Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

What’s Next? Looking at the Next Year for SAA

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.

Thank you to everyone who is here at our member meeting today. As I have often said, this is the Society OF American Archivists, not FOR, and each one of you being here today is an affirmation of that.

While our virtual platform is allowing us to do things in a new way, I bet most of you, like me, wish we were sitting in a ballroom in Chicago right now. For me, I’m coming to you from my auxiliary work space, in the hallway between my front door and laundry room. Not quite the view of the Rocky Mountains that I have in my office at the Denver Public Library.

I think we should begin by acknowledging that 2020 is not what any of us expected or wanted. It’s been one unprecedented development after another and I’m not just talking about the murder hornets. And while I am a pragmatist at heart, I remain optimistic about SAA even in the face of the challenges our institutions, profession, and organization are facing.

The Society of American Archivists was founded in 1936, which was not during a pandemic, but certainly was not an easy time in the history of the United States, with the country still reeling from the Great Depression and on the brink of another world war.

In his 1983 presidential address, Frank Cook referred to this early SAA era from 1936 to 1945 as “Growing Up in Depression and War.” Much like our parents and grandparents who lived through that era, SAA is fortunate to have leadership and staff who have prepared for this challenging time and continue to be prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to keep our Society strong and able to maintain our professional leadership role and services during a time that includes both financial and societal challenges.

My optimism comes from several examples from the past few months.

First, when the COVID-19 pandemic began to create real challenges for many of our friends and colleagues, a group of archivists quickly formed to propose the Archival Workers Emergency Fund. To date, the fund has raised more than $100,000 and supported more than 140 archival workers with grants of up to $1,000.

Then, at the beginning of June, the SAA Council released a statement on Black Lives and Archives. The statement was followed by a town hall meeting attended by more than 800 people, a forum led by the Diversity Committee last week, and a follow-up forum this Friday morning.

Those events have included small group discussions about what we as archivists and as an organization can do to begin the important work to address the systemic racism that has been pervasive in our nation throughout its history. As the keepers of that history, we play a significant role in how THAT story is told, what is remembered, what is forgotten. It’s a critical role, one which many outside our work don’t truly appreciate.

More recently, we received the fantastic news that SAA was successful in its application for an IMLS grant to support the A*CENSUS II project. Does anything feel quite as good as the notification of a funded grant you’ve worked so hard on? In partnership with ITHAKA S+R, we will develop a set of data about the profession and create an ongoing plan to keep that data up to date. Work will begin on that project this fall.

Finally, with the challenges of the current situation, we’ve all learned to utilize virtual spaces in new ways. This year every SAA member from my library was able to attend the Annual Meeting, which unfortunately doesn’t happen in most years!

And I know that’s true for many of you who are able to attend this year for either the first time or maybe the first time in a long time.

The SAA Council has also gotten much better at meeting online. I’ve definitely appreciated the hard work of the SAA staff to help us make those meetings go more smoothly, including our meeting on Monday that was attended by more than 30 members.

And as I mentioned, we’ve been holding town halls–which I’ve found to have an important role in making sure the leadership of SAA and the members have regular ways to interact. It is my plan to continue those sessions in the coming year, so please stay tuned for more information about when we will do that next and what we will be discussing. If you have suggestions, please let me know.

I look forward to the coming year of serving as your president of this organization that has had such an impact on my career and life. I’ve been thinking about what that will mean during these past few months of working and staying at home more than usual. And I’d like to say that I’ve read 100 books on the important topics of the day and plotted my own personal strategic plan, but honestly after reading the news of the day and being in meetings for hours on end, my natural tendency has gone to binge watching a variety of TV shows and catching up on podcasts while walking my dogs.

In a time when so much of what will happen in the next few months or year seems unsure or likely to change, I remain excited for my time serving this organization, for the new and seasoned members of our leadership, and for this organization. This year we will face a major transition in leadership. Many of us only know SAA during Nancy’s time as executive director. You helped us grow up! We are not the organization that greeted you when you arrived in this role. We also look forward to celebrating your career and impact on SAA.

So, on that note, I must turn to the inspiration of one of my favorite TV presidents—President Jed Bartlet—and ask you all: What’s next?

Zooming

This article originally appeared as the Executive Director’s Message in the May/June 2020 issue of Archival Outlook, available soon.

