Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Best Practices Exchange 2013: advocacy

The Best Practices Exchange (BPE), which brings together archivists, librarians, attorneys, information technology professionals, and other people seeking to preserve born-digital state government information, is my favorite archival professional event. The 2013 BPE, which is being held in Salt Lake City, Utah, began this morning, and today has -- for me, at least -- centered upon advocacy and working with stakeholders.

In the interest of keeping this post to a manageable length and getting to bed at a reasonable hour, I'm going to devote this post to this morning's plenary address. I attended a great session on working with stakeholders this afternoon, but I'm too worn-out to do it justice at this time.

Plenary speaker Bob Bennett, who represented Utah in the U.S. Senate from 1993-2010, offered some great advice for archivists and records managers who work with elected officials or who seek to obtain legislative support for their programs:
  • If you're seeking to acquire the records of legislators, approach them at the very beginning of their tenure, while they're still "blinky-eyed." Appeal to their ego and offer to help them set up their record-keeping systems. 
  • One of the most important things to understand about the word "lobbying" is that it's a constitutionally protected liberty. Every citizen has the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. 
  • Never ask a lawmaker to do something that is not in his or her best interest. Tailor your request in terms of what he or she needs, not what you need, and discuss how you're prepared to meet that need. You can almost always find a way to frame your request so that the legislator concludes that it would be good for him or her to do it. 
  • Be nice. People remember and respond to kindness, and you never know when someone will eventually end up in a position of power. Bennett, a conservative Republican, was able to persuade a liberal Democratic legislator to embrace one of his policy positions not only because he framed the issue in terms that appealed to her but also because, years ago, he had treated her courteously when she testified before a committee on which he served. He had forgotten that she had appeared before the committee, but she vividly remembered his civility -- and the harsh treatment she received from the other Republicans on the committee. 
  • Be mindful of the legislator's overall outlook and pet causes. If your political views differ from those of the legislator, don't draw attention to this fact. Focus on what you want the legislator to do and on how doing it will benefit him or her. 
  • Understand that you're always competing with someone else for money. Don't pick on someone else's budget item in an effort to obtain funding for your own cause. Instead, highlight how wise investment will save money in the long run. Bennett and other legislators garnered conservative support for Medicare Part D, which solid research showed would reduce hospitalization costs, by emphasizing that funding Part D would actually decrease Medicare outlays -- a key conservative goal. 
Bennett also gave insightful answers to a couple of questions that frequently confront archivists and librarians seeking to preserve digital content:
  • When asked how we can get legislators to understand that we need more money just to maintain the status quo, Bennett replied that former Librarian of Congress James Billington came to Congress with statistics regarding the volume of born-digital documents being created and the extremely short lifespan of digital files. Billington emphasized that if the Library of Congress didn't receive more funding, it would cease to be relevant within X amount of time. The library would continue to be a national treasure, but it would not remain a current resource for the nation and centuries of past investment would culminate in creation of a relic. He then asked whether the current members of Congress wanted the Library of Congress to become irrelevant on their watch. 
  • When asked how archives and libraries, which tend to focus on "quality of life" concerns, can make the case for investment in electronic records management, Bennett noted that Vietnam is the worst-documented of America's wars. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was the most data-driven individual ever to occupy a high-level government position, and the data that propelled his decision-making was stored on open-reel magnetic tapes that can no longer be read and encoded in formats that no one knows how to render properly. Military historians, the military academies, and the armed forces would all like to access this data, but they can't. Don't talk about quality of life. Talk about historical analysis that can inform future decisions and emphasize that libraries and archives ensure that the "seamless web of history" remains intact and accessible to future generations.
Image: Side view of the Salt Lake Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah, 13 November 2013. The Salt Lake Temple, which was completed in 1893, is the largest temple ever constructed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and is an international symbol of the Mormon faith. The building's style is rooted in Gothic and other classical forms but is unique and deeply symbolic; for example, the six spires represent the power of the church's priesthood.

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