SAA 2016: SNAP Roundtable Meeting

In advance of the 2016 Annual Meeting, we invited SNAP members to contribute summaries of panels, roundtable and section meetings, forums, and pop-up sessions. Summaries represent the opinions of their individual authors; they are not necessarily endorsed by SNAP, members of the SNAP Steering Committee, or SAA.

Guest Author: Michael Barera, Archivist at Texas A&M University-Commerce

 

After a brief welcome and chair report by Samantha Winn, the Students and New Archives Professionals (SNAP) Roundtable session began in earnest with a short speech followed by a question and answer session with Society of American Archivists (SAA) President Dennis Meissner. He began by stating: “All of us in Council and across the leadership of SAA really value SNAP…there is more innovation, energy, and good ideas in SNAP than in many other parts of the organization.” He also explained the transformation away from the current sections and roundtables into the “affinity group” structure “with equal weight and identity”: they will all be called sections, will be unlimited in terms of participation for SAA members, formal bylaws and annual reports will be required for all sections, and non-SAA members will be allowed to belong to up to 3 of the online discussion lists for these new “sections”. He also noted that the new direction on this change has largely been informed by member feedback, including that of SNAPers. Furthermore, Meissner stressed that SAA is “doubling down in the area of diversity and inclusion…in the next few years”, that “diversity is an important goal of the organization”, and it is becoming an even more crucial goal that is “baked into the firmament of the organization”. In his conception, cultural competence will be the starting point, and SNAP will play a crucial role in increasing SAA’s diversity: “I think this is really going to be something that consumes us.”

After his speech, Meissner answered a couple of questions from SNAP members. Firstly, when asked what would be a successful version of SNAP for all of SAA, he responded: “SNAP is recognized by the rest of SAA leadership as almost a ‘skunk works’ within the organization that pushes up new ideas…I think SNAP can be effective when it pushes on the organization…it can serve as a weather vane for the organization, showing where things ought to be going.” He also argued that not being “encumbered by legacy thinking” is a core attribute of SNAP, and that it helps SAA itself be a “more nimble and agile organization”. Secondly, he was asked about what are some of the ways that SAA at large addresses the issues that particularly affect members of SNAP, such as unpaid internships and unpaid loan debt. Meissner responded: “I don’t think that Council has any particular way to address them…we look to guidance from all the sections and associations for more innovative ways to do this…I certainly don’t have any answers in my back pocket, these are things that work themselves out in the workplace and archival education over time.” More optimistically, he noted that “good paid internships that mean something…are a good starting place.”

Next to speak was Lisa Mangiafico, the outgoing Council Liaison. She began by stating that “I think Dennis pretty much went over what we did regarding…the long-term look at the ‘affinity group’ structure.” She also noted that an information group on Archives and the Environment had been approved (and that an information brief now exists), diversity is a major priority at the SAA level (the old “Statement on Diversity” is now a “Statement on Diversity and Inclusion”, and there is an open invitation for new diversity-related ideas for SAA’s 2017 annual meeting in Portland), and a year-long, cross-organization environmental scan on metadata and digital practice has also been approved (“there are some gaps” between the various groups that are currently addressing these issues; SAA also wants to be an international leader on standards relating to these issues). Finally, she looked back on her service as liaison for the past 3 years (out of SNAP’s 5-year assistance): “I hope you will keep up the good work, and the pressure on the leadership on things such as jobs and salaries.”

Next up was Erin Lawrimore, the incoming Council Liaison. She began by quipping that “you’ll be stuck with me for the next 3 years” before observing that “I am very, very, very excited that I got the SNAP group”, which she sees the value of, especially since it didn’t exist when she broke into the profession (in her words: “A group like this is so important, and I’m glad that y’all are here.”). She concluded by inviting us to contact her and stay connected (at @barkivist on Twitter and barkivistoncouncil.wordpress.com), noting that she’s happy to answer any questions that she can.

Following her were a series of three lightning presentations from Amanda Demeter, Rebecca Patillo, and Maria Fernandez. Rebecca Patillo, a recent graduate from IUPUI, worked in a small river town in southern Indiana for a preservation group that has archival records (but isn’t a repository). They are currently restoring a home as a historic center: the environmental conditions facing it were very challenging. She was brought on to appraise the materials at the home, much of which weren’t archival materials (she was essentially challenged as to why “you are throwing everything away”). They wound up with 180 Bankers boxes of material that wouldn’t fit in the offsite storage facility, and ultimately they allowed her to discard about ¼ of the collection. They didn’t quite get the “enduring value” vs. “non-enduring value” concept. She ultimately wrote up a report about the project for the preservation group (which didn’t know much about archivy). She even made the front page of the local newspaper due to her work. She is happy to answer any of our questions (@_life_of_sources on Twitter).

