Category Archives: Advocacy

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.

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.

Challenge #9: Archives in Five Words

There is considerable talk about the need to have an “elevator speech” in which one summarizes what archives are, or what archivists do. Many of us have been using the time parameters of an indeterminate number of floors to hone down a statement involving a number of thoughts in sentences and phrases.

In this month’s challenge for “The Year of Living Dangerously for Archives”, we hope you will go one step further (or a couple floors less) and reduce your elevator speech even more. In five words or less, what sentence or phrase would you use to pique the interest of someone so they will listen to your full elevator speech, or engage in a discussion with you about archives and archivists? http://www2.archivists.org/living-dangerously/archivesin5words

Maybe rather than a general speech we direct “at” someone, we need to lure those unsuspecting “elevator riders” into a conversation with us about archives and archivists. It helps when we can explain archives to a lawyer by talking about records as legal evidence, to a land surveyor by talking about maps and field notes, or to a teacher by talking about the critical learning skills that students gain in analyzing primary records. Starting with an intriguing opening phrase may be just the thing to initiate the dialogue that will let you “riff” on the theme of the value and importance of archives.

So share with us your best five words for engaging people in conversation about archives and archivists. Then try out some of those that appeal to you on an unsuspecting person and see where it may lead!

Live Dangerously: Take the First High-Stakes Archival Essay Test!

The press is focusing this month on the debate about the value and impact of high-stakes testing for students. As archivists, we have had our own array of experiences with examinations, whether for the Digital Archives Specialist Certificate, the Academy of Certified Archivists exam, or our graduate program examinations. But there’s one test on which we all need more than a passing grade—and that’s explaining archives and archivists to others. It is the “core competence” that we all must have to raise awareness and demonstrate the value of archives. So here are four essay questions (also known as “story problems”) that we invite you to answer in 500 words or fewer. And as my favorite English teacher, Mrs. Arrick, would say, “Be clear, be concise, be compelling.”

Submit your essay (we won’t grade it!) to: saahq@archivists.org or post your comment on the SAA website at: http://www2.archivists.org/living-dangerously/essay-test

And the questions are:  (answer one, and stay within the 500 word limit!)

1.    You’re attending the SAA Annual Meeting in Cleveland. You and a few friends walk into a local clothing boutique and the owner greets you with “Welcome, what brings you to Cleveland?” (She knows you’re from out-of-town because, of course, you’ve forgotten to take off your name badge.) You reply: “I’m here for the Society of American Archivists’ Annual Meeting.” And she says, “Oh, that’s so cool. What is it you people do anyway?” Your friends scatter and begin looking through the clothing racks. It’s up to you to respond….and your answer is:

2.  You’re at your sister Jean’s wedding reception and notice that your grandmother is talking to the new in-law family, pointing at you and saying something that results in a look of alarm on their faces. (They’re from a family of accountants.) Your sister hurries over to tell you that grandma is claiming that you’re an anarchist, and asks that you please introduce yourself to her in-laws and tell them what you REALLY do. You sidle up to Minnie and Joe and say, “Hi, I’m Jean’s sister/brother and I know that Grandma has been telling you about me, but is a little confused. I’m an archivist and….” Provide the rest of your explanation:

3.  You’ve been asked to make a presentation to your historical society’s board of directors about new acquisitions to the archival collection. During your presentation some board members nod enthusiastically, others smile, and you’re feeling like you’ve been a hit. Then one very influential board member looks up slowly from the handouts you’ve provided and, squinting over his half glasses, says in stentorian tones, “Now tell me, just what IS an archives anyway?” You respond:

4.   You’ve been invited to Career Day at your former middle school (this is not a “Seinfeld” episode!) and asked to speak to the 7th grade social studies classes about the archives profession. The teacher introduces you: “Class, this is _______.   She/he works with cool things like the Declaration of Independence. Please tell us more about how you do that!” And you say:

Let the test begin!

Speaking up on archival issues: Supporting the District of Columbia Archives

Since 2003 SAA has periodically written letters or submitted testimony on behalf of the District of Columbia Archives.   Another round of budget hearings are beginning in the D.C. Council, so we have taken the opportunity to reach out again to submit testimony in support of that very rich and important archival collection.   The testimony submitted can be found at: http://www2.archivists.org/news/2015/roe-submits-testimony-on-district-of-columbia-archives

One of my Council colleagues, Tim Pyatt, puckishly suggested that perhaps instead of calling this the “Year of Living Dangerously for Archives” we ought to instead call it the “Year of Making Statements about Archives.”    There are indeed a lot of things going on that raise archival issues of concern and challenge us as an organization, and those of us in leadership positions, to try and determine what we can say that draws attention to concerns and options or solutions in a productive but compelling, way.

