Category Archives: Communication and SAA

Making Room for Everyone

This article originally appeared as the President’s Message in the March/April 2020 issue of Archival Outlook.

One of my favorite SAA Core Values is Professionalism. I use it as a lens when at work. To me, although some may disagree, Professionalism refers to a competence in a specialized skill, not necessarily a behavior.

Professionalism: Archivists encourage professional development among their coworkers, foster the aspirations of those entering the archives profession, and actively share their knowledge and expertise. (See https://www2.archivists.org/statements/saa-core-values-statement-and-code-of-ethics.)

Our Core Values Statement and Code of Ethics should be applied holistically to the operationalization of our by-laws and governance in general. We should avoid and discourage the bureaucratic politics described by Miles’ Law, which refers to people pursuing policies that benefit the groups they represent rather than collective interests. This can lead to words and actions that cause tensions that do not support the equitable, inclusive, trusting, and safe environment we’re working so hard to create in our organization and within our practice. If we believe in the future of our organization, then we must recognize that our foundation and track record are firm and that change is inevitably part of our growth. It is too restrictive to promote only from within; while legacy and institutional knowledge are valued assets, so, too, are new ideas and new voices. As an organization dependent on volunteer administration, we should welcome and embrace participation at any stage of association involvement or professional development. We should be working to eliminate obstacles that prevent the full participation of our membership. This does not mean that we cannot or should not disagree. Disagreement does not have to divide us. Look at the recent fruit of our differences when we listen and then step out of our traditions and comfort zones to do something for the greater good of our association:

  • An elected Council that represents public, private, academic, and corporate institutions who work together across all four time zones,
  • The addition this year of hundreds of new peer reviewers for American Archivist,
  • A Salary Task Force that grew from a group of archivists, then to a section, and then to a task force, and which is aligned with our Strategic Plan and newly formed Committee on Research, Data, and Assessment,
  • A Tragedy Response Group to aid archivists around the country to sustain evidence of societal history,
  • Additions to the SAA 2020 election slate,
  • A record number of Strategic Growth grants given by the SAA Foundation, and
  • A call to give to the #52Fund on Twitter which donated funding directly to many who haven’t been financially able to be fully engaged in SAA and to SAA showing the value and importance of our organization.

This is not the time to let your membership lapse. This is the time to vote and to step up your engagement. This is the time to talk, heal, mentor, and pass the baton to those who have yet to serve because they have not been given an opportunity to or because they weren’t ready. I ask us all to embrace and encourage each other and to trust those we elect to lead. There are enough barriers and cliques in our lives. How do we minimize or remove the ones in our organization?

Stability doesn’t look the same every year; it anticipates risk, change, and difference. It is okay to step back and wait your turn or simply pass the baton. It doesn’t mean you’re out of the game—you’re just on the bench with other teammates waiting to be put in again or you’re coaching. It may seem risky to put others in the game not knowing the outcome, but how else will they learn? How will you learn? And what happens when the usual players can’t play anymore?

I am confident that, as we grow as an organization and rally around our Core Values, we will learn to respect different opinions, acknowledge all member accomplishments and qualifications, and become open to other ways of doing things.

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

SAA NOMINATING COMMITTEE’S RESPONSE TO PETITION

The 2019-2020 SAA Nominating Committee sent the following message to the SAA Executive Committee and Executive Director on January 17, 2020:

Dear Executive Director and Executive Committee,

Though the petition for the addition of Kris Kiesling to 2020’s SAA ballot has already been posted and shared without any response from the Nominating Committee, we would like to take the opportunity to address what has taken place during this year’s process.

While we acknowledge that members of SAA, according to the SAA Bylaws, 5.C, have every right to petition for an addition to the ballot, we understand that this is possibly the first time in the organization’s history that such actions have occurred during an election cycle. The question must be asked, just because you can, it is an action that should be taken? We are disappointed that there was a lack of discussion and transparency in adding  Kiesling to the ballot after the Nominating Committee had already selected the slate of candidates and Council had approved it. While the ballot does include an opportunity for a write-in candidate, we see this action as undermining not only our judgment and but also the will of those who elected us to serve in this capacity.

Lae’ l Hughes-Watkins received the most votes, which granted her the position as chair. An excerpt from her candidate statement reads

“I think it will be critical to put a slate of candidates together that will have a strong portfolio of success in making room for historically underrepresented identities in leadership positions, who advocate for success of these communities and are willing to call out and address discriminatory practices within the profession and in spaces supposedly designed to nurture and support emerging leaders and change agents.”

