Category Archives: Uncategorized

Optimism Is the Only Practical Solution

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

One of the SAA Council’s responsibilities is to develop and implement a strategic plan. As I write this, the Council is sched­uled to meet in November to refresh the strategic plan.

I’ll admit it: I love strategic planning. This is owed fully to Carolyn Hart, who headed strategic planning at one of my first professional jobs at the Atlanta University Center Woodruff Library. Carolyn knew how to make strategic planning fun, but she also knew how to appeal to people like myself: people who enjoy creating, but are tied to the reality of day-to-day work and finite resources. Dreams can be practical.

Although Carolyn’s method had a positive impact on me, I am less impressed by the roots of strategic planning—in the military. “The art of the general” refers to how one deploys their troops and remains a major criticism of the process. Too much strategic planning is done by senior leadership who do not care to understand the jobs/lives/fears/dreams/needs/pain of those at other levels in the hierarchy or the communities they intersect with on a daily basis. That lack of care is how we are crushed by hierarchy.

I’ve been made miserable by both the process and the result of poorly led strategic planning. I have sat through too many sessions where the goal was clearly to tack on new work that took away from day-to-day operations and existing commitments, to elevate shiny ideas still half-baked, and to ignore the truly powerful function of strategic planning: the diagnosis of—and treatment for— structural problems.

Also as I write this, a Council working group is collating and reviewing member feedback (gathered online through comment, via email, and in two online forums) on the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) Work Plan. The results will be in the revised strategic plan. This is the culmination of a great deal of work, started by a report and recommendations prepared by the Diversity Committee, and informed by the “Black Lives and Archives” listening sessions held in July 2020.

DEIA is not a new strategic direction, but descriptive of one of our fractures. Over the years, many members diagnosed SAA with structural problems that make our organization exclusive rather than inclusive and that privilege the few over the many. The work plan is the Council’s method for addressing those structural problems by taking the recommendations of expert members, requesting wide feedback, and setting goals for ourselves via the new strategic plan. This is leadership addressing one of the dimensions of our problems. It does not excuse individual bad actors.

Addressing structural problems must be the work of senior leadership in any organization. I recently read a commentary by Amy Davidson Sorkin of The New Yorker noting that you can’t address structural problems if you are “trying to restock the pasta.” In my job, I am not paid to do the operational work that moves our programs forward; I am paid to lead and facilitate that work. As president of SAA, I was not elected to do the operational work of SAA staff or our members that move our programs forward. I was elected to lead and facilitate the improvement of our structural problems.

I’m a leader in my job, but I’m also a staff member. I’m a leader in SAA, but I am also a member of the Society. I will never be a part of a strategic plan that isn’t considerate of the work already being done, of our collective concerns, or of our pain. We will make decisions that take into account the resources of SAA, the voices of our members, and the flaws in the structure.

Grace and Futurism

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

I am looking forward to a good year.

At this point in time, “good” has become a relative term. After eighteen months of great turmoil in our country, I sometimes struggle to articulate hopes and dreams beyond conducting my day-to-day life and work. My anxiety, depression, and impostor syndrome have had too much fodder lately for me to see much of the forest for the trees.

In the past few months, I have changed jobs, moved away from the South for the first time, and taken my seat as the 76th president of the Society of American Archivists. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by change, I feel refreshed. I suspect it’s because I am so desperate to see the forest again, in all of its great and mysterious complexity. I don’t want to move on or go back to “normal,” but I want something that works better and fits better and makes me feel more successful and adjusted.

After the SAA Annual Meeting in August, I had my first meeting with Jackie Price Osafo, SAA’s new executive director, and Terry Baxter, SAA vice president. In a joking moment, Terry said that the theme of my year as president should be “futurism” and Jackie suggested “grace and futurism!” (In this instance, “grace” is a reference to the remarks I offered at the annual SAA Membership Business Meeting on August 3. You can see my remarks on the SAA president’s blog, Off the Record.)

I do believe in a brighter future, but there is a cost to idealism. It requires a great deal of advocacy and critical thinking to believe our world can improve when faced with overwhelming evidence to the contrary. SAA must address the ongoing health, climate, and justice emergencies with an eye to how we build a more safe, sustainable, and equitable future.