Zoom is our new and ubiquitous reality. We use it daily—some days, hourly—to connect as a staff, to facilitate the work of SAA groups, and to provide free webcasts. But SAA has been “zooming” in more ways than one since our world and work changed in early March. To wit:

March 10: As COVID-19 interrupted the best-laid plans of SAA’s Committee on Education and staff, the team—and our super-hero instructors—pivoted quickly to convert nine in-person courses to online and craft three free webcasts in response to the pandemic: Suddenly Working at Home: Best Practices for Team Management in Crisis (March 30), Financial Planning in Uncertain Times (May 6), and Managing Your Career in Crisis (June 10). All online courses are available on demand.

March 18: The SAA Council created a “Pandemic Response Resources” page that compiles resources created by SAA groups, external groups, funding agencies, and others on coping with the pandemic. Submit your ideas for resources to saahq@ archivists.org.

April 1: We were delighted to welcome Stacie Williams (University of Chicago) to the position of Publications Editor. Stacie inherits a long list of works in progress, including six titles that are due out this summer. Watch for announcements about Advancing Preservation for Archives and Manuscripts, Reference and Access for Archives and Manuscripts, Engagement in the Digital Era, Making Tools Work For You, and more.

April 1: SAA’s “Go Green” initiative invites you to opt out of the print version of American Archivist and Archival Outlook to help SAA reduce both costs and climate impact. To make the switch, log in to your SAA profile, click “Edit My Profile,” scroll to “Communications and Mailing Preference,” and click “opt out” of the journal and/or magazine. You’ll enjoy the same great content—now a little greener and in the format you prefer.

April 12: We submitted a grant proposal to the Institute of Museum and Library Services for conduct of A*CENSUS II, a comprehensive survey of archivists and archival institutions that will enhance our understanding of the profession’s demographics, work patterns, and practices. Fingers crossed for an award letter in late July!

April 15: The SAA Foundation announced the Archival Workers Emergency Fund, an idea originating with an ad hoc working group led by Jessica Chapel and Lydia Tang that clearly resonated with the archives community. To date, the AWEF Review Committee has awarded 106 applicants a total of $92,300 from the donations of more than 580 individuals and $15,000 in SAAF seed funding. We are blown away by your generosity….  Read more, apply, or donate here.

April 23: The SAA Council’s Archival Compensation Task Force began its daunting two-year assignment under the leadership of SAA member Greta Pittenger (National Public Radio) to identify compensation-related issues, including benefits, salary negotiations, and working conditions; study compensation using existing and new data; survey SAA members; and explore creation of a standing body to advocate on behalf of archivists with O-Net, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and others. (See SAA’s Strategic Plan 2020–2022, Goal 2.1.H.)

April 29: The Dictionary Working Group did it! With hundreds of new items, thousands of citations from more than 600 sources, and a brand-new online platform, the Dictionary of Archives Terminology  premiered. DAT is a work in progress; updates are made weekly as new terms are defined and existing terms are revised. Your feedback and suggestions for new terms will help shape the lexicon.

May 5: Weeks of soul-searching and hotel negotiations ended with our announcement that ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2020: Creating Our Future is going virtual! Program development and logistics for our annual three-ring circus are complicated, but pale in comparison to deconstructing and retooling for a different environment. We’re learning from others’ experiences (via many Zoom meetings) every day. Be assured that we hear your concerns about slashed professional development budgets and furloughs and we’re exploring ways to keep registration fees as low as possible while also providing a great conference experience for you.

May 13: Members of the Committee on Public Awareness researched and drafted “Archivists Rally to Document COVID-19,” a release that we issued nationwide via wire services. Watch for articles in your local media, and use every opportunity to reinforce that archives and archivists are essential!

By June 17: As every spring, we’re working on the budget. The FY21 Budget that the Council discusses will be very different— less detailed—than in past years as we ponder a few broad scenarios for the impact of COVID-19 on virtually all of SAA’s programs. I expect we’ll hope for the best but plan for something less. . . . Like you, SAA faces some challenging financial times ahead.

My apparently unshakeable habit of awakening to NPR reinforces the surreality of these times every morning. And so I look for something to calm me before sleep. My friend Abbi has introduced me to a whole new world of artists, writers, photographers, musicians, and (even) YouTubers via her lovely online weekly “Joy in the Time of Corona.” She reminds me that even though we all seem to be busier and more stressed than ever . . . there is time and space for joy

Be safe, be well, be kind.

We Are Resilient!

