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Council Statement on SAA 2020 Election

SAA’s 2020 election has presented some new and unique challenges for our organization.

SAA is uniquely democratic among professional organizations in that the Nominating Committee, as well as the governing Council and its officers, are elected by the general membership. In many organizations, candidates are slated by the executive committee or the board and/or individuals are elected to the board and officer positions by the board. We are gratified that our election process allows for greater input by the general membership.

The Nominating Committee members, who were elected by the general membership to develop a slate of candidates for this election, did just that. They followed all the guidance provided to them in the Nominating Committee Procedures, Calendar of Duties, and other documents that have been developed and refined over time. The slate was published on December 9, 2019.

A group of SAA members exercised their right to put forth a petition, per the SAA Bylaws (Section 5.C.), to add to the slate a candidate for Vice President/President-Elect. The SAA office received the petition, signed by 52 SAA members, on January 10, 2020. Although this avenue has not been used before, it has been a part of our bylaws since the 1970s. If you have questions about the motivation for the petition, we suggest that you contact those who filed the petition.

We affirm that this election is being conducted legitimately, according to established procedures and without tampering or intervention from elected members or the SAA staff.

We recognize that this situation has caused hurt and created tension among some of our members. It has led us to reflect on the election process, and particularly on the role of petitions in that process. We will be reviewing the bylaws this spring and may bring forward amended language. In addition, we are planning a listening session during the 2020 Joint Annual Meeting as one means of hearing your perspectives. In all our discussions, we will keep in mind SAA’s ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion; our respect for the democratic process; and the growth in our membership since the 1970s.

The SAA Council remains committed to a democratic and transparent election. We thank the Nominating Committee for their work and the candidates for their willingness to stand for election. And we encourage all SAA members to vote!

The SAA Council
February 5, 2020

American Archivist Editorial Board Responds to Article Controversy: Listening, Learning, and Building a Stronger, More Inclusive SAA

We offer a sincere apology to SAA members and our readership for how the Brown Bag Lunch event during Archives*Records 2019 and pre-publication of Frank Boles’ article unfolded last August, and for any ways in which those actions have alienated members or marginalized their work. These events have affected many people, in various ways, and we believe that it is important to acknowledge and recognize that hurt and pain. Most importantly, the conversations around these issues revealed that there is a lot of work to accomplish to ensure that American Archivist is a journal to which ALL people want to contribute and all will want to read.

After careful consideration and robust discussions during a meeting of the Editorial Board in Chicago in October, we identified areas in which we can strengthen our internal processes, particularly in our editorial policy and in the Brown Bag Lunch article selection process. These processes contributed both to the decision to accept the paper, and to its selection for the Brown Bag Lunch discussion. That said, we also want to underscore that the Editor followed those processes at the time the submission was reviewed and that he has acted according to current editorial policy and SAA governance throughout this challenging situation. We are working together to implement stronger processes and to ensure that the article is published in a manner that allows the journal and this important discussion to move forward to a more productive and inclusive place.

Many Editorial Board members do not feel that the article merits space in the journal. Yet we also recognize that it was evaluated through a double-blind peer-review process, and the article was accepted for publication by the Editor as the result of that process.  While people disagree with that publication decision, we also recognize that undoing it would have unanticipated and possibly deleterious secondary effects on American Archivist and the Society. We have listened to the concerns of a wide range of stakeholders and, in concert with the Editor, are taking this opportunity to examine, revise and improve the editorial policy, rubrics, and peer review processes. One resulting change in peer evaluation will be the addition of language in the editorial policy that requires accepted articles to align with SAA’s Core Values.

The Brown Bag Lunch article selection is another process that we are changing as a result of discussion and member feedback. Going forward, the selection will be drawn from all articles published in the previous two issues of American Archivist. Prior to the Annual Meeting, SAA members will have the ability to vote online for an article to discuss at the Brown Bag Lunch. This mirrors the process used to select Pop-Up sessions for the conference, and is meant to reflect current interests in the recent literature.

Diversity and social responsibility represent two of SAA’s Core Values, but these past few months have demonstrated to the Editorial Board that we have a lot of work to do in promoting and embodying these values in the journal and in this community. To do this effectively, we must better understand and confront structural power and issues of privilege that continue to perpetuate inequality in our profession, while recognizing that the controversy over Boles’ article reflects deeper tensions in society. As we continue this work, we plan to collaborate with other SAA groups, such as the Diversity Committee and SAA Council, in the spirit of transparent dialogue and intentional change. It is our hope that by working together with other groups, we can foster open, honest, and empathetic conversations between archivists regarding core values and ethics, as well as help to develop and support methods to constructively resolve conflicts when they arise.