I do have specific hopes and dreams for my year in SAA, most of which center continuing work that is already in process: strengthening and implementing the work plan developed by the SAA Council Working Group on DEIA; evaluating the ongoing health of our sections; reconsidering our membership model; and participating in the Foundation Board’s strategic work with a development consultant. I also plan to work with the Council to refocus on SAA’s strategic plan, opening up the planning process to more members and groups within SAA and creating accountability measures for initiatives that we add.

A final concern for me is to ensure that Jackie Price Osafo’s first year as executive director is a resounding success. In just a few short months, Jackie has already proven to be a great asset to our organization and, as president, I want nothing more than to prove to her that SAA is a worthy choice for this step in her career.

On Grace

The below remarks were delivered by SAA President Courtney Chartier at the annual SAA Membership Business Meeting on August 3, 2021. Chartier was responding to an open letter to NARA published by the American Historical Association. You can read the letter here (scroll down); AHA has since published an apology to NARA available on the same webpage, and SAA has responded.

Thank you everybody for being here today. I actually rewrote my remarks for this afternoon in light of the American Historical Association’s (AHA) open letter to NARA, questioning NARA’s plans for reopening their reading rooms; the letter is available on AHA’s website or, if you’re an active Twitter user, there have been a lot of responses online from our community.

A nice way to characterize the letter is to say it is condescending and was not written with much compassion for the people who staff archival institutions. I actually saw a Tweet from another archivist, Emily Higgs Kopin, who summed it up perfectly, saying, “The effect . . . is not necessarily anger or frustration with being told how to do our jobs, it’s just despair.”

This resonates so strongly with me. I’ve felt so stretched the last 15 months, not just in my capacity to get my work done, but in my capacity to do it while also caring for my family, my friends, and my own physical and mental health. To see immediate criticisms of what I consider to be a practical plan for access from our National Archives is truly an exercise in despair.

I do recognize that this letter does not represent every member of AHA, and that AHA members are not all of our researchers. I’ve interacted with many researchers over the last 15 months who have shown nothing but care for archivists and true joy and appreciation for whatever access we were able to provide to them.

In a word, they showed great grace in their responses to me and to my colleagues and our work.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the word “grace” and what it actually means. I just started a new job and therefore I have to ask people a lot of questions to get anything done, and I try to remember to thank them especially for their grace in teaching me, in responding to me, and in the care they show in responding to what I need.

If you go to the dictionary, the definition of the word, the one we probably go to first, is about movement, physical grace. But people give me the gift of their behavioral grace, their spiritual grace, their goodwill and their kindness every single day. 

I imagine you are familiar with the word as a verb, too. “To grace” someone or something is to honor it, to be a credit to it. Showing compassion is an act of grace. Those researchers who have been so patient and kind throughout the pandemic are a credit to all of our researchers, and they truly grace us.

A lot of this has come up for me lately because of one person. That person who really got me thinking about grace more than anyone else is Simone Biles. I mean, she’s an incredibly graceful person; I’m a klutz so I’m always astonished by people who seem to know exactly where their bodies are in space at all times. But in the last few weeks she’s also given me a masterclass in that other kind of grace. Grace to her sport, grace to her teammates, and most impressively, grace to herself.

I care about researchers, but I care about my colleagues more. I care about other archivists and the joy of our profession a lot more. And even though the profession does some things poorly, it does some things with great grace. And even though SAA is an institution like any other, while it sometimes does things poorly, it also does some things with incredible grace. 

I do have some specific platform goals for my year as president that I had intended to share with you this afternoon, and I will [share these in a follow-up post on this blog and in forthcoming issues of Archival Outlook]. But in my fairly short time with you today, what I really wanted to say is that we all deserve grace. To be shown it, to show it in turn, and to fully give ourselves the grace we need as people to heal, and to process, and to rediscover the joy that does exist in our colleagues, and in our collections, and in our profession. 

I hope each of you has a wonderful meeting. You deserve grace, and I appreciate you. Thank you.

