Diversity and Inclusion: Aspirations That We Must Realize

While not singled out in our strategic plan, one of SAA’s key strategic priorities is to grow and nurture greater diversity. Diversity within our membership, diversity within the archives profession, and diversity in the collections we hold. In a sense, this priority is too important to represent as a line item in a strategic plan. Rather, it is embedded throughout the plan and poured over everything we do. It is, perhaps, the area we acknowledge as needing the most work on the fastest timeline.

We have made small, measured starts in very positive directions. We have an active and dedicated Diversity Committee that helps us set a course. We have several roundtables that continue to increase our awareness and push us in good directions. We continue to develop and extend our scholarship programs and, in 2016, we have committed ourselves to placing more minority interns in SAA boards, committees, and working groups.

These are good steps, but small ones, that only scratch the surface. How do we gain traction as rapidly as possible so that we as a profession come to reflect the growing diversity we see in American society?  And how do we grow our own thinking so that we do not see “diversity” narrowly, but instead see it in its great fullness?

I think that part of the answer comes in working on ourselves, as individuals, first. We need to crack the nut that encloses us and begin to develop a true appreciation for diversity and, perhaps more importantly, a real desire for inclusion. Chris Taylor, a wise colleague at the Minnesota Historical Society who is dedicated to working on these issues in our own institution, reminds me that diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice. And that means a personal choice. I believe that when we as individuals come to appreciate the value of diversity, and inculcate a spirit of inclusiveness, then we will start to gain real, continuing traction in meeting our shared goal to diversify SAA, our profession, and the archival record. We then become forces that can help to reshape the policies of our employing organizations, as well as the ways in which we as individuals approach hiring, mentoring, and including. These are the sorts of things that have some power to diversify our work and our profession.

In the SAA Council, we are taking initial steps down that road by developing training in cultural competency that can eventually be rolled out to all of our members in a variety of formats. We are also working some additional content into the ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2016 program, including a diversity forum. And we are planning to build a much larger effort into the 2017 Annual Meeting program that relates to diversity and inclusion.

I look forward to this work and to realizing the aspiration that drives it. I hope that you do, too.

 

Advocacy: One Destination, Many Roads

Earlier in February I visited the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan and had the opportunity to discuss a topic vital to the profession. SAA’s strategic plan calls out “advocating for archives and archivists” as a key priority. My predecessor Kathleen Roe spent her presidential year pressing this stratagem forward with energy, resolve, and a very personal passion. SAA achieved some real successes as a result:

  • We established a Committee on Public Policy (CAPP) that shapes and drives forward the advocacy work that focuses on the public policies and resources necessary to ensure that archival records are preserved and made accessible. It is intended to engage with governments. To date CAPP has published a number of issue briefs that can guide thinking and action by SAA members on a number of important topics.
  • We established a Committee on Public Awareness (COPA). Whereas CAPP focuses on public policy, COPA is concerned with influencing opinions about the value of archivists and archives among the general public and among stakeholder groups other than legislators and regulators.
  • We continue to compile “elevator speeches” and personal stories that speak compellingly to the value of archives. This work is, and must remain, a continuous endeavor.
  • We have a created the first of what we intend to be a long line of advocacy video clips, each of which will be intended for a particular audience. The first one, “Archives Change Lives,” was unveiled at SAA’s 2015 conference and speaks directly to archivists, rather than to external audiences.

All these efforts amount to a good start, but only a start. We know that many other efforts must be launched to begin gaining traction in archival advocacy. Among them would be:

  • A robust lobbying presence in our nation’s capital.
  • Ongoing advocacy training for archivists.
  • Media kits that can be rolled out to support a variety of initiatives.
  • A rich array of advocacy tools and resource materials on SAA’s website that archivists can utilize for their own initiatives.

These resources will not come quickly or cheaply, but they are all important to build the sort of powerful and integrated advocacy effort that other professions have been able to create.

