Category Archives: Advocacy

What About Invisible Labor?

Invisible labor has been a hot topic in the archives profession over the last couple of years. The invisible labor of archivists, so often unseen and underappreciated, is a constant theme on Twitter and a source of real angst. It is difficult to do work you believe in when that work remains discounted. The increasing presence of temporary positions—full time, part time, project archivist, and unpaid internship—has resulted in a growing sense of frustration in the profession, as indicated by the recent letter from UCLA Temporary Faculty. I will discuss these issues briefly in my presidential address (Keeping Evidence and Memory: Archives Storytelling in the 21st Century) on Friday morning, August 17, at the Joint Annual Meeting.

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education described six stereotypes of archivists, none of them flattering. The author later tweeted that her “affectionate” article was simply misunderstood, that the Chronicle loved it, and that archivists were coming after her with “pitchforks.” One of the things I love most about our profession is that, although we may squabble and disagree with each other, when someone comes after our profession and our calling, our deep emotions about what we do kick in and are on full display. As SAA’s letter to the editor of the Chronicle noted, “…here’s something essential to know about archivists: We are passionate stewards of the collections we keep, and we are committed to providing access to the records in our care and assisting researchers in discovering records that are relevant to their projects. We are your allies in the stacks, and all of us—researchers and archivists alike—are on the same side.”

What might have been more relevant and helpful would be for the Chronicle to publish an article focused on an archivist and researcher, who could discuss the actual professional give and take of a collaborative relationship. How might we redirect our passion to make sure this is the kind of story told, as opposed to spending our energies on responding to a snarky and disrespectful one? It would reaffirm our efforts, both as individual archivists and as a professional association, to share more about who we are, what we do, and the impact we have. We need to connect and build alliances with our media partners to ensure that the deep complexity of our work is represented appropriately.

Finally, I also want to make the observation that we have invisible labor right in front of us, too, namely the SAA staff. We have 12 full-time staff. We employ people. They work for us. Our dues pay them and pay for the programs they run for us. They oversee the governance of our appointed groups and sections, develop workshops and organize the instructors to teach them, work with authors to write books. They build alliances with other organizations, plan the Annual Meeting, answer membership questions. Our dues feed back into financial support for the sections, the programming we do, our advocacy efforts, the workshops we teach, the publications we publish, and the support we provide for those who are willing to volunteer and serve. Many of the things that we worry about as archives professionals, such as burnout, life balance, and professional development, also apply to these individuals who work for our professional association.

Although I recognize the budgetary challenges that our small non-profit organization faces, I would be remiss if, at the end of my term, I didn’t share that I believe a lack of staff is holding SAA back in myriad ways. There are so many important chores done by volunteers, with a hardworking staff responding to fire after fire that we are often unable to focus our efforts where they would have the most impact. I would recommend the creation or reorganization of already existing staff to oversee the following (mind, these are only recommendations for consideration by the Executive Director):

First is the hiring of a Development Officer who would oversee grant solicitation and administration as well as fundraising for our Foundation. It’s time for SAA to examine how foundations can help us in our work, and while I do plan to spend some time on this issue next year, there is a distinct need for someone to permanently drive and supervise this work.

Second, given the impetus to conduct research about archives and archivists and the necessity for long-term permanent storage of these data, SAA has a distinct need for a Research and Standards Coordinator. The Coordinator would work directly with the Committee on Research (yet-to-be-created), the Research Forum, the Standards Committee, and others to develop long-term strategies.

Third, we have an Executive Director and a number of positions reporting directly to her. I would add a Deputy Executive Director, whose responsibility it is to respond to member requests and supervise the overall running of the SAA office. This would free the Executive Director’s time to focus on broader issues, including SAA’s mission and vision as well building alliances among our allies, the media, and external organizations.

I understand SAA’s budget does not necessarily support the addition of positions. However, there may come a time when we have no choice.