Many of us in the membership have different views or different concerns that we feel SAA should be addressing.  When you do, I encourage you to contact me, our executive director, Nancy Beaumont, or a member of Council to raise those concerns.   Please help us to be better informed on issues you’d like considered by using the suggested format for sharing information on the issue located on the web at http://www2.archivists.org/groups/committee-on-advocacy-and-public-policy/procedures-for-suggesting-saa-advocacy-action

Will we always develop statements that make everyone satisfied/happy?  Not likely given the diversity of opinion in our profession, but I can honestly assure you that we will give all requests serious consideration, and as elected leadership, will do our best to indeed  be representative of SAA.  (and here’s another good reason you need to vote by April 13 for SAA leadership–these will be the people to make future such decisions!)

The extent of “issues” in the past year are more evidence that we need to take a strong role in demonstrating the importance and value of archives and archivists.  Archivists have much to offer, and we continue to seeks ways to effectively make contributions to  national, state or even local discussions and debates.

Please contact me anytime you have issues to raise at:   president@archivists.org

Statement on the Use of Non-government Email Accounts for the Conduct of Public Business

Over the last few weeks, substantive press attention has been focused on the use of a non-government email account by Hillary Rodham Clinton during her tenure as U.S. Secretary of State. We all understand there are many layers of reasons for the press focus on this particular issue at this time. Nonetheless, there is an essential issue of concern to archivists here, and I asked the Committee on Advocacy and Public Policy to develop recommendations for the SAA Council to consider as a statement on the use of non-government email accounts by officials conducting public business. After reviewing the group’s recommendations, the Council has agreed to issue the statement now available on the SAA website at: http://www2.archivists.org/news/2015/statement-on-use-of-non-government-email-accounts-for-the-conduct-of-public-business?

I’ve already heard from members about this needing to be done in a more timely way, and I’m sure I will hear from those among us who feel the content should be different. I understand that commentary and encourage those who have comments to share them with me—it is truly part of the democratic process to give voice to your concerns, however “traditional” or “trite” some may think it is for me to say that. Nonetheless, after many, many years as an adult in this society who votes and watches my local, state, and federal government with responses ranging from pride (yes, it does happen sometimes!) to relief, amazement, and on to bewilderment and apoplectic anger, I remain a firm believer in what democracy CAN be. As a parent at my daughter’s school once said, it can be messy and chaotic to make decisions.

That seems to have happened in this case—it has taken longer than you or any of us in leadership would have wanted. I’ll work harder to see if we can expedite statements in the future. We are also working with our very good partners and colleagues in the Council of State Archivists and the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators to develop a fuller collaborative statement that can provide a basis for our position as archivists on this issue in the future.

And there certainly is a future for this issue. Just as a personal exercise, check out how many of your own government officials are conducting public business from personal email, Facebook, or Twitter. My own beloved city councilman (he gives me faith in democracy) uses a personal email, an issue that got a “Wow, I need to stop that right now” from him.

Further, I realized that although SAA is not a government agency, I have been using a personal gmail account that I set up solely for my “presidential” business. In the tradition of “people in glass houses,” I’ve asked the SAA Office to set up an email account for me (and for future presidents should they choose to use it). I’ll ensure that email constituting “records” is transferred, and will apply, as other presidents have, the SAA records retention schedule at the end of my presidency.
More issues and thoughts on this? Here’s where you can now reach me:

president@archivists.org

I encourage you to contact me now or in the future.

Call to Action #6: Voices from the Archives

One of the wonderful things about archival records is that they can “give voice” to people from the past:  a civil rights activist from Alabama, a farm wife from Kansas, a Chicano politician from Texas, a World War I pilot, a factory worker from Detroit, a fly fisherman from Montana, a schoolchild in Alaska.  What amazing voices exist in your archives?

This month we hope you’ll share some examples of individuals from the past who have a unique, surprising, or very compelling story to tell.  They need not be “famous.” In fact, we hope you will tap into the diversity of voices and experiences that our records represent — the people who might normally go unheard but who have compelling stories that we can share.

Please take time in March to share with us at least one “voice” from your archival collections.  Keep it simple and concise.  In just a paragraph (or two), tell us the highlights of the individual’s life or role and indicate why you think his/her voice is important.  You may want to include a quotation or photo if it helps to tell the story.  Here’s the website link:
http://www2.archivists.org/living-dangerously/voices-from-the-archives

After you’ve submitted the story through the SAA website, think about how you can share this person’s life with others — maybe via a Facebook or blog post to your users, tweeting quotations from a diary, engaging a journalist to do an article in your local newspaper.  Find a way yourself to give voice to the incredible people in your archival “neighborhood”!