There has been much discussion and debate about the forthcoming publication of this article in the Fall/Winter 2019 American Archivist. We expect and encourage the conversation around this article to continue, but also know that it raises the possibility of additional discomfort or hurt. The Editorial Board has established an email address for readers to directly communicate any feedback about our planned next steps: editorialboard@archivists.org. We are listening.

In the spirit of transparency, we will continue to share our progress and ask for constructive feedback. Our goal is to promote thoughtful, shared, and respectful discussions and debates within the archival profession. As Editor Cal Lee has stated in his Off the Record blog post, we also hope that readers continue to respond to the article, whether in the form of articles, as letters to the editor, or in other forums. We hope that our colleagues will share with us the journey of building a stronger and more inclusive American Archivist and SAA.

The American Archivist Editorial Board

A Difficult Decision

by Michelle Light, SAA Vice President / President-Elect

Dear Members of the Society of American Archivists,

Recently I accepted an incredible opportunity to serve as the Director of the Special Collections Directorate at the Library of Congress beginning May 28, 2019. I’ll lead seven organizational units responsible for the Library’s unparalleled collections of unique or rare, unpublished and published items: the Geography and Map Division, Manuscript Division, Music Division, Prints and Photographs Division, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, and the American Folklife Center, including the Veterans History Project. The Library’s most recent user-centered strategic plan for 2019-2023 lays out an exciting roadmap for engaging more users, and its digital strategy describes plans for growing its online collections, strengthening its digital stewardship, supporting evolving forms of research, and connecting with more users online. I look forward to helping the Library “throw open the treasure chest.”

To best serve the Library and the Society of American Archivists (SAA), however, I must unfortunately resign from serving as SAA Vice President / President-Elect on May 15. Holding prominent leadership roles at both the Library and SAA could create conflicts of interest and confusion as to the capacity in which I am acting at any given time. I especially would not want people to think that I might be using my position as SAA President to influence Congress. The Library is a legislative agency that includes the Copyright Office and the Congressional Research Service, which provides nonpartisan services to the Congress. As a high-level member of Library management, I could not participate in SAA’s growing advocacy on a variety of public policy or copyright matters. Frequent and high-profile recusals, even if effective, would weaken the role of SAA President.

Advocacy on behalf of archives and archivists is core to SAA’s mission. SAA’s public policy agenda and position statements reveal how SAA takes a stand on a variety of governmental issues. SAA advocates for public policies that ensure that archival records are preserved and made accessible as a foundation for our democracy and cultural heritage. As SAA’s public policy agenda explains, “SAA is committed to supporting policies that will ensure the protection of privacy and individual rights; ensure the transparency and accountability of government at all levels; guarantee the administrative continuity necessary for good governance; make accessible evidence of the diverse and complex elements of the human experience; and preserve historical documentation for future generations.” In the past few years, for example, SAA has advocated for funding for federal grant programs for archives, made statements about improving the transparency of government and strengthening federal records programs, and commented on several aspects of copyright law and the functions of the Copyright Office. I recently participated in the first Archives on the Hill event, co-sponsored by SAA, CoSA, NAGARA, and RAAC, during which we visited members of Congress to advocate for funding for NHPRC, IMLS, and NEH, and to educate them about the importance of electronic records preservation. I am proud of the work of SAA’s Committee on Public Policy and the Intellectual Property Working Group to surface issues of concern for SAA action, and I believe their ongoing efforts are important for the profession.

SAA deserves an engaged president who will lead the organization in accomplishing its mission and goals in all areas, especially in strengthening its role in advocacy for archives and archivists. As a member of the SAA Council, I have served with several federal employees who were very careful to recuse themselves from any action having to do with the federal government. They were models for how to navigate the sometimes muddy waters of conflict of interest. Nonetheless, their positions in their agencies were different than mine, and I am mindful of the weight of authority and responsibility of my new position. For those who know how much I value SAA and all the ways in which it has supported my professional growth and development during the past two decades, you might fathom how painful it is for me to relinquish this incredible honor to serve and lead this organization. I plan to remain active in SAA in other ways in the future; I am co-authoring the next edition of Selecting and Appraising Archives and Manuscripts with Margery Sly, and I hope to volunteer again to advance SAA’s research and educational missions.

In order to ensure a smooth transition, the SAA Council has appointed Meredith Evans to complete my full term.

Thank you for your understanding. In my future role at the Library, I will strive to make a transformative impact on the stewardship of our nation’s cultural heritage, an impact that I hope you may someday appreciate. I regret that I had to make this choice, but as archivists it is imperative that we behave ethically and transparently to maintain the public’s trust in our essential services to society. SAA has several initiatives in store for the next three years that will strengthen archivists’ abilities to advocate for their value to their institutions and communities, and I’m confident that through the dedication of SAA leadership, staff, and members, SAA will continue to support your professional needs and aspirations.

