Making Room for Everyone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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Editor’s Comments about Brown Bag Lunch Article Controversy at SAA Annual Meeting: Listening and Learning

By Christopher (Cal) Lee, Editor, American Archivist

The past month has been one of intensive listening, discussion, and reflection for many people, including me and the other members of the American Archivist Editorial Board regarding the forthcoming article in volume 82, number 2 of the journal, “To Everything There Is a Season” by Frank Boles, and its selection for a Brown Bag Lunch discussion during ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2019 in Austin.

I selected the article for the brown bag event in order to further professional dialog and not to endorse a viewpoint. I have heard members of the profession who have expressed that the article dismisses their experiences and their work in making SAA and the profession more equitable and that the article should not be published at all. I have heard others who have expressed significant concerns about withdrawing the article from publication and discussion. While I have responded to many individuals who have contacted me directly, I regret that I did not more quickly issue a public statement that we were hearing and reflecting on your concerns, and taking steps to address them. I would like to convey my appreciation of the diverse and valuable perspectives shared with me.

This post is intended to provide further context. It is a personal account from my perspective as Editor. More information about the Editorial Board’s activities and plans will be shared as they develop.

Some Background

As many are aware, at its August 1 meeting during ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2019, the SAA Council voted to cancel the scheduled American Archivist brown bag lunch discussion about the Boles article during the conference. The following day, August 2, the Council issued a statement indicating, “The Council believes that giving a platform to the article noted above at this conference contradicts this effort to be inclusive.” In a later statement on August 15, the Council expressed that creating a “welcoming and safe environment . . . is of paramount concern to this Council and is at the forefront of our considerations. In cancelling the brown bag lunch discussion, we took an action that all of us felt necessary in the context of the Austin conference. We agree with many that the ideas put forward in the article warrant a vigorous professional conversation, and it was not our intent to limit that.”

Social media was the chief outlet through which individuals expressed concerns about the Boles article and the brown bag event, with posts first appearing on July 31. Several individuals also contacted me directly through my Editor email account. In addition, I had many conversations onsite at the conference. The concerns expressed included forthcoming publication of the article in the journal, selection of the article for the brown bag discussion, the RSVP item, and the timing of the event.

American Archivist Peer Review Process

As with all other articles submitted to American Archivist, Boles’s manuscript was subject to a double-blind peer review process. This means that we do not reflect the identity of authors to the reviewers, nor do we reflect the identity of the reviewers to authors. All articles submitted to the journal receive three peer reviews: one from a member of the Editorial Board and two from other members of the profession. We use a system called PeerTrack to administer this process. My predecessor, Greg Hunter, built a pool of potential reviewers by encouraging people to register with PeerTrack, and I have done the same.  We now have 240 registered reviewers.  I continue to encourage people to become a peer reviewer, so the process can best reflect the rich array of expertise and perspectives of the profession.  When creating an account, reviewers are able to indicate their areas of interest and expertise.

When the journal receives a new submission, I first examine it to be sure it is complete and that the author has not inadvertently included identifying information in the text. I then invite three reviewers based on areas of expertise/interest and work load considerations. After identifying individuals whose profile indicates a match based on the topic of the manuscript, I check to see if any of the prospects have performed a review recently. The goal is to consider the full set of prospective reviewers and not simply to return to the same ones. Reviewers have 30 days to complete their reviews.

Peer review for American Archivist is based on a rubric developed by the Editorial Board in 2012 that includes several factors such as statement of problem or purpose, relevance of the topic, importance of the topic, contribution to the literature, organization, drawing and building upon relevant literature, methodology (considered broadly in perspective pieces), discussion, conclusion and mechanics.

Once I receive the three reviews, I make a determination of “accept,” “reject,” or “revise” based on the feedback provided. The majority of submissions to American Archivist fall into the “revise” category, in which I convey comments and concerns that the authors should address in order for the manuscript to be published in the journal.

After completing the process above, I accepted Boles’s manuscript for publication in the journal. For those not familiar with journal peer review processes, it is important to point out that publication of an article is not a formal endorsement of the author’s ideas. The peer review process is not designed to determine whether articles represent the consensus of the profession, nor is it an indication that the peer reviewer or Editorial Board agree with the author. That would be impossible, given the complexity of the issues that archivists face, and the diversity of views within the profession.

