Thursday, August 15, 2013

CoSA-SAA 2013: 14 and 15 August

For me, at least, the 2013 joint annual meeting of the Council of State Archivists (CoSA) and the Society of American Archivists (SAA) got underway yesterday.  However, I learned an important lesson before my first meeting got underway: if you're in New Orleans in August, always take an umbrella with you.  I left my hotel room about forty minutes before my first meeting began and decided to take a brief walk down by the riverfront. The clouds didn't look too ominous . .  .

. . . until the instant the sky opened and water started pouring down. I spent about twenty minutes sheltering under a stairwell and hustled back to the hotel once the torrent slowed to a light rain.

I spent most of the afternoon in a CoSA work meeting, with a brief break for a meeting of the 2013 Program Committee. All I want to say about these meetings is that a) CoSA is, in my view, the most cohesive archival professional organization in the United States and that b) serving on the Program Committee has been an amazing experience.  Seeing how annual meeting programs are put together is fascinating, SAA's staff is incredibly supportive and efficient, and the co-chairs and other members -- most of whom I didn't know prior to our first meeting -- were just fantastic.  If you're an SAA member and you're ever asked to serve on a Program Committee, by all means do so.

This morning, I chaired a session on cloud computing that I think went quite well; however, it's hard to tell when you're up on the dais how things are really going. At this moment, I'm just glad it's over.

Every Program Committee member serves as liaison to six annual meeting sessions. Before the meeting begins, we answer any questions that session chairs and participants have.  We then attend all of the sessions we've been assigned and help to resolve any audiovisual problems that may arise, walk around with microphones during the question-and-answer component of the session (if the session is being held in a large room), and provide other forms of assistance as needed.

This afternoon, I served as liaison to Session 210, Reaching Out: Building and Managing Satellite Archives, which featured five archivists who work in a variety of decentralized environments:
  • Session chair Michael Everman discussed the establishment of the St. Louis branch of the Missouri State Archives.
  • Tamar Chute detailed how Ohio State University has tried to ensure that the permanent records generated by its five small regional campuses are preserved.
  • Scott Grimwood discussed how the corporate archives of SSM Healthcare has tried to preserve the records of a large, multi-institutional healthcare system.
  • Paul Daniels outlined the origins of and challenges associated with the informal system of regional Evangelical Lutheran Church in America archives.
  • Steve Hausfeld highlighted how the Nationwide Life Insurance Company has used its archives to create exhibits and other materials that build upon employee interest in the company's history and reinforce the company's marketing and branding efforts.
The panelists offered a wealth of helpful suggestions for other archivists and records managers who find themselves working in decentralized environments, particularly when each unit within the organization enjoys a substantial degree of autonomy:
  • Focus less on power and control and more on ensuring that archival records are saved. Be willing to break established “rules” or disregard precedent if doing so will save materials.
  • Recognize that in at least some instances, the records created and maintained by regional or branch entities may help to document local or regional history; if this is the case, there may be a strong case to be made for not transferring them to a centralized archives.
  • Help and guide the regional or branch personnel who find themselves responsible for caring for archival materials. Visit their facilities in person whenever possible, and use listservs and other mechanisms to share best practices and keep lines of communication open.
  • Request that certain types of materials (e.g., publications, photographs) be sent to the main archives facility.
  • Ask regional or branch personnel to create an inventory of the records in their care and to send a copy of the inventory to the main archives facility.
  • Consider digitizing important records so that they're accessible regionally.
  • Be willing to deaccession or transfer materials to branch facilities once they are willing and able to care for them.
  • Be willing to take in regional or branch facility records that can no longer be kept within these facilities.
  • If you are creating internally-oriented exhibits that document the history of a large, complex, and decentralized organization or reinforce branding messages, keep in mind that treating each building, wing, floor, or office of the organization as a de facto branch facility may be necessary; employees may rarely stray from a single facility, building, or floor

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