Find Your Community with the TPS Collective: Lessons from the 2020 Unconference

The Teaching with Primary Sources Unconference was held virtually via Zoom on July 22 and August 13, 2020. For this blog post four of the main organizers of this year’s Unconference, Matt Herbison, Carrie Schwier, Cinda Nofziger, and Rachel Makarowski, sat down to tell us all more about the TPS group and how SNAP members can get involved.

What Is An Unconference?

An ‘unconference’ is a meeting format in which participants come together and facilitate group selected conversations and activities. In many ways this format is perfect for the TPS Collective. This group of professionals works together to create a welcoming, educational, and creative environment for everyone.

Teaching with primary sources as a job duty has been a growing part in the archives profession for the past 10-15 years. In many archives, archivists and special collections librarians need to be able to teach classes, small instruction sessions, or one-on-one. The TPS Collective had its beginning with the SAA Reference, Access, and Outreach (RAO) Section and the first TPS Unconference was in 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. Since then, there has been an unconference in conjunction with the SAA annual meeting.

This year the group aimed to have two unconferences: one at SAA Annual Meeting in Chicago and one at the ACRL Rare Book and Manuscript Section conference in Bloomington, Indiana. But, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed everything online and offered an opportunity to merge the two events.

In the typical TPS Unconference, the event essentials are: space, people, and room for conversations and activities. Online, things are a bit more complicated. But there were some unexpected benefits of an online unconference. This past year was the largest unconference ever with approximately 400-500 attendees. The need for additional online community has also created a number of opportunities for professionals and students of all levels to get involved, learn from each other, and grow their communities.

A Community (Not a Hierarchy)

Unlike most professional association positions, for which you need to run for a position or volunteer and be selected, the TPS Collective is completely volunteer-run. If you’re interested, you’re in.

There are certainly members who have been involved longer and may appear to be ‘senior,’ but the group is intentionally flat and avoids hierarchical power structures or thinking. This is one unique aspect of the group that makes it so exciting and welcoming. They are also happy for ‘lurkers’ to sit in on meetings, ask questions, participate if or when interested, etc. And the group is excited to learn from and with new members.

I began my own experience with the TPS Community as a lurker sitting on the planning calls for the TPS Unconference before the pandemic began. I was slow to speak at first, and ‘lurking’ offered a way to learn about the group. I had been interested in building more teaching with primary resources skills and the group made it easy to feel welcomed.

The community essentially has a built-in mentoring structure in which people are helping each other grow, but without the ‘matching’ of a formal mentor program. For anyone feeling hesitant or intimidated by jumping into a brand-new group, the flat structure and lack of bureaucracy in the TPS Community is one aspect that can help you feel welcomed and valued from the start.

“My Presence is My Qualification” – Quote from the TPS Unconference 2020

Many in this field have felt some impostor syndrome related to teaching at some point. Instruction is not always part of a graduate school curriculum and as a result, we learn as we go. The TPS Collective is an amazing way to build TPS skills, learn new tools and methods, and build connections while you learn from others and they learn from you. Because the structure is less hierarchical than other professional groups, there is space and support for everyone who participates (no matter their level of confidence or skill). The goal of the group is to learn together and gain confidence.

There have been some unexpected opportunities for the TPS Community that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic and push for telework and online teaching. In addition to the yearly TPS Unconference, the group has begun TPS Community Calls in which participants learn about, discuss, and try out new teaching methods and tools in a sandbox environment. These have been valuable opportunities for individuals to share projects, learn about and practice new skills and tools, improve their presentation skills, and collaborate regarding teaching methods and ideas.

While we have to wait for the next TPS Unconference, there are always openings for ways to get involved in the Community Calls and there are different roles for people in each call. This may be a chance for newer members to get involved slowly and grow in their confidence in a safe supportive and welcoming space. When you decide to try something, there are people supporting you ready to back you up.

Students and New Professionals

One of the many benefits of this community is that it is a welcoming environment for new members of any skill or confidence level. SNAP members might be interested in this community because:

  • The Community Calls are a great way to get involved and build your skills
  • You can find mentors and colleagues ready to help with questions and ideas
  • Individuals in the community are often excited to help you prepare for job interviews or practice teaching
  • The Community Calls and Unconference can help you learn transferable skills from everything related to online teaching tools to efficient meeting facilitation skills
  • If you have an idea, this is a place to share it and try it out

Ready to Get Involved?


This blog post was written by Laura Bell, Processing Archivist at University of Baltimore Special Collections & Archives and Senior Blog Editor for SNAP.

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SAA 2020 Conference Recap: Anthony Rodgers

Anthony Rodgers (he/him; they/them) is finishing a Master of Library and Information Science degree from the University of Missouri with an emphasis in archives and records management this fall. He currently works in instructional design and reference at two academic libraries and will talk to anyone about opera, cats, and Dungeons & Dragons.

We can all agree that this year is not going according to any of our plans. I have rewritten so many sticky notes regarding almost every aspect of my life and stressed about rescheduled or cancelled events perhaps more than ever before 2020. Yet the decision by SAA and CoSA to virtually provide the Joint Annual Meeting was very exciting to me, especially since I could make my attendance and participation fit the schedule of my occasionally chaotic, temporary work-from-home setting. The offerings of this event ultimately humanized the field for me as a student and hopeful professional, even through the computer screen, and the following highlights just a few of my experiences and thoughts from my first national archives conference.

