Tangible Outcomes from SAA’s Strategic Plan

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

If you have not yet looked at SAA’s Strategic Plan for 2020–2022, you should! The strategic goals provide direction for the work that members request. In the Strategic Plan, the Council has identified tangible outcomes that committees, sections, Council members, and staff will work on to support these goals and objectives. Read the full document at https://www2.archivists.org/governance/strategic-plan/2020-2022.

The tangible outcomes of each of the four goals are new guides, toolkits, and publications; expanded opportunities for mentoring and leadership; and a platform with advanced features that will enable robust, virtual discussion. As we move forward with the Strategic Plan, we will also look internally to see where we can refine and improve our organizational and governance structures.

With an ongoing commitment to advocacy efforts and a culture of inclusion and participation, SAA will continue to encourage mentorship and develop leaders in our organization and profession. Recent tangibles include the first Archives Managers Unconference on August 1 during ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2019 in Austin, featuring lightning talks on a variety of subjects and a “think tank” session to talk about archivists’ needs in this area. And the newly published Leading and Managing Archives and Manuscripts Programs, edited by Peter Gottlieb and David W. Carmicheal—volume 1 in the Archival Fundamentals Series III—uses personal experiences to share plentiful examples of successful leadership practices from the archives field.

Incoming vice president/president-elect Rachel Vagts, the Council, and myself are dedicated to supporting the development of archivists in their day-to-day work, in career and leadership growth, and in advocacy efforts. Through the newly formed Committee on Research, Data, and Assessment (CORDA) and data gathered from the forthcoming A*CENSUS II, we can strengthen SAA to better aid archivists and the profession. We must find ways to expand our reach, to share with the world what we do and why it’s important. We need to find ways to address discrepancies across the profession including representation, professional status, and salaries. We need data that tells us who we are, where we are, and what we are getting paid so that we can clearly articulate our value and better negotiate our roles and remuneration.

Four Goals of SAA’s Strategic Plan

Goal 1: Advocating for Archives
Society values the vital role of archives and archivists.

Goal 2: Enhancing Professional Growth
Archivists have access to the professional community and resources they need to be successful and effective in their careers.

Goal 3: Advancing the Field
Professional knowledge expands to keep pace with an increasingly diverse archival record.

Goal 4: Meeting Members’ Needs
SAA delivers outstanding service, fosters a culture of inclusiveness and participation, and is proactive and responsive to members’ needs.

To continue meeting the Strategic Plan’s goals and objectives, we need to start with open  communication and exchange—not just in a bimonthly president’s column, but through social media, podcasts, newsletters, and blog posts. Review the Strategic Plan and stay up-to-date on actions from the Council’s quarterly meetings. Talk with your group’s Council liaison about ideas or questions you may have, and learn how to take action and get involved. And keep an eye out for more news on tangible outcomes from SAA members Terry Baxter, Lae’l Watkins, Bergis Jules, and Melvin Collier, forthcoming on the Off the Record blog (https://offtherecord.archivists.org).

Regardless of where you are in your career, we have ways for you to get involved.

Council Statement on SAA 2020 Election

SAA’s 2020 election has presented some new and unique challenges for our organization.

SAA is uniquely democratic among professional organizations in that the Nominating Committee, as well as the governing Council and its officers, are elected by the general membership. In many organizations, candidates are slated by the executive committee or the board and/or individuals are elected to the board and officer positions by the board. We are gratified that our election process allows for greater input by the general membership.

The Nominating Committee members, who were elected by the general membership to develop a slate of candidates for this election, did just that. They followed all the guidance provided to them in the Nominating Committee Procedures, Calendar of Duties, and other documents that have been developed and refined over time. The slate was published on December 9, 2019.

A group of SAA members exercised their right to put forth a petition, per the SAA Bylaws (Section 5.C.), to add to the slate a candidate for Vice President/President-Elect. The SAA office received the petition, signed by 52 SAA members, on January 10, 2020. Although this avenue has not been used before, it has been a part of our bylaws since the 1970s. If you have questions about the motivation for the petition, we suggest that you contact those who filed the petition.

We affirm that this election is being conducted legitimately, according to established procedures and without tampering or intervention from elected members or the SAA staff.

We recognize that this situation has caused hurt and created tension among some of our members. It has led us to reflect on the election process, and particularly on the role of petitions in that process. We will be reviewing the bylaws this spring and may bring forward amended language. In addition, we are planning a listening session during the 2020 Joint Annual Meeting as one means of hearing your perspectives. In all our discussions, we will keep in mind SAA’s ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion; our respect for the democratic process; and the growth in our membership since the 1970s.

