Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My SAA Annual Meeting Recap

While it’s fresh on my mind, I wanted to share with you my recap of events and activities at the 2013 Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting, which took place August 11-17 in New Orleans. This was my 10th annual meeting (nine as a professional and one as a graduate student), and this one ranked as among the best. While I spent most of my time in meetings or presenting a paper or awards, I still felt that I came away with a greater sense of where the profession is going and innovative ways in which colleagues across the country are helping it get there

I flew out to New Orleans on Tuesday, and hit the ground running on Wednesday at 8am with a meeting of the Annual Meeting Task Force (AMTF). For the past two years, I’ve served on this appointed group that examined our current annual meeting structure and made recommendations for improvements and changes that might better meet member needs, address issues of social responsibility, and incorporate new technologies. In addition to our meeting on Wednesday, we hosted a “World Café” style brown bag forum on Thursday in which we solicited member feedback on our recommendations. Many of those recommendations have already been implemented, with the 2013 Program Committee actively soliciting sessions outside of the “three papers and a moderator” format, the introduction of an annual meeting mobile app that eliminates the need for an on-site paper program, and the SAA Council deciding to hold the 2015 annual meeting in a less expensive, “second tier” city (Cleveland).

River view from the Hilton Riverfront
In addition to AMTF, my appointment as the senior co-chair of the SAA Awards Committee kept me busy for a large portion of the annual meeting. We held a committee meeting on Wednesday afternoon to discuss logistics for the awards presentations as well as issues (such as vague language in the award description or questions of eligibility for certain awards) encountered during the 2013 awards season. With 70+ committee members and 20 awards (plus the selection of new SAA Fellows), we had a lot of awarding to do! Awards were presented at three different times during the annual meeting. At Plenary I on Thursday morning, four new SAA Fellows were introduced and the Council Exemplary Service Award and the Jameson Archival Advocacy Award were presented. On Friday morning, I opened the 8am Plenary II with the presentation of scholarships, travel awards, and writing awards to nine MLIS students from around the U.S. and Canada. And finally, at the Friday afternoon Awards Ceremony, we presented the remaining awards that honored excellence in publications, description, outreach, etc.

I was also elected to a second term on the steering committee of the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable. SAA doesn’t have the government affairs and advocacy framework that other groups like ALA has, so the I&A Roundtable serves as a site to discuss those issues and create opportunities for learning ways to reach out to funders, administrators, and politicians in order to advocate for certain issues, for individual archival repositories, or for the profession at large. At our meeting on Wednesday afternoon, we talked about the ways in which the Roundtable can collaborate with SAA’s Government Affairs Working Group on developing a set of issue briefs that can serve as official SAA position pieces and talking points on key issues.

Late Friday morning, I presented a paper as part of a session titled “Shout it from the Mountaintop: Changing Perceptions about Archival Advocacy.” My paper entitled “Get Your House in Order: Advocating for the Profession by Advocating for Your Archives” focused on the need for archivists to align their conversations with their institution’s mission. I discussed the need for archivists to go beyond a focus on their “specialness,” and instead focus on clearly articulating, assessing, and demonstrating how the work of the archives fits in with the larger whole of their parent organization (a library, corporation, government department, etc.). In doing so, they can build an army of advocates – non-archivist colleagues who can speak to how the archives impacts their work (and how it can potentially impact the work of others in the institution).

Two other meetings – both broken into really well run small group discussions – proved particularly fruitful in helping me think through my work here. One was at the Reference and Outreach Section’s meeting, where I took part in conversations on assessment of instruction in special collections and on engaging undergraduates through archival instruction. The other was at the College and University Archives Section meeting, where we had great talks about collaborating with IT staff and building a network for tenure support and professional mentoring.

Reception at the National WWII Museum
The other big events that I took part in were related to my participation in the 2013 cohort of the Archives Leadership Institute. While ALI isn’t operated by or associated with SAA, they used the annual meeting as an opportunity to bring us all together to discuss our practicum projects, review some key take-awards from our time in Iowa, and allow us to talk about potential collaborative projects that might bridge institutional lines. We had a dinner for all of the ALI alumni (we’re the sixth cohort) on Saturday night, and a Practices Workshop at Tulane University on Sunday morning. Lots of great ideas were discussed, and I’ve already got plans for an SAA 2014 annual meeting session proposal, a possible collaborative grant focused on professional issues, and a number of possibilities for research collaboration.

Audubon Aquarium fish
Both at the SAA and ALI events, we also talked up Archival Practice, our new open-access, peer reviewed journal that is being hosted by UNCG using OJS. I held an informal meeting with many of the members of our wonderful Editorial Board. We handed out 500 postcards to promote the journal, and talked about in all of the roundtable meetings we attended. Folks are really excited about this new publishing opportunity, and we’re looking forward to going live with our first issue – hopefully in January 2014!

So, it was a busy week. I even had to talk a friend from Emory into bringing me beignets, since I didn’t have time to go out to Café du Monde. But there was still time for a little bit of fun – including touring around the National World War II Museum at the All Attendee Reception on Friday night and a trip to see the otters, penguins, and other critters at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas on Saturday afternoon. All in all, a great trip where I met loads of wonderful new people and learned lots of awesome new things.

No comments: