SAA 2015 Candidate Interview: Chris Burns

This post is part of the 2015 Candidate Interview series, presented in preparation for the 2015 SAA Election (March 13-April 13). Candidate statements will be posted daily through Friday, March 13. Read more statements from 2015 candidates here or check out our previous election series.

Chris Burns
University of Vermont, Curator of Manuscripts and University Archivist, Special Collections
Candidate for Council
Read his bio and response to questions posed by the Nominating Committee here.

1. What role should SNAP Roundtable play in SAA?

I attended a SNAP Roundtable meeting in 2013 and was blown away by the enthusiasm, passion, and intellectual curiosity in the room. It was truly inspiring, and I’ve been talking about it ever since. The challenge for all roundtables and sections is to find constructive ways to build useful projects out of that creative energy. It requires experimentation, follow through, and an acceptance that some ideas may be less successful than others. From what I have seen, SNAP has embraced that culture of experimentation and has already in its short existence come up with some very interesting ideas, the regular twitter chats being one great example where SNAP is finding unique ways to give its members a platform to discuss common concerns.

For SNAP, there are certain areas, such as internships and employment, that are always going to be a priority, but the roundtable also has the opportunity to offer unique perspectives on many archival issues. Like some other groups, such as the Manuscript Repositories Section, a broad area of possible interest can be both a blessing and a curse in terms of figuring out what to address. With the Manuscript Section’s Jump In project, we created a project that overlapped with the missions of other more sections and roundtables, but tried to find a way to make the project uniquely appropriate for the work of our section. My only major regret from that work is that we were never able to find a way to work more closely with other sections and roundtables. I think the SNAP Roundtable could take a real leadership role on collaborative projects with other sections and roundtables, my experience being that they are very much interested in bringing the voices of students and newer professionals into the picture. In reading SNAP’s recent minutes, I see the roundtable leadership is thinking about collaborating on the their twitter chats with other groups, which seems like an excellent idea and a great way to build stronger relationships with other SAA groups.

2. How can SAA leaders, and your role in particular, better engage SNAP constituents?

Council members serve as liaisons to all of the roundtables and sections and this is the primary method SAA leadership can engage SNAP constituents, but of course not the only way. In my various roles in SAA roundtables, sections, and committees, I have had uniformly positive dealings with Council liaisons and SAA staff. The Jump In Initiative is a great example of how our liaison and SAA staff were incredibly supportive and helpful in bringing a new idea to fruition, we probably wouldn’t have pulled it off without the support and advice or our liaison. My experience is that the SAA leadership has been there when you need them or when you make requests of them and have been actively looking at ways to more actively engage with and encourage sections and roundtables, such as through the Leadership Forum and through the recently completed work of the Task Force on Membership Affinity Groups. The recent report of that Task Force recommends several improvements that should assist all groups. Among the highlights are suggestions for improving the Leadership Forum, providing incentives for groups to collaborate, and a more clearly communicated definition of the role of Council liaison to these groups. Council has now put together a working group to explore the recommendations of the Task Force, some of which propose fairly major structural changes, and I am sure this will be a major area of focus for Council and all of SAA over the course of the next couple of years. If elected to Council, I would be very engaged with making sure the relationship and the communication between leadership and sections and roundtable leaders and their members is as strong as it possibly can be.

3. How can SAA improve public understanding of the archives profession?

SAA has placed a renewed emphasis on its efforts in this area, with the creation of the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable and Kathleen Roe’s Year of Living Dangerously for Archives challenges. All members of SAA share responsibility for how the public understands archives, and in many respects it is the individual members that are the professions greatest ambassadors to the rest of the world. However, SAA as an organization does have to take advantage of its opportunities to serve as a leading voice on archival issues and should devote adequate resources to this effort and in helping its members carry out their roles as spokespeople for the work that we do. The first goal of the SAA strategic plan, Advocating for Archivists and Archives, demonstrates that the organization has made work in this area a top priority. One area that I am interested in pursuing is whether SAA as an organization should be placing more of an emphasis, with appropriate resources, around a larger archives marketing initiative.

4. How can SAA improve archival education?

SAA has several opportunities to improve archival education. One key way is through its workshops, and the DAS series proves that SAA can think about education in an ambitious and innovative way to fulfill a need that isn’t being adequately addressed elsewhere. SAA’s guidelines on internships and the resulting discussions around it are another way that SAA has focused on this topic, and a way that its membership, and particularly students and new professionals, can help to shape SAA’s views. One area that should always be a priority for SAA, whether in relation to its own offerings or that of others, is affordability. SAA needs to play a key role in working to eliminate economic barriers to participation in its own offerings, such as workshops and the annual meeting, and should continue to increase its support of scholarship opportunities for students in archival education programs. Affordability is an increasingly important issue in all of higher education, and it is no different in our profession. Doing all we can to reduce economic barriers will benefit the whole profession and help to make our profession more open and welcoming to individuals from a diverse array of socio-economic backgrounds. Having taken a number of years to finally pay off my student loans from library school, I can speak to this issue first hand.

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

When I served as co-chair of the Awards Committee, the part of the awards ceremony that always proved inspirational for me was the juxtaposition of the presentations of student award and scholarship winners and those of new SAA fellows. You would see the amazing work already being conducted by individuals new to the profession and then hear the full body of accomplishments of the new fellows. It showed what one could accomplish over the course of one’s career, but it also showed that there was this seemingly perpetual source of new individuals who were passionate about the work and were very quickly doing remarkable things. It’s a loss that these are no longer part of the same ceremony; to me they were wonderful bookends. My advice to new professionals would be to stay passionate, be creative, and make some noise. Many of the issues we face have been around for a long time, but there is so much room to be innovative and creative in tackling them. Other issues, such as digital preservation, seem to beg for new perspectives and new skills. New professionals have much to offer the profession as we grapple with challenges old and new, and my experience is that people can make an impact in this profession in a pretty short amount of time, the work of SNAP is a good example. Those of us who have been in the profession just a little bit longer than yourselves welcome your participation. We should all be very proud of the work we do as archivists, this is important.

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