SAA 2014 Candidate Interview: James Roth

James Roth
Deputy Director, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Adjunct Faculty, Graduate School of Information Library Science, Simmons College
Candidate for Council
Read his bio and response to questions posed by the Nominating Committee here.

How did you get your start in the archives field?

While I was attending the University of New Hampshire for my Master’s in History, I was awarded the Roland Sawyer Scholarship and worked in the Milne Special Collections and Archives. Because of this experience and upon finishing my Master’s in History, I decided to pursue my Master’s in Library Science with a concentration in Archival Studies. At the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, I was fortunate to work in the Southern Historical Collection. Both of those experiences cemented my thoughts that I wanted to pursue a career in archives.

How do you see the SNAP Roundtable within the larger picture of SAA?

I believe the SNAP Roundtable is a valuable conduit for students and new professionals to engage colleagues in a collegiate atmosphere, to further learn about the archives profession through peer-to-peer interactions, and to enter into leadership positions in SAA. Without a strong support network and mechanism to engage new professionals and those seeking to enter the profession, the larger SAA would be at a disadvantage in the long term. It sounds cliche, but today’s new archivist truly is tomorrow’s leader. If I hadn’t had a strong support group that encouraged my participation in SAA when I first started out, I wouldn’t be seeking a position on Council.

What do you feel is the responsibility of SAA leadership, and your leadership role in particular, to students and new archives professionals?

My belief always has been to encourage students and new archives professionals, whether it is through SAA, other archival and related professional organizations, or through teaching courses, to engage with the archives profession as a whole and with individuals within the archives profession, and to take the opportunities that are available. But I don’t limit this responsibility I hold to just students and new archives professionals. I encourage all archival professionals to engage and to take responsibility and pride in their profession by developing their knowledge, their experience, and their leadership potential. SAA does offer many opportunities to its members, including students and new professionals and SAA leaders need to continue to seek new ways to support and engage all our members.

What steps can SAA take to improve the perception of the archives profession in a variety of settings (academics, business, government, etc.)?

I think the perception of the archives profession as a whole is positive, so I would encourage SAA to strengthen this perception by continued outreach, advocacy, and communication. There is always more we can do, and that includes members taking an active role in supporting the lead of SAA. That is, I think it the responsibility of every member of SAA–not just SAA leadership– is to advocate for a positive perception of archives.

What role do you think SAA can play in ensuring MLS programs are producing the archivists employers need?

I think SAA can help inform the various MLS programs on what our members identify as needs. Through open communication and taking on the role as an interested party with knowledge to pass along, SAA can contribute to strengthening MLS programs.

How do you plan to engage new and young professionals in SAA?

I think I have a built-in advantage: I am an adjunct at Simmons College and in every class I teach, I encourage students to become involved with SAA. Those students who work at the Kennedy Library also hear me talk up SAA. My point is, we can all engage new and young professionals outside the traditional setting of SAA (annual meetings, committees/sections/roundtables, etc..) as well as from within. Having held leadership positions in SAA, I have engaged new and young professionals by recommending them as potential members of committee/section/roundtable leadership positions. I believe the idea of meeting new people, of making a connection, and listening to what is being said, is the single most important step to engage new and young professionals. I hate the word Networking, because it seems to take out the personal element of why we are together. We are here because of a shared interest, and we need to build those personal relationships by meeting and talking with one another. I encourage everyone to come and talk with me at the Annual Meetings.

What advice do you have for new professionals in our field?

Opportunities are there. Don’t be afraid to seek them out. I know that it can be a challenge to put yourself forward when you feel you are just starting out. But if you don’t take a proactive approach and wait for opportunities to seek you out, you may be waiting a long time. This is the challenge we all have faced. I had an excellent mentor who encouraged me to participate, and I followed up with attending committee meetings at SAA’s Annual meetings and by speaking up at those meetings when I felt it appropriate. I put my name in to various leadership elections. I lost some, and won some. Never be afraid to fail. You become stronger and learn so much when you seek challenges. But remember: have fun in what you’re doing, choose the opportunities that will fulfill you as an archivist and a person.