How do we make the invisible visible? By both documenting the important role of the archivist and the historical record, and demonstrating it constantly, consistently, and strategically. This is time-consuming and labor intensive, to be sure. However, as Tim Ericson points out in his article “Preoccupied with our Own Gardens: Outreach and Archivists” (Archivaria 31 (Winter 1990-1991), pp: 114-122) “Regarding our concern with image, awareness and education, it is important to keep our focus on the records we are preserving and the impact they have ( or may have) on the lives of people who would benefit from using them….As long as we stay in our reading rooms and avoid touching the lives of those whom we would serve, then all of our well-intentioned efforts to improve our image, and all our programs to explain what we do and why it is important will fall on deaf ears. We need to show people, not tell them. “

 

 

 

Update from the Tragedy Response Initiative Task Force: Guest Post by SAA Council Member Steven Booth

At its November 2017 meeting, the SAA Council approved the formation of the Tragedy Response Initiative Task Force. This initiative, proposed by the Diverse Sexuality and Gender Section, grew out of discussions held at the 2016 Annual Meeting surrounding the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, FL, and the need for resources and assistance to help local archivists who are personally affected by disasters/tragedies collect and preserve materials.

Since January 2018, the Tragedy Response Initiative Task Force has worked diligently towards fulfilling its charge of 1) creating and/or compiling material for ready accessibility by archivists who are facing a sudden tragedy, and 2) exploring the feasibility of creating a standing body within SAA that would update documentation as needed and serve as a volunteer tragedy response team.

Much of our effort to date has focused on researching and compiling policies and best practices, building relationships with allied organizations, and serving as contacts for communities and individuals that are managing tragedy-related collections. One of the first activities completed by the Task Force was a bibliography of articles and monographs related to archives, disasters/tragedies, and memorial and commemorative collections. We are currently using the bibliography to aid in our process of drafting policies and templates, and will continue to add resources to it, which will be shared with the SAA membership at a later date.

Additionally, we have successfully contacted numerous archivists and allied professionals from various repositories including the City of Boston Archives (Marathon Memorial), 9/11 Memorial Museum, Orange County Regional History Center, University of Houston Special Collections, Rice University, the HIstoric New Orleans Collection, Tulane University, the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and Louisiana State Museum to acquire information about their endeavors to document and preserve disaster/tragedy-related collections. We have also received samples of documentation from the Littleton Museum (Columbine High School Memorial), a memorandum of agreement between the Town of Newtown (Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting) and the Connecticut State Library, and an archival job description for processing memorial collections from Syracuse University. As we continue to have conversations with our colleagues and discuss best practices, the Task Force is tracking the types of policies and procedures we hope to compile examples of and create templates for.

Following one of the charged responsibilities to collaborate with allied organizations, the Task Force Chair, Lisa Calahan and others on the committee have connected with several national organizations about our efforts and has received positive feedback from the Special Libraries Association, American Alliance of Museums, Oral History Association, and National Council on Public History (NCPH), although what “collaboration” looks like is yet to be determined. One positive outcome is that Lisa attended the annual conference for the National Council on Public History and participated in a meeting to discuss potential collaboration and resource sharing opportunities with NCPH members.

Lastly, an unexpected activity of the Task Force that is not represented in the official charge, but that we expect to continue, is to provide immediate advice for community members and archivists actively collecting memories of tragedy. The Task Force has been contacted by a Parkland, FL city commissioner to advise on best practices for managing memorial material, and interviewed by WBUR (Boston NPR) for an article on the 5-year commemoration of the Boston Marathon Bombing.

The Task Force expects to submit its final report and recommendations to the SAA Council no later than January 2020. In the meantime, if you are interested in contributing sample documentation and sharing your experience with disaster/tragedy collections or have suggestions for the Task Force to consider, please contact us here or send an e-mail to president@archivists.org, thank you!

Archives Event on the Hill: Guest Post by COPP Chair Dennis Riley

The “Archives on the Hill” initiative, sponsored by SAA-CoSA-NAGARA-RAAC, is fast approaching and scheduled for August 14th as part of this year’s annual meeting in Washington, DC. For some background and context, please see previous posts by CoSA Executive Director Barbara Teague and Committee on Public Policy member Samantha Winn, or this recent article in the May/June issue Archival Outlook by yours truly.