Respectfully,

Michelle Light

Barriers to Participation Survey Report

Contributed by Kate Dundon and Matthew Gorzalski, Membership Committee

The SAA Membership Committee recently surveyed members about the barriers hindering participation in SAA.  We wanted to identify the issues affecting members’ engagement with the organization, and propose strategies to foster greater participation. The report is available on the SAA Membership Committee microsite. The survey returned 1,279 responses, or 21% of total SAA individual membership.  This blog post highlights some of the findings.

Slightly over half (52%) of respondents indicated that they’d like to be more involved in SAA.  When asked to choose from a list of barriers, respondents are most hindered by lack of financial support (58%) and lack of time (47%), followed by feelings of inexperience (28%) and uncertainty on how to become involved (22%).  Others (12%) noted unsuccessful attempts at appointment or election to a leadership position.

Comments from the free text response question revealed an interesting dichotomy of members’ perspective concerning SAA as an insular organization versus its efforts to engage membership in recent years. Many members experience feelings of intimidation and unwelcomeness that contribute to their hesitation to participate in SAA. These include: perception of cliquish leadership and membership; first-time annual meeting attendees intimidated by the size of the conference; low proportion of people of color in SAA; perception that SAA is dominated by the interests of academic archives; and the perception that the organization is dominated by liberal political views. On the other hand, others remarked that SAA has become significantly more engaging over time, particularly to younger members. One respondent stated, “New members have never had such opportunities for service.”

This survey has given us a better understanding of the complex barriers faced by members in participating in the organization. The Membership Committee compiled a list of suggestions for addressing these obstacles in our report, many of which were presented to us by survey respondents. Below is a small selection of the actions that we think would be the most impactful:

  • Continue to create more opportunities to participate virtually in order to mitigate geographic and financial barriers to participation. Consider live streaming annual meeting sessions, plenaries, and section and committee meetings. When feasible, provide recorded professional development workshops online for a fee.
  • Create a “Get Involved” section on the SAA website that clearly articulates the various paths toward involvement in committees, sections, etc., and centralizes information about all leadership positions. Open elected positions and committee appointments, with with estimated time commitments, could be posted to this centralized location.
  • Produce regular profiles of current SAA leaders or volunteers with a description of their path of service that led them to their current positions, perhaps in In the Loop or Archival Outlook. A respondent commented, “I think I’d have a clearer picture of how to start my own service with SAA if I saw examples of how others have done it.”

Do you have ideas about how to support engagement with SAA? Leave them in the comment section below!

Portland in 2017: Confronting “The Whitest City in America”

Contributed by Maija Anderson, Host Committee Chair.

Just a few days after I finished writing a cheerful Host Committee greeting for SAA’s on-site conference program, I heard the devastating news that three men had been stabbed – two of them fatally – by a white supremacist who was hurling racist invective at two young women of color. It all took place on a MAX light rail train near a busy transit center in Portland. My initial reaction was both shock and a familiar sorrow. Portland has a reputation as a progressive, prosperous city with a low violent crime rate. However, like anyone with even a passing knowledge of local history, I also registered the event as a frightening recurrence of racist violence, which is as much a part of Portland’s legacy as its rose gardens, bridges, and breweries.

The following week, the Host Committee recognized that some archivists were questioning whether Portland was a safe place to visit for the Annual Meeting. We saw calls for archivists to protect each other, and for SAA to issue an official statement, which was forthcoming. Initially, I felt defensive. Portland isn’t perfect – for example, I anticipated that colleagues who expected an urban utopia would be shocked by our highly visible houseless population – but I still thought of Portland as a safe city. At the same time, I felt the Host Committee should respond. All of us on the committee were well aware of Oregon’s history of white supremacy, and Portland’s status as “the whitest city in America.” Most of us on the committee are white women, and are aware that we have the privilege of feeling safe, and experiencing racially charged violence as a freak occurrence. We recognize the reality that women of color encounter disproportionately high rates of violence. We wanted to provide a safe and welcoming environment, and we were not in a position to tell our colleagues, especially our colleagues of color, that they have nothing to worry about.

Taking into account the reactions from our peers on social media, email lists, and via personal contact, we explored opportunities to respond. For a variety of reasons, we chose not to issue our own “official” statement in response to SAA’s. We agreed it would be more effective to focus on peer-to-peer communication and support.

Several of us independently came up with the idea of promoting Portland’s many cultural resources led by historically marginalized communities. We felt that national news coverage had inadequately represented communities who have demonstrated resistance and resilience in the face of white supremacy. Follow #saa17 on Twitter to learn about community-based cultural projects, institutions, and businesses in Portland. Consider coming to open houses at the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center and the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, where staff are generously opening their doors to attendees.

