Author Archives: Rachel Vagts

Celebrating Change

This article originally appeared as the President’s Message in the July/August 2021 issue of Archival Outlook.

When I was asked to run for SAA president/vice president-elect in early 2019, I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect the year and a half that we’ve had! With a public health crisis, significant social and political unrest, extreme budget uncertainty, and oh, yes, a transition in our staff leadership. It has been a steep learning curve, but I’m very proud of how you—SAA’s members—have pivoted and supported our organization. I’m just sorry that we won’t be together in person in August to celebrate. But, we’ll do it next year in Boston!

With all these transitions and changes, I am excited for SAA’s next chapter. As we announced in June, the Council has appointed Jacqualine Price Osafo as SAA’s next executive director. As much as I like to say that we are the Society OF American Archivists, not FOR, the SAA staff is an absolutely critical element in our ability to support and advocate for our profession. The executive director provides not only critical leadership to staff, but also essential support and guidance for the SAA Council and its officers.

Beyond SAA, there are transitions happening in our work lives as well. Many of us are returning to work in our repositories, libraries, and offices. For some of us, that transition has meant pulling out old wardrobes; for others it has meant buying a new one. It also means seeing our customers and researchers for the first time, knowing that they are undergoing transitions as well. In early June, SAA hosted a forum on “Reopening Archives Safely” to share experiences and address questions and concerns that people may have. (Watch a recording of this event at Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, SAA has focused on supporting the evolving needs of members as they adapt to change.

Finally, my thanks to the members of the SAA Executive Director Search Committee for their hard work in selecting a final candidate, to the Council and Executive Committee for their flexibility and good sense, to the SAA staff for being nimble and resilient, and to Nancy Beaumont for being a great mentor, friend, and fellow small dog lover. You have all made my time in this leadership role rewarding, and I’m grateful for your help in carrying some of the burden of leadership. I appreciate you all, SAA members, for your fellowship and for trusting me in this position. And I appreciate the Special Collections folks at the Denver Public Library for their patience and understanding each time I’ve said “and then I have an SAA meeting!” It has been my pleasure and my honor to serve. For now, you can reach me at

Incorporating DEIA and Archival Compensation Recommendations in SAA

This article originally appeared as the President’s Message in the May/June 2021 issue of Archival Outlook.

At its March virtual meeting, much of the SAA Council’s agenda was related to the Society’s ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and access (DEIA). Addressing diversity issues and moving intentionally to a culture of inclu­sion has been a part of SAA’s Strategic Plan for many years, and in recent years we have moved this work to our highest priority.

Now embedded in SAA’s Strategic Plan “dashboard” (a detailed view of specific activities to address our goals) is a charge to the Council’s Internal Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion to draft a work plan for incorporating DEIA and cultural competency into all aspects of SAA’s work, taking into account SAA’s Strategic Plan 2020–2022 and informed by existing goals and strategies developed by component groups. The action-oriented plan will be comprehensive in considering the breadth of SAA’s programs, including membership, staffing, and governance and leadership structures. Due on May 31, the plan will outline a multiyear approach to expanding SAA’s resources with the use of external experts and facilitators; meeting the education and training needs of SAA leaders, members, and staff; and developing internal resources for future leaders. I am grateful to Council member Meg Tuomala for her willingness to chair this group and see its daunting task to completion so that we have a road map for the next several years.

Also during the Council’s March meeting, the Diversity Committee presented a fantastic report that compiled feedback and significant recommendations following last summer’s well-attended Black Lives and Archives forums. The report includes recommendations in four areas that have an impact on the people who work in our profession and the practice of archives:

  • recruitment and retention,
  • structural barriers within SAA,
  • DEI training and education for archives workers, and
  • archival practice.

I encourage you to read the full report and recommendations. This report arrived at just the right time to inform and influence the Council’s work plan.

The Diversity Committee’s recommenda­tions align with the work of SAA’s Archival Compensation Task Force, which seeks to require salary reporting in postings on the SAA job board and to propose recom­mendations regarding contingent labor. The complexity of issues surrounding fair compensation and the ongoing impact of the ever-increasing number of contingent labor positions remains a concern for the SAA Council, many SAA members, and me.

