SAA 2015: Session 505, Regional Advocacy, National Impact

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.

Session 505 had a large panel compared to other sessions, wherein the archivists discussed how their individual repositories or the state and/or regional associations successfully advocated on behalf of archives and archivists. As panel moderator Rachel Chatalbash, Archivist for the Yale Center for British Art and Co-Chair of the Regional Archival Associations Consortium (RAAC), pointed out, much of the advocacy in our profession is done at the local level, yet unless the issue is big enough to enter the national consciousness, the work is often unnoticed and unacknowledged by SAA. She also said it only took one person invested in an issue to sustain the issue, and she has found that if she kept at it, eventually others joined her cause.

Janet Bunde, Assistant University Archivist at New York University, discussed some of the work done by the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York (ART) with working to maintain autonomy for the New York City records. Like many regional associations, ART is all-volunteer. Through the experience of advocating for the city records, advocacy became so important to ART that they now have a board member dedicated to that topic. Another thing ART has learned is that coalitions can be built in times of crisis, but that they need to be sustained in times of calm. Otherwise, you risk having to start from scratch should a new issue arise. Furthermore, advocacy is often at the mercy of the legislative calendar, so something that seems like it could be a quick fix may take years. Government employees often don’t have the right to speak on certain topics affecting them, so it is the job of the association to speak up when archivists’ jobs are threatened and access to public records could be curtailed. Finally, Bunde said to make sure that the message the association sends is clear. It’s easier to get others involved if it’s obvious what the group is advocating for.

Tessa Cierny, Records Analyst Team Lead – Delta Air Lines for the Cadence Group, recently relocated to Atlanta from Boston, where she was involved in the New England Archivists (NEA). They developed a five year plan for advocacy after surveying the membership to see how the members felt about the organization’s advocacy efforts. The response let NEA know that there was a lot of interest and the membership wanted a process developed for how NEA would respond to issues in the future. Cierny found it very important to also communicate with legislators to let them know what archivists do and why it was necessary.

Sarah Quigley, Manuscript Archivist at Emory University’s Rose Library, spoke about the Society of Georgia (SGA)’s efforts to stop the closure of the Georgia State Archives in 2012. Even though SGA is one of the oldest state conferences, its history with advocacy efforts is quite young. For several years, the advocacy committee member’s job was to manage social media. Now, it takes a much larger role in the association’s makeup. In 2012, SGA became aware of pending funding cuts that would cripple the state archives’ budget. Working under the Coalition to Save Georgia’s Archives, Quigley and others in the group developed a plan to stop the cuts. In 2013, the state archives was moved under the purview of the Board of Regents and remains open to the public. Unfortunately, the advocacy coalition in Georgia has fizzled, so SGA is working on a strategic plan to improve its importance again. Quigley ended by saying that we must learn to be advocates for our archives everyday.

Paul Scott, Records Management Officer for Harris County, Texas, focused more on his overall experience with legislators. We need them, he said, but we also have to watch them. He reads the daily digest of bills introduced, but only focuses on the ones relevant to RM and archives. Occasionally, he finds what he called a “bad ole bill,” and he notifies others of what he’s found. In his experience, he’s learned not to attack anyone and to avoid name-calling. Often, it’s an education issue. He also has found it’s important to get others, like patrons, to carry the message to increase its reach.

Amanda Focke, Archivist and Special Collections Librarian for Rice University, noted that there were 45 regional associations as opposed to one national association for archival issues. Therefore, it was easier to get the attention of the local and regional groups. The members of regional groups can alert RAAC to an issue, and RAAC will assist. It is not a part of SAA, but it is an affiliated group.

Julia Stringfellow, Archivist for Boise State University, quickly gave a rundown of the important things for advocating for your repository:

  1. Develop a plan.
  2. Know your legislators.
  3. Know who your supporters are.
  4. Make friends with your local media.
  5. Use social media to disseminate messages.
  6. Get involved with your regional association.
  7. ADVOCATE for your archive!
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