Celebrating Change

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

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

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

Beyond SAA, there are transitions happening in our work lives as well. Many of us are returning to work in our repositories, libraries, and offices. For some of us, that transition has meant pulling out old wardrobes; for others it has meant buying a new one. It also means seeing our customers and researchers for the first time, knowing that they are undergoing transitions as well. In early June, SAA hosted a forum on “Reopening Archives Safely” to share experiences and address questions and concerns that people may have. (Watch a recording of this event at https://www.pathlms.com/saa/events/1996/video_presentations/201293.) Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, SAA has focused on supporting the evolving needs of members as they adapt to change.

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

Meet Jacqualine Price Osafo—SAA’s New Executive Director

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Archival Outlook.

Jacqualine Price Osafo, a Certified Association Executive with a master of business administration in entrepreneurship and strategic innovation from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, brings thirty years of association management experience at multiple individual membership and trade company organizations in key areas such as membership, education programs, products, budget, and staffing. She starts July 15, 2021, and succeeds Nancy Beaumont, who retired after eighteen years as executive director.

Previously, Osafo served as vice president of membership for the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), director of membership and development for five years at the Water Quality Association, and director of membership services and customer care at the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. She is a champion of diversity, equity, and inclusivity and currently serves as chair of the Black Indigenous People of Color Advisory Task Force for Association Forum (an association management professional organization). Among her honors, Osafo was selected in 2018 by the American Society of Association Executives as a Diversity Executive Leadership Scholar and in 2017 received the Association Forum’s Professional Achievement Award.

Recently, Archival Outlook Editor Abigail Christian talked with Osafo about past projects, favorite songs, and why she’s excited to join SAA.

AC: You have more than thirty years of association management experience! Tell us why you love the work of associations.

JPO: As a temporary employee for the Emergency Nurses Association, I was responsible for stuffing envelopes for various mailings. A naturally curious person, I read the mailings and continued my quest for understanding the power of associations. Since then, I have held many association positions, and my passion for association professionals can be summed up as this: Association professionals make the world a better place! Whether it is providing education courses, resources, or a network of like-minded peers, these benefits support member value. In addition, research and advocacy efforts, which impact legislation that trickles down to the public, continue to drive my passion as an association executive. It was research conducted by the Water Quality Association, where I served for five years as director of membership and development, that determined unacceptable lead levels in drinking water. In my opinion, association professionals are the “unsung heroes” who are quietly making the world a better place. For this, I am committed to remaining an association executive.

AC: What is one initiative that you’re proud to have been a part of?

JPO: During my recent position as the vice president of membership with AHIMA, shifting the online engagement experience was a significant undertaking, especially during a pandemic. Like the rest of the world, it was necessary to provide virtual experiences for members to engage based on their ever-changing needs. AHIMA’s new platform allows members to personalize their experiences by joining communities that interest them. The number of engaged members increased by 20%, and 74% of the users access the platform at least 28 days per month. The ability to meet members at their point of need is a must!

AC: Apart from the work of associations, what are your favorite things to do?

JPO: Outside of work, you’ll find me enjoying time with family and friends. I am one of eight siblings, and I have more than twenty nieces and nephews. I enjoy spending time with young adults, as well as exploring the creative minds of my six- and eight-year-old nephews. And I love music—one of my favorite songs is “Stairway to Heaven” in both the Led Zeppelin and Mary J. Blige versions. I enjoy the exquisite sound created by the acoustic guitar, piano, flute arrangement, and other musical instruments. You will also find me dancing to many of my favorite tunes—a passion my mother inspired by allowing me to dance on the coffee table as a child!

AC: What excites you about working with archivists and SAA?

JPO: I am delighted to have been selected to serve as SAA’s executive director. As someone who values information and the art of maintaining, SAA’s mission to “empower archivists to achieve professional excellence and foster innovation to ensure the identification, preservation, understanding, and use of records of enduring value” inspires me. We use past information as one of the sources for making present-day decisions and future predictions, which is why I resonated with SAA’s commitment to integrity, transparency, and collaboration. I look forward to serving as your champion, fulfilling set strategies, and continuing to add value to the member experience. You can reach me at jpriceosafo@archivists.org.