And I think one other advocacy endeavor is equally important. The advocacy pieces delineated above will only be truly convincing if they are supported by an infrastructure of convincing data.  Our great advocacy stories, which reflect singular experiences, need to be grounded in statistical data that suggest their cumulative value. When we can marry the stories to the underlying data, only then will we have created a compelling value proposition. Then, our advocacy messages will achieve impact and real sufficiency. There are models for us to follow in identifying and compiling such data, especially the work of the Center for the Future of Museums.

I’ll be talking more about this direction in days to come. In the meantime, I hope that you will comment with ideas about how we can begin to create a data-informed value proposition for archives.

The Dues Referendum

Shortly, SAA will be conducting a referendum on a dues increase. Last May, the Council recognized a need for this increase, citing its support for maintaining a growth strategy for SAA as measured by the quality of its member services and the Society’s leadership role on behalf of archivists and the archives profession. The Society has set itself on a growth-oriented path with an ambitious five-year Strategic Plan, healthy but leveling membership numbers, a high-demand education program, a publications program that is working toward a successful e-publishing business model, and nascent advocacy and public awareness efforts. This growth strategy can be sustained only if SAA maintains an appropriate balance of revenues from both member dues and non-dues sources (i.e., product and service sales). Continue reading

Archives and typhoon damage in the Northern Mariana Islands

On Sunday August 2, 2015, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, was hit by Typhoon Soudelor with winds of up to 105 mph. There was massive damage particularly on the island of Saipan, home to the Northern Marianas College where the territorial archives is maintained. Christopher Todd, the territorial archivist, reports that the archives were largely undamaged by the storm, but roughly half of the Northern Marianas College has been completely destroyed. Saipan has not had running water or power for two weeks and it will likely be a month or more before these services are restored. In the meantime all staff are working full time for the American Red Cross emergency response team and trying to locate a generator to power the archives’ HVAC system before the records begin to deteriorate.

Colleagues from SAA and CoSA are in communication with Chris Todd, with FEMA contacts through CoSA’s Intergovernmental Preparedness for Essential Records project, and with colleagues from the West Coast and Pacific Islands to explore how the archival community can help address this situation.

We will continue to monitor this and share information as it becomes available.

Not-so-strange Encounters: Interact with SAA Leadership in Cleveland!

One of the concerns I’ve heard periodically over the past year of my presidency is that members feel disconnected from our organizational leadership. We’ve tried in a range of ways to address that from this blog, to presence on twitter and Facebook, and encouraging contact on specific issues. At the Annual Meeting in Cleveland, there several ways you can connect with me, with vice-president/president-elect Dennis Meissner, treasurer Mark Duffy, and will the member of Council. Think about taking advantage of one (or all) of the following opportunities:

1. Attend Council meetings: Council will meet to address a range of association business on Monday 8/17, 4 p.m.-8 p.m., Tuesday 8/18, 8 a.m.-12 noon, and Saturday 8/22 1 p.m.-2:30 p.m. All these meeting are open to the membership—we are, after all, your elected governing body. Interested in what’s going on with educational program curriculae? Intellectual property? The Archives and Archivists listserv? Or maybe you just want to see my blinged-out gavel? Check the location and agenda items at http://www2.archivists.org/groups/saa-council/august-17-18-2015-council-meeting You are truly and sincerely welcome to attend–if you feel more comfortable letting me know in advance, just hit me up on email at president@archivists.org

2. Attend the Leadership Plenary on Friday 8/21 at 8:30 a.m. In keeping with “trying new approaches” we’ve decided to make what has been traditionally the Presidential Address plenary into a broader Leadership Plenary. This forum will be an opportunity for you to hear from president-elect Dennis Meissner about his thoughts and plans for the coming year, which I’m really excited about because it will bring “substance” to our work in advocacy and awareness. You will also, for perhaps the first time ever, hear from a representative of Council, Helen Wong Smith, to address an important initiative of that group focusing on cultural competency. And yes, I will still do a presidential address reflecting on “The Year of Living Dangerously for Archives.”

3. Town Hall with SAA Leaders. On Thursday 8/20 at 12:15 p.m., we will be reprising our lunchtime forum from last year. SAA officers, Executive Director, and representatives of Council will answer questions from attendees about how SAA works, how to get involved, or whatever is on your mind. Just stop in and let us know what’s on your mind.