Approaching the numerous SAA sections for the first time feels extremely daunting, and perhaps this intimidation is common for newcomers such as myself. Still, all encouragement to “jump right in” and “get your feet wet now while you can” seems to swirl in and around my eager yet overwhelmed ears without fully landing. I’m not certain as to whether they are generally open to all conference attendees, but being able to virtually attend the business meetings for many of the sections was a way for me to better understand how the organization at large operates and how individual members are able to contribute. I appreciated the meetings being spread out over the conference, especially taking place before and after the scheduled days, so I didn’t have to choose between a meeting and an education session. I also welcomed the attempts to alter typical meeting formalities to generate some additional excitement, such as through breakout groups or the Performing Arts Section presentation of Chicago Symphony Orchestra archival materials—those conductor nesting dolls had me so tickled! 

Having on-demand sessions and being able to watch recorded sessions was/is fantastic, and I’m curious whether this would be a sustainable element for future conferences and events. (This might be the only time I’ve actually watched the recordings of missed meetings.) Compared to other conferences I’ve attended, the panel discussions for this conference were engaging and a little more honest than I expected. I particularly enjoyed “Looking Back to Move Forward: Evaluating the Hidden Collections Era in Archives and Special Collections,” in which topics of sustainability and the limitations of grant access were brought up. As someone starting an archives-focused job hunt, I was pleased to hear mention of concern over the consistent reliance of hiring temporary staff to complete grant-funded projects. One point was made that applying for grants takes a lot of time and so does hiring someone to fulfill the grant-funded project, time and effort which could be put elsewhere in the project. I certainly don’t have the answers to this issue, and I know that this has been examined in other research and analysis projects, but it was nice to hear from those involved on the hiring end.

Before I forget to mention this anywhere else: “Hop into History: Archives and Alcohol in America” was beyond enjoyable and a great reminder that archives exist in some of the most unique places. I would certainly attend this sort of event on a monthly basis, especially considering the virtual setting.

I entered this conference looking forward to hearing stories about community outreach and engagement, and was excited to learn about events designed to collect stories directly from community members, such as discussed during “Showing Up: Community Engagement Events Toward a Better Cultural Record.” All of the instances presented in this session held an end goal of creating or expanding a digital archives for the communities being represented, which is increasingly valuable to many users when considering the closed state of physical spaces today. The examples given of “scanning days” stood out to me as concrete and accessible means of generating community partnerships and getting basic information for descriptive metadata on the spot. During this same session, Heather Miller and Kelly Wisecup noted a series of questions from their work that I had to go back and write down from the recording to keep for future digestion and use. These questions address the idea of collaboration to create a “better cultural record” by seeking to define this phrase, to distinguish where the archives are located in a cultural center, to identify the role of sovereignty in a digital space, and to consider elements of access.

Along the theme of outreach, I have now listened to Tempestt Hazel’s keynote speech from the first plenary session multiple times. Her work and that being done through Sixty Inches From Center resonates with me as an example of how to boost what is already existing rather than create something new, to help create today the records of artistic output by those who are marginalized and might otherwise be forgotten in time. The importance of organizations such as this one lies partially in their bridging of archives and cultural communities, and Hazel’s words emphasize to me that there is no singular, universal method of documenting and curating all communities, even among those of similar identity. Since I first heard it, I have returned to her phrasing of “crowdsourced, inclusive knowledge creation that gives autonomy to everyone” as a concept that I haven’t heard much about in my formal studies and as a dream that seems radical yet realistic.

One of the biggest takeaways for me from my archival coursework is that the profession is young and ever changing, and during the Joint Annual Meeting, I discovered a renewed excitement to become a part of this growing field. Now, little more than a month after the final session, I find myself thinking back to sitting at home while listening to archivists and memory keepers describe their work and speak of next steps. I and others under the SNAP umbrella are the next steps. And that reminder is a reason I’m glad I attended this conference.

SAA 2020 Conference Recap: Anna Lucas (part 2)

Anna Lucas holds a Master of Library Science from Indiana University and, as of June 2019, is the Archivist for the Applied Research Laboratory at Penn State University. The Applied Research Laboratory is a University Affiliated Research Center for the US Navy.

This post is the second part of Anna Lucas’ recap of the SAA 2020 Conference. Read part 1 on the SNAP blog.

I also attended the pre-recorded session “Setting a New Standard: Practical Applications and Use of Standardized Measures and Metrics” which provided an introduction to the statistical standard used in archives and special collections and featured five case studies on the implementation of the standard and statistics at their institutions. The “Standardized Statistical Measures and Metrics For Public Services In Archival Repositories And Special Collections Libraries” is the statistical standard discussed in the session. The standard separates the archival public services into 8 domains, provides measures within those domains, and recommends metrics for then examining the measures for archives to conduct meaningful assessments of their services. Of particular importance is that this standard allows institutions to compare their data with other institutions using the standard. The session’s case studies covered the three tier of implementation for the standard: Tier 1) implementation of the standards, Tier 2) data driven decision making for internal use, and Tier 3) advocacy for an external audience. 

