in the Society’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Members who feel unwelcome, unsafe, constrained, or silenced are not able to participate fully….

“The proposed policy is not intended to solve all problems nor will it guarantee a harassment-free environment…. What it does attempt to do is let our members know that SAA is creating a culture of concern, a place where members can participate freely in professional and social interaction knowing that harassment is not part of that culture and will be opposed by all members of the SAA community….”

Following a member comment period, the Council revised the document to address a major consideration:  Who would enforce it? The 477-word Code of Conduct that was approved in July 2014 refers to the Executive Director seven times. The rationale for this decision was simple:  The Executive Director, as the chief staff officer, provides continuity over time, has a broad reach to confer with others, and presumably has (i.e., had better have!) the administrative “chops” to be able and willing to enforce the Code:  To investigate, determine a course of action, and deliver a direct message to a Code violator.

The Code provides simple instructions for reaching me to report a Code violation—and it provides recourse if my action is deemed inappropriate:  “Persons who have been expelled or denied access may appeal to the SAA Executive Committee.”

Beyond my Council-directed assignment, it is critically important to me—professionally and personally—that SAA provides an environment that is welcoming to individuals and that does not “constrain scholarly or professional presentation, discourse, or debate, as long as these exchanges are conducted in a respectful manner.”

In my 15-year tenure with SAA, I have addressed inappropriate behaviors a handful of times.  In some cases, the right action was clear:

  • When an SAA staff member complained to me about improper comments made to her by an SAA leader, I addressed the complaint directly with the leader and was assured that there would be no further incidents. There weren’t.
  • When an anti-transgender and gender nonconforming flyer appeared in our registration area at the 2016 Annual Meeting, I worked with the hotel to review security videotapes and interview hotel staff to try to determine who had committed this despicable act. (Unfortunately we never learned who did it.) The Council took up the issue on site at the conference and soon thereafter issued a powerful statement about the incident.

In other cases—particularly those involving interaction on an SAA discussion list or during a conference session—the appropriate action has been less clear. Why? Because one important purpose of those tools is to provide a place for professional discourse and debate. The challenge comes with determining whether “these exchanges are conducted in a respectful manner.” This can be a gray area, and the process is made more challenging when I’m not told immediately so that I can gather perspectives on site.

At the 2018 Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, an audience member in an education session asked a question that at least several audience members thought was transphobic. I learned of the incident at the Saturday morning Council meeting, when a Council member brought it forward as something that she had heard about from others. SAA President Meredith Evans and I agreed to investigate.

During the following week:  I contacted the commenter by phone to discuss the incident and we subsequently had two email exchanges. Meredith spoke with both the session speaker and the commenter. I obtained the audio recording from our provider and Meredith and I listened to the session.  We agreed that the commenter had not intended to offend (although we understand that that is often the case!). And we agreed (as did the presenter) that beyond his attention-grabbing language, his question, in context, had merit. According to both, the presenter and commenter had an engaging professional exchange after the session ended.

Going forward, SAA will provide online training for conference speakers and course instructors about a host of issues, including slide design, time management, and how to handle challenging questions or disruptions during a session. The Code of Conduct will be even more visible throughout future conferences and events.

Please read SAA’s Code of Conduct.  If you experience or witness harassment in any SAA “space” and would prefer not to address it directly, please take your concerns and complaints not to Twitter, but to me. Reach me at nbeaumont@archivists.org or 866-722-7858, ext. 12.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www2.archivists.org/statements/saa-code-of-conduct

[2] https://www2.archivists.org/sites/all/files/0514-VI-A-CodeofConduct.pdf

[3] https://www2.archivists.org/news/2016/message-from-the-saa-council-2016-annual-meeting-incident