4. Exhibit Hall Office Hours. Again on Thursday 8/20 at 5:15 p.m. SAA officers and Council members will hold “office hours” in the Exhibit Hall during the official “opening.” This is a great informal opportunity to engage with us one-on-one. Particularly for those of you who “took action” to raise awareness of and advocate for archives over the past year, I hope you’ll stop by and introduce yourselves to me…and I just might have something for you in return! (Think in shades of purple…)

Finally, you’ll find Council members attending the meetings of sections and roundtables for which they serve as liaisons, Dennis and I will be attending a number of those meetings to which we’ve been invited, and generally, we will all be around—at the All-Attendee Reception, in the coffee line, at sessions, and in the halls of the Convention Center.  Honestly, do come up and introduce yourself. You elected us, and we are honestly more than willing to talk with and listen to you.    And if you’re not coming to Cleveland (sigh), you know where to find me until August 22 (president@archivists.org).

We are hear because of you and for you–so interaction is highly encouraged!

2015 SAA Service Project: Shoes and Clothes for Kids

SAA kids schoolContributed by Nicole LaFlamme, Cleveland 2015 Annual Meeting Host Committee,  J.M. Smucker Corporate Archives

As we gear up for our annual conference, local Cleveland students will be gearing up with backpacks, sneakers, and clothes for their first day of school, August 17th. Many of us will be driving or flying into Cleveland at the same time kids are heading off to school, making for a hectic morning commute. Archivists will anticipate luggage arrival and remember all travel essentials. We’ll sort out travel-rumpled clothes while hoping conference rooms aren’t over-air-conditioned or that the Miami heat hasn’t followed LeBron to Cleveland. We’ll be finding our way around, reuniting with friends we’ve missed over the months, and figuring out our schedules.

It’ll be a similar situation for Cleveland-area kids. Back-to-school also means new schedules, finding friends, and pressures to appear presentable amongst peers. Many students can’t afford the items necessary to begin the school year, while others are unable to attend school at all due to financial restrictions. Poverty is an especially big deal for children in Cleveland, where 54.4 percent live in poverty – defined for a family of three as below $18,769 a year (Census Bureau, Sept, 2014). The cost for equipping a grade-schooler jumped 20 percent between 2013 and 2014. In 2014, parents estimated paying $642 per child for school supplies (Huntington Backpack Index, 2014). This does not include the price of clothing. Studies have shown that the inability to buy clothing can affect self-esteem and significantly affect social participation.

Luckily, there is an opportunity for us to help local kids while engaging in some social participation of our own. A group of volunteers is needed at the Shoes and Clothes for Kids (SC4K) warehouse in Cleveland to help count, sort, and pack items into boxes for distribution to area children. This Packing Day is a fun opportunity that involves some physical labor (making boxes, opening boxes, moving boxes). SC4K positively impacts the lives of over 25,000 children each year by giving them the self-esteem and confidence that comes from having brand new shoes and clothes.

A second chance to participate will be available during the conference. SC4K donation boxes will be set up within the Cleveland Convention Center for you to drop off new articles of clothing (in original packaging or with tags attached) and school supplies. Keep in mind the first things a child puts on in the morning are socks and underwear – essentials no one wants to be without.

If you are interested in giving back to the host-city, helping kids, doing some pro-bono organizational work, and meeting up and having lunch with peers, please contact me. To register for the Packing Day, please e-mail: Nicole.Laflamme@jmsmucker.com or call 330-684-7629. While at the conference, keep an eye out for the SC4K donation boxes.

SCK image

To help out kids of the four-legged variety, SAA will be collecting wish list items for the Cleveland Animal Protective League (https://clevelandapl.org/). The shelter’s needs range from items for the animals to office supplies…and many are “suitcase friendly.” For SAA’s novice and champion knitters, cat and dog blankets would be welcome as well! We’ll be sharing more about ways to help Cleveland’s pets-in-waiting as the meeting gets closer. To see the Cleveland APL’s wish list, visit https://clevelandapl.org/donate/our-wish-list/

Animal protective league

Challenge #9: Archives in Five Words

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

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

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

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