SNAP is excited to provide a Candidate Forum this year as an additional election resource for students and new archives professionals.
In recent years, SNAP has not put together its past Candidate Interviews series for the SNAP blog. Given the nature of voluntary SAA section work, this series has unfortunately fallen to the back burner as SNAP has focused its advocacy primarily on labor issues, including unpaid internships and salary transparency, as they affect our constituency on a day-to-day basis. The reaction to the recent controversy colloquially referred to as #thatdarnpetition has renewed the importance of the SNAP Section taking a more active role in providing information about candidates and SAA’s election process. The SNAP Candidate Forum focuses on issues directly related to students and new professionals.
Given time constraints, we chose to focus this year’s Candidate Forum on the candidates for SAA Vice President/President-Elect, with the charge to regularly provide a full Candidate Forum for elections in the coming years. We encourage everyone to read the statements provided by the entire slate of this year’s candidates here and to make sure that you keep an eye on your inboxes for voting information from SAA between March 2-20, 2020.
Our sincerest gratitude goes out to all three candidates for VP/President-Elect for taking the time to provide their thoughtful responses to SNAP’s questions, which we have published unedited below.
The candidates for Vice President/President-Elect are:
Head of Research Services, Rose Library, Emory University
Read their bio and response to questions posed by the Nominating Committee here
Read their bio and response to questions posed by the Nominating Committee here
Director of Archives and Special Collections, University of Minnesota
Read their bio and response to questions posed by the Nominating Committee here
The SNAP 2020 Candidate Forum questionnaire:
1. What role should the SNAP section play in SAA?
Courtney Chartier: Two things come to mind immediately. One is community building. Community and connections are essential to professional success; I’m still very close to the same cohort of people that entered the profession when I did. They are folks I turn to for general advice, specific expertise, and fun when we happen to be in the same city at the same time. We can all do things alone, but it’s a lot harder; SNAP is an essential place for finding a community of people facing similar experiences, and one that will sustain you for your entire career.
Another role is as a voice for advocacy for students and new professionals. Every member can make individual comments directly to the Council and the President (and I encourage you to do so!), but too often the sections are not bringing forward major issues/concerns, or proposing strategic moves for SAA as a whole.(The creation of SNAP is a great example: a member saw the need for this specific forum, and rallied people to create it.) The concerns of SNAP members can and should be channeled into initiatives for the Society.
Joyce Gabiola: [Before I respond to the forum questions, it would be helpful to first share that my approach to archival work, education, interpersonal engagement, and leadership are informed through my lens and experiences as a queer, nonbinary person of color navigating the oppressive systems of higher education and the archives field. I understand that neutrality is a myth and have learned that silence and inaction of dominant groups emerge out of willful decisions to remain silent and do nothing in the face of racism and other forms of trauma.
As a reminder, L’ael Hughes Watkins, the chair of the nominating committee, wrote in her own candidate statement:
“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.”
The actions that L’ael refers to in her full candidate statement are actions that apply to all aspects and spaces of the archives field and should not be considered as options, but imperatives. With all this in mind, I respond to SNAP’s candidate forum questions.]
SNAP has been active in advocating for students and new archives workers and connecting them with resources, scholarships, employment opportunities, and ways to become involved with SAA. For some, SNAP is a first step towards joining and participating in SAA’s archives community. For students in particular, SNAP is a space to connect and build community with students from other schools. The role that the SNAP section should play in SAA is clearly already in action. However, I would be interested in learning from SNAP about the other role(s) that they think the section should or wants to play in SAA.
There is one role for SNAP that I’ve been pondering. Ever since I was a master’s student, I’ve been advocating for students of color (and their classmates) to have a platform from which they can be heard while developing relevant skills (e.g., DERAIL).  Through some challenging experiences, I’ve come to understand that students have some degree of power to affect change as well as unique perspectives on matters that impact the archives field and institutions of higher education. Therefore, I wonder if the SNAP section could assume an advisory role in SAA. To create a clearer picture of what this would entail requires a discussion with SNAP, the executive director, and the Council. The perspectives and concerns of students and new archives workers–especially those who are Black, Indigenous, people of color, disabled, transgender, nonbinary–inform the future (and present) of the archives field and are key to the sustainability of SAA.
Kris Kiesling: Keeping younger members engaged in SAA is critically important. SNAP is one of the more active sections in the Society and efforts such as the guides for new members for the annual meetings, and the Student Chapter Manual are tremendously useful, so you’re to be congratulated for those. Advocating for individuals who are students and young professionals is the best role that SNAP can play.
The annual report SNAP submitted to Council for 2018-19 (https://www2.archivists.org/sites/all/files/1219-VI-N-SectionAnnReports.pdf) indicated that there are difficulties in maintaining contact with student chapters and that SAA staff had been unresponsive to requests. Maintaining contact with student chapters is difficult because the players keep changing, but there should be a hand-off mechanism when leadership changes (if there isn’t, one needs to be implemented). As for contacting SAA staff, my advice is to tap into your Council liaison. That person is responsible for conveying your concerns and questions to SAA Council and staff. If you’re still not getting the support you need, contact the VP/President Elect.