Brown Bag Lunch Discussions, RSVPs, and Scheduling

Many people have asked about how an article is selected for the brown bag lunch. The purpose of the brown bag discussions is to allow members of the profession to preview and discuss one article from the forthcoming issue of the journal (in this case, volume 82, number 2) before it goes to press. The selection of the article has always been by the Editor (not the Annual Meeting Program Committee), who has traditionally tried to identify an article on large social/professional issues that the profession faces. Below is a list of the previous selections:

As I have expressed since taking the position of Editor in 2018, I believe that it is vital for our journal to reflect the profession’s wider dialog around inclusion, diversity, and social justice. The Boles piece was the only one in the forthcoming issue of the journal directly on this topic, and I selected it in order to provide one venue for discussing the place, importance, and meaning of social justice as it relates to archives, archivists and records.  The goal of the brown bag has always been to provide a venue for dialog; it is not intended to endorse or advocate for any specific positions taken by the author.  However, I recognize that this may sound like an artificial distinction to those who are troubled by SAA providing a visible platform for discussing the piece.

There was the usual advance notice provided by SAA for the brown bag event. On June 19, SAA added an item to the ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2019 schedule about the brown bag selection. SAA also included information about the event in In the Loop beginning with the July 17 issue. As in previous years, the initial announcements did not yet include a link to the piece because the publisher, Allen Press, was still in the process of generating the page proof.

Questions were raised regarding the RSVP for participation in the event. As in previous years, this is a standard protocol used by SAA. Though it did not this year, some previous brown bag announcements have indicated “pre-registration required” or “limited enrollment.” The announcement has always included an RSVP for two reasons. First, the production of the page proof in time for the brown bag is always tight, and we did not know if we would be able to post it online when we announced the event, so we wanted a way to alert people of its availability. Second, we also wanted to know approximately how many people would attend and plan for logistics such as whether everyone would fit in the room. This has never precluded others from showing up at that time, but as with many other aspects of the Annual Meeting, having people sign up helps with planning. Luckily, Allen Press was able to generate the preprint quickly, and we added a link to the document from the online schedule on July 10 and added it to the In the Loop announcements on July 31.

Several people brought to our attention that the brown bag discussion was scheduled at the same time as an Annual Meeting forum about transgender identity organized by the SAA Diversity Committee. This was very unfortunate, but completely unintentional. There are numerous events happening and many moving parts to the Annual Meeting. The Annual Meeting planners do their best to balance the schedule, but there are always regrettable conflicts.

Listening and Planning Next Steps

The Editorial Board has been engaging in numerous activities related to the controversy raised by the Boles preprint. The most important of these activities has been doing a great deal of listening, both during and after the Annual Meeting, to the diverse and valuable perspectives shared. Our ultimate priority is to ensure that American Archivist is a venue that is welcoming and reflects a diversity of viewpoints.

The controversy was a major focus of discussion at our Editorial Board meeting in Austin on August 2. We also held a conference call on August 26, and with the approval of Council, we will be holding an in-person meeting in Chicago on October 27–29. Topics for discussion include (but are not limited to) engagement with the profession around issues raised by the Boles article, enhancing guidance for and feedback to peer reviewers, author and editorial guidelines, and processes for planning future brown bag events.

Aside from issues of process, many people have raised important critiques about the content of the Boles article. In order to give voice to these perspectives, we will be delaying publication of volume 82, number 2 so that we can also include those voices together with the Boles article, as supported by the Council. I have also been informed of concerns about specific inaccuracies and misattributions in the article. I have conveyed those concerns to the author so that he can address them.  In order to minimize the impact on the other twenty seven authors of articles and book reviews in the forthcoming issue, we are pursuing early online publication of those contributions.

American Archivist serves as one of many forums that SAA offers for engagement around vital issues, including social justice. I hope that members of the profession express their views through those forums, including American Archivist. While we have asked several archivists to respond to Boles’s article, the Board welcomes contributions from anyone, now and in the future. Contributions can take the form of articles, which are subject to the peer review process, or letters to the editor. As reflected in the editorial policy, the journal has a long-standing tradition of receiving and publishing letters to the editor “commenting on recently published articles or other topics of interest to the profession.” There will always be an open invitation to engage with the literature.  For those who would like to submit letters to be included in volume 82, number 2, I would ask you to please do so by October 31.

The archival profession faces many large societal issues.  Archivists and archival scholars have raised vital issues for the profession to address in order to best document and contribute positively to the vast array of communities that we serve. It is my hope that our journal will reflect this discussion. I am grateful for the opportunity to continue to learn and grow with you.