Thursday, August 27, 2015

Society of American Archivists annual meeting

From August 18-23, I was in Cleveland for the Society of American Archivists annual meeting. The week was packed with SAA committee meetings, section meetings, and sessions.

On Wednesday morning, SAA's Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) met to discuss our work plan for FY16 as well as our promotional events that were tied to the 2015 meeting (everything from branding to a StoryCorps booth to a promotional video that was played during the first plenary session). Because of this meeting, I missed the first half of a day-long pre-conference on Teaching with Primary Sources that I helped organize at the Cleveland Public Library. But, after lunch, I was able to join the pre-conference, where I sat in on sessions focused on integration of special collections into non-humanities curricula and ways to balance one-shot classes/presentations vs. in-depth instruction and teaching. I was particularly interested in a number of universities that have integrated critical primary source document analysis into their basic freshman writing course.

Outside of the Cleveland Public Library

On Thursday morning, the conference itself began. The plenary session debuted our video and featured speakers discussing the importance of storytelling in advocacy and awareness efforts. Effective storytelling was actually a theme that ran throughout the conference and tied into the work of COPA and outgoing SAA president Kathleen Roe to encourage archivists to tell stories of how "archives change lives." Many speakers throughout the conference noted the importance of telling the right story in the right way to the right audience -- something that is drilled into your mind when you're doing any kind of public relations work. And we also stressed that these aren't just stories that you find in the archives themselves, but stories of how the archives and the work of the archivist made an impact on someone's life in a critical way.

View from the park across the street from the convention center

On Thursday afternoon, I participated in the Reference, Access, and Outreach Section meeting. I'm an elected member of the RAO steering committee, and my responsibility throughout the section meeting was to use the RAO Twitter account to take the topics of conversation at our meeting (which was done in a kind of "world cafe" style) to SAA members who were unable to attend the conference.

Friday morning was a second plenary session where outgoing president Kathleen Roe once again emphasized the importance of stories, and incoming president Dennis Meissner unveiled that his presidential focus will be on building standards for assessment that will give us hard, reliable statistics to back up our stories. We also heard from one of the members of SAA Council about Council's new initiative on cultural competence for archives and archivists. This tied into another theme that ran through many of the sessions I attended -- archivists may have professional expertise in recordkeeping but they must recognize that the members of the communities they are documenting are the experts in their communities. More and more, this is manifesting as a post-custodial model of archives, where the archivist is simply educating community members on how to better manage the records of their community (as opposed to acquiring the records and bringing them into the holdings of the archival institution). While my primary responsibility focuses on university records (which are legally required to be transferred to our holdings), I'm hoping I can take the post-custodial model to some of our community groups and educate on recordkeeping (particularly digital record keeping) without an eye towards acquisition.

Statue behind the convention center

Friday was also the day for my session -- "No More Silence in the Library: Documenting Fans and Fandom in Special Collections and Archives." We had seven speakers crammed into an hour time slot, but we heard about the value of fan mail in the Louisville Underground Music Archive, outreach activities (including concerts in the library basement) at the DC Public Library's DC Punk Archive, a sci-fi zine digitization and cataloging project at the University of Iowa, a class project at UW-Stout where students create graphic novels based on historical campus events researched in University Archives, and a game (with cute badges and an armadillo guide) that the University of Texas is using to crowdsource cataloging of their local zines. It was a well attended session -- over 120 attendees and standing room only -- and was the 3rd most tweeted about session of the whole conference.

Outside of the sessions and committee meetings, I was able to explore Cleveland. Our all-attendee reception on Thursday night was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I was also able to visit the Western Historical Society (where they have a fabulous collection of early American cars and planes) and the Cleveland Museum of Art (which is one of the best art museums I've visited in the US). The most exciting, however, was a trip to visit the Christmas Story House and Museum -- yes, Ralphie's house.
A Christmas Story house