As a result, Hughes-Watkins stayed committed to this philosophy in her leadership; one voted on by SAA during the 2019 election. The chair worked in unison with a fantastic team: Steven Booth, Brenda Gunn, Daria Labinsky and Joshua Youngblood, to put together a dynamic, intelligent, thoughtful, diverse, committed, visionary, slate of candidates that we deemed were more than qualified to lead SAA in 2020. And yet we have witnessed what we feel is a questioning of our leadership, and we feel demoralized by what we thought was a democratic process.

The Nominating Committee abided by the rules, which state 

Section I: Bylaws of the Society of American Archivists

5. ELECTION OF OFFICERS AND COUNCILORS

A. There shall be a Nominating Committee composed of five (5) members, two (2) of whom are selected at the spring meeting of the Council from among the councilors in their second year of service and three (3) of whom have been elected by the membership. The person receiving the most votes in the election by the membership shall serve as chair. In the event of a tie vote, the chair shall be appointed by the Vice President / President-Elect from among the three (3) elected members of the Committee.

B. The Nominating Committee shall canvass the membership for suggestions of possible nominees for the offices of Vice President, Treasurer, councilors, and Nominating Committee. The tabulated results of this advisory canvass shall be made available to any member of the Society upon request. The Nominating Committee shall try to achieve a broadly based, diverse governing body.

The bylaws do not require we only refer to the nominations submitted, but we are permitted to canvass for possible nominees. The Nominating Committee reviewed candidates on the form and solicited individuals before, during, and after SAA’s 2019 annual meeting in Texas. We convened several meetings, discussed as a group the nomination form, and those who expressed interest, in combination with those we reached out to during this period. And with the power granted by the voting body, we created a slate that we thought would be able to address the various themes that have come to the forefront within our organization.

There are significant shifts taking place within SAA, a slowly growing diverse demographic with ideas that are challenging traditions, that are pushing boundaries, questioning the archival praxis that has been foundational and yet needs to be re-examined. At the same time, we are trying to balance the challenges of changing economics and create a dynamic future that will help create sustainability for generations. SAA is in the midst of significant change that we must meet head-on. We believe our slate of candidates is ready for the challenge and will not hold onto what was but give us something new to strive for, and dig into the difficult conversations/decisions while adding more seats to the table, not silence those who remain marginalized within the profession.

We are proud of our slate and wished that we would have been given the respect and the opportunity to have a conversation about adding other candidates to the ballot, as we would have been happy to hear these grievances. At this point, we ask that the Executive Director and the Executive Committee reflect on how they will proceed in the future. The 2019-2020 Nominating Committee submits that they have been frustrated throughout this entire process, from the editorial review of our candidate questions to now the addition of another candidate without any pause even to notify the other candidates in advance of this change. We can only request that a more transparent process is put in place in the future by Council. The Nominating Committee hopes this debate will nevertheless ignite everyone to vote their conscience because clearly there is a lot at stake.

We request that the entirety of our response be shared with the Council.  

In solidarity with our SAA membership who put us here,

SAA 2019-2020 Nominating Committee

The Upcoming SAA Council meeting, November 9-12

For the past and continuing year while I’ve been involved in SAA leadership and governance, the word “transparency” has been a regular refrain. At the joint annual meeting in Washington D.C., we had a few visitors during the Council meeting, and I hope in the future we will see that become a very regular experience. In between annual meetings, Council meets “live” twice in Chicago. The agenda, reports, and information for those meetings is posted on the SAA website: http://www2.archivists.org/groups/saa-council Continue reading

My Presidential Address

As I finish my term I wanted to let you know that you can view my presidential address here. I hope you enjoy it and perhaps get some ideas you can use now and in the future.

I have tried to do my best to support the Society, its members, leaders and staff. I hope I have done some things that will help us move forward.

Now I turn Off the Record to Kathleen Roe, who has some amazing ideas for her year of advocacy and living dangerously with archives. She will be a spectacular leader and I look forward to seeing what she does with her 525,600 minutes.

Improving SAA’s Affinity Groups: Your Chance to Contribute to the Change

This post was written by the members of the Task Force on Member Affinity Groups. I hope you will attend their forum during the conference or respond to this post in the comments.

Since last year’s SAA Annual Meeting, a task force has been working to determine how the Society’s member affinity groups (that is, its Sections and Roundtables) can better serve the membership as a whole. While nothing has been finalized, the task force has been exploring several recommendations largely based on a survey completed this spring. The task force would like to take this opportunity to share some of these findings and to ask for general feedback on preliminary recommendations. Continue reading

Planning for D.C.

It’s only two weeks to the joint CoSA/NAGARA/SAA meeting and we are thrilled to announce that this will be our largest meeting ever. My compliments to the Host and Program committees for creating excellent programs and activities for conference attendees.

Here are a couple of quick suggestions to insure that you have a great time in D.C. Continue reading