Though I’m still deeply entrenched in move preparations, I managed to slip away for two days this month and geek out with other archivists at the Society of California Archivists (SCA) Annual General Meeting. This month I want to share a few highlights from my time in Santa Rosa with other archivists from the state.
SCA will always have a special place in my heart because it’s one of the first places where I learned about archival theory and glimpsed the greater archival community. I had been encouraged to check out the conference after an informational interview with an archivist towards the end of my undergraduate studies. I attended one day of the meeting and was quickly impressed by the caliber of archivists and wide-range of institutions and materials represented. I hastily scribbled in my notebook about foreign concepts like MPLP and archives as being sites of the production of knowledge, not just repositories. Though I hadn’t decided to be an archivist at the time, I felt an immediate kinship with the kind of people who would consider questions like whether the privileging of certain types of primary sources continued a male-centered narrative in history.
This year’s annual meeting was the first conference I have attended since becoming a professional archivist. As a student attendee to SCA and SAA, my activities had revolved around frantic networking and cramming my available hours with sightseeing and extracurricular meetings. Finally a working professional, my approach this year was a little more relaxed. I still tried to participate in all that I could, but I treasured the quiet moments of a leisurely lunch break filled with antique shopping and a mid-afternoon reading break in my car. Conferences can be so overwhelming and fast-paced that it’s critical to take time to allow yourself to breathe and process everything. My head is still spinning from some of the talks I heard and I knew in the moment that self-care would be critical in maintaining my stamina.
While the experience was exhausting, it was also exhilarating to be surrounded by people who are passionate about the field and working on so many exciting projects. Attending a conference always reminds me that I deal with just one small slice of the pie and there is so much still to learn. Perhaps one of the most meaningful sessions I attended examined the role and quandaries of institutional archivists. The panelists discussed how they approach issues of loyalty and impartiality, the cognitive dissonance between how a cultural heritage institution handles its own records and those it acquires, and the difficulties in navigating the internal politics of an institution. As a corporate archivist I related to much of the conversation and saw issues that I often encounter reflected in these other organizations as well. I found it extremely helpful to remember that corporate archivists are not the only ones dealing with these questions. One member of the audience brought up the important point that institutional archives and their issues cut across traditional archival settings, touching universities, religious institutions, corporations, local government, museums, and non-profit organizations.
Another highlight of this year’s conference was connecting with new and old colleagues. My SCA experience was full of chance encounters, as I ran into friends from graduate school with whom I had lost touch, old coworkers from my brief internship at the San Francisco Public Library, and fellow archivists whose names I knew but I had never personally connected with. I especially enjoyed gathering with fellow corporate archivists over dinner on Friday night. Building an archival community is incredibly important to me and that includes connecting with archivists in similar positions with whom I can swap stories. It was incredibly encouraging to hear about other archives in the process of moving, as our own move has consumed my life the past few months.
Ultimately, SCA reminded me just how critical it is to get involved in professional organizations, both at the regional and national level. It’s so easy to keep my head down and work in a bubble, but when I come up for air I realize that this larger community has answers to some of my problems. While not every question has a straightforward response, engaging with others, even in simple conversation, can help you find the solution that you need. As I head back into the world of moving and all that it entails, I’m buoyed by the knowledge that others have done it before me and they’re only a click away.