You can also expect the Host Committee to fully support SAA’s efforts, which will include “I’ll Walk With You” ribbons, active bystander resources, and more. Looking forward to the meeting, we welcome more feedback on how we, as your colleagues in Portland, can support you.

Transparency in SAA Advocacy Governance and How to Build for the Future

By Michelle Light and Tanya Zanish-Belcher

Dear All:

We have received several questions about how SAA makes statements, how the most recent statements came into being, and how SAA members might become more involved in initiating statements. We are glad to see so much interest and hope this post will answer some of these questions. This will be the first of several blog posts on SAA’s advocacy efforts. Look for information about how you can be involved coming shortly!

The SAA Council (or its Executive Committee, which includes the President) may take a position on an issue of importance to the profession or the association. The Council is SAA’s elected governing body. Other groups and sections within SAA are not empowered to take action in the name of SAA without specific prior authorization from the Council. (See the Governance Manual for more information.)

The Council has determined that SAA will voice a position, make a statement, or take other action only on issues that are related directly to archives and archival functions. Priority advocacy issues are outlined in SAA’s Public Policy Agenda. The Council limits action to archival issues because SAA represents a diverse group of members with multiple perspectives and because SAA does not have the resources to gather a consensus of membership on a wide range of issues. (See SAA’s Criteria for Advocacy Statements for more information.)

Recently the SAA Council issued the SAA Statement on Executive Order Restricting Entry into the United States by Individuals from Seven Muslim-Majority Countries. In this case, an SAA member requested on the SAA Leader listserv that the Council make a statement opposing the executive order. The member cited a situation in which her work colleague was negatively affected by the order.  After this initial call for action, other SAA members forwarded to the Council and/or the SAA Leader discussion list more examples of the negative impact of the executive order on individual archivists (because of their country of origin or immigrant status), on archival research, and on the free exchange of information and ideas. In addition, more than 75 SAA leaders of sections and other component groups emailed the SAA Leader listserv in support of the Council taking action.

Simultaneously, SAA was reviewing statements issued by allied organizations, such as the American Library Association (ALA), the Association for College and Research Libraries (ACRL), the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA), the Association for Research Libraries (ARL), the American Society for Information Science and Technology, and the American Historical Association (AHA).

After reviewing member comments and examples, consulting with the chair of the Committee on Public Policy, and reviewing the Council’s criteria for advocacy statements, a subgroup of Council members drafted a statement for the Council to discuss as an urgent matter. The Council vigorously debated making a statement. In the end, we decided it was in the best interests of our members to stand with our members who are facing discrimination or whose archival research is in jeopardy because of the executive order. The Council called attention to how the executive order is at odds with aspects of SAA’s Core Values of Archivists. After we discussed the proposed statement, it was revised and shared broadly. This statement is now available on the SAA website, along with our other position statements, statements, and issue briefs.

As part of this process, many individuals expressed an interest in participating in this kind of advocacy work. We encourage members, and especially sections, to engage in the advocacy process and to work on compiling and researching information to support well-informed, balanced issue briefs and statements. To suggest that SAA take action on an advocacy issue, individuals and groups will have the most success if they follow the Procedures for Suggesting SAA Advocacy Action. The procedures ask you to provide an overview of the issue, explain why the issue is important to archives and archivists, and consider the pros and cons of SAA taking a stand. Most issues should be referred to the chair of the Committee on Public Policy.  This Committee conducts research on public policy issues and provides strategic advice to the Council about SAA’s positions and statements. The Committee on Public Policy is responsible for drafting the issue briefs outlined in the Public Policy Agenda. Sometimes, however, an issue requires a more timely response, and a brief statement is more appropriate than a well-researched issue brief. In these urgent cases, members or groups should contact the Executive Director or the SAA President with their request. The SAA President, Executive Committee, or Council may choose to seek advice from the Committee on Public Policy or other groups before responding.

If SAA chooses not to take action or make a statement on an issue, SAA sections and other component groups may still make efforts to educate members and others about the issue, even if they are not authorized to take a stand on behalf of SAA. For example, the Oral History Section sought to educate archivists about the issues surrounding the controversial Belfast Project/Boston College Subpoena Case. The Issues & Advocacy Section maintains a blog with several informative posts about a variety of issues, and also provides a way to suggest an advocacy issue.

SAA will continue to work with a variety of individuals, groups, and allied organizations to ensure that we advocate on issues of importance to archives and archivists, especially those outlined in SAA’s public policy agenda. In the coming weeks and months, SAA’s Committee on Public Policy will examine in depth the impact of the current Administration’s recent decisions on numerous issues affecting our work as archivists. These include questions of continuing access to federal data, transparency and accountability of government, adherence to federal records management regulations, privacy, and more.