Determining how best to address the issues of salary transparency and equity is a challenging proposition in our profession. Many of us currently work or have worked for organizations that simply refuse to share salary information publicly. Some of our colleagues have had success in advocating with their employers to reverse that policy. Will requiring salary information on all job board postings hasten that organizational change or will it disenfranchise a segment of our profession from recruiting among our members? We don’t have the answer to that question yet, but please know that the Council has been engaging in a robust discussion and we welcome members’ input. As always, you can reach me at

The Search for SAA’s Next Executive Director Begins

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

It’s with bittersweetness that I share that our long-serving executive director, Nancy Beaumont, will step down from her position once a successor has joined the association. During her eighteen-year tenure, Nancy has guided us through periods of both growth and challenge. She will be greatly missed, as she has become a friend to so many of us during her tenure.

We’re fortunate that Nancy is leaving us in a strong position to recruit a successor. The task won’t be easy, but we have a compelling and important story to tell as we seek candidates to fill the role.

The SAA Council has formed a search committee to oversee the process of selecting a new executive director and we have retained an executive search firm, Vetted Solutions, to coordinate the search.

The search committee comprises the following members:

  • Courtney Chartier (SAA vice president/president-elect and head of Research Services, Emory University)
  • Eric Chin (SAA Council member and senior archivist, NBCUniversal)
  • Stephen Curley (SAA Council member and digital archivist, National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition)
  • Derek Mosley (SAA Council member and archivist/division manager, Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History, Atlanta-Fulton Public Library)
  • Christopher Prom (associate dean and associate university librarian for Digital Strategies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
  • Rachel Vagts (Chair, SAA president and manager of Special Collections and Digital Archives, Denver Public Library)
  • JoyEllen Williams (SAA Foundation Board member and special collections curator, Kennesaw State University)

This is an incredible group of dedicated and passionate members who are committed to ensuring a thorough search process that will result in an experienced next executive director for SAA. The SAA Council recognizes the critical importance of this position to the long-term health of the organization, and we are well prepared for this transition.

Transparency is important to the Council and to the Search Committee—we will keep you updated on the progress of the search through announcements on the SAA website, In the Loop e-newsletter, Off the Record blog, and other online communications channels.

We hope to introduce members to the new executive director at SAA’s Annual Meeting in August!

The Value of Mentorships

Lately I’ve been thinking about how much my career in archives has been strengthened by leaders I’ve learned from—and the opportunities I’ve had to work with those newer to the field. In September, the archives profession lost a great leader and champion of our profession, Dr. David B. Gracy II. An enthusiastic supporter of all things archives, Dr. Gracy was a teacher and mentor to many of us in the profession. It was my pleasure to witness that mentorship during the four years he joined us at the Archives Leadership Institute. I feel very lucky to have had those opportunities to catch his enthusiasm for archival work and to truly appreciate what it means to go “into the breach!”

Mentorship has long been a part of the archival profession. SAA has had a formal mentorship program for more than 25 years but, for many of us, mentors have come through both formal and informal routes. I have been fortunate to have had great mentors during graduate school and throughout my career. People like Rick Pifer, a professor and my boss at the Wisconsin Historical Society, helped me understand how critical professional organizations like SAA would be as I was developing a network of colleagues. When I moved to my first permanent job in northeast Iowa, Tanya Zanish-Belcher and Kären Mason were essential as I found my way as a new archivist working as a solo arranger.

These relationships have been incredibly important to me as I grow and develop in the field. When I hired my first project archivist, Sasha Griffin, I’m not sure that I was as much mentor to her as she was to me—she provided me with crucial feedback as I learned how to be a manager and to work collaboratively with another archivist. These relationships require a certain level of vulnerability—and definitely of mutual trust!

Most recently, I’ve had the opportunity to engage with three archival studies students. I’ve participated in interviews with students in the programs at the University of Denver, University of Maryland, and San José State University. From their perspective, the exchange is part of their education, but it’s also rewarding for me to develop connections with the newest people in our profession. I enjoy learning about why they are considering a career in archives and what draws them to our work—as well as what challenges and concerns them.

I would love to see more SAA members connecting with our Mentoring Program. It’s an opportunity both to give back to our profession and to receive a significant benefit of your membership. For more information about SAA’s Mentoring Program.

In other news, SAA Executive Director Nancy Beaumont announced at the August Annual Membership Meeting and in her column in the last issue of Archival Outlook that she will not be seeking to renew her contract when it ends in June 2021. Please note that we have begun to develop plans for the search for a new executive director. I will share more information about that process as it develops, via this column and the President’s Off the Record blog.

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?