SAA 2016 Candidate Interview: Michelle Light

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.

Michelle Light
Director, Special Collections at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas
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 has an important role to play in engaging and organizing students and new professionals.  Through SNAP, the issues, concerns, and professional development needs of SAA’s newest members are represented and brought forward for inclusion into SAA governance processes, services, and programming. But most importantly, SNAP connects SAA to SAA’s newest members and helps orient them to SAA so they can start using its resources for professional growth and to start building professional connections and networks.  Within this supportive environment, students and new professionals can find others who have similar questions, concerns, and needs. Through SNAP, members can take on leadership roles and develop leadership skills early in their careers, which will benefit both their careers and the diversity of voices in SAA’s leadership.

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

The SAA Council liaison to SNAP has one of the most important roles in this regard to listen to what’s going on in SNAP and help SNAP leaders be more effective in engaging and representing their members. One possibility is to be a sounding board for ideas for the next year’s agenda and to mentor SNAP leadership behind the scenes.  Another possibility is to help SNAP leaders craft proposals and initiatives for collaboration with other SAA groups or to bring forward for Council’s consideration.  The Council liaison might also encourage SNAP leadership to publicize those opportunities to provide feedback on various SAA initiatives.

But one thing all Council members should do is listen and talk to SNAP leaders and members. SAA meetings have a few venues for SNAP leaders and members to meet and mingle with SAA leadership, whether it’s the Leadership Forum, the reception for new members, Council office hours in the exhibit hall, during poster presentations, or just serendipity in the various meeting spaces.  Outside of the annual meeting, SAA leaders might follow the SNAP listserv or blog feeds, and take advantage of invitations, such as this, to communicate with SNAP members.

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

Currently, I am most concerned about copyright law and how it hinders access to archival records in a digital environment.

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

For me, the question is how SAA can help its members improve public understanding of the archives profession. Sure, there are a few things SAA might try on a national scale, but I believe we will be most effective at a local level.  We need SAA members to do the heavy lifting here. We need to start educating our supporters and stakeholders first. We need to make sure the people within our institutions, our patrons, and our donors understand the value of what we do, so they can advocate for us too. We need to engage our local or regional communities to get them interested in what he have and what we do, so they get invested in what we offer them.  I see SAA’s role in building member capacity to do this outreach, marketing, and advocacy.  SAA roundtables and sections have a role to play in helping their members do this in their specializations, as do the SAA publications program or the educational offerings.  I’m also very eager to see what strategies the Committee on Public Awareness develops.  The formation of COPA, which is focused on enhancing “SAA’s capacity to promote the value of archives and archivists to institutions, communities, and society,” was a huge leap forward in making this a priority for SAA. I recommend paying attention to this committee, supporting its recommendations, or volunteering to serve on it.

  1. How can SAA improve archival education?

SAA considers this question multiple times a decade! For me, the question is rather how can SAA improve archival education given its existing resources.  SAA will never have the level of funding that ALA has to build and manage the infrastructure necessary to accredit programs.  So SAA needs to be more creative in its strategies.  SAA already has Guidelines for a Graduate Program in Archival Studies, and it is reviewed regularly. It is up for review again, and if found that it needs an overhaul, multiple stakeholders and perspectives should be consulted.  As part of this review, SAA should probably assess how useful the guidelines are, and consider how more prospective students can become aware of the guidelines as they evaluate the quality of potential archival education programs.

SAA can probably have more impact on the education of archivists through its continuing education programs and through the annual meeting programs that allow professionals to continually grow in the latest knowledge and skills. These might also serve to supplement gaps in archival graduate education. The DAS curriculum has been very successful, so we should look to build and expand upon what works.

Continuing investment in and support for SAA’s publishing programs are absolutely paramount to sharing and advancing knowledge in our field.  New editions of the Archives Fundamentals series are underway, and these works are often the first ways graduate students learn about the field and about SAA. The Trends in Archival Practice series and timely monographs on a variety of archival activities ensure archivists at all stages in their careers have access to the latest developments, thinking, and best practices in the field. The articles in the American Archivist showcase cutting edge research, case studies, and the evolution of theoretical knowledge. Open access to much of the corpus of the American Archivist allows students, professionals, and those in complementary fields to easily discover and learn from the best thinking and practice in our field. Hopefully, archival educators will assign and use these resources to support student learning and growth, and to introduce students to core archival knowledge and common practices.

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

Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can to learn from other archivists, observe how they approach situations, and expand your experience. Proactively seek work and professional experiences where experienced professionals can mentor you.  Be flexible in how you approach your career; especially earlier in your career, say yes to opportunities that will give you breadth.  Get active as soon as possible in SAA and regional archival associations – volunteer for positions, try to present or publish, and take the plunge to network with archivists of all generations.  Your professional networks will last a lifetime, so start building those relationships now.

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