The SAA Council remains committed to a democratic and transparent election. We thank the Nominating Committee for their work and the candidates for their willingness to stand for election. And we encourage all SAA members to vote!

The SAA Council
February 5, 2020

SAA NOMINATING COMMITTEE’S RESPONSE TO PETITION

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

Dear Executive Director and Executive Committee,

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

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

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

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

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

The Nominating Committee abided by the rules, which state 

Section I: Bylaws of the Society of American Archivists

5. ELECTION OF OFFICERS AND COUNCILORS

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

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

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

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

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

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

In solidarity with our SAA membership who put us here,

SAA 2019-2020 Nominating Committee

Letter of Apology from David S. Ferriero

Dear SAA Members,

I am writing to you in response to the Society of American Archivists (SAA) statement of January 19, 2020, “NARA Exhibit on 2017 Women’s March in Washington, DC”, in which SAA expressed its concern about NARA’s alteration of a photo of the Women’s March.  The SAA statement explained that our action raised deep archival issues of falsification of historical records, politicization of the National Archives, and violations of archival ethics. I take these concerns extremely seriously, and want to reach out to you and the whole community of archivists represented by SAA to extend my apology to you and to describe our next steps.

As many of you know, on Saturday, January 18, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) issued a public apology for having displayed an altered photograph at the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC. The public apology reads in full:

We made a mistake. 

As the National Archives of the United States, we are and have always been completely committed to preserving our archival holdings, without alteration.    

In an elevator lobby promotional display for our current exhibit on the 19th Amendment, we obscured some words on protest signs in a photo of the 2017 Women’s March. This photo is not an archival record held by the National Archives, but one we licensed to use as a promotional graphic. Nonetheless, we were wrong to alter the image.

We have removed the current display and will replace it as soon as possible with one that uses the unaltered image.

We apologize, and will immediately start a thorough review of our exhibit policies and procedures so that this does not happen again.

On Tuesday, January 21, I sent an apology to NARA staff members as well, and the next day I wrote a post on my blog, “Accepting Responsibility, Working to Rebuild Your Trust.” I owe you and the entire professional community of archivists an apology, too.  I realize that the integrity of the National Archives, the flagship archives of the United States, is essential to the entire profession. Any reason for doubt about our independence and commitment to archival ethics casts a pall over the profession and  is unacceptable in itself. 

We wanted to use the commercially-licensed 2017 Women’s March image to connect the suffrage exhibit with relevant issues today. We also wanted to avoid accusations of partisanship or complaints that we displayed inappropriate language in a family-friendly Federal museum. For this reason, NARA blurred words in four of the protest signs in the 2017 march photograph, including President Trump’s name and female anatomical references. 

To be clear, the decision to alter the photograph was made without any external direction whatsoever.  

We wrongly missed the overall implications of the alteration.  We lost sight of our unique charge:as an archives, we must present materials without alteration; as a museum proudly celebrating the accomplishments of women, we should accurately present not silence the voices of women; and as a Federal agency we must be completely and visibly non-partisan.

We are now working to correct our actions as quickly and transparently as possible. 

We immediately removed the lenticular display and replaced it with our apology letter. On Wednesday, January 22, we added the unaltered image of the 2017 march, placing it side-by-side with one from the 1913 rally. We will reinstall the lenticular display as soon as a new one with the unaltered image can be delivered. We hope this will be the week of January 27.

We have begun to examine internal exhibit policies and processes and we will incorporate external best practices to ensure something like this never happens again.  The SAA Code of Ethics along with codes and standards from museums and other fields will be studied in our review.  

As I stated in my blog post and want to emphasize again here, I take full responsibility for this decision and the broader concerns it has raised. Together with NARA’s dedicated employees, I am committed to working to rebuild your trust in the National Archives and Records Administration. By continuing to serve our mission and customers with pride, integrity, and a commitment to impartiality, I pledge to restore public confidence in this great institution.

Sincerely,

Ferrieros Signature0001.jpg

DAVID S. FERRIERO
ARCHIVIST OF THE UNITED STATES

A Blueprint for Change: Project STAND

By Lae’l Hughes-Watkins
University Archivist, University of Maryland, College Park

“I am a mediator between what has been and what is yet to come.”
Klamath Henry, Emory University graduate, Project STAND panelist (February 21, 2019)

October 19-20, Project STAND held its third national symposium at Chicago State University. On the second day, Charles Preston, a student activist, and panelist spoke about being on the front lines of the fight to keep Chicago State University open in 2016. If it were not for the efforts of Preston and colleagues Parris Griffin, Christopher Glenn, and their other allies (predominantly students), the university would have likely closed.  The closure would have left over 4,000 students with a challenging path toward the completion of their education, a massive void in the community, staff, and faculty job losses, along with countless dreams deferred.

