SAA 2016 Candidate Interview: Erin Lawrimore

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.

Erin Lawrimore
University Archivist, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Candidate for Council
Read her bio and response to questions posed by the Nominating Committee here.


 

  1. What role should SNAP Roundtable play in SAA?

SNAP serves as a meeting space and a unified voice for students and new professionals, and it should always reflect the changing needs of its membership. SAA as an organization — and, to be honest, the whole professional world — can sometimes be intimidating for new professionals. At times, more established professionals can forget that and forget how they felt as new professionals. SNAP, through its communications outlets and collaborations with other SAA groups, can communicate the needs and ideas of new professionals throughout the organization and serve as a central place for more established professionals to help SNAP members navigate the sometimes confusing and overwhelming world of professional service.

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

I would love to see more SAA leaders participate in SNAP chats on Twitter. Involvement in SNAP chats can really help break down some perceived barriers and open up lines of communication. The chats should be a venue for active listening on the part of SAA leadership as well as participation and information exchange. Personally, I participate in the SNAP chats whenever I can, and when I can’t participate live, I read the Storify. Every time I feel like I learn something or have my perspective on some issue or topic challenged. And that’s a good, valuable thing for anyone at any level of experience in the profession. If elected to Council (or, to be honest, even if I’m not), I would continue that involvement and encourage others to do the same.

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

Diversity and inclusion both within our professional ranks and within our collections need to be critically addressed, even if (or especially when) it makes us uncomfortable to do so. We need to support minority students in graduate programs (and we need to sustainably fund the SAA Mosaic Scholarship), but we also need to make a concerted effort to reach out to people before they are in graduate school and show them why archives and archival work are important to them. Of course, in order to fully demonstrate the value of archives to people, we need archives that are truly valuable and reflective. We need to critically examine our practices and our collections — look at what we are collecting and who we are documenting, and be honest with ourselves about our short comings and gaps. We need to actively listen and learn and adapt accordingly.

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

 Given its staff size and budget, I don’t think there’s much that SAA *alone* can do to improve public understanding of the archival profession. What I do think SAA can do, however, is educate and empower its membership so they feel comfortable going out and advocating for the profession. The somewhat recently formed Committee on Public Awareness (of which I’m currently vice chair) is looking at ways to make this happen, and the start of the ArchivesAWARE! blog is an excellent start towards facilitating the conversation. But there is more that can be done. For example, I would love to see a series of continuing education classes that provide archivists with the skills and knowledge needed to effectively build public appreciation for the archives within their own communities. This series might include courses on media relations, internal advocacy, political advocacy, etc. I’m a firm believer that there are many SAA members who want and are able to effectively improve public understanding of the archives profession. They just need a bit of training and that final push to help them feel prepared. SAA can provide that training needed to build professional awareness at the grassroots level.

  1. How can SAA improve archival education?

Archival education should be an ongoing process, and SAA and its membership should be involved in improving education throughout that process. At the graduate education level, SAA should continue to build, maintain, and frequently revisit and revise (as needed) its graduate program guidelines and directory. Facilitated mentoring between current SAA leaders and SAA student chapter leadership also can help bridge the transition between graduate school and full-time professional status.

But I see SAA’s most important role in the education realm to be facilitating continuing education. In this area, I would love to see SAA offer more online education options on a broader range of topics. For those of us not in a major metro area, travel to a single workshop can cost nearly $1000 (registration, mileage/airline ticket, food, and hotel). Even the workshops provided on the Monday or Tuesday before the annual meeting can strain a professional development budget. Extra hotel nights are never cheap, particularly if your roommate is not also attending the workshop! Online education isn’t perfect, and anyone teaching an online education workshop needs to be trained in how to effectively deliver content in that environment. But online education does open doors that, for many of us, are often closed due to financial constraints.

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

 At the risk of sounding like the “Wear Sunscreen” song, here are a few random pieces of advice for new professionals:

  • Don’t be scared to talk to people, no matter what position they hold or what they have written or done. By and large, most archivists are nice people who are more than happy to talk about the work they do. They want to be helpful, but remember that they are, in fact, people (although sometimes introverted and often quite busy people).
  • Your “publication agenda” isn’t set in stone. Write about or speak on professional topics that interest you or are really meaningful to you, even if they’re not related to your current work. Also, when possible, look for publication opportunities outside of the archives world (or even outside of professional literature altogether).
  • Don’t be scared to jump into SAA leadership. As a relatively new professional (about three years in), I threw my hat into the ring for an elected position in an SAA section and was soundly defeated. But in doing so, I met some really nice people who were happy to talk more about organizational leadership and SAA.
  • Get involved with your regional or state organization. Regional and state organizations are great ways to meet new people and gain professional leadership experience outside of SAA. Many have annual meetings or publications that can also help you build your base of experience.
  • Don’t let “archivist” be your primary (definitely not your sole) label for yourself. Find something outside of archives that makes you happy, and make time to do that. Some people run. Some people sing. I volunteer for a basset hound rescue. Fight hard to keep non-archives things in your life.
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