To keep this advocacy event manageable, the coordinating committee, consisting of representatives from each organization, focused on our specific members whose Congressional representatives sit on the important House and Senate committees that handle appropriations and oversight of the National Archives and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). While logistical planning for the Archives on the Hill effort is still underway, 63 of our members are committed to meeting with 47 Members of Congress (most likely their staff given it will be the August recess). By limiting this event to a targeted group of archivists and Congressional representatives, we hoped not to overwhelm the coordinating committee (all volunteers, some of whom have day jobs) nor SAA staff and interns who have their hands full with the rest of the annual meeting (without adding yet another event).

The objectives of this initiative are twofold:

  1. To broaden the advocacy experience and expertise of our members; and
  2. To begin developing relationships with Members of Congress

Both objectives serve the longer-range objective of increasing SAA’s legislative and public policy advocacy work, in line with our strategic plan.

The principle “ask” of these meetings will be to ensure Congress maintains adequate funding for archival projects through the NHPRC, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Ancillary messages which will be part of our approach include explaining the challenges and importance of electronic records preservation; and advocating for the reauthorization of both NHPRC and IMLS as federal entities.

Pragmatically speaking, given the upcoming mid-term elections and other issues Congress will be dealing with in the coming months (pick your favorite federal acronym: SCOTUS, ICE, EPA, etc.) I think it’s fair to say archives funding will not be at the top of any Congressional agenda. However, if we don’t speak up on these issues, no one else is going to do it for us. The hope is that this is but a first step in an ongoing effort throughout the next year and beyond to implement SAA’s Public Policy Agenda in very concrete, active ways – to engage Congress on the importance of archives to our society and the communities Members represent, whether it’s funding or copyright, government transparency and accountability, or advancing the diversity of the archival record and documenting marginalized voices.

Be sure to keep an eye out in SAA communication streams for a readout on the August event and how you can pitch in by advocating with your Member of Congress.

 

Advocacy Building Blocks

At the 2013 SAA Annual Meeting, I (as the Council liaison, 2013-2016) attended a meeting of the Government Affairs Working Group (GAWG) with myself, Past President Frank Boles, soon-to-be President Kathleen Roe, and SAA Executive Director, Nancy Beaumont. A topic of our discussion was how to reconfigure this moribund group, which eventually became the Committee on Public Policy (Originally named the Committee on Advocacy and Public Policy). I also chaired COPP, 2016-2017.

Over the past 5 years, SAA has continued creating foundation blocks in its advocacy work and begun the transition into an established program. The output has included 16 issue briefs, 14 statements, and serving as signatories on multiple letters and petitions. The most recent statement related to the reported destruction of Executive Records by the President and includes a response from NARA.

Numerous Committee and Council members also drafted the Public Policy Agenda, the Criteria for Advocacy Statements, Procedures for Suggesting SAA Advocacy Action, and a recently approved (2018) Legislative Agenda and Action Plan. There is also ongoing and regular communication with the SAA Committee on Public Awareness and other allied organizations, such as CoSA, NAGARA, NARA, and the National Humanities Alliance.

But I thought I would write a bit about the process of how and why SAA decides to make a statement, write a letter, or develop an issue brief. This is a necessarily gray area of decision-making, and in the majority of cases, dependent directly on the SAA President (while in consultation with others, of course). Each case is considered independently of others because there are always internal and external circumstances to consider, such as timing and other priorities. In some cases, as President, I have made the decision to sign on to a letter or petition myself when we only have 24 hours to respond to a request from an allied organization. At times, an issue may be referred to the Committee on Public Policy for further research and writing (sometimes the issues come directly from COPP too). Sometimes, I will confer with the Executive Committee, which is composed of the elected officers in addition to a Council-elected Representative. Sometimes, the entire Council is brought into the discussion where more feedback and discussion are needed, and we have enough time to drill down especially as SAA Council does approve all issue briefs and position statements. Issues are also brought to SAA from individual members and groups, and we ask that they conduct much-needed research prior to submitting that issue for consideration.