The session made the “Standardized Statistical Measures and Metrics For Public Services In Archival Repositories And Special Collections Libraries” approachable and applicable to any institution interested in implementing the standard regardless of size or current data gathering practices. I appreciated that each institution discussed the reference tools used to record their service metrics and the issues that can arise when having to use reference tools not designed for archival services. It is useful to be reminded that a reference tool cannot always capture all of the data fields one intends to measure and that multiple measuring tools are often necessary. As a lone arranger, I am familiar with the challenges that come with trying to gather meaningful data for future use, particularly when I intend to present the data to administrators. A good takeaway message from the session was the importance of implementing these standards so that they highlight your institution’s mission and strategic goals, and to use this statistical information to focus on our institutional goals. Prior to this session, I was unfamiliar with SAA/RBMS Standardized Statistical Measures and Metric, but have since read it and am working to implement the standard at my institution.

My overall experience attending the SAA’s conference for the first time was positive, and I thought the conference organizers did a great job hosting the event virtually. Reflecting on the sessions, I am impressed with how much I learned during the conference and the impact it has had on my daily operations and professional goals. I do hope to be able to attend next year in-person, but in the meantime I will continue to take advantage of the expansive collection of recorded sessions available to me through this year’s conference.

SAA 2020 Conference Recap: Anna Lucas (part 1)

Anna Lucas holds a Master of Library Science from Indiana University and, as of June 2019, is the Archivist for the Applied Research Laboratory at Penn State University. The Applied Research Laboratory is a University Affiliated Research Center for the US Navy.

This year’s “Archives*Records 2020: Creating Our Future” was my first time attending SAA’s annual conference. With a year of professional experience now under my belt, I was able to come to this year’s conference with topics of interest applicable to my ongoing projects. Like many others, I’ve switched to working from home for the past few months, so I was eager to attend the conference and learn about the research of fellow professionals and hear about others’ strategies in adapting to the pandemic.

SAA/CoSA adapted to provide an online conference experience, and, all things considered, the schedule was well structured and organized for unseasoned attendees navigating the virtual format. The schedule consisted of a robust lineup of presentations spanning a number of current topics, such as diversity, access, outreach, digitization, description, and much more. The one drawback of the virtual conference was maintaining engagement while balancing my work schedule. For example, briefly slipping away from a presentation to address an important email sometimes led to me coming back to the presentation a bit lost. Fortunately, the bulk of the presentations were recorded and remain accessible to attendees. The cost of attendance for the virtual conference is set at an affordable price and I encourage students and early professionals who were unable to attend for the live sessions, to register for access to 50+ pre-recorded sessions. The pre-recorded sessions have been an excellent resource, and I find myself frequently referring back to them weeks after the conference.  I was particularly interested in attending two presentations leading up to the conference: the ‘“Write Away’ Forum on SAA Publishing Opportunities” and “Setting a New Standard: Practical Applications and Use of Standardized Measures and Metrics”.

I attended the ““Write Away” Forum on SAA Publishing Opportunities” which provided information on each of SAA’s publications and how interested authors can begin publishing.  SAA has a range of opportunities for those interested in contributing to professional literature, spanning from case studies, resource reviews, and blogs to books. Each publication was introduced by one of its editors, who then pitched the publication for prospective authors whose topics align with the scope of the publication.

The session began discussing Archival Outlook, SAA’s open access magazine. Archival Outlook publishes bi-monthly, covering a wide range of topics and offers opportunities for both students and new professionals. Since the magazine is released bi-monthly, it’s a great option for those new to publishing.  A representative then introduced the American Archivist, SAA’s peer reviewed journal and described the 3 primary categories of submissions for its articles: case studies, perspectives, and research. Guidelines are available on American Archivist’s webpage which detail the submission process for publishing with the journal, available here. The Reviews Editor for American Archivist, advised the session’s attendees that article and book reviews are a good place to start for those interested in publishing, and writing an article review can be good practice for doing a literature review down the road. A member of SAA’s Book Publications Board introduced attendees to SAA’s book publication opportunities. It was made clear that authors from all stages of their career are invited to pursue book publications and for anyone interested to contact the publication with their ideas. The Archival Future series is part of the book publishing program, and is a joint publication between SAA and ALA which curates articles that address why archives are important to the general public and the general good. Lastly, a representative for the “Dictionary of Archives Terminology” spoke on how the dictionary depends on outside suggestions for submitting or revising terms. The representative emphasized how having this online dictionary helps archivist understand how terms develop over time and how to effectively communicate archival terminology and concepts to the general public.

As an early professional, my interest in contributing to archival literature has encouraged me to explore publishing opportunities; however, I have been unsure about where to start. This presentation helped boost my writing confidence and guided me through all of the various avenues to publishing available through SAA. During the Q&A section at the end of the presentations, representative for each publication did a great job responding to audience questions regarding each publications requirements and procedures for interested authors. Collectively, the representatives did a great job of breaking down the intimidation barrier for interested authors and strongly encouraged all, regardless of professional experience, to reach out with their ideas. 

SAA 2020 Conference Recap: Amelia Foster

Amelia Foster is a current MLIS student and the Fine Art Collection MLIS Graduate Student Assistant at Saint Catherine University. She works as a freelance writer, artist, and library programmer.

SAA Conference Recap: Reframing History: Opening Up Archives to Artists

Introduction to the Chicago Archives + Artists Project

This panel showcased two projects resulting from the Chicago Archives + Artists Project organized Sixty Inches From Center. Sixty Inches From Center (called “Sixty” for short) is a Chicago-based nonprofit online arts publication and archiving initiative that “supports and promotes art and writing that thrives primarily outside of mainstream historical narratives.”

Sixty’s Chicago Archives + Artists Project launched in 2018 with the goal of increasing representation of marginalized communities in Chicago archives and special collections. This panel included Sixty’s founder Tempestt Hazel, as well as Sixty’s Director of Archives and Operations Jennifer Patiño Cervantes. Presenting artists included Ivan LOZANO, who worked with the Media Burn video archives, and H. Melt who worked with librarian Catherine Grandgeorge in the Chicago Protest Collection at the Newberry Library. Additionally, librarian Analú María López joined the panel to speak about how her experience as an independent artist informs her work as the Indigenous Studies Librarian at the Newberry Library.

To begin, Jennifer Patiño Cervantes introduced Sixty’s focus on challenging the “symbolic annihilation” that marginalized communities experience when archives overlook them. Sixty’s Archives + Artists Project asks artists to think about how their legacies fit into Chicago art history. The program includes artist commissions, creating connections between artists with archives, “Get Archived” events, and more. Sixty spotlights archives that are open to community contributions and thus increase representation.

H. Melt and the Chicago Protest Collection

At the Newberry library, poet, artist, and educator H. Melt’s residency took place within the Chicago Protest Collection. This unprocessed collection includes crowdsourced material from the 2017 Women’s March in Chicago and Washington D.C. Since 2017, it has grown to include materials from the Muslim and immigration ban protests as well as the Black Lives Matter movement.

Granting an artist access to an unprocessed, crowdsourced collection, marked a departure from the norm at the Newberry. “Sometimes you just need to show the messy parts,” said Catherine. By granting H. Melt access to the collection, they became a part of the archives appraisal process. While Catherine was focused on the logistics of housing, preserving, and creating access to the collection, H. Melt brought attention to the particular viewpoints and messaging represented by the collection. While the Newberry has a history of collecting protest materials, soliciting materials through crowdsourcing rather than formal curation was a first for the archives. Crowdsourcing materials has resulted in an unrepresentative collection that skews toward reflecting the archives’ existing primary user base.

H. Melt brought their experience as an artist celebrating trans history and culture to their residency at the Newberry. Their work focuses on envisioning trans liberation and trans futures. Even though the Newberry is publicly accessible, H. Melt admitted to finding the institution intimidating. They didn’t know how to begin accessing the archives, and what’s more, they didn’t imagine the Newberry would hold materials that are relevant to them.

Indeed, throughout their research, H. Melt ran into the difficulty of locating materials related to trans identity. Much of their artwork results in banners and signs that are used at protests or marches. H. Melt decided to create new banners and signs that “filled in the gaps” in the collection at the Newberry as well as at the Leather Archives & Museum, which has historically been unwelcoming to trans people.

H. Melt’s residency resulted in an exhibit that included selected materials from the Chicago Protest Collection exhibited alongside their own work. H. Melt spoke about the power of taking down signs and flags on the walls of these institutions and replacing them with their own, trans-affirming work and messages. They were particularly thrilled to hang a sign that reads THERE ARE TRANS PEOPLE HERE outside the front door of the Leather Archives & Museum, making the message visible to queer and trans people living in the neighborhood of the museum. Ultimately the Leather Archives & Museum ended up purchasing the flag as part of their permanent collection. 

As a result of this residency, H. Melt’s work continues to inform the ongoing growth of the protest collection. Catherine noted that the librarians are now more mindful of protester privacy and representation within the collection.

Ivan LOZANO and the Media Burn Archive

Ivan LOZANO’s residency was located within the Media Burn archives. Media Burn is an archive of mostly user-generated content including video and television created by artists, activists, and community groups. Ivan did most of his research through Media Burn’s digitized collections. Similar to H. Melt, he began his residency by searching for representative material in the collections. He said, “I’m queer, I’m a Mexican immigrant, and I’m an artist. I tried to locate myself in the archive and see what it had to say about me.”

What he discovered in the archive was reductive, microaggresive, or discomforting at best. His project ultimately came to focus on a video called Mexican Art Gallery – Green Card lottery winner from the Judith Binder collection.

In this video, Mexican artists are working in a gallery in Pasadena. They have been invited to this gallery to recreate production stills from Charlie Chaplin films using traditional Mexican art forms such as alebrijes. Ivan recounted the video’s several painful microaggressions as two white women discussed the work of the Mexican artists in dismissive and dehumanizing ways. Ivan noted that he found this video particularly distressing to watch in the contemporary context of family separations at the Mexican/U.S. border.

In response, he decided to focus on the work of the Mexican artists in the video, rather than the racist comments from the white women. He researched the Mexican folk artists, including Pedro Linares, to create a new installation. Ivan printed thousands of stills from the video, creating strips with images that focused on the Mexican artist’s calaveras as well as the mother of the family of artisans in the video, who was largely overlooked and uncredited in the film. The resulting installation was created from both collage and hanging strips of film that represent a change of perspective and focus that contrasts with the original film.

Recommendations for Archives working with Artists

Finally, Newberry librarian Analú María López spoke about her work assisting artists through reference services. She noted that the whiteness and white supremacy that permeates the field of LIS results in systems that inherently exclude indigenous people and people of color. Problematic subject headings and racist or inaccurate terms create frustration when individuals are conducting research and seeking representation in archives and collections.