Maria Fernandez, a student at UT Austin, participated with a digital humanities projected called “Reading the First Books”: Automatic Transcription for Multilingual, Early Modern Printed Documents. It looks at all books printed in America before 1600. Fernandez: “How is the ‘Reading the First Books’ project a model for how digital humanities (DH) scholarship is both using and enhancing digital archives and collections?”: It is extracting materials and, more importantly, integrating them in other projects. There was an already extant multi-institutional effort between libraries in Latin America, the United States, and Europe, with high-resolution scans of the pages of each of the books included in the project. The goal of the DH project is to bring transcriptions alongside the already existing high-resolution scans. With automatic transcription, the goal is to “not get gibberish when we’re doing OCR”. Regarding transcription using multilingual capabilities, Fernandez posed the question of “how do our language models and transcription tools replicate, preserve, or silence linguistic hybridity?”, noting that this is a theoretical question, but with practical implications. She also observed that this research model is creating new opportunities for scholarship using digital collections by using and enhancing digital archives, discoverability, accessibility, and text analysis. Fernandez concluded by noting that more about the project could be learned at its website (sites.utexas.edu/firstbooks).

Amanda Demeter, an archivist at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, and formerly the journeyman archivist at the Cary McLane Memorial Museum in Nome, Alaska, concluded the lightning presentations. She began by observing that her time at the McLane Memorial Museum was part of a project that connects visiting archivists with in-need Alaskan museums. Providing background, she noted that Nome has 3,800 people, a subarctic climate, many unpaved streets, is unconnected by roads to other cities or towns (it is mostly connected by air travel), was a boomtown during the Alaska Gold Rush, was a former aviation hub and Cold War point of interest, and is now home to a prominent reality TV show: Bering Sea Gold. The Museum has a number of local history collections with “an enormous amount of visual materials” (which were largely described at the item level in the museum style, which was much more thorough than the More Product, Less Process (MPLP)-style methods learned by Demeter). The photographic content has a tremendous amount of historic value, and the Harnish Papers and Milkey Papers describe shipping and the transient nature of citizens, respectively. Many Nome residents have strong ties to their town, and they are “invested in and passionate about their history”. In Demeter’s words, “a big part of the libraries and archives field is a need to relocate”, and she observes that the program struck a good balance between her (and her family’s) travel burden and the needs of the museum: overall, it sounds like it was a great experience for her. Demeter: “Short-term positions may not be ideal, but I found that if you can make them work they can be immensely beneficial for a new archivist in the field.”

Following the lightning talks, the panel participated in a question and answer session. The first question related to the “imposter syndrome” and how each of the panelists dealt with it. For Rebecca, having field experience helped, as did surrounding herself with other people in the profession. For Maria, the “imposter syndrome” can also come from straddling the academic world and the more practical world of library science at the same time. She noted that speaking the language of computer scientists can be very useful, and that there is a learning curve, which is best to see as a learning experience. She also noted that “it is not just archivists”: many people face the “imposter syndrome”. “It almost became a ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ situation” as Amanda found as the “paper expert” in her case. Also, she was introduced as a “student” erroneously, instead of as a professional.

The next question related to advice in terms of living situations for temporary or short-term jobs. Amanda rented a room in someone’s house (which was really the “perfect thing” for her): “alternative rental options [including AirBNB] are your best bet for really short-term” experiences. Rebecca had a long commute, so she made free lodging a stated preference: “I felt it didn’t hurt to ask, and I got it.”

The third question related to how each panelist searches for jobs now. Rebecca: Twitter, ArchivesGig, SAA, and word of mouth. Maria is still a student, and not on the job market, but her advisor was crucial for helping her land her internship. Amanda: “I would definitely second ArchivesGig: it is amazing.” She also made a list of institutions in the Pacific Northwest that she was really interested in (to keep an eye on), and word of mouth was very important to her as well (especially in a small community). Samantha: “That Elusive Archives Job” (elusivearchives.blogspot.com), and SNAP has a good series on “a year in the life” that gives month-by-month posts from the first year on the job for a new archivist.

The final question asked, “Are there workarounds for internships that only offer credit, not pay?” Rebecca noted that her internships were paid, which is one of the reasons she chose the program she did. For Maria, it is better to get a staff position for the university instead of an internship position, which is possible at UT Austin, although “it really depends on where your focus is”. For Amanda: “I don’t know if I have anything good to say”, but she sees the potential for student employment if a young archivist can build a relationship with a person with a collection that needs work, especially if that archivist can pitch a short-term project to them. Samantha observed that there is a great guide for internships out there, although it isn’t produced by SAA.