Actual authorship can include 1 or 10 individual archivists or input from the SAA staff and Executive Director. Some draft. Some revise. The most difficult part of this is coming to an agreeable consensus, because, believe it or not, not all archivists agree on everything. As the years have passed, it has become clear that our foci should be those issues where there is a definite records implication, but there again, not all archivists agree on every tenet of archives.

While this is a core responsibility of SAA as the national professional organization for archivists, the act of creating, revising, and coming to consensus on any contentious archival issue (again, often the most difficult part) is very labor intensive and time consuming for what are primarily archivist volunteers with various areas of expertise and interests. At this point we now have core statements and language which allow us to sometimes craft new statements without as much effort. Another observation—who are these statements for, and who cares about them? In too many cases, unfortunately, they are for ourselves, and our next building block is to expand our circle of influence. To that end, last fall, I developed a list of groups and organizations who should receive notifications of our briefs and statements when appropriate:

American Alliance of Museums
American Association for State and Local History
American Library Association
ARMA
Congressional History Caucus
Council of State Archivists
Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR)
Digital Library Federation
International Council on Archives
Legislators at the local, state, and federal levels
Library of Congress
Local and national media

NAGARA
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
National Coalition for History
National Council on Public History
Regional Archives Association Consortium (RAAC)

If there is another group or organization you believe should be added to this list, please send it to president@archivists.org

Finally, no letter or statement, or lack thereof, will ever please every member of SAA. And that’s ok. Your elected leadership must balance our overall responsibility representing archivists with the resources we have available. Our end goal is to consistently and effectively share our records expertise with the wider world, and make sure the archives voice is heard.

 

 

 

Guest Post: National Humanities Alliance Annual Meeting and Advocacy Day

Guest Post: Barbara Teague, Executive Director of the Council of State Archivists (CoSA):

In my new position as Executive Director, I joined the Society of American Archivists delegation (Executive Director Nancy Beaumont, Committee on Public Policy chair Dennis Riley, and COPP members Kathleen Roe and Samantha Winn) for the National Humanities Alliance Annual Meeting and Advocacy Day, March 11-13 in Washington DC.  NHA’s Advocacy Day continues to grow, attracting more attendees each year to advocate for several federal programs specifically related to the humanities, including the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), and the Department of Education International Education Programs: Title VI/Fulbright-Hays.

In Sam Winn’s guest post for “Off the Record” last month, she outlined the specifics of the conference and advocacy event – Sunday evening reception; Monday traditional conference presentations, including sessions on advocacy strategies and successful humanities programming; and Tuesday’s visits to Capitol Hill with our state delegation.  She also noted that  CoSA and SAA representatives attended the NHA conference to learn more about the process of this advocacy event, since SAA, CoSA, the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA) and the Regional Archival Associations Consortium (RAAC) are planning our own advocacy day, “Archives on the Hill” in conjunction with the Joint Annual Meeting in DC in August.  We did learn a great deal from attending NHA, helping us prepare for our August 14 event. 

NHA’s excellent event worked for four reasons:

Preparation and planning.  Prior to our arrival in DC for the conference and advocacy event, NHA forwarded useful materials, including: 

  • Advocacy Guide: Overview of how to prepare for, conduct, and follow up after meetings on the Hill.
  • Advocacy Training Videos, Preparing for Advocacy Day and Anatomy of a Meeting:  Recap of recent funding trends, an overview of the budget and appropriations process, and an explanation of how to conduct a meeting, and examples of what meetings with the offices of three different Members of Congress might look like.
  • Issue Briefs: Fact sheets on NEH, Title VI/Fulbright Hays, NHPRC, and IMLS.

NHA staff also communicated with attendees in group emails to state delegations, providing us with a schedule for visits to offices of our Senators and Representatives, so attendees knew what their schedule would be for making advocacy visits.  These pre-conference items helped attendees be prepared and to know what to expect.

Organization.  At the conference, attendees were given paper copies of the Advocacy Guide and Issue Briefs, as well as a fact sheet about each member of Congress that the state delegation would visit and their votes on key issues related to NEH, IMLS, NHPRC, or Title VI/Fulbright Hays.  These also noted whether the member belonged to the Senate or House Humanities Caucus, and had other invaluable information, such as committee memberships.  The attention to detail, from the extensive fact sheets about the members, to an appointments list that included information for state delegations visits (time of appointment, member of Congress, staff member and position, and location of office) helped ensure that the advocacy visits ran smoothly.