I would want to fully understand the issues of SNAP and younger members of the profession, and I would expect you to work with me on crafting solutions. Keep in mind, however, that the SAA president does not act alone. Council must approve any major changes to governance and budget.
2. 2019 saw SAA’s sharpest decline in membership in the organization’s history, particularly among part-time workers and members making below $50,000/year (source: https://www2.archivists.org/sites/all/files/1219-VI-D-2-Memb.pdf). How can SAA leaders, and your role in particular, better engage SNAP’s constituents, many of whom likely fall in these membership categories?
Courtney Chartier: I’d love to see SAA’s leadership get in touch with those who have left the Society and find out why they left. Is it for financial reasons? Or is it because they don’t feel that SAA is representing them? I love data for a reason: we need to find out what the dissatisfaction is, then address it head on, either through rethinking dues for people who have precarious employment, or reconsidering how our programs support members in those categories. All of these activities are in the charge for SAA’s Membership Committee and the VP/President Elect appoints the members. There’s an opportunity for the VP to bring forward this appalling change to the Council, request that the Membership Committee assist with the work and recommendations, and appoint a member of SNAP to the Committee specifically to ensure that these voices are heard as a part of the planning and execution of any data collecting, analysis, and recommendations for action.
Joyce Gabiola: Engagement in and contributing to the archives field on a national level is, for some, an element for tenure while for others, it is listed as a required or preferred qualification for job opportunities. Low-income workers are at a disadvantage if they are unable to afford the cost for membership in an organization that will give them access to participate and therefore opportunities to advance their careers and the field. This is underlined for workers whose social locations are underrepresented in the field.
Although SAA leadership could easily assume what low-income archives workers want, it is still important to provide a no-hassle line of communication for workers to inform leadership of their concerns. Leaders should consider the extent to which SAA is relevant and intentionally affordable for archives workers with low incomes, and ask: in what ways is SAA equitable?
Some questions we could ask: Has SAA considered sliding scale models for membership and for other aspects such as continuing education, webinars, annual meeting registration, and pre-conference sessions? Can SAA coordinate with graduate programs to take on bulk membership rates for their students and new graduates? Has SAA considered offering complimentary membership for first-year students, as they figure out if the archives field is indeed the direction they want to pursue? For folx who cannot present at the annual meeting due to financial constraints, could SAA proactively, technologically prepare for remote presentations? Are there other types of venues that SAA could consider for the annual meeting? SAA is certainly not the end-all for participating in the field on a national level, but it is important for some in the field.
Kris Kiesling: This membership decline is alarming, and SAA leadership is devoting attention to the issue. We need to find out why members are not renewing. With a high percentage of non-renewals at the <$50,000 salary levels, what might those reasons be? Dues too high? SAA not seen as delivering value for the money? Disagreement with the directions SAA is taking? Job loss? The last time a dues increase was proposed, Eira Tansey correctly and appropriately pointed out that the increases were regressive (i.e., the percentage of increase relative to salary was higher at lower salary levels than at higher salary levels) and Council took steps to adjust those percentages. SAA is looking at another dues increase, and I would hope that further examination of the percentages would take place.
As president, I would meet with SNAP to hear member concerns and work to craft solutions to barriers. A monthly conference call with SNAP leadership would be a place to start. Perhaps we could try some novel approaches to encourage retention of younger members in addition to the mentorship program and the student scholarships, such as piloting a program where senior members (those in the ID7 and ID8 dues categories and perhaps some of the retirees) pay dues for a student or young professional for a year as a way to pay it forward. I would consider any feasible suggestion for addressing non-renewals.
3. How can SAA improve outreach and engagement with current students?
Courtney Chartier: I was VP of my SAA student chapter, and as far as I can recall, we had no contact with SAA. I’d be curious to know if that has changed.
Sadly, my answer is going to be similar to the above. Collect data and make decisions, but only with the involvement of representatives of either student chapters or SNAP representatives (recognizing that graduate students often have even less time than anyone else). We need some design thinking here: don’t ask student chapters how SAA can help them/support them will get you nowhere. Instead, we need to be asking students what their biggest challenges are as students, what their biggest joys are, to find out what is the most important, and then extrapolate how SAA can better help. Having programs that meet people’s needs is the key to good outreach.
Joyce Gabiola: First, I’d like to encourage veteran and mid-career members to treat students as full members whose intellectual contributions are relevant and informative. Students are at the heart of change and progress for our field and we need to treat them as peers and value their contributions.
My response to the previous question also applies to improving outreach and engagement with students, but I’ll underline the importance of SAA leadership creating and maintaining a no-hassle line of communication for SNAP and perhaps more importantly, how the section can assume an advisory role. Above any other suggestions to improve outreach and engagement with students is the opportunity for students to engage directly with SAA leadership and impact decisions that move SAA forward in meaningful ways.