Analú called for opening up archives with a decolonial lens and a praxis of enhancing representation, which she defines bringing marginalized communities to the front. She noted that this is easier said than done, especially in the colonial construct of the archive. The importance of community outreach and authentic relationship building was key in her approach to her work.

Following these presentations, all panelists weighed in with tips on how to open up archives to artists. The challenge of navigating archival language and outdated terms came up repeatedly. Furthermore, both artists emphasized the importance of an open, flexible process because artists often begin a project without an exact outcome in mind. Knowing that exploration is part of the process can help archivists be patient with artists.

Jennifer acknowledged that artists often work with archives, but the lack of best practices result in challenges for these unique collaboration opportunities. All panelists acknowledged that artists are likely using archives in ways that archivists do not know about. There was a call for more communication, especially to give artists increased exposure through archival channels. The panel closed with a call for crowdsourced tips and suggestions for artist and archive collaboration, resulting in this google doc.

SAA 2020 Conference Recap for “A Treasure Map or a Hedge Maze”: Julie Swarstad Johnson

Julie Swarstad Johnson works as a Senior Library Specialist at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, home to a world class library collection of contemporary poetry and the audiovisual archive Voca. Johnson expects to graduate with an MA in Library and Information Science from the University of Arizona in December 2020, and she is currently completing an archival internship at the Arizona State Museum.

I both delight in finding aids and wonder if archival users might be better off with something substantially different. My time in library school has included introductory and advanced archives courses, both of which provided theoretical approaches to finding aids but no practical experience in their creation; this fall, I look forward to the challenge of actually writing a finding aid as a processing intern at the Arizona State Museum. In my other life outside of work and school, I’m a poet who has published a book and two chapbooks built on archival research, and so finding aids are also familiar to me from a user’s perspective: Finding aids have proven faithful guides to some collections and led me into dead ends with others. I know that “finding aid” is a term best to avoid in casual conversation in the wider world, even as I have felt the glow of being an initiate into a seemingly arcane field of knowledge.

At ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2020 session 6B, “A Treasure Map or a Hedge Maze?: An Honest Discussion of the Traditional Finding Aid,” I found that many archivists working today share my complicated feelings about finding aids. The discussion ranged across barriers and opportunities presented by the finding aid genre, technological hurdles to making finding aids available, the unique challenges presented by the narrative-based format of key sections within finding aids, the tension between flawed controlled vocabularies and the living communities to which they are applied, and the possibility of departing from traditional finding aids altogether.

Lydia Tang, Special Collections Archivist-Librarian at Michigan State University, demonstrated what an online finding aid sounds like to a user utilizing a screen reader: an almost meaningless jumble of words and phrases, with much of the document remaining unreadable. Tang discussed the multitudinous barriers users can experience with finding aids, but she also suggested that archivists can start to improve users’ experiences by identifying what is in our control (content, language used, granularity, our response to user feedback) and what isn’t (systems and formats). Making changes at the immediate level while also advocating for changes farther up the stream might be the best path to long-term improvements.

Marcella Huggard, Manuscripts Coordinator at the University of Kansas Libraries, discussed the challenges of working with legacy finding aids, specifically the challenges of translating meticulous paper finding aids into a digital format. Huggard noted that no one size fits all for both the content contained in finding aids and for users: Every legacy finding aid requires its own set of decisions. Susan Luftschein, Head of Special Collections at USC, considered the mismatch between linked data and the richly detailed, unstructured narratives included in traditional finding aids. Luftschein highlighted benefits of both linked data and these unstructured narratives, not so much advocating for one over the other but suggesting that archivists should be aware of the benefits and drawbacks of each.

For Caitlin Rizzo, Head of Collection Services at Penn State’s Eberly Family Special Collections Library, the need to recognize the historical hazards of traditional finding aids, which come out of exclusionary systems, must be recognized. A major overhaul to finding aids will carry a high cost, Rizzo said, but “there is no point in continuing with a genre tool for access if its very structure obfuscates access to the underserved communities that are most in need of archives.” Luftschein furthered these thoughts, underscoring the divide between the importance archivists place on context versus contemporary users’ desire for quick, search engine-facilitated access to information. Memorably, Luftschein said, “I don’t want to jettison a hundred years of archival history, theory, and practice in the United States, but maybe we have to.” Rizzo and Luftschein made it clear that there are complicated, multi-faceted issues to be considered around finding aids, and that a “third way” forward must be imagined.

Finally, Jennifer Sirotkin, a corporate archivist for Chick-fil-A, Inc., described the reality of working in an archival setting without finding aids, illustrating that such a reality is possible and can benefit particular types of users. In Sirotkin’s setting, finding aids served no practical purpose for users within the corporation, who are typically looking for specific pieces of information, documents, or photographs. Rather than creating finding aids for these collections, Sirotkin decided instead to rework existing record groups and improve metadata, focusing on ways to best convey the information users need.