True Grit

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

Too much screen time and eye strain in the past year has led me to Audible and, at long last, to Angela Duckworth’s narration of her 2016 book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. A teacher, psychologist, neuroscientist, researcher, mother, and general overachiever, she explores the predictability of success—graduating from West Point (when one in five cadets drops out) or from a Chicago public high school (when 12% of students don’t), selling vacation time-shares (can’t imagine anything less rewarding), or winning the National Spelling Bee. Talent and luck help, of course. But, she concludes: “In sum, no matter the domain, the highly successful had a kind of ferocious determination that played out in two ways. First, these exemplars were unusually resilient and hardworking. Second, they knew in a very, very deep way what it was they wanted. They not only had determination, they had direction. It was this combination of passion and perseverance that made high achievers special. In a word, they had grit.”

What has struck me, in the context of both the past year and my time at SAA, is the number of high achievers in my life and work who have had that extraordinary combination. None has attained celebrity or wealth, but each has had success in making a significant difference in the lives and work of others.

My father, the son of very poor Jewish immigrants and a Class of ’41 USMA graduate whose proudest achievement (on top of becoming a pilot at all) was leading a C-54 squadron in the Berlin Airlift. My mother, who made a home 47 times as the partner of an Army/Air Corps trainee and Air Force officer—including in a converted chicken coop in Pampa, Texas, in the summer of 1943, with an infant in cloth diapers. And my beloved big sister, P.K., who raised an amazing family, who completed her college degree at the age of 54—summa cum laude while working full time—and whose ten-year battle with Parkinson’s disease ended on August 19, 2018. My real-life heroes had grit.

I’ve never been one to consider SAA leaders or staff my “family” (as in “one big happy family”); “community” is how I prefer to view our relationships. But I can say that ours has been a very special community, born of a commitment shared by some really smart people and nurtured by countless hours of determination and teamwork.

Each year for the past eighteen years, I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with the individuals who put themselves forward to serve as SAA President. Their motivations differed: some had a passion for the profession writ large, some hoped to advance a particular agenda. Each brought talent to the job, and some were luckier than others. Every single one of them was called on, once or several times, to work through a crisis or calamity or challenge or opportunity that required them to dig deep to see it through. I thank you for your grit, Peter Hirtle, Tim Ericson, Rand Jimerson, Richard Pearce-Moses, Elizabeth Adkins, Mark Greene (may his memory be a blessing), Frank Boles, Peter Gottlieb, Helen Tibbo, Gregor Trinkaus-Randall (may he rest in peace), Jackie Dooley, Danna Bell, Kathleen Roe, Dennis Meissner, Nance McGovern, Tanya Zanish-Belcher, Meredith Evans, and Rachel Vagts.

On the SAA Foundation side: Founding President Fynnette Eaton set the tone with her ferocious passion for creating the SAA Foundation, and Presidents Scott Cline and Margery Sly have polished this gem over time with great skill and perseverance.

The SAA staff, whom I can’t help but name at every opportunity, have shown an unrivaled determination to serve SAA’s members and the archives profession well. My thanks and admiration to current staff members Matt Black, Teresa Brinati, Abigail Christian, Peter Carlson, Felicia Owens, Akila Ruffin, Carlos Salgado, Rana Salzmann, Michael Santiago, and Lakesha Thaddis. To former staff members Taylor Camara, Solveig DeSutter, Lee Gonzalez, Tom Jurczak, Rene Mueller, Patti O’Hara, and Jeanette Spears. To our conference team members Stacey Ogren, Allison Perrelli, and Paul Henning. To Paula Ashley.

And just because I can: I thank Paul, my love, my partner, and the best and grittiest association executive I know, for his unwavering support.

The SAA membership is rich with high achievers. I hope that you will match your talent with the power of passion and perseverance. Be gritty. Be kind. Have your value-of-archives-and-archivists elevator speech ready. And please take good care.

Exhaustion / Exhilaration

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

We’ve slipped into another March, and the “before times” seem so remote. I’m both exhausted and exhilarated by our transition to a new way of doing things. Our need to connect—and the relative ease of doing so virtually—has meant more frequent meetings of SAA’s volunteer groups and a resultant uptick in activity. The SAA Council and the Foundation Board now meet every other month, and many of our committees, working groups, and task forces meet monthly. It’s exhausting to do the research, prepare the reports, conduct the Zoom meetings, write the minutes and action lists, and do the follow-up work in time for reporting out at the next meeting. It’s made all of us—volunteers and staff alike—more accountable for keeping things moving. And it’s resulted in a lot of good things happening! To cite a few:

Following its recent review of the Strategic Plan, the SAA Council will commit the time and talents of its own Internal Working Group on DEI to the following task: “By May 31 . . . draft a work plan for incorporating diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and cultural competency into all aspects of SAA’s work.” SAA has most assuredly—and intentionally—become a more welcoming and accessible organization over the years. But this much-needed focus by the Council on creating an actionable plan provides the best chance for SAA’s success. I know that the next executive director will benefit from having a plan in place as a path forward.

The SAA Foundation Board hopes to broaden its membership with its recent call for volunteers to serve on the Board. Check out the FAQs for Board service and volunteer by April 15! And Foundation committees are currently selecting a development consultant to assist in setting a direction for sustainable growth, reviewing Strategic Growth Fund grant proposals, and making timely decisions on requests for Archival Workers Emergency Fund support.

We’ve long aspired to broadening accessibility to our Digital Archives Specialist and A&D certificate programs. SAA Education recently announced that core courses are now available online in a new on-demand format. Behind this announcement is significant revision and updating of courses on grant writing, copyright, and privacy and confidentiality (for starters), each taught by an expert practitioner and consisting of multiple video presentations, slides, exercises, and a course exam. Our thanks to the Committee on Education and Digital Archives Specialist Subcommittee and to Gina Minks and Joshua Kitchens, our instructors for these first-out-of-the-chute offerings.

The Membership Committee’s very active subcommittees on the Mentoring Program, Key Contacts, and Career Development have made great strides. Be sure to check out SAA’s new Career Services Commons, a permanent online space for SAA members to access and offer career advising sessions, mock interviews, and résumé review services. Now all members—including those who can’t attend the Annual Meeting and its onsite “Career Center”—will have access to these services year-round.

We’re delighted that Laura Millar, author of SAA/ALA’s acclaimed A Matter of Facts: The Value of Evidence in an Information Age, will participate in our fifth annual One Book, One Profession reading initiative. The Publications Board is sponsoring a free online event on March 25 featuring Millar and panelists Valencia Johnson, Geoffrey Yeo, Louis Jones, and SAA Publications Editor Stacie Williams. We hope you’ll join in this book discussion to consider why archives matter today and how we can—and must—convince the world of their value! Register here and, if you’d like to conduct your own book group, find a study guide and tips on facilitating a reading group here.

Beginning with the Spring/Summer 2021 issue, we will publish American Archivist in an entirely digital format. This tough decision by the SAA Council acknowledges the ever-increasing production expenses of print (e.g., paper costs, fuel surcharges) and the impact of the pandemic on distribution and budgets. The good news is that we migrated all journal content to a new, much friendlier digital platform late last year. I love print as much as anyone. (At one point, I wanted to be a pressman so that I could spend my days steeped in the fragrance of ink on paper.) But this is a necessary step in responsibly stewarding SAA’s resources.

I could go on and on—as I often do—about the excellent and exciting work of the Committee on Public Awareness (with its ArchivesAWARE! blog), the team producing the charming Archives in Context podcast, the Committee on Public Policy (which is continuously at work monitoring the public policy landscape and preparing issue briefs), the Committee on Research, Data, and Assessment (SAA Dataverse, anyone?), the 2021 Program Committee, the A*CENSUS II Working Group, and others. Instead, I’ll ask you to keep your eye on the SAA website, In the Loop, the Announcements List, and your section lists for updates on SAA’s many and varied activities labors of love.

More or Less

SAA has always been small and cost conscious, and has long subscribed to the “doing more with less” habit of thought. (As I’ve mentioned a few times recently, our habit is to punch above our weight!)

But lately we’ve had some challenging conversations, born of COVID fatigue, about how we might do less with less. That concept is difficult for me, and I’ve preferred to reframe those conversations more along the lines of “what’s really important and what can we stop doing?”—the same questions that we should always be asking when thinking strategically.

SAA’s 5,800 members represent diverse interests and needs and preferences, and we have adjusted somewhat to the COVID world while attempting to maintain critical products and services and to continuously improve them. Like everyone else, we have had to make some business decisions that will suit many, but not all, members.

In keeping with SAA’s pre-pandemic “Go Green” initiative to reduce our carbon footprint and better steward financial and professional resources, the Fall/Winter 2020 issue of American Archivist will be the last print issue of the Journal. As a former journal managing editor, this breaks my heart, but it’s an inevitability to which we must adjust. The good news is that the journal has migrated to a new digital platform that includes many enhancements to the reading experience, including mobile-responsive web design, optional split screen reading, suggested articles based on browser history, and saved searches, alerts, and notifications. The new system also provides metrics for the number of downloads, shares, and citations—information that will help the Editorial Board as it shapes the journal going forward. Read about how to access issues.

Archival Outlook is on a similar path, though we’re phasing out print editions more slowly: The May/June, July/August, and September/October 2020 issues were digital only, and the November/December, January/February, and March/April 2021 issues will be available in both print and digital editions. As we explore more user-friendly digital platforms, we may well move the magazine to online-only.

SAA Education is now online only, but that doesn’t mean less in the way of offerings. In fact, it means more: More access—with no travel expense—to individual courses, to the new management track (including personnel, finance, facilities, and career management skills), and to the Digital Archives Specialist and A&D certificate programs and exams. View the on-demand webcast catalog at or check with education@archivists.org for information about upcoming courses.

You’ll note in the Call for Proposals for ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2021 that, although the SAA Council is hopeful that some aspects of the conference may be conducted in person at the Hilton Anaheim, the Program Committee “is issuing this call for proposals for sessions to be presented virtually.” The majority of sessions will be pre-recorded. With more time to plan and more opportunity to entice attendees, we hope to build an even better virtual conference in the coming year. Please submit your proposal by January 13!

And in the meantime:

SAA’s dynamic Membership Committee will soon be rolling out a virtual career center that offers key services year-round, not just at the Annual Meeting. And the Mentoring Program is undergoing some refinements that will make it even more responsive to individual needs.

The Finance Committee is collecting data and perspectives on SAA’s dues structure and fee schedule in preparation for a Council discussion about membership dues in January. Thanks to the more than 1,300 individuals who responded to our dues survey!

The Committee on Research, Data, and Assessment is putting the final touches on a memorandum of agreement with the Odum Institute to host the SAA Dataverse; establishing policies for collection scope, technical requirements, access procedures, and copyright and privacy limitations for the data repository; creating a Facts & Figures microsite to serve as a portal for research and advocacy information for the profession; and planning a series of forums and workshops that will “demystify data analysis” for archivists.

A*CENSUS II, our IMLS-funded comprehensive survey of archivists and institutions, gets underway in earnest when the ten-person working group convenes with our partners at Ithaka S+R in January to begin survey development.

And the SAA Foundation continues both its fundraising efforts (watch for the “Archivists Are Up For Any Challenge!” annual appeal messages) and its financial support for Strategic Growth Fund grant projects, the Archival Workers Emergency Fund, the Mosaic Scholarship, and the Annual Meeting travel awards. We appreciate your support of the Foundation.

Doing less with less? I’m not sure that’s in SAA’s DNA. But if you have ideas about what we can stop doing, please share them with me at nbeaumont@archivists.org.

The Value of Mentorships

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

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

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

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

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

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

State of the Association, FY 2020

These remarks were presented at SAA’s Annual Membership (Business) Meeting, held virtually on Wednesday, August 5, 2020, 2:00 to 3:30 pm CDT.

Good afternoon, everyone.

Like all of you, I practice a profession that is not broadly understood. My profession is association management. My professional association, the American Society of Association Executives, has 46,000 members. My profession has a body of knowledge and best practices. It has areas of specialization – like Finance and Administration, Education, Publishing, Government Relations, and Governance. It has a certification process; I became a Certified Association Executive in 1993.

Like archives management, association management requires much more than standard operating procedures and manuals. It’s guided by principles and best practices, and it thrives with strategic thinking, understanding the marketplace, fostering engagement, bench-marking, knowledge-based decision-making balanced with creative thinking. As they say, it’s an art and a science.

Associations also differ from other types of organizations. They are made up of people who come together—voluntarily—to solve common problems, meet common needs, and accomplish common goals. What’s unique about associations is that their members are the owners, the customers, and the workforce of the organization.

Common sense tells us that associations thrive when many voices are heard. My experience—and that of many of my association management colleagues—tells me that the partnership between member-volunteers and paid professional staff is the secret sauce that makes or breaks associations. 