Kris Kiesling: Student chapters are a great way for students to begin their involvement with SAA (I wish there had been student chapters when I was in library school). Each student chapter has a faculty advisor, but I wonder if there would be some benefit to have a practicing archivist advisor as well. Most student chapters are at institutions that also have at least one archival repository of some kind, so locating such advisors should be feasible. The perspectives and experiences of faculty and practicing archivists are different enough that both would be valuable. SNAP comprises a great pool of potential interns for committees and sections—I would make sure that SNAP is tapped for those kinds of appointments.
4. What do you feel is the most pressing issue for SAA today?
Courtney Chartier: There isn’t any one. A few stick out for me: salaries and labor practices, how we as archivists interact with communities, and what seems to be a philosophical divide along generational lines.
I’ve been excited to see that our current Council is moving forward with an Archival Compensation Task Force. The charge for this group is excellent, and a huge first step in SAA having the evidence of what members have been saying for years: that archivists are often underpaid, underemployed, and when we enter the field, we have not been equipped to negotiate salaries, identify exclusionary or unfair practices, and how to confront poor working conditions and advocate for ourselves in the workplace. I’d love to see recommendations for graduate programs come out of the work of the Task Force: grad programs, and SAA student chapters, should have the knowledge they need to prepare students for entering the workforce. General education offerings should exist for all members on workplace issues as well.
Joyce Gabiola: While there are various reasons why folx are members of SAA, the organization provides opportunities for archives workers (and those who are archives-adjacent) to share their knowledge and cultivate skills while advancing the field and building community, intellectually, professionally and socially. What threatens the viability of SAA is the erosion of trust, which is key for any kind of relationship to be sustainable.
Due to the actions of SAA leaders and Fellows who signed a petition to add a 3rd candidate to the Vice President/President-Elect slate, it is even more clear now that a significant level of trust is severely lacking in SAA. The petition creators and signers did not trust the nominating committee’s decisions, disregarded the committee’s intentions and hard work, and assumed that the two nominated candidates are not qualified to lead. Why couldn’t (wouldn’t) the 52 petition signers trust that the two nominated candidates have different sets of qualifications and experience that make them viable candidates?
In addition, how can we trust the current editor of The American Archivist (also a petition signer and educator) to carry out his responsibilities in an ethical manner? 
I am always wary of “diversity and inclusion” talk by white folx because most of them do not also address white supremacy, so the level of trust I have for an organization that is predominantly white is understandably limited. That said, the recent actions of SAA leaders/Fellows who greatly impact the business and direction of SAA serves as a reminder that “diversity and inclusion” in our organization is welcome as long as it serves the interests of the majority.
I understand that building trust is a process and that it means being consistent and acting with integrity when it’s not easy or comfortable, so I wonder how SAA can remain viable and relevant for historically underrepresented folx if we cannot trust those who hold power. (I’m at least grateful that Council has become more representative and is mindful of power structures and organizational and societal inequities.)
Kris Kiesling: Healing. It seems that younger members of SAA feel their voices aren’t being heard, and older members feel they are being disrespected. It is important for both sides to listen, really listen, to each other. Calling for change with strident, accusatory language isn’t going to have the desired effect, nor will digging in our heels and resisting change. Keeping an open mind and conducting civil discourse will.
5. What advice do you have for new professionals in our field?
Courtney Chartier: You are entitled to ask questions. As a student and in my first position, I felt like I couldn’t ever ask. Not of my HR department, my Director about policies or executive decision-making, senior members of SAA; feeling like your age or position means you can’t ask is a kind of imposter syndrome. And the response you get to a question that is genuinely framed as curiosity will tell you a lot about your workplace or the person you are talking to. If they can’t take a question from someone who is trying to learn, then they either have poor ethics, or they have something to hide. Question everything.
Joyce Gabiola: BIPOC: Join We Here, a supportive community of workers, educators and students in LIS. Do not hesitate to connect with BIPOC in SAA. We want to see and help you thrive.
In general, I’m gonna go with advice that is rare in our field: develop an antiracist approach for your work. As new workers in the archives field, you don’t want to jeopardize your position (understandable), BUT it is an archival imperative to intervene white supremacist ideology. Silence protects the system that allows dominant groups to reproduce harms, without consequence.
As you work, serve on committees, and interact with colleagues, get in the habit of asking yourselves: if this [ action, article, policy, standard, etc. ] is not antiracist/anti-oppressive, what is it and does it matter? Lastly, #CiteBlackWomen #CiteIndigenousWomen
Kris Kiesling: If you are able to attend the SAA annual meeting, show up for section meetings that interest you and volunteer! Even if you’re not able to attend SAA, join section listservs and contribute to the conversations. Write articles for newsletters. The best thing you can do is make yourself known, show that you are contributing to the profession and want to get involved. As an introvert, I know how hard this can be, but the more you do it, the easier it gets.