SAA 2016 Candidate Interview: Melissa Gonzales

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.

Melissa Gonzales
Archivist/Librarian, Witte Museum
Candidate for Nominating Committee
Read their bio and response to questions posed by the Nominating Committee here.

  1. What role should SNAP RT play in SAA?

SNAP is already doing a wonderful job of providing a safe forum for SNAPpers to discuss their concerns and develop solutions. This roundtable is ideal for inciting change because its members consist of people just joining the profession, and they’re coming in with open and fresh minds. Much like painting or writing a book, you become so ingrained in the process that you forget to step back and look at your concept with new eyes. SNAPpers can provide that fresh outlook and question current processes so we can change and update the organization as needed to remain relevant and not lose momentum.

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

The SNAP blog has been a great venue for established archivists to answer SNAPpers’ questions and engage in discussion. Inviting SAA leaders who are active on Twitter to directly communicate with SNAPpers via SNAPchats would be an ideal way to throw ideas around and to create a dialogue that can be an extension of the blogs. As a former SNAP RT chair, I’m very familiar with the potential SNAPchats have for generating projects for the RT’s leadership, so I try to attend them as much as possible. Also, SNAPpers have close ties to recent innovations in the profession, so I’m constantly learning something new during the chats.

A SNAP RT/Mentoring Subcommittee relationship might also create more engagement between SNAPpers and current leaders. Through the SAA Mentoring Program, SNAP members could be matched with various SAA leaders which will help provide a better understanding of the organization and encourage future participation, in addition to allowing leaders to learn what students and new professionals are encountering and what SNAPpers can bring to the table.

 

SAA leaders can engage with SNAPpers via regional organizations they’re also involved in. Through my participation with the Society of Southwest Archivists (SSA), I’m always encouraging students and new professionals I meet in my region to join SNAP. When I was on the SNAP RT steering committee, I worked with Eira Tansey to establish the first SNAPpy Hour at the 2012 SSA annual meeting, we’ve made sure the event is a regular occurrence. We always encourage established archivists to attend the SNAPpy Hours so students and new professionals can network and make contacts. When I rotated off from planning, I made sure we found a SNAP member in our region to take over to encourage professional involvement. It’s been four years since that first SNAPpy Hour, and I’m glad to say the tradition is ongoing.

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

The two issues right now that I believe are most important go hand-in-hand – advocacy and diversity/inclusion. Promoting the importance of the archives profession to our employers could have positive ramifications resulting in better, professional-level pay and respect, which could potentially boost public advocacy and encourage people from diverse backgrounds to become archivists.

In my candidate statement, I mentioned that diversity is a socio-economic issue that won’t be solved overnight. Those people wanting to break out of their socio-economic tier look to professions that have a reputation for consistently paying well and offering plenty of opportunities – engineering, nursing, information tech, etc. People in these professions are rarely doubted, and when they are hired, it is with an understanding they have a specialized set of skills that must be respected. Many organizations have gotten by with only volunteers in the archives, and when they make the switch to hire a professional archivist, they don’t understand the position requires a specific skill-set that demands a professional salary.

If employers understood the value of archivists and archives, and respected that role enough to acknowledge this is actually a profession, then it would encourage more people from diverse backgrounds to become archivists. It’s hard enough for people who are lucky to have financial and familial support to enter this profession, not to mention maintain archival skills via workshops and certifications, especially when you have to pay out-of-pocket because your employer doesn’t provide the means to do so.

Effective advocacy increases awareness and value of archives improving respect from employers and the public, which then encourages people from diverse backgrounds to join the profession. It’s a win/win equation but one that needs more attention and perhaps a different approach than we’re currently taking, but I believe we’re on the right path.

 

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

At a regional conference a couple of years ago, I listened to a presenter boldly say that archivists are horrible at promoting what we do and the value of our profession, and there is some truth to that. We’re not marketing gurus, and it doesn’t come naturally to us. If we can’t convince our employers of the importance of archives and archivists, then how do we expect to win over the public? I agree with targeting high schools as a means of introducing young people to history and archives, but perhaps we should also start with our local communities by reaching out to organizations to see how we can form an ongoing relationship. By starting local, we can work our way up and out to reach a broader audience. Perhaps getting local news stations and public radio engaged in our relationships with local communities and organizations would provide the boost we need to improve public knowledge of archives. A great community event that comes to mind is the Austin Archives Bazaar which showcases Central Texas archives all in one location allowing the public to explore their collections. Attendees who aren’t familiar with these repositories are able to engage with them in a fun way, and the event has made researchers aware of previously unknown collections. It’s a wonderful model for advocacy that I would love to see duplicated in more areas.

  1. How can SAA improve archival education?

As a member of the Career Center Subcommittee, we are currently engaging with SNAP leadership to see how we can provide better resources for students, new professionals, and established archivists. While at SXSW Interactive a few years ago, there was a small stage set up in the Exhibitor Hall for speakers to give impromptu mini-workshops. It would be great to see something similar in the Career Center for non-archives subjects and have a virtual version, as well. Many archivists start off in entry-level positions and gradually move into management without any specific training, so it would be great to see SAA offer a workshop teaching how to manage personnel, budgets, and other skills necessary to manage the non-collections portion of an archives.

 

Since there are too many issues surrounding individual archival certification and archival-centric accredited education programs, I would like to see an accreditation or designation supported by SAA at the repository level. This puts certification in the hands of the institution and away from the individual, and it provides a framework for archival education programs to follow. The program could stipulate what skills are necessary for professional archivists, and that would help students determine what classes to take and also assist colleges in designing archival programs that truly benefit the student and prepare them for the workforce.

 

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

Find a mentor. I would suggest doing so via SAA’s Mentoring Program, but you can even find one by reaching out to someone whose work you admire. As a student, I visited an archives while on Christmas break, and during the tour, I asked if the archivist would like a summer intern. She said yes, and that one connection provided an archival network that has helped me throughout my post-grad career. Because of her mentorship and encouragement, I was able to make decisions and meet people that made a positive impact on my career. It helped tremendously.

 

Establish a network of friends and colleagues in the profession. Even if they aren’t nearby or in your region, you can still have someone to throw ideas off of or ask for help. Social media is an effective tool for creating this network. In many ways, the people I consider mentors have helped me establish my archives network and have become lifelong friends. We encourage one another and serve as a support system which is something graduate school never prepared me for, and it has come in handy considering how many times I have moved for job opportunities.

 

On that note, be open minded about what area of archives you’d like to work in and be prepared to move for employment. I know it’s harder for those people who have a partner, children, or both, but sometimes it’s the only way to find a position. People say this all the time, but every job is going to have its negatives, and on some days those cons will outweigh the pros. If it’s creating health problems or is an unhealthy environment, then by all means, find another job. This is when that archival network will come in handy. I have found that many cultural and academic institutions have similar dysfunctional systems, so it’s a matter of asking yourself if you can cope with that reality and how to do so and maintain your sanity. I can write an entire blog about this, so feel free to email me if you’d like to hear more or ask questions.

 

 

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