In my “State of the Association” remarks in past years, I’ve typically reviewed long lists of accomplishments. Today I will share a shorter list – along with a promise to provide a more detailed report in a future Archival Outlook column. (Treasurer Amy Fitch will give you a nice overview of our FY 2020 financials in a few minutes.)

For many years, SAA’s member-volunteers and staff have punched above our weight. Here are a few examples of that in the past year.

I know of no other professional association of our size, or even close to it, that produced seven new books in a year—books ranging from our first-ever consumer publication in Creating Family Archives, to three volumes in the Archival Fundamentals series, two books of essays in honor of thought leaders in the profession, to A Matter of Facts, our first venture in the new Archival Futures series published in collaboration with ALA.  

Publications Editor Chris Prom, with the Publications Board, our authors, and two staff members (Teresa and Abigail), made it happen. Chris’s 6-year tenure was remarkably productive for SAA.  And we were delighted to welcome Stacie Williams as SAA’s new Publications Editor as of April 1. She has a busy year ahead, as we have seven more books slated for publication!

In all, more than 280 members contributed content to SAA publications in FY 2020, including those books as well as articles in American Archivist and Archival Outlook, the Journal Reviews Portal, and cases in our seven open-access Case Studies series.

Another example of punching above our weight comes from our Education program. We started the year with an enthusiastic Committee on Education and DAS Subcommittee, some seasoned and some new instructors, an ambitious schedule of in-person courses, a dream to launch the much-needed and long-awaited Management Track, and three staff in our Education Department (Rana, Akila, and Taylor).

By December, several in-person courses were cancelled due to low registrations. But we had applied for grants from the SAA Foundation and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission for development of Management courses, and things were looking okay.

By March 16, we were down to 2.5 staff members and had to re-tool existing courses for online, AND launch several free webcasts to help members during the pandemic, AND continue with Management Track development (because both grant proposals came through!).  From April to June, we offered 11 online courses with 384 attendees. During the same period, 1,727 archivists attended a free or paid SAA webcast, including those on Best Practices for Team Management in a Crisis, Financial Planning in Uncertain Times, and Salary Negotiation 101.

We are now just 1.75 Education staff (Rana plus Akila in a consultant role), with no plans to fill Taylor’s position. And we are now fully committed to online education. I suppose that if there is a silver lining to this pandemic, it may be that we had to rip off the BandAid. Professional development at SAA will now be more affordable and accessible than ever before.

The Archival Workers Emergency Fund is a favorite example of the volunteer/staff partnership this year. You’ve heard the story:  A committed group of members brought to the SAA Foundation Board an idea to establish a fund to support archives workers who were unemployed or precariously employed due to the pandemic.  Amy, Peter, Felicia, and I worked with the group to develop a proposal for the Foundation Board’s consideration. The Board enthusiastically supported creating the fund and provided $15,000 in seed money to establish it.  The review group was established. Turns out that part was easy.

The hard part was developing a rubric for evaluating applications, promoting both the availability of the fund and donations to it, compiling applications, doing the emotionally challenging labor of evaluating them weekly, and then figuring out how to get funds into the hands of individuals experiencing precarity—all in the midst of a pandemic.

I logged the first message from lead organizers Jessica Chapel and Lydia Tang on Saturday, March 21. The fund launched on April 15. To date, some 840 donors have contributed more than $107,000 to assist 144 of their colleagues at a difficult time. That’s just plain awesome! 

It pretty much does take a village, in this case the ad hoc organizing group, the review group, Felicia and Peter—and, of course, our many generous donors.

To the extent possible, we made a lot of strategic decisions after the pandemic struck:

  • We temporarily lifted the embargo on the six most recent issues of American Archivist, through August 15.

  • We went green with American Archivist and Archival Outlook. We’ve been promoting online-only access as a conservation matter, but then made a business decision not to mail periodicals to addresses that were closed during the pandemic.  Archival Outlook will be digital-only through at least the September/October issue, and we will be phasing out print entirely by June 2021.

