SNAP/Lone Arrangers Joint Roundtable Meeting
Guest author Sami Norling
(see also: review by Monte Abbott)
At the Society of American Archivists annual meeting this year, the Students and New Archives Professionals Roundtable (SNAPRT) and the Lone Arrangers Roundtable (LART) joined forces for their business meetings. As a SNAPer AND Lone Arranger, I could not have been happier about this arrangement, as it saved me from having to make yet another hard decision when scheduling my annual meeting time. Not only was this convenient for a number of attendees, but the joint format was very appropriate at a time when SAA is reevaluating the structure of its affinity groups.
The leadership of these roundtables scheduled two mini panels with topics and speakers that appealed to members of both groups. The panels, coupled with a spontaneous and engaging discussion that took place at the end of the meeting, highlighted the value in breaking down some of the self-imposed barriers that we have created within our professional organization by establishing so many component groups.
The meeting began, as all section and roundtable meetings do, with a report from the SAA Council liaison. This report included a mention of the work that Bill Maher, as a representative of the Society and of American archivists in general, is currently involved in at the World Intellectual Property Organization’s recent meeting in Geneva to discuss international copyright law treaties—a news piece definitely worth following! A representative from the Program Committee followed with an announcement about Archives 2015: “There is no theme but if there was. it would be ‘Let’s try something different.’”
LART Chair, Michelle Gaines, and SNAPRT Chair, Michelle Gonzales, took turns leading their respective (shortened) business meetings. Of note in the business portion was the announcement that Provenance: Journal of the Society of Georgia Archivists is planning an entire issue produced by SNAPers! They are currently soliciting article submissions and volunteers to serve as editors.
The first of two scheduled mini-panels at the joint SNAPRT/LART meeting focused on archives consulting, and was put together to introduce attendees to consulting as a career option, or as a supplement to income, especially in today’s competitive job market. The three panelists were all archival consultants, but pursued varying types and levels of consulting work. For example, Rachel Binnington purposely keeps her consulting business at a low level to maintain her tax status (and enjoy her free time!). On the other hand, Elizabeth Keathley has taken her consulting business to the next level, and even employs multiple term archivists for some of her projects. Each panelist had an area of archival work that they specialize in, such as Danielle Cuniff Plumer’s focus on digital archives work, but their presentations displayed a wide array of knowledge and experience that covered many facets of archival work. I came away from this first panel with one key take-away from each consultant, which should give an insight into the wealth of knowledge that they shared:
Rachel Binnington: Trust your gut – do not turn down a job you feel very passionately about. That being said, if something doesn’t feel right, DON’T DO IT!
Elizabeth Keathley: No matter what environment you are working in, with whatever system, professionals working on digital asset management (DAM) are doing the same basic tasks using same skills on a daily basis (archives work applied to digital). Also, DAM Foundation survey results showed that people with “digital” in their title make an average of $20,000 more per year.
Danielle Cuniff Plumer: Archival consultants do a lot of marketing and networking. One great marketing tool is to help institutions write grant proposals that include funding for an archivist and then hope that you will be hired for that work if the grant is successful.
Of course, there was so much more about consultant work that was discussed in this panel that cannot possibly be summarized here in full. Both Elizabeth Keathley (@EinAtlanta) and Danielle Cuniff Plumer (@dcplumer) are active in the archival Twittersphere and could likely answer additional questions there!
The archival consulting mini-panel was followed by another group of perfectly-selected panelists. The topic for this second group was the always-contentious archival internship, with an intended focus on the role and responsibilities of internship supervisors as mentors. The panel was stacked with experienced internship supervisors who were selected for their success in providing comprehensive educational experiences for their interns:
Susan Malbin, Director of Library & Archives-American Jewish Historical Society
Nicole Menchise, Archivist/Librarian-Oyster Bay Historical Society
Gerrianne Schaad, Director, Dickinson Research Center @ The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
Tanya Zanish-Belcher, Director, SPCO & University Archivist-Wake Forest University
Though they were tackling a very sensitive subject, the panelists provided some very sage advice for potential archival interns and supervisors. The following are some key points that stood out to me during the discussion:
– To interns: Develop good writing skills early –it is not going to do you good to produce a finding aid for an internship that is written poorly – will result in a bad recommendation and work that may need to be redone by institution.
– To supervisors: If you are going to take on an intern, you need to take that seriously.
– To interns: Don’t be afraid to ask questions – it is best to get clarification and assistance before a mistake is made than to face any consequences after.
– The best intern/supervisor relationships begin with an intern who comes to the project/position knowing what they want to learn and/or accomplish. Conversely, the supervisor should solicit this information from the intern and do their best to make that happen. A clear vision/plan is key.
– One component of archival internships at the Oyster Bay Historical Society is to review and edit the intern’s resume with the supervisor at the end of the internship.
– Interviewing for a job/internship goes both ways – be sure to interview your prospective supervisor and evaluate how the position/institution fill your needs.
While the panelists certainly provided some great advice and examples of successful internship relationships and projects within their institutions, any discussion of archival internships naturally touches on the contentious topics of unpaid labor, the fine lines between intern, volunteer, and entry-level work, bad employment practices, and the devaluation of archival work. Because these issues were not the focus of the panel, they were not addressed fully when referenced in the course of each individual presentation. As a result, there was some tension that grew during the mini panel, which was evident in some of the tweets with #snaplar that were being displayed in real-time on a screen at the meeting.
This tension came to the surface when an audience question (delivered anonymously via index card) was posed to the panelists: “Do you believe that archives is a profession if you do not pay entry level work?” The question was an extension of conversations that have been going on within SAA for years (especially within SNAPRT), and a natural result of the tension that had built throughout the panel, but it felt to me like an inappropriate time and forum for that particular question to be asked, and of that particular group of panelists. It certainly put them in a position that they had not signed up for—they were asked to answer a question with implications larger even than the archives profession, with a myriad of internal and external factors and situations that could come into play. As difficult as that question was, the panelists handled it well, and their responses included the following statement (unfortunately I cannot attribute it to one panelist, as I was still reeling a bit from the turn that the Q&A portion had taken):
“I would love to pay my interns, but there are some things beyond my ability – but I promise that if you do a good job, work with me, communicate with me, then I will make sure you have an educational experience, I will be a good reference, network for you, etc.”
I would like to say that the panel ended there, on a relatively positive note and with the focus brought back to the topic at hand: models for developing and supervising educational internship opportunities. But unfortunately AND fortunately, the discussion continued when the consultants joined the supervisors on stage for the last part of the meeting. What resulted was a conversation of the major issues and tensions mentioned above, but without the preparation, moderation, and time that is absolutely essential to a constructive discussion of these multi-faceted, complicated, and sensitive issues.
Don’t get me wrong—it was absolutely invigorating to be present during this conversation, and encouraging to see similar discussions in other sessions at SAA14. But a conversation of this magnitude requires a lot of forethought, consent and preparation on the part of the participants, and some level of moderation before any constructive result(s) could possibly come of it.
Perhaps just such a conversation could be a possibility for a joint SNAPRT/LART meeting next year?