SAA 2017 Candidate Interview: Terry Baxter

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.

Terry Baxter
Archivist, Multnomah County Archives
Candidate for Vice President/President-Elect
Read his bio and response to questions posed by the Nominating Committee here.

1.     What role should SNAP Roundtable play in SAA?

An active one! Now, more than ever, SAA needs component groups ready to get in the mix. SNAP has a large and vibrant membership with a history of promoting solutions. SAA’s component groups are created to advocate around the interest area for which they were formed; to communicate both with members and SAA Council; to advance work in their field of practice; to integrate new members; and to develop leadership. This sounds like a broad enough agenda to engage members’ creative impulses while still focused enough to get work done. I believe SNAP’s most important role is to envision and help create a future for archivy that will meet its members’ professional, occupational, and human needs as they grow in the field.

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

SAA leaders should spend plenty of time listening to what and how SNAP wants to communicate, both as a component group and as individual members.  While I believe that SAA leaders are sincere and diligent in working to communicate with members, I also know that from my end, it hasn’t always worked right – usually due to barriers of my own creation. Engagement requires connection. I am always in favor of building individual human connection and using that to engage each other about ideas, aspirations, needs, and beliefs. With such a large group, building these connections can be difficult, but the result is rewarding and worth the time and effort. I also believe in representation as a key to engagement. Student members can vote, can pay dues, but cannot hold elected office in SAA. Students make up 18% of SAA’s members. I don’t believe the reasons I’ve heard are convincing enough to prohibit students, if they are willing and committed to service, from holding elected office.

3.     How can SAA improve archival education?

SAA has several existing roles in archival education – both continuing and graduate. It provides a variety of continuing education workshops and courses. It has two certificate programs. It has published Guidelines for a Graduate Program in Archival Studies. And it promotes a number of organizational opportunities aimed directly at students. While this represents a considerable investment, there are three areas where SAA could expand its roles to the benefit of archival education. The first is investigating a cooperative arrangement with the Academy of Certified Archivists to allow SAA to develop core function certificates that would allow prospective archivists to sit for the certification exam. The second would be to provide some sort of evaluation of existing graduate programs offering archives-centered graduate degrees. The third is looking at cooperative advocacy with other professional organizations around the cost of graduate education and existing student loan debt.

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

If you’d have asked this question three months ago, the answer would have probably been quite different. There are a number of pressing issues confronting archives and archivists today. But you asked for the most pressing. I believe that it is the current federal administration’s hostility to most of the things that archivists do. This hostility is a two-fold threat. The first threat is to the work that we all do. This threat is directed at the notion that you can have authentic and reliable information, that you can use that information to take action, and that others can look at the same information and hold you accountable for those actions.

The second threat is to how we do our work. It’s not just direct and pointed threats to many of our funding sources, although losing any or all of them would be disastrous for archives.  It is overt and covert attacks on people who use our records, on people who promote evidence-based policy, on public servants who refuse to illegally or unethically destroy or alter records, on public archives’ ability to enforce public records laws.

These threats will require response. All of our situations are different and our responses, guided by personal and professional codes of ethics, will vary based on situation and risk. But I’d encourage all of us to resist, as strongly as possible, efforts to subvert the value of archives, of our work, of our fellow humans. We can look to our comrades working in community archives, many of whom have faced these kinds of existential threats for decades, for advice and solidarity in these trying times. By resisting, we are laying the groundwork for a strong profession in better times, soon to come I hope.

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

I am often uneasy with giving advice. It must be an imposter’s syndrome variant. What I’d say to all archivists is that the following has guided me: maintain hope, do your work well, love your neighbors, and resist all attempts to dehumanize your life. I would also share the words of Vietnamese poet Ho Xuan Huong. Her ability to affect change with little institutional authority never fails to inspire me. This poem means enough to me to have had it inscribed upon my body.

Spring Watching Pavilion

A gentle spring evening arrives
airily, unclouded by worldly dust.

Three times the bell tolls echoes like a wave.
We see heaven upside-down in sad puddles.

Love’s vast sea cannot be emptied.
And springs of grace flow easily everywhere.

Where is nirvana?
Nirvana is here, nine times out of ten.


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