During Preston’s panel, he, Griffin and Glenn, recounted #BudgetorElse campaign, the hashtag itself could not cover the emotional strain, trauma, and sheer determination that went on behind the scenes. The students lamented over sleepless nights, missed classes, lost friendships, impromptu meetings with Civil Rights leaders, intense interviews with the press, and multiple marches and protests. Preston impressed upon the crowd, the necessity of archiving student actions because they represent blueprints of resistance. Preston spoke to historians, archivists, and memory workers in the room on the value of the archive to students engaged in making a change within their institutions. 

The student organizers outlined threads that were reminiscent of many experiences of activists that were protesting decades earlier on issues of injustice, like Historian Jason Ferreira. He was part of what has been deemed the longest student strike in American history—the San Francisco State College (SFSC) strike that lasted from November 6, 1968, to March 20, 1969. The protest came with the rise of anti-Vietnam War sentiment on campus and the demands of a Latinx and Asian American student population. The students wanted an institution that taught their histories and included a broader contingent from their communities. Ferreira recalls how most people had no idea of the sacrifice made by the student activists, “People did time. Relationships were stressed to the point of crumbling…”[1]  A coalition of students from varying underrepresented communities gathered to create the Third World Liberation Front and partnered with the Black Student Union, who had just won a battle to create a Black Studies program. These change agents risked their lives to garner the attention of university officials, as the campus swarmed with police. By the conclusion of the strike, SFSC administration established a College of Ethnic Studies and agreed to accept nearly all students of color for the fall semester of 1969.[2]

Scholars and historians such as Dara WalkerMartha BiondiStefan Bradley, Ibram Kendi, have written fiercely on the role of student organizers from marginalized populations and how they have been critical to revolutions that have transformed academia. Kendi writes in Beholding Mizzou and the Power of Black Students that black student activists and their allies, “forced the institutionalization of Black Studies, Black cultural centers, and diversity offices—and their activism yielded an unprecedented rise in the numbers of Black students, faculty, staff, and administrators.”

What is the memory of an institution that does not include the totality of its evolution? Archivists/memory workers in academia are charged with documenting the history of their institutions. This record cannot include partial truths, dis-membered narratives, or censored identities because they lead to accounts steeped in slavery or segregationist policies of a University president. We must also advocate for the inclusion of the labor of students, specifically those within the tradition of historically underdocumented groups. These voices have challenged the discriminatory behavior that has led to the exclusion of the LGBTQ student population, the continuation of ableist practices, anti-blackness, anti-immigration sentiment, sexism, and other forms of bias and prejudice. The role of student movements in the creation of programs, departments, offices, and even how monuments have been erected or removed demands space in the archive. It is this overarching need that gave rise to Project STAND, blueprint to engage in reparative archives.

Project STAND is a radical grassroots archival consortia project between colleges and universities around the country, working to create a centralized digital space highlighting analog and digital collections emphasizing student activism in marginalized communities. Project STAND aims to foster ethical documentation of contemporary and past social justice movements in vulnerable student populations. STAND also advocates for collections by collaborating with educators to provide pedagogical support, creating digital resources, hosting workshops, and forums for information professionals, academics, technologists, humanists, etc. interested in building communities with student organizers and their allies, leading to sustainable relationships, and inclusive physical and digital spaces of accountability, diversity, and equity.

Due to an Institute Museum Library Services (IMLS) grant awarded in 2018, we have held three forums across the country. The forums have provided a platform for student activists to discuss their labor, their personal archiving practices, concerns on ethics, and the archiving of social media. We have been able to carve out space for members in the profession and other practitioners to engage in discourse that challenges our archival traditions and previous frameworks for documenting student movements. We are now a coalition of nearly 70 colleges and universities, private and public, including HBCUs and community colleges. We have completed over 370 collection assessments. The assessments have provided details on a variety of areas, including which states have the highest number of collections on Latinx, African American, and LGBTQ records on student activism and Women’s rights, to who has the most significant physical holdings and digitized objects.

 We are sharing ideas on building community within archives in academia; we are advocating for previously silenced histories, working to fill gaps in the record, and utilizing these resources to ignite conversations to support difficult conversations around complex histories.    

Project STAND reaffirms social justice as an imperative within the archival praxis—this is our guiding principle; this is our blueprint!


[1] Karen Grisby Bates and Shereen Marisol Meraji. The Student Strike That Changed Higher Ed Forever. Code Switch. https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2019/03/21/704930088/the-student-strike-that-changed-higher-ed-forever

[2] Ibid.