More than six hundred people viewed this session in real time, demonstrating the importance of this topic to the archival community. A shared Google document with an outline of the questions addressed by the presenters was made available at the start of the session, and audience members were invited to contribute to it throughout. I watched as “Anonymous Koala,” “Anonymous Otter,” and a menagerie of anonymous others dove into adding their own thoughts and experiences throughout the session. The shared document is now a 13-page record of a text-based conversation between participants: You can find debates over replacing problematic historical terminology, commentary on changing user attitudes, and resources for improving accessibility. For me personally, it was too much to keep up with the document while listening to the panel, but it was fascinating to know that a parallel conversation was unfolding among the audience.

Overall, “A Treasure Map or a Hedge Maze?” provided an engaging and thought-provoking look at the future of finding aids—or a future without finding aids. I appreciated that the panelists offered varying perspectives rooted in their experiences and the needs of their particular users. The idea that resonates with me most is that archivists would benefit from a willingness to take a hard look at finding aids and to consider bold alternatives, honestly confronting what needs to be changed while also keeping the needs of both their users and their collections always in mind. It’s a big, complex task, but this panel suggested that it’s one worth undertaking.

Internships and Fellowships : What’s the Difference and Which One is For You?

Internships and fellowships can be great opportunities for students and recent graduates but what’s the difference between the two and which one would serve you best? I’ll use this blog post to briefly highlight some key differences between internships and fellowships and follow up with some tips for you to make the most and of your time in either position.


Internships are positions wherein services are exchanged for experience between a student and an organization. Compensation for an internship can be wages (preferably) or academic credit. A fellowship is sort of like a scholarship for work. Fellows perform scholarly research or other professional duties with a desired outcome in paid positions for a determinate amount of time and are usually further along academically and/or professionally.


While internships are usually available for undergraduate students or recent graduates, fellowships are usually reserved for candidates currently enrolled in, or who have recently completed an advanced degree program (i.e. master’s or doctoral). This is not to say that all fellowships are not for those with only a bachelor’s degree, but the structure of a fellowship will usually include a special project with a specific focus and may require a certain amount of background knowledge (organizations are responsible for disclosing this information during recruitment for the position.)

Tasks and Responsibilities

In function, an internship is an opportunity to gain experience by performing work with somewhat of a broad scope. Duties in an archives internship can range from assisting with reference and outreach, to primarily performing collections work such as creating finding aids or describing materials – it could also be doing a little bit of everything because an internship is focused on experiential overview. Job duties can vary across organizations and will depend on the guidelines of the internship. In short, internships provide an opportunity to develop a professional perspective based on hands-on experience in a specific field to determine a professional pursuit.

A fellowship program can be a short or long-term appointment funded by a host institution or an outside organization through grant funding. The work for a fellowship can culminate into a much larger project like a presentation, a publication, or an exhibit, and is completed using materials within the host organization’s archival collections. Other projects could include researching and analyzing new technology for implementation or performing a workflow assessment. While there is a learning component to a fellowship, candidates usually bring extensive background knowledge and/or are prepared to do advanced, heavy professional research with a hyper-specialized focus (collections management, ethnographic collections research, legal research, the arts, managing digital materials, etc.).

Some fellowship programs allow fellows to develop their own research projects influenced by their own interests or the host institution will have a more specific project or set of goals for a collection. The application requirements for a fellowship can speak to the level of prior knowledge needed by applicants. For example, if you’re applying to an institution with a specific collections focus, you may have to write a proposal outlining the materials you want to research and why.  Lastly, the structure of fellowships varies across all organizations that offer fellowship programs and it’s up to applicants to consider what they would be interested in applying for.


As previously mentioned, compensation for an internship can be in academic credits or wages with financial compensation for internships varying from hourly pay to a stipend (a fixed sum).  It’s very important to remember that even as an intern, you are still providing a service and should be compensated appropriately for your time and efforts whether it’s academic credit, money, or both (wouldn’t that be nice).

On the other hand, compensation for a fellowship can be very wide ranging, but at the bare minimum, most are termed appointments with a salary or stipend. Fellows usually have employee status within the host organization, therefore, regardless of their length, fellowships are more likely to include benefits such as paid time off, insurance, holidays, and professional development (conferences, webinars, workshops…) funding. The extent of these benefits are set at the discretion of the host and/or funding organization. In this regard, it’s very important to think about personal circumstances and nonnegotiables (term, travel, insurance…) – yours and the institutions – when applying for fellowships.

There are longstanding conversations about the ethics regarding compensation and treatment of interns and fellows, so it would benefit you greatly to learn about what’s being said and use that information to advocate for yourself and make sure you aren’t being taken advantage of.

Additional Tips and Info

If you have any flexibility with your position and it’s alright with your supervisor, I suggest exploring different areas to gain a working knowledge of various job functions. Maybe spend a day with a preservation or rare books librarian, or a cataloger to get an idea of what their job includes because it’s important to understand how everyone’s work overlaps – this information can be transferable knowledge that you can take to any institution.

Also, most academic programs (LIS schools, archives programs…) offer access to their curriculum online. If this information is not easy to find, you can also just reach out and request information about the program or even a specific course. I also recommend doing this if you’re already an intern, and there were classes you were/are unable to take. Having access to this information can help you think about what you want to learn during your time as an intern or help you to form some research ideas for a fellowship.

Make sure you look closely at the position requirements and descriptions. Regardless if you’re looking at internships or fellowships, the amount of structure and supervision can still vary, so use this time to think about you as a professional -What are your communication styles and needs?  How are you as an independent worker? How would you describe and assess your time management and organizing skills?