The session concluded with a “History of SNAP” panel, complete with cake to celebrate SNAP’s 5th anniversary, featuring the past chairs of the SNAP Roundtable. The panel began with Rebecca Goldman, the founding chair, who served in in 2012 and 2013. She observed that just 5 years ago, SAA existed without SNAP, and that in 2011, the SAA president gave a talk on the future of archives without mentioning students or new archivists at all. However, SNAP’s roots go back further: in 2010, she came back from the SAA annual meeting with an idea for a new roundtable, and was inspired by a similar “young librarians” group at the American Library Association (ALA). She started a blog and wrote a petition for creating a new roundtable (“it was really a group effort getting the roundtable started”). The petition was approved, and SNAP was officially formed in January 2012. Getting off the ground was tough, though, especially in an era where SAA was more restrictive about social media presences. They “definitely succeeded in getting new members” early on, and also established a “productive and polite listserv”, while also publishing a “First Timer’s guide” for SAA. They had a hard time translating good discussions into meaningful actions, however, and nobody took advantage of an offer for bottom-up initiatives. “We could have done a better job helping new archivists moving up” (they were mostly focused on students and very new professionals). Nonetheless, she is proud of SNAP’s leadership since they’ve been “moving up”, and the way SNAP is so highly regarded by other SAA members.

Melissa Gonzales was the second chair of SNAP, presumably for a year, 2013-2014, after working on the Bylaws Subcommittee. In her words: “It was a good time…I’m really happy and proud that I’ve been able to be part of this…it did help me tremendously” in terms of leadership. She led some administrative accomplishments, and created a newsletter (which is now the SNAP Blog). Under her leadership, they tagged some “SNAP approved/endorsed” sessions at the SAA annual convention (one of which featured an awkward tension between SNAPers and archival consultants). On a related note, the Society of Southwest Archivists hosts a “SNAPy Hour” that is less formal (and also open to older archivists), which has an informal atmosphere and is great for networking (“it has gotten a lot of positive feedback”). Also during her tenure, the archival education forum was conducted (complete with “rabble rousing”) and the “Oh, SNAP!” ribbons were created. She also invited everyone to message her, and promised to be open in her responses.

Next up was Caitlin Wells, third chair of SNAP, from 2014 to 2015. She started as a volunteer under Melissa, and was nominated (by her) as vice-chair. She considered her job as “keep things going, and in one piece”. She oversaw an election for chair (with Sam winning), and wanted to investigate the forms of communication people preferred (Twitter, e-mail, blogs, etc.), and then integrated the feedback into SNAP’s social media strategy. She also helped form new content on the Blog, including the Transitions blog series, the Year in the Life series, and annual meeting session summaries. In addition, she helped the journal Provenance put together a peer-reviewed, SNAP-themed issue (“it was a lot more work than I anticipated, but it was very interesting”). She put together a Google Spreadsheet documenting open internships, and continued other similar efforts like “lunch buddy” and “room buddy” spreadsheets. Once again, she solicited feedback and communication from any of SNAP members, and noted that “I’m really happy that it has been five years and we’re still here.”

The final panelist was Samantha Winn, fourth and current chair of SNAP, serving in 2015 and 2016. She noted successes with “infiltrating SAA” and working with student chapters (especially regarding SAA staff support) during her tenure. She also noted “lots of surveys”, as well as powerful direct advocacy for member affinity groups (many of the changes came from the SNAP steering committee, which was largely informed by the SNAP rank and file: note that 20% of SNAP members are not SAA members, largely for financial reasons). In her words, “I think we did a good job of…building up capacity this year.” Furthermore: “We really have done a good job this past five years…they [SAA leadership] will never mention the future of archives again without thinking of SNAP!”

The “History of SNAP” lightning panel concluded with a question and answer session that, due to time constraints, included only the following question: “If SNAP could accomplish one thing in the next five years, what should it be?” Rebecca argued for advocating for fair internship standards and the profession more broadly. Melissa opined issues regarding the Certified Archivist designation and new professionals and students (and noted that her thoughts aren’t “all positive”, largely due to the monetary and continuing education requirements: “there are a lot of issues with it…it boils down to money”). She recommended negotiating for professional development in your contract, even if it is your first job. She also noted that “every job I’ve ever had, I can trace back to one person.” “I’d recommend you join your regionals and get into leadership positions.” She also explained how the CA designation is very regional: more in the South, less in the East; it also seems to correspond to public history programs, and not to iSchools, in particular regions. She further notes that there has been some research on CA by Susan Hamburger. In a similar vein, going to a non-ALA-accredited school is also a major issue, and don’t expect to see an SAA-accredited program, probably ever. Melissa would like to see more of the burden of building a professional staff put on repositories, and having a way to “accredit” them as trusted repositories: “it can be done”. Finally, big archives like to have their employees holding CAs, because it makes it easier for them to fundraise. For Caitlin, “rabble rousing” is an important part of what SNAP does (and should do), especially in terms of diversity issues (archives are still “very white”). “Go to your computer and put together a presentation about how awesome you are: seriously.” “You know what you’re doing: don’t let anyone tell you you don’t know what you are doing” (for whatever reason). Samantha concluded the Q&A by noting that, this year, SNAP has started communicating with its counterpart organizations in other (foreign) archival organizations, and library and museum organizations as well: “perhaps we can rabble rouse together.”

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