American Archivist Editorial Board Responds to Article Controversy: Listening, Learning, and Building a Stronger, More Inclusive SAA

We offer a sincere apology to SAA members and our readership for how the Brown Bag Lunch event during Archives*Records 2019 and pre-publication of Frank Boles’ article unfolded last August, and for any ways in which those actions have alienated members or marginalized their work. These events have affected many people, in various ways, and we believe that it is important to acknowledge and recognize that hurt and pain. Most importantly, the conversations around these issues revealed that there is a lot of work to accomplish to ensure that American Archivist is a journal to which ALL people want to contribute and all will want to read.

After careful consideration and robust discussions during a meeting of the Editorial Board in Chicago in October, we identified areas in which we can strengthen our internal processes, particularly in our editorial policy and in the Brown Bag Lunch article selection process. These processes contributed both to the decision to accept the paper, and to its selection for the Brown Bag Lunch discussion. That said, we also want to underscore that the Editor followed those processes at the time the submission was reviewed and that he has acted according to current editorial policy and SAA governance throughout this challenging situation. We are working together to implement stronger processes and to ensure that the article is published in a manner that allows the journal and this important discussion to move forward to a more productive and inclusive place.

Many Editorial Board members do not feel that the article merits space in the journal. Yet we also recognize that it was evaluated through a double-blind peer-review process, and the article was accepted for publication by the Editor as the result of that process.  While people disagree with that publication decision, we also recognize that undoing it would have unanticipated and possibly deleterious secondary effects on American Archivist and the Society. We have listened to the concerns of a wide range of stakeholders and, in concert with the Editor, are taking this opportunity to examine, revise and improve the editorial policy, rubrics, and peer review processes. One resulting change in peer evaluation will be the addition of language in the editorial policy that requires accepted articles to align with SAA’s Core Values.

The Brown Bag Lunch article selection is another process that we are changing as a result of discussion and member feedback. Going forward, the selection will be drawn from all articles published in the previous two issues of American Archivist. Prior to the Annual Meeting, SAA members will have the ability to vote online for an article to discuss at the Brown Bag Lunch. This mirrors the process used to select Pop-Up sessions for the conference, and is meant to reflect current interests in the recent literature.

Diversity and social responsibility represent two of SAA’s Core Values, but these past few months have demonstrated to the Editorial Board that we have a lot of work to do in promoting and embodying these values in the journal and in this community. To do this effectively, we must better understand and confront structural power and issues of privilege that continue to perpetuate inequality in our profession, while recognizing that the controversy over Boles’ article reflects deeper tensions in society. As we continue this work, we plan to collaborate with other SAA groups, such as the Diversity Committee and SAA Council, in the spirit of transparent dialogue and intentional change. It is our hope that by working together with other groups, we can foster open, honest, and empathetic conversations between archivists regarding core values and ethics, as well as help to develop and support methods to constructively resolve conflicts when they arise.

There has been much discussion and debate about the forthcoming publication of this article in the Fall/Winter 2019 American Archivist. We expect and encourage the conversation around this article to continue, but also know that it raises the possibility of additional discomfort or hurt. The Editorial Board has established an email address for readers to directly communicate any feedback about our planned next steps: editorialboard@archivists.org. We are listening.

In the spirit of transparency, we will continue to share our progress and ask for constructive feedback. Our goal is to promote thoughtful, shared, and respectful discussions and debates within the archival profession. As Editor Cal Lee has stated in his Off the Record blog post, we also hope that readers continue to respond to the article, whether in the form of articles, as letters to the editor, or in other forums. We hope that our colleagues will share with us the journey of building a stronger and more inclusive American Archivist and SAA.

The American Archivist Editorial Board

Archival Preservation and Genealogy

By Melvin J. CollierMelvin J. Collier

In the past decade, genealogy has become an increasingly popular hobby. Uncited reports in USA Today and in the Times have even ranked it as the second most popular hobby in the United States. Gardening is the most popular. Despite the absence of hard numbers to validate this claim, its popularity is unquestionable. The advent of the Internet in the 1990s has played a major role in this increase, as people can access many digitized records online. A number of genealogists have even built sustaining, full-time careers from its popularity.

Like never before, many people are on a quest to unearth and personalize American history with stories of their own ancestors. Even the young, and the not-so-young, desire to document their ancestors’ lives and find evidence of those anecdotal family stories. DNA testing with companies like Ancestry.com, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA, and MyHeritage, and television shows like Who Do You Think You Are or Finding My Roots have also amplified an interest in genealogy. Collectively, these ancestral stories enable us to learn more than what many historians have unearthed. Genealogy continues to add to the body of knowledge of what is known or unknown about our society and its history.

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