I hope this brief detailing of fellowships and internships is helpful and if you have any questions please reach out to SNAP!  Thanks for reading!

This article was written by Ashelee Gerald Hill,  the Processing Archivist at the Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University. She received her MLIS from the University of North Carolina Greensboro in 2019.

SAA 2020 Conference Recap: Alison Quirion

This post was written by Alison Quirion as part of a blog series recapping the Society of American Archivists 2020 virtual conference. The author, Alison Quirion, is working towards a Spring 2021 completion of her MLIS at San José State University and is the current Chair of SJSU’s SAA student chapter. With a long history in entertainment marketing, Alison is looking forward to a career transition, with interests in corporate archives, special collections, digital asset management, and metadata.

The SAA/CoSA 2020 Joint Annual Meeting was only the second archives conference I’ve attended. The great thing about the conference being virtual is that I didn’t have to worry about choosing between one panel or another when scheduled at the same time. The bad news is that I’ve still got quite a few panels on my viewing wish list to squeeze into my free hours between work and school.

The first live session I was able to attend was the Plenary 2 presentation. Everything that outgoing SAA President, Dr. Meredith Evans said was quite inspiring. It is always great to hear people working in the field expressing the importance of diversity in the profession and the need to collect and make accessible the experiences of underrepresented communities. As an MLIS student, you often feel like these are philosophical classroom discussions that don’t happen in the real world, but the conference proved to me that there are so many people and organizations out there doing the work. It was also amazing to be the fly on the wall in the conversation between Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden and David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States. They lead two gigantic government organizations and you don’t expect any government organization to quickly pivot in times of crisis. Yet, they both seemed to embrace and expedite the push towards digitization. Tapping into the population with new-found time on their hands is another move that one doesn’t expect from the government due to legal red tape. The shared challenges, questions, and concerns between the two was a humble reminder that we are all in the same boat.

As mentioned, I still have quite a few presentations to watch, though so far, I’ve been drawn to panels that are variations on a couple of themes. One theme is neutrality in archives and whether that position is still serving the greater good. Knowing that archival materials commonly represent the experiences and views of white, wealthy males, archivists are being called on to put aside neutrality and use their positions of power to shine a light on materials that provide evidence of injustices and address the silences that result from the lack of effort and focus on preserving underrepresented communities. Not only are these biases seen in the collections, but also in the technology used to capture this evidence. In Friday’s session 5B, Erasure and the Aesthetics of Digital Archival Representations: Never Again!, Lyneise Williams made a powerful point about how the choices we make when digitizing materials can severely damage the way we represent the subjects of those materials. L. Mark Conrad added to this point by reminding us that not only do you create new bias when you transfer materials from one form to another, you carry over existing bias from the original form. We must do as much as we can to avoid creating bias in our preservation strategies and acknowledge the bias that already exists.

Another theme that I found fascinating was the focus on community archives and building connections with the community. Session S01, People Describing People: Using Social Media to Facilitate Archival Description opened my eyes to interesting ways to use social media and the benefits of community participation. There’s more to crowd-sourcing than just creating folksonomies. I especially loved how the Ann Arbor District Library Archives gamified their process. Session S11, Community Collections as Digital Collectives emphasized that many important archives are not held at traditional institutions, but they are just as important, if not more important, to preserve and share. This panel gave examples of different ways that community collections can be supported and promoted. On an international scale, session S08, Building International Partnerships for Digitization and Preservation, discussed their work with local communities to remove the barriers to archives access, help communities define what events are important to them, and ensure the safety of individuals participating in the process.

And lastly, big shout out to the faculty advisor of my student chapter of SAA (the San Jose State University chapter), Lori Lindberg! She was recognized during the SAA Business Meeting with an Exemplary Service Award (her second!) for her contributions to advancing archival education. I’ve taken her course on Archives and Manuscripts, and while I thought I would never survive it, in the end, I learned so much more than I ever expected. I’m honored to work with her this year through the student chapter.

#snaprt Chats on Twitter: April 29th Chat on Records Management Month and COVID-19

This #snaprt Chat Recap was written by Louise LoBello, recent MLIS grad, SNAP Junior Social Media Coordinator, new archives professional.

I’m not sure if you folks are aware, but things are not normal right now. Time feels nonexistent, apparently it’s almost JUNE? Who knew?! I personally can’t remember the last time I wore pants with a zipper and I am almost positive my wallpaper said something to me the other day… 

Despite this strange sense of limbo right now (and I don’t mean the fun Limbo), here’s one thing that has remained constant: our #snaprt Twitter chats! These monthly discussions allow us to have a conversation about something in the Archives world right now for all students and new professionals. The best part is that it can all be done from the comfort of our homes. At a safe distance from our colleagues. No zippers required. Perfect!  

On April 29th, in partnership with the SAA Records Management Section, we hosted a Twitter discussion to talk all things records management, archives, and how the current health crisis has affected the professions. For many people in the field right now, our work is being questioned as essential, put on pause, or in many cases eliminated. Everywhere, we are dealing with new anxieties and it is a SNAP imperative that we discuss these issues and encourage self care first. The SAA Records Management Section came up with the following questions: 

  1. How has your work or status been personally affected by the pandemic?
  2. What is records management’s role in this undoubtedly new economy?
  3. Do you think records management is more important than ever in the time of Covid?
  4. Are people documenting this experience? What are you gathering?

