SAA 2017 Candidate Interview: Margarita Vargas-Betancourt

This post is part of the 2017 Candidate Interview series, presented in preparation for the 2017 SAA Election (March 13-March 31). Candidate statements will be posted daily through March 13. Read more statements from 2017 candidates here or check out our previous election series.

Margarita Vargas-Betancourt
Curator of Latin American and Caribbean Special Collections, University of Florida
Candidate for Nominating Committee
Read her bio and response to questions posed by the Nominating Committee here.


1.     What role should SNAP Roundtable play in SAA?

The role that the Students and New Archives Professionals (SNAP) Roundtable plays in SAA is very important. On one hand, it addresses concerns of archivists during their education and during the beginning of their career. On the other, it contributes the innovation and critical view that those new to the profession bring to the SAA. I believe that SNAP has done a great job in fulfilling its charge: to advocate and address the needs of new archivists within SAA and the archives profession. In doing so, it has become a role model to other roundtables on how to advance the SAA’s vision as stated in the Strategic Plan:  “to achieve professional excellence and foster innovation.”

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

To be aware of the issues that archivists new to the profession face, SAA leaders should follow and engage in the constant communication that SNAP has with its constituents. This is not difficult because SNAP is very active in social media. Then, SAA leaders should work further on initiatives and projects that connect SNAP to other roundtables and committees.

As a member of the Nominating Committee, I will consider the needs laid out by SNAP constituents in the selection of candidates for the leadership of SAA. Since SNAP has been and continues to be one of the most active roundtables at SAA, I will consider seriously its past and current leaders for SAA’s leadership.

3.     How can SAA improve archival education?

The SAA already provides archivists strong opportunities for professional development. Through its continuing education program it offers two certificates: the Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) and the recently established Arrangement and Description (A&D) Certificate. Through webinars and workshops at a regional level, the SAA reaches a broad audience.

However, I believe that to fulfill SAA’s mission of promoting the values and diversity of archives and archivists (Strategic Plan 2013-2018), the SAA should provide extensive training on multicultural competency and underrepresentation. SAA’s Council is already organizing a workshop on this topic for the next meeting, but we need more than that. The network that SAA uses to provide constant training, both online and in person, should be used to provide continual training on increasing diversity in the profession and in the archives. We also need training in management. Specific workshops on project management, emotional intelligence, communication, and others would help improve the workplace environment for supervisors and supervisees.

4.     What do you feel is the most pressing issue in the archival profession today?

I believe that the most important challenges that archivists face today are, first, the official use of “alternative facts” to justify policy and, second, the lack of diversity in the profession and in archives in general. Archivists exist because the documents we steward are meaningful for documenting the activity of people, institutions, and government. In other words, these “pieces of paper” are significant because they can be used as historical, political, legal, social, and economic evidence of such activity. That officers and people in general choose to disregard the connection between facts and evidence challenges the very nature of archives and of archivists. Thus, during the next years, we will have to work very hard to show the value of archives.

The depiction of immigrants as criminals and undesirables also questions the very nature of archives. The underrepresentation of immigrants and minorities in repositories questions the assumption that archives are exact representations of reality. It is very likely that the mainstream media’s symbolic annihilation of such groups comes from the misrepresentation and lack of representation of minorities, many of them immigrants, that characterize archives. The inclusion of the history of the diverse groups that constitute US society in US archives has never been more urgent. One of the first steps to overcome underrepresentation is to work towards the inclusion of a diversified workforce within our ranks. To do so, we all should revise and overcome the hidden bias that the mainstream media produces in each one of us in order to hire archivists from underrepresented groups.

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

  • Be passionate about what you do
  • Get good mentors
  • Get involved in professional organizations
  • Get out of your comfort zone
  • Do networking
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