This post comes to us from our steering committee member Jeremy Floyd on responding to SAA’s Call for Volunteers.
It’s that time of year again. I don’t mean the time for practicing your archivist elevator speech on your Aunt Hazel between cups of eggnog. It’s the time of year when SAA puts out is call for volunteers for appointed groups. After seeing these calls and ignoring them for years, last year I decided to sit down and try to figure out what all these groups do, and which if any of them might be appropriate for me, as a fairly new archivist, to raise my hand for.
Unfortunately the SAA website is a bit cumbersome, and I spent a lot of time tabbing between the call announcement and the directory of SAA leaders which explains what all those committees, sub-committees, boards, task forces, and working groups consist of. As a new professional, I didn’t feel that I would bring very much to many of the open positions, and a couple of the positions I was explicitly excluded from (not yet being an SAA Fellow). In the end, I figured I would put my name in for the Program Committee since 1) there were multiple positions open, and 2) if nothing else, I could do some of the grunt work of tracking proposals, and communicating with session chairs. So I sent in my application just before the deadline, and largely forgot about it until May. Fast forward several months, I received notice, and I was not appointed. I was a little disappointed, and maybe a little relieved (the program committee does a huge amount of work), but also happy that I’d taken the initiative volunteer even if I wasn’t selected.
Then over the summer, Jackie Dooley and Scott Schwartz published an article in the July/August issue of Archival Outlook (SAA membership required to view) which helped give some clarity to the appointment process and had some solid tips for volunteers. It turns out that many people applied to only one position, as I did. If I’d put my name in for multiple positions, I would have increased my chances of appointment. Also, the Program Committee was the most popular of all the appointments with 39 volunteers; I would have been much better off to apply for one of the more niche subcommittees with fewer applicants. Speaking of subcommittees, Jackie and Scott specifically pointed to the awards subcommittees as “excellent ‘starter’ committees for learning the organizational ropes.” And overall they said it’s important to be clear about your experience and background which makes you qualified for the position, otherwise the appointments committee doesn’t have much to go on to make their selections.
Taking all of that into account, this year I felt a lot more confident when approaching the 2013 call for volunteers. I’m a year farther into my career, I’ve actually attended the Annual meeting for once, and I’m beginning to feel that I’m not just bluffing my way through being an archivist. My involvement in SNAP has made issues of archival education, and advocacy in the field topics that I feel confident in speaking out about. So with that in mind, I selected a few relevant positions and threw my hat into the ring yet again. I’ve no idea if I’ll be selected, fortunately there are many qualified archivist who generously give their time to make SAA great, but I feel a bit like I do about voting. Whatever the outcome, I feel gratified knowing I participated.
And I would encourage other SNAP members to do the same. Your experience as a student, as a new professional, the skills you bring with you from other fields outside of archives, and all of your various life experiences are valuable and could help SAA to further its mission. SAA explicitly states that they are looking to appoint a diverse group, including people with varying number years in the profession. So take a look at the openings and consider which you could best make a contribution to. And if you do volunteer only to be turned down, don’t be discouraged. There’s lots of ways of being involved, including participation in SNAP. Active involvement in SAA can help improve your knowledge of the profession, help you get to know others in the field, and ultimately help to improve the society and the profession as a whole. Now get out there and volunteer!