  • We’re eagerly awaiting a major upgrade to the journal’s online platform, and we’re looking at alternatives for a more interactive platform for Archival Outlook.
  • Speaking of the Journal, we also conducted a search for its next Editor while under quarantine.  An announcement will be forthcoming soon.  But I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Cal Lee for his work as American Archivist editor as he completes his three-year term this December. Two statistics of particular interest, I think, are that journal submissions have increased significantly during Cal’s tenure, and 138 additional people volunteered to serve as peer reviewers in response to Cal’s invitation in September.
  • The gorgeous new Dictionary of Archives Terminology went live in April and already is one of the most trafficked areas of the SAA website. You’ll be hearing a bit more about the Dictionary Working Group today.

  • On April 11 we submitted an IMLS grant proposal for conduct of A*CENSUS II—and on July 23 we learned that we got it! $249,500. Work begins on September 1—and that, too, will take a village! 
  • We appreciated your patience—and that of the 2020 Program and Host committees, some 350 speakers, and our industry partners—as we negotiated a release from our Hilton Hotel contract, issued an RFP for tech vendors, and retooled the Joint Annual Meeting for a virtual environment, with an eye to giving all accepted sessions an opportunity to participate and to meeting the needs of our 46 sections and 16 appointed groups. We were able to make the square peg fit in a round hole this time.  Going forward, however, we really must rethink the conference in light of the likelihood of a fully virtual or at least hybrid annual meeting.  But first – let’s get through this one!

We’re grateful to several industry partners and the SAA Foundation for making it possible to reduce conference registration fees significantly. Keep in mind that, although we might not be enjoying $130-a-gallon hotel coffee (thank goodness), virtual conference technology platforms are certainly not free. As of an hour ago, we have 2,470 registrants for this meeting, the second highest attendance in SAA’s history. There were 2,488 attendees at the 2018 Joint Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, but we’re likely to beat that number before this virtual conference is over.

Gosh, I promised you just a few examples of the member/staff partnership at work—and here I’ve gone on and on….and haven’t even mentioned the three Council listening forums that have been conducted since June (the Community Reflection on Black Lives and Archives, the Investing in Your Membership Forum, and the Diversity Committee-led Black Lives and Archives Listening/Strategy Session). Stay tuned for more of these opportunities in the coming year.

And now, I’d like to share a few reflections.

On display in a corner of my office are some artifacts that mean a lot to me. There’s the bottle of The Archivist wine, a gift from an archivist friend. (It’s getting a little long in the tooth at this point.)  There’s “We Believe in Miracles,” a gift from my journal editor at the American Physical Therapy Association.  I learned there that it’s not about the big, earth-shuddering miracles, but the small ones—those good things that come from thinking big, planning well, surrounding yourself with good people, working hard, and, yes, having some good luck and fun along the way. And there’s the print, which says “Most people don’t know that there are angels whose only job is to make sure you don’t get too comfortable… and fall asleep… and miss your life.”  That’s my reminder that, in this line of business, those angels are our members….

As I’ve informed the staff and the Council, I do not intend to seek a renewal or extension of my current employment contract, which ends on June 30, 2021. I want to make space for someone who will see SAA through its next phase of development. And I need to make space in my life for the many other things that I would like to do. And so this is my last opportunity to provide a “State of the Association.”

SAA punches above its weight. Its volunteers certainly do. I could give you many more examples—but I’ll use this opportunity to call out the 2017-2020 “class” of the SAA Council:  Steven Booth, Brenda Gunn, Audra Eagle Yun, and Meredith Evans. As a class they seemed to have a unique bond. As a class they were supremely creative, initiating work, doing work, taking on any project thrown their way and acing it. As individuals, they are simply remarkable.  And, of course, Meredith—as I’ve often said to her—is a force of nature. Thank you to these wonderful individuals for their many contributions to SAA and the archives profession.

SAA punches above its weight. And so does its staff:  Matt Black. Teresa Brinati. Peter Carlson. Abigail Christian. Felicia Owens. Akila Ruffin. Carlos Salgado. Rana Salzmann. Michael Santiago. Lakesha Thaddis.

To the SAA staff:  You’ve been a joy and an inspiration to me. The lessons I’ve learned from you have everything to do with intentionality, empathy, kindness, and grace….  I hope I get to see you in person sometime soon—we have a conference to celebrate!

It has been my privilege to serve as Executive Director of SAA. Be assured that I will always be an Archives Advocate. Please be safe; be well. Thank you, all.