Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting

By Michelle Belden, Technical Services Archivist

From August 23 to 31 I was in San Francisco for the annual conference of the Society of American Archivists, entitled "Archives 2008: Archival R/Evolution & Identities." The conference was hosted at the Hilton in downtown San Francisco, but I stayed with friends in the Noe Valley/Mission area -- next time, I'm staying at the hotel and forgoing reliance on public transportation to get me to the best sessions in time to grab a seat. Several sessions were SRO, with crowds bubbling out of smaller conference rooms five archivists deep.

I landed at SFO Saturday night and was up bright and early Sunday for a one-day workshop entitled "Applying DACS to Single Item Manuscript Cataloging," taught by two experienced archivists from Yale. DACS - Describing Archives, a Content Standard -- is the current bible of archival cataloging, and this workshop was very useful in its methodical examination of applicable rules and the regular use of in-class exercises to drive home important points. I will definitely use the knowledge gained (and the handy booklet handout) when cataloging our single item collections here in SCUA.

Monday and Tuesday brought a two-day workshop, "Copyright: The Archivist and the Law," taught by William Maher (not the politically incorrect one, the one who is University Archivist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, former president of SAA and author of several articles I was required to read for graduate school.) Maher furthered the flashback to grad school by requiring a pile of pre-workshop reading as well as periodic quizzes during the days and a group project over Monday night; however, I learned an incredible amount, and the reference materials he distributed should prove invaluable in the future.

The third workshop I attended, "Preserving your Audio and Video Assets," lasted only a half-day, and was taught by the CEO of a professional preservation company rather than a practicing archivist. Though it did not provide the emotional satisfaction of spending time with accomplished role models in the archival field , the presentation did include a detailed checklist for A/V triage accompanied by helpful photographs for identifying different A/V formats and the common problems associated with each.

The latter part of the week was spent in sessions, the best of which was Jill Katte's presentation of her paper "Why Can’t I Click on This? Levels of Description, Variable Access, and User Experience" as part of the session entitled Finding Aids 2.0: Meeting Users Where They Are by Rethinking Finding Aid Presentation. Jill is the Digital Collections Program Coordinator at Duke, and I knew her slightly from my time interning there -- she fixed the file folder structure for an extensive EAD conversion process that had been torturing me for weeks, so I already knew she was awesome, and her paper confirmed this. I covet Duke's new XSLT stylesheet, which allows for a Windows Explorer-type drop-down menu for navigating finding aids (this would be especially appropriate for the new Hansen Performing Arts Collection finding aid, with its 19000 individually-coded lines.)

Another highlight of the week was John Dean's opening plenary, a celebration of the work archivists do to keep government honest and accountable, and an indictment of the current administration's devotion to governmental opacity.

The closing address, given by outgoing SAA president Mark Greene (of More Product, Less Process fame to those of us in the archival groove of things), was nearly overshadowed by the hilariously roast-like introduction by his amigo Dennis Meissner. Greene's delivery was not nearly as entertaining, but the meat of his talk, The Power of Archives: Archivists’ Values and Value in the Post-Modern Age was as significant and inspiring as one would expect from one of the biggest names in archives today. An excerpt from his introduction:

...Of course we must do good work, but we have to actively seek resources and recognition, and that is done by exercising the tools of professional power—at whatever hierarchical level one happens to reside... This is, of course, part of an overall goal of replacing the image of the lab-coated, dust-coated, withdrawn and quiet archivist preciousizing over “old stuff” in dead storage with an image (and self-image) of a confident, articulate, savvy professional.

According to Greene, archival power must stem from archival values, and we as a profession should codify those values much as our colleagues in ALA have done. He proposed 10 core values for for discussion amongst us all: Professionalism; Collectivity; Activism; Selection; Preservation; Democracy; Service; Diversity; Use and Access; and History. I encourage any archivists who missed the speech to read the full text online (link above).

Of course, an important benefit of attending professional conferences is the opportunity to network. I was able to catch up with former classmates from library school -- including one who has been working on implementing the Archivists Toolkit for the past year and will be serving as a resource for me as I begin implementation this semester; and a former mentor from my grad school days who always provides valuable perspective on career development within the archival profession.

1 comment:

Lynda Kellam said...

Great entry Michelle! Very informative.