For those now working from home, the majority of the responses discussed ways in which their projects have shifted. Some are focusing on archiving COVID-19 in their communities, others are finally finding time to process collections put on the backburner, and others are finding that this time is revealing implicit problems with their current workflows and communication strategies. 

This pause from normal is an experiment for everyone. For those lucky enough to continue working, it could mean a reorganization of existing workflows and for some, business as usual. There are no rules. We hope everyone out there is taking care of themselves and others. 

To view the entire conversation (and to check out all our previous discussions) follow the #snaprt hashtag and join us on Twitter @SNAP_Section!

“Not Just a Number: Negotiating Salary in Academic Archives and Special Collections” Webinar Recap

“Not Just a Number: Negotiating Salary in Academic Archives and Special Collections”, was a webinar presented by Beth Myers, Director of Special Collections at Smith College, for the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries on April 16, 2020. The recorded webinar can be found on ASERL’s vimeo. This webinar was coordinated by Ashelee Gerald Hill, a Processing Archivist at Wake Forest University and member of the SNAP Steering Committee.

Setting the Groundwork

With the diverse number of sub-fields within the archival profession, the presentation focuses on non-union/non-tenure academic institutions but is applicable to corporate or government environments.  Serving as an introduction, Myers provided a collection of resources on salary and the negotiating process from SAA, AAUW, CoSA, and AFL-CIO, among other organizations. She provided an overview of the state of the profession that echoed facts known to many of us: most archivists are full time, but 23% work in non-permanent positions. Archivists are predominantly female and white. In terms of debt and income respectively, the average salary is $61,303 while $53,347 is the average student loan amount. She also comments on a core issue facing our profession today—namely, that of being a female dominated profession that is underpaid as a result and the inherent systemic barriers to people of color within that system, though she comments that this issue is too expansive to cover in her presentation. She encouraged attendees to reach out to her if anyone wants to work together and present on this topic!

Within this framework, approximately 50% of archivists do not negotiate as part of the offer process. Negotiation has been seen as an adversarial process—Myers believes we need to move from confrontation to conversation. This process involves understanding your own needs, finding and using data to make your case, and knowing when to walk away.


So, you get a call offering you a position: what now? Myers suggests you immediately ask if the person offering the position can share any information about salary, benefits, and the subsequent hiring process. You’ll then hear more about institutional structures and policies to help determine what is negotiable and what isn’t it. Before you respond to this initial offer, consider what your needs are—both financially and personally, and compare those needs to the offer. It’s important to consider the hierarchical level, geographic area, and affiliated cost of living in the context of the position to determine if meeting those needs in that particular job is possible. Do your research or work through your network to look at the history of pay for the position you’re applying for. Be realistic and don’t make a counteroffer that is starkly different to the initial offer. It might not be realistic for the institution and, as a result, that job might not be a good fit.

To be the most compelling candidate, Myers suggests that when you do make a counteroffer, don’t just parrot your credentials—point to the relevant salary data in the area and talk about what is necessary for you to make the move. Discuss how you will bring yourself and your skills to solve problems and do the work. Propose not just your past, but your future. Hold firm on your needs and know what those needs are—in this conversation, you are advocating for not only your current self, but your future self.

Salary is where you start, but it’s not where you end. You are a human with a variety of needs beyond money. Myers refers to the process of advocating for salary in conjunction with other needs as “whole package” negotiation. If salary isn’t negotiable, there are other options for negotiation, including: start date, relocation assistance, housing, technology package, professional development, trailing partner assistance, flex schedule, work from home, title or grade change, or a one-time hire bonus. Non-payment benefits like health insurance, sick time, vacation time, retirement benefits, and tuition subsidies are often fixed but super important to examine if an offer meets your needs.

But what if you’re in a job already, especially in one where ranks or opportunities for upward mobility aren’t defined? For the most part, substantial increases are achieved through moving positions. Don’t put much stock in merit raises—they’re usually just cost of living raises. A title change or additional professional funds can be one option if you’ve had a substantive change in duties.

Managing and Current Developments

For all of the managers out there: Do your best to improve unit compensation by studying the hiring culture at your institution as well as the demographics of your area. Do a salary survey and look at the history of salaries of the position. Leverage archivist’s skills in areas such as technology to HR to bargain for additional compensation. Myers believes strongly that managers should confront inequities—your ability and desire to advocate directly impacts people’s lives. Consider increasing salaries even if that means fewer positions. The A*CENSUS II will focus on salary and contribute to better outlooks for archivist pay and quality of life in conjunction with existing work done by sections within SAA, such as SNAP, to foster a more transparent profession.

Myers also commented on the recent situation of COVID-19 and its impact on archives. She notes that everything is currently in flux and it’s hard to say at this point how things will unfold. Many institutions will have hiring freezes or hire for key positions only. Furloughs or salary decreases may occur, but it’s important for managers to check back in at pre-determined points to ensure those situations do not become permanent. She also notes that, regardless of the situation, she recommends that you do not accept a position with an inadequate salary and continue to advocate for yourself as you would during any other time.

Beth Myers can be reached at She is open to talking about any or all of these issues.

This recap was written by Elizabeth James, Archivist and Digital Preservation Librarian and Junior Blog Editor for SNAP.