Wednesday, August 12, 2009

SAA 2009: Leadership Orientation and Forum for SAA Section, Roundtable, and Committee Officers

View from the 19th floor, Hilton Austin Downtown, late morning, 12 August 2009.

Even though my term as co-chair of the Lesbian and Gay Archives Roundtable ended a few hours afterward, I attended this morning’s leadership orientation session. I’m glad I did.

Owing to the time-sensitive nature of some of the information conveyed, I’ll start this post by focusing on the last section of the meeting, which concerned on the work of the Government Affairs Working Group (GAWG -- yes, GAWG) and its draft advocacy agenda. Bob Sink indicated that advocating for archives is a huge task. Now that the advocacy agenda is almost complete, GAWG will focus its energies upon developing resources that archivists can use when speaking with local, state, and federal legislators and other policy-makers.

Kathleen Roe then spoke about the Partnership for the American Historical Record (PAHR) federal legislative initiative, which if passed will dramatically increase the amount of federal funding for archives. She noted that PAHR will come up for a vote in the House of Representatives during the fall session and that the next two weeks are really crucial: PAHR supporters need to write or arrange to meet with their representatives within the next two weeks. (Background info, your representative’s contact info, and sample letters are available here.) Moreover, PAHR still lacks Senate sponsorship, so people really need to reach out to their senators as well.

Kathleen noted that her daily drive to work takes her past a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute sign that asks, “Why not change the world?” and asserted that if 19 and 20 year-old techies can dream of changing the world, we can certainly dream of improving funding for archives!

The middle portion of the meeting focused on the draft Strategic Priority Goals and Outcomes FY 2010- FY 1013 document that Council has drafted. The discussion ranged from the very specific to the very broad, but there was a strong consensus that a) many sections and roundtables want to work collaboratively and that such collaboration should be supported and that b) efforts to ensure that the historical record reflects the diversity of American society should include outreach to and support of repositories that grow out of the communities they seek to document. I hope Council takes these suggestions to heart.

The first segment of the meeting was devoted to discussion of section and roundtable leadership, and three current and former leaders discussed their experiences and lessons that they had learned during their tenure:
  • Danna Bell-Russell of the Reference, Access, and Outreach Section (RAO) outlined RAO’s efforts to support National History Day (NHD), which grew out of Council’s decision to endorse NHD. In 2007, RAO established a subcommittee that created a survey instrument that assessed the extent to which SAA members participated in NHD events and a Web page that pointed to appropriate resources and documented members’ involvement in NHD. It also reached out to teachers and learned that they wanted online guides to using archives, finding repositories and materials of interest, locating the person who is best able to help students, subject lists, and special guides to visual materials. It has issued a final report outlining possible next steps for both RAO and SAA and is thinking about creating an online tutorial, working with SHRABs to develop online lists, and collaborating with other sections and roundtables.
  • Russell James of the Records Management Roundtable detailed how he ensured that his roundtable worked effectively: he made sure that its Steering Committee was 10-15 strong, and he made it plain that he expected a substantial time commitment (average of 2 hours/week) from each member, he was open to input from members, and kept track of everyone and everything via e-mail. He also discussed a couple of projects that the roundtable has undertaken. In keeping with one of its core goals -- promoting records management within SAA -- the roundtable contacted the former heads of sections and roundtables and asked them whether they had any materials in their possession. As a result, 13 roundtables and 7 sections now have complete records in the SAA Archives at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It has also undertaken a diversity initiative; pamphlets focusing on working with archivists with physical disabilities will go up on its Web site soon.
  • Rebecca Johnson Melvin, the former co-chair of the Congressional Papers Roundtable, outlined a number of large projects that her roundtable has completed, including a full-fledged documentation strategy; a full chronology and select publications are available on the roundtable’s Web site. The roundtable’s current project, which is supported by the NHPRC and SAA itself, focuses on production of guidelines on the ethics of acquiring and managing Congressional papers; determining that these guidelines would focus on best practices took a lot of painful but necessary internal discussion and debate -- which Melvin learned is sometimes necessary -- but the final document focuses on best practices.
All good stuff, and an auspicious start to SAA 2009.

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