SAA 2016 Candidate Interview: Stephanie Bayless

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.

Stephanie Bayless
Archivist and Assistant Manager, Research Services Division, Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System
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 is an amazing success story of a group of people who saw a need, started a discussion, and found a solution. In particular, I appreciate how SNAP brings together people from across the profession; whether your focus is on description, digital preservation, public programming, etc., everyone has a place in SNAP. I don’t want to sound too cliché here, but SNAP is our future. The Roundtable should be a resource for new archivists to learn the ins-and-outs of our organization, discover when and where they can become more involved, and develop professional and personal friendships. It can be difficult to feel comfortable speaking up when you are new to a field and I see SNAP as the group to offer a safe space to ask questions and become engaged with the larger organization. Additionally, SNAP should work closely with the membership and key contact committees, as there is quite a bit of overlap in their missions. Together these groups can open the door to new outreach that will benefit our members and our organization.

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

SAA leaders need to find a way to connect with members outside of the annual meeting if we expect to thrive. Period. Connecting with members of SNAP, in particular, is imperative for our future organizational health and success. I’ll be the first to admit that this is very easy to say, but more difficult to do. Playing off of the success of roundtables/sections reaching their constituents through social media – I’m particularly thinking about SNAP and WAR here – I’d love to see Council lead their own chats on Twitter perhaps with individuals occasionally keeping “office hours” like some leadership of the smaller groups. This will help enforce our desire for an atmosphere of openness and accessibility.

Out of the internet and onto the ground, I’d love to see Council out and about representing SAA more often. There is a lot of opportunity at regional and state meetings to present a session updating members about what is happening in SAA, to be available during breaks for short question and answer sessions, or to host an informal conversation over coffee.

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

I think there have to be two answers to this question as we need to consider archives as things and archivists as people. Many issues overlap, of course, but we can’t consider the most imperative issue for one isn’t necessarily the same for the other. Thinking about the “thing” side, the evolving professional and personal ramifications of worldwide changes to privacy and copyright is an issue in which we must be active participants. Our collective “we” needs a chair at the table during these discussions. The outcome of legislation on these issues affects what we do today and how we will define the role of archives tomorrow.

Moving on to the “people” side of things, I’m most concerned about the deprofessionalization of our profession and of the negative side effects that come with it (low salary, no benefits, temporary positions, etc.). I think at its core, the devaluing of trained archivists and records professionals is the greatest threat we are facing today. Our recent push for advocacy is a step in the right direction, but there is much more to do.

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

Super Bowl commercial? All we need is a willing donor and a celebrity spokesperson. Seriously speaking though, who among us hasn’t been met with a blank stare when we answer the inevitable question, “What do you do for a living?” And honestly, this is just a really hard question that we have always struggled with. On a practical level, the only way to improve public understanding is to get out there and talk to the public. People won’t appreciate what you do if they can’t see it. This is a responsibility that falls on each and every one of us. These are just some undeveloped ideas at this point, but SAA could provide public programming resources to help local archivists reach out. We could perhaps provide grant funding to encourage programming that reaches a larger audience – such as the old standby home movie day, adventurous archives crawls, or homegrown versions of “Who Do You Think You Are?” SAA could provide guidance for archives hoping to develop partnerships with other local cultural institutions thereby increasing visibility for all. There are a lot of opportunities to explore.

  1. How can SAA improve archival education?

Confession: My degree is in public history and I originally intended to enter the museum field. I’ve often stayed out of the archival education debate because I’ve never really been sure if I’m welcome at that table as a dreaded nontraditional. [Kidding!] Personally, I’m not in favor of SAA becoming involved in accreditation of archival programs like our colleagues at the ALA. And it may be an unpopular opinion, but I’m also not a big fan of our foray into certificate programs. Do these kinds of things have their place? Of course! But I feel like many archivists, particularly new professionals, feel pressure to collect all of these letters to go after their name. Yes, it makes your resume longer, but it also makes your wallet lighter. I likely have some bias here that I need to reveal – after taking several classes towards the DAS, I realized that my lack of travel budget meant I wasn’t really taking the courses that would be of the most use to me. I was taking the courses that were available online or – very rarely – in driving distance of my home base in Arkansas. Overall, I would just like to see SAA encouraging use of our webinars and workshops to fill gaps in formal education or learn new skills instead of as standalone programs.

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

I enjoy speaking with new professionals, so I feel like my answer to this question could just ramble on for pages. I’m going to keep it succinct however, and focus on the thing that took me the longest to learn – “find your place.” It sounds obvious, but to someone just getting involved in archives (or any new career actually) it can be difficult to navigate through all the advice, groups, cliques, and choices. Try a little bit of everything until you discover the part of archives that makes you the most excited. Discard that preconceived notion of “this is an archivist” and embrace a new “this is me as an archivist.” Okay, so that sounds a little bit cheesy. But if you can get past the cheese, I feel like there is some good advice there.

Let me share my personal example: Coming from a history background, I entered our field assuming I would feel most at home on the academic side of things. It was what I was used to, what I had excelled at, and what I expected to continue doing. Landing in a manuscript repository though, I struggled to maintain that connection to academia I felt I needed. When I eventually let go of that “image” and let myself embrace my casual side that loves women’s history, enjoys public programming, and has a knack for standardizing description . . . well, I felt all around more confident in myself and my career choice. Even if I never write another journal article.


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