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

Nothing connects people more immediately and universally than a shared emotional event. Over the last year we have been through a lot, but nothing like this global pandemic. Our societal, organizational, and individual value systems have been challenged recently, but even more so by COVID-19. This shared situation puts everything in a new light. In some ways it may highlight or exaggerate our differences, but I hope that it will highlight our similarities. I know that we are all experiencing change within due to this pandemic. What are we learning about ourselves and others during this time? I can’t help but wonder how we will treat each other when this is over. 

The differences and divisiveness seen as obstacles months ago may be diminishing and we are moving toward a collective sense of cooperation and understanding. Now, even more so due to the pandemic, we engage with our colleagues and friends differently and hopefully for the good. We are learning to put our differences aside, accept risk, and work together.  I am so proud of our membership for your boldness, passion, and fervent desire to want what’s best and representative of our organization and profession. I am thankful that everyone who wanted to had an opportunity to run for SAA office and am grateful for those of you who exercised your right to vote. This election reflects the growth and strength of our membership and is a testament to faith in our governance and willingness to support equity.

Although this global pandemic has challenged each of us in various ways, I appreciate the underlying sense of understanding, benevolence, and care that many within the archival community are demonstrating to help one another during this catastrophic time. I am especially proud of our SAA leadership and staff for their fortitude and thoughtful recommendations, and, most importantly, for our members’ generous support as we work diligently to ensure the safety and well-being of SAA and the archival community. 

I recognize the uncertainty, anxiety, and concern that our association may never be the same. Let us value the support and connection to our community. Let us value our resilience and know that we can and will overcome. Let us emerge with renewed appreciation, gratitude, determination, and resolve. None of us could have imagined that we would enter a new year and a new decade in a global state of emergency. However, despite the odds, I know that we will lift our voices and rise to the occasion and overcome this test together. We are resilient.

How Do You Measure a Volunteer?

This article originally appeared as the President’s Message in the November/December 2019 issue of Archival Outlook.

As I reflect on the past few months, I’m reminded of Kathleen Roe’s remarks at the 2014 Annual Meeting, in which she opened with the lyrics from “Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent:

“525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear.
525,600 minutes—how do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee.
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
In 525,600 minutes—how do you measure a year in the life?”

My mind raced to zip drives, email, defunct blog posts, tweets, and SnapChat. How do we measure a year in the life? I reflect on what I said and didn’t say about the profession in my interview for An Archivist’s Tale (listen to episode 83 at http://ow.ly/2jIV30pEOvx). I am reminded why I do this work—why I hope we do this work. I believe, as Dennis Meissner so eloquently stated during the Leadership Plenary at SAA’s 2015 Annual Meeting, that “archives provide essential evidence to protect and enhance our rights as citizens, providing fundamental information that supports and shapes our understanding of historical events and cultural heritage. We help people understand the human experience” (https://www2.archivists.org/am2015/leadership-plenary-video#.XZYOCGBKhhG).

In the same plenary, Helen Wong Smith spoke of the active process of cultural relativism, which includes self-reflection, a nonjudgmental attitude, and accepting a holistic approach to change. Along those lines I stand by my words from last year: “We must be willing to listen to one another. Really listen. Not necessarily to agree but to understand, build trust, and work together to effect change, minimize or remove obstacles, and resolve conflict.”

So I ask you to share your expertise, network with colleagues, and enhance your résumé by volunteering with SAA. Our members are busy thinking of inventive ways to engage current audiences with the intent to bring in new ones. As we prepare for the next Annual Meeting, I get giddy thinking of what great work we’ll hear about along with the bumps and bruises from the journey. I think about the growth of our organization and the ways we strive to improve, shift organizational culture, and meet members’ needs. It is challenging to meet everyone’s needs and to hear everyone’s voices, but we’re trying. We are grateful that, despite being busy, you take the time to read SAA’s publications; to support the various sections and committees with your perspectives, funds, and expertise; to schedule and run meetings in person or online; and to create reports, implement surveys, and help other archivists with your resources and talents. Everything you do to support your colleagues around the country and the world makes SAA better and more relevant.

One of the joys of SAA is the variety of perspectives (and objectives) of our members alongside the shared love for what we do. We embrace archival standards and theories and identify new ways to maintain and provide access to content that will inform generations of their histories. We are bold yet quiet; we are advocates advancing the needs of our members to stakeholders and the public through collection development, publications, programming, and outreach. We speak out and we write with allied organizations. We discuss policy and funding and fight to ensure government transparency and accountability. We advocate for the best management of records in any format under any circumstances. So what are you waiting for? Volunteer, get active, stay engaged.

