SAA 2016 Candidate Interview: Tanya Zanish-Belcher

This post is part of the 2016 Candidate Interview series, presented in preparation for the 2016 SAA Election (March 14-April 3). Candidate statements will be posted daily through Friday, March 11. Read more statements from 2016 candidates here or check out our previous election series.

Tanya Zanish-Belcher
Director, Special Collections & Archives and University Archivist, Wake Forest University
Candidate for Vice-President/President-Elect
Read her bio and response to questions posed by the Nominating Committee here.

  1. What role should SNAP Roundtable play in SAA?

The Society of American Archivists is an important organization for archives professionals and all of its Roundtable and Sections have a role to play in SAA’s success. Roundtables and Sections are really the lifeblood of SAA—they offer tremendous opportunities for networking, meeting colleagues with shared interests, and leadership development. Especially for those beginning in the profession, serving and volunteering your time for your Roundtable can help you hone your managerial skills, and assist you in finding your place in SAA. And that is a key idea—there truly is a place for each and every one of us in our professional organization.

SNAP has a special role to play, as it represents the newest professionals and students, the future of our profession. It is important for SNAP to continue to bring issues forward, which are of importance for its members, and also look for way we can work together to find solutions to issues and problems. As SAA continues on into the 21st century, it is vital that we be able to be both flexible and proactive in responding to the needs of our newest members.

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

I am a firm believer in open communication and there should be numerous opportunities for SAA members to interact and share ideas and concerns both with each other and with their leadership. No SAA member should ever hesitate to e-mail their President to ask questions or to share about their archives experiences. I would like to explore better ways of communicating, not just sharing information from the top down, but really investigating how we can come together and discuss some of the many issues we are facing. This is a complex and complicated world and SAA needs every one of its members to help—whether by commenting on our policies, volunteering for committees, developing new ideas, or discussing the cultural role of archives.

  1. What current policy issue do you feel is the most imperative to the archival profession?

As the current chair of the Committee on Advocacy and Public Policy, the number of issues we see in one year can be overwhelming, ranging from the role of NARA, copyright, climate change, guns in Reading Rooms, the Freedom of Information Act, the role of documentation in protecting U.S. citizenry – not to mention the problems which crop up for individual repositories. I don’t think that any one issue is more important than the other.

For me, most imperative is for SAA to have the resources to be better able to respond regularly on every issue relating to records! However, with a volunteer organization whose members have limited time to conduct research on quite complicated situations, where we are working with our allies on reviewing statements and thus have many moving parts, we need to figure out a way to effectively coordinate our work this area. Our profession depends on this work, and providing public policy comments is a way for us to better demonstrate our value.

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

I do believe we are beginning to see an impact in this area. The brand new COPA blog is one way which provides ideas for how we can integrate the possibilities into our daily life. Improving public understanding is something we can all do every single day. It includes outreach and in-reach with those nearest to us, communicating our work to those in our local communities, and lastly, sharing out the value of what we do on the national stage. Sometimes it is easy to get discouraged—“must I hear about dusty shelves once more?” but at the same time, this is the profession that we love. It is our job to better communicate our values to the outside world, and to make the connections for our audiences, that archives and records are a part of our daily lives. They just may not see it yet.

  1. How can SAA improve archival education?

There are several components to archival education, including graduate education, certification, and continuing education. I will focus my answer on continuing education as the others involve partnerships outside of SAA. When one examines the SAA budget, continuing education is a major revenue stream. The SAA Education Committee and SAA staff have done a good job of developing new curricula in many topical areas, which are very popular with the membership (such as the Arrangement and Description and DAS Certificates). An increasing number of webinars are also being made available, for those with limited budgets for travel. Finally, plans are in the works to develop webinars which would be widely available at low or no cost, focusing on advocacy and cultural competencies—I think having core presentations such as these, available for everyone, is important for all of us.

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

I wrote about the topic of how to become involved with SAA a couple of years ago for the President’s blog and I think many of these still apply if that is something you wish to pursue (and I hope it is!).

But I would also add the following, and much of this commentary could be considered general career planning: Be strategic, and yet appreciate serendipity too. I like to plan, but always leave room for the little forks in the road which can lead you to something new and exciting. Be proactive about planning. No one will ever care as much about your career as you do, so put some time into it. Think about it. What do you want to accomplish? Where do you want to be in 5 years? In 10? In 20? What do you want to contribute to the profession? Think of all we can accomplish together, if every SAA member dedicated themselves to being a mentor, volunteered to document their local community, or served on an SAA group or committee.

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