SAA 2015: Town Hall with SAA Leaders

In advance of the 2015 Annual Meeting, we invited SNAP members to contribute summaries of panels, roundtable and section meetings, forums, and pop-up sessions. Summaries represent the opinions of their individual authors; they are not necessarily endorsed by SNAP, members of the SNAP Steering Committee, or SAA.

The Town Hall with SAA Leaders was a brown bag lunch session held on Thursday, August 20, 2015. Both President Kathleen Roe and President-Elect Dennis Meissner were present for the informal discussion, in which anyone in attendance could ask questions. SNAP’s founder, Rebecca Goldman, also answered some questions. Topics were varied, ranging from suggested collaborations with other professional associations to questions about the policy change regarding social justice issues.

The following is not a complete transcription of the event, but a best effort to recount the meaning behind different questions and responses.

Question: We’ve heard a lot about the limited resources of SAA. Does it not make sense to collaborate with other organizations? Is this something SAA will continue?

Roe: The museum community talks a lot about storytelling, so we want to continue working with them on this topic. There are many similarities between libraries, archives, and museums, like in the areas of advocacy and project management.

Meissner: The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) has been particularly good at spanning the divide between the three in some areas. We do have similarities, but the cultures are quite different. The competition for resources has been a deterrent to really integrating. Also, there is a largely untapped kinship between archives and the education community. Perhaps individual repositories already collaborate with local education associations, but it is not reported through SAA.

Roe: What SAA should do is find data regarding how much of an impact the use of primary sources in the classroom has on student learning. This is what teachers need to see. However, SAA has a tiny staff compared to other professional organizations. The Council constantly has to assess its priorities because of constraints. They want to look for places where they can have maximum impact.

Question: What about members who answer the call for volunteers and never get a response? The asker’s colleague is a young archivist. It wasn’t that she wasn’t selected for a response; it was that she got no acknowledgement at all.

Meissner: That’s unacceptable.

Goldman: SNAP had put up a form for volunteers, but no ever took the committee up on it.

Meissner: SAA needs to assess member abilities and place people where they can grow.

Question: What about the student chapters? They seem to operate independently of SAA, so it feels like two separate organizations for student members.

Roe: It depends on the school and who is in charge of the chapters. Some of the schools have a very close association with SAA, whereas others don’t.

Comment: SAA feels completely academic right now. There are almost no sessions for those not in colleges and universities this year. It feels like it has gotten progressively less inclusive of other types of archivists in the past few years.

Roe: Currently, 60% of the membership is college and university (CAU), but universities are taking in government records, congressional collections, and more. This means they do need to pay attention to the government lens. Archivists need to see the connections where they have them. SAA’s job is to find the commonalities that exist between the different types of archivists. The association as a whole needs to be less divisive.

Meissner: Does the existence of the Council of State Archivists (COSA) and the National Association of Government Archives & Records Administrators (NAGARA) deepen the divide?

Roe: SAA does affiliate with COSA and NAGARA. Sometimes this works, but other times it just can’t.

Question: What about social issues?

Roe: What’s the archival component of that? Is there an archival issue within it? if there is no archival filter, then SAA won’t comment. However, it doesn’t mean that SAA members can’t comment on social justice issues on their own or through other organizations. The SAA has a foundation that gives grants. Find those other archivists who share that passion; group together and go do that thing. Getting involved on the part of the organization is a case-by-case basis, and it can get very touchy. However, there are many issues that SAA should be involved in, like political emails, transparency in government, and copyright. If there is something in which a member thinks the organization should be involved, tell the Council and give them background information to work from.

Question: Will the focus on archival advocacy and awareness continue under the next president?

Roe: I like to think of Dennis and myself as heart and mind. Dennis is more cerebral than me, which is good because it’s often not enough to go into a boardroom and emote.

Meissner: SAA has two committees on the topic that are only a year old: the Committee on Advocacy and Public Policy (CAPP) and the Committee on Public Awareness (COPA). SAA has talked a lot about public policy, but making the public aware of archives is vital. Archivists must communicate their value. The obvious place to start is with archivists, so the organization is providing tools to help members develop messaging.

Roe: Then move on to bosses, and then further and further out, dispersing the message as far as it will go. Change takes time, and there are many new skills to learn when it comes to advocacy and outreach. Archivists must also consider all the different people who would speak on behalf of their organizations. Nancy Beaumont has done many of these outreach activities, before she came to SAA, so she is a great resource. It’s very important that the archives receive credit when due, such as when they are instrumental in research for a new book. We archivists must continue pushing them to the forefront.

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