Action.  NHA provided attendees with several things to request during the Congressional visits.  There were specific budget amounts requested for all the agencies for which we were advocating, a request for the member to sign a “Dear Colleague” letter supporting NEH, and a request that the member join the Humanities Caucus. Having an actionable focus for the visit, rather than just saying that Humanities are good and should be funded helped focus the meetings and provided the staff members with an actionable item after our appointment was over.

Follow-up.  NHA prepared a folder for each delegation to leave behind at the House and Senate offices, including the issue briefs, information about the Humanities Caucuses, and “Dear Colleague” support letters.  Attendees also described their visits to the offices on a debrief form and followed up with emails to thank the staff member and member of Congress for the meeting. 

Archives on the Hill will benefit from our experience at the NHA Conference and Advocacy Day. I’ve been making advocacy visits for about ten years now, and this event did remind me that our advocacy for archives in a coordinated way is just beginning, compared to that in some of our related professions.  NHA has generously agreed to share the Member of Congress fact sheets with us for our use during Archives on the Hill, as well as providing other assistance.  We’re also receiving advice from the Congressional Affairs staff at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) and from the American Library Association Washington Office.  Stay tuned to Tanya’s blog, as well as to CoSA’s website and Twitter, to learn how we apply the lessons learned at the NHA gathering to our first “Archives on the Hill.”

 

SAA’s Committee on Public Policy: Humanities Advocacy Day

Guest post by Samantha Winn (Virginia Tech), member of SAA’s Committee on Public Policy (COPP):

In 2018, the Society of American Archivists (SAA), Council of State Archivists (CoSA), and National Association of Government Archives & Records Administrators (NAGARA) will meet together in Washington, DC. This gathering represents a unique advocacy opportunity for archives and records workers. To learn more about advocating for archives on Capitol Hill, the Committee on Public Policy sent a small cohort to the National Humanities Alliance (NHA) Annual Meeting and Humanities Advocacy Day from March 11-13. Cohort members included SAA Executive Director Nancy Beaumont, CoSA Executive Director Barbara Teague, COPP chair Dennis Riley, and COPP members Kathleen Roe and Samantha Winn.

The Annual Meeting combined a traditional conference program with advocacy training sessions, briefings on the Congressional appropriations process, and strategy meetings. In anticipation of Humanities Advocacy Day (March 13), NHA staff sorted participants into state-based delegations, scheduled meetings on Capitol Hill with the appropriate representatives, and prepared folders of informational documents to leave with each Congressional office. The NHA prepared an extensive advocacy guide and training video for attendees to review ahead of time.

Delegation members received detailed profiles of each legislator and briefing documents on legislative priorities identified by the NHA. The NHA asked participants to speak on behalf of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and international education programs under HEA-Title VI and Fulbright-Hays. To demonstrate the value of public funding for the humanities, participants were encouraged to share anecdotes from their own work and projects happening in each Congressional district. NHA staff also coordinated social media campaigns under #NEHforAll and #HAD18 to promote the campaign and publicly thank supportive legislators.

Hill visits took place from 9:00am to 5:00pm on March 13. SAA cohort members travelled with their state delegations to a series of meetings across the Capitol Complex, both on foot and via the Capitol’s exclusive subway system. Attendees recorded the highlights and outcomes of each meeting in a debrief worksheet which was collected by NHA staff at various way stations. NHA staff distributed sample communications for advocates to share with their respective legislators after each visit. Ultimately, the campaign was a great success. Although the Trump administration had proposed the elimination of the NEH, the National Endowment for the Arts, and IMLS, humanities advocates prevailed. Thanks in part to the NHA’s exceptional advocacy campaign, Congress ultimately voted to increase FY 2018 funding for NEH by $3 million and raise IMLS funding by $9 million. The bill also maintained FY 2017 levels of funding for the NHPRC.

COPP looks forward to bringing some of these strategies to SAA 2018. Stay tuned for more information!

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.