The Five-Ton Elephant: How Student Loans Are Crushing Our Profession

By Rachel Vagts, SAA Vice President/President Elect

After the Annual Meeting in Austin last summer, a group of archivists put together the SAA19 Archivist Salary Transparency Open Spreadsheet. As a big believer in transparency being the first step to resolving issues of wage equity, I was happy to see folks take up this effort. When I filled out the sheet I was also impressed to see all of the data points they included. But what really caught my eye was the field for the amount of student loan debt that people in our profession are carrying. Of the nearly 500 archivists who contributed to the spreadsheet, the accumulated debt was about $13.7 million. And for everyone who was able to report that their loans were paid off, there was usually someone who still owed more than $100,000.

I’m lucky. I never had a loan debt that high. But after more than 20 years working as a full-time archivist, I’m still paying off my undergrad and graduate school loans. And at about 10 years and six months, I’m also chasing the “dream” of Public Student Loan Forgiveness.

Every couple of months, I close my office door during my lunch and get out my cell phone. I dial the 800 number, punch in the last 4 digits of my account number, and then begin the wait for the menu options. Yep, it’s my regular check-in with my friends at FedLoan to see if they’ve made any more progress on straightening out the approval on the ten years’ worth of student loan payments I’ve made using their automated payment system…which for some reason had me paying ahead about $5 each month.

As the oldest of four kids, my parents helped me with my college tuition, but I was on my own for grad school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I got a work/study job at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin and I took out a federal student loan to cover the rest of my in-state tuition and living expenses. All told, I think I borrowed about $16,000 over the course of those two years. I also paid my rent with a credit card more times than I should have—but that’s a different blog post.

My first job was at the University of Maryland. I was a project archivist on a two-year NEH grant and I made $29,000 annually. At that point I consolidated my undergraduate and graduate student loans ($26,000) for a repayment period of 20 years at 9% interest through my loan servicer, Sallie Mae.

I won’t bore you with all of the intervening years but, needless to say, in 2009—after 12 years of paying my loans—I owed $48,000. There were a couple of years when I took forbearance, but I never missed a payment. And then I heard about Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

I researched the program (which seemed like it might be a scam), read carefully read through the rules, and started to follow them. I consolidated my Sallie Mae loans back to the Federal Direct program, which had an immediate impact: They capped the interest rate at 4.875%, so my rate was basically cut in half. I also began paying on an income-based rate, which lowered my payments from around $400 to somewhere south of $200. I set up the automatic payment and went about my business working at my private non-profit college while the Department of Education figured out how they were going to actually run this program.

Why this long story when I know that more than a few of you have a similar one to tell? (Actually a LOT of us have a similar one to tell.) I’ve heard stories about people who haven’t been able to buy a house, have waited to start a family, don’t feel like they can move for a new job. Student loan debt has limited the choices for many of us.

As noted in the spreadsheet,[1] the average student loan debt of archivists who have been in the field for 10 years or fewer is approximately $34,588. The average goes up to $58,782 when you remove the people who didn’t have loans or have been able to pay them off. Thirty-seven respondents in this category report having $100,000 or more of outstanding debt.

The numbers don’t get much better for those who have been in the field for 11 to 20 years, with an average student loan debt of $45,972. And there were several respondents with 20+ years in the field who were still paying—including me.

So what do we do about this? These days there is a lot of talk about forgiving student loans, and I totally support that. But what if we could also come up with a way to become an archivist without having to take out a loan? We must think about new ways into our profession that don’t saddle our future colleagues with this crippling debt.

I certainly don’t have all of the answers on that one, but it’s a big part of what I want to talk about during my year as SAA president. I’m hoping that this post might start a conversation about what some of those paths might be. What if we found a new path into the profession that didn’t require prospective archivists to borrow and spend tens of thousands of dollars? How can we as a group advocate for the existing loan forgiveness programs to actually forgive loans? How can we make sure those programs are expanded to include others who weren’t able to participate for some reason? Please share any and all ideas–I would love to hear them!

In the meantime, I’m on month 8 of the up-to-12-month manual review of my last 44 payments. In a recent conversation the customer service representative told me that my extra payments would be refunded to me. I told her that was a good thing because I’d already promised everyone in my department that when my loan was forgiven I was taking them all to happy hour and buying the first round for everyone who’s still paying off a loan. I figure I might need two or three of my payments to cover it. Hey, maybe I’ll get that news in July and we can have that party at the Annual Meeting….


[1] This is approximate, as the data do not include responses that omitted years in the field and that were included in more narrative responses.