So SAA’s Going to Austin. Now What?

This post was written by Stephanie Bennett and the Issues & Advocacy Section’s Steering Committee, in light of the recent news that SAA was keeping its commitment to hold 2019’s annual meeting in Austin, Texas. 

With the announcement from SAA president Tanya Zanish-Belcher that SAA’s 2019 will be in Austin, despite a Council discussion about moving it, SAA members – and all archivists and humans who move about the world – have some thinking to do. And some work to do. Some of us – though not the Californian archivists among us – will attend the meeting. The I&A Steering Committee once more poses questions that we’ve been asking amongst ourselves:

  • How can we, as an organization and as individuals, support the activists of Texas?
  • Is it a betrayal of our personal beliefs or heteronormative myopia if we do attend, in part because we “pass” the Texas legislature’s guide of acceptable personhood?
  • As Eira Tansey points out, the battles between more liberal cities and restrictive, conservative legislatures are happening across the U.S.; where will our harassed queer colleagues find safe harbor?
  • Should we, how can we, support our professional organization(s) in the long run so that these choices between financial precarity or personal harm are no longer required? Does SAA need  (as writer Paulette Perhach called it) a F*ck Off Fund?
  • How can we work within the profession to change foundational systems of oppression? (And all of the questions we posed previously, really)

As an institution, SAA and its component groups, including the sections, have the responsibility to be mindful of how we spend our time and money – especially in Austin. We’ve been watching and listening as Representative John Lewis models the ethics and actions of “good trouble.” At Issues & Advocacy, we are committed to spending our money at LGBTQ-owned and -friendly businesses and establishments that recognize that black lives matter. We will seek opportunities to collaborate with queer archivists to do service and/or fundraising to benefit Texan activists and organizations fighting against the state’s restrictive and occasionally unconstitutional or overturned laws. And we welcome your ideas! If there is an event or organization that you would like to see supported or a topic that you would like to be discussed but do not have the bandwidth to undertake, let us know.

That said, the Society of American Archivists, as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is not permitted to engage in “political campaign activities as defined by the IRS. We are not lawyers, but we do understand that  limits to SAA’s work exist, and, as a body within SAA, the limits for Issues & Advocacy’s work as well. But as individuals, we have the right to political activity and related speech. For those of us who will attend the meeting, we look forward to working in Austin, as both individuals and professional archivists.



Archivists on the Issues: Women Archivist Leaders and How to Become One

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today is the final post from Adriana Flores, Archivist and Special Collections Librarian at the University of Puget Sound, who has been blogging at Issues & Advocacy this year.

After attending the Society of American Archivists’ annual conference this past week, there’s no question that women are present in our profession. From the sea of cardigans to the long bathroom lines, women make their presence known. As I looked around at all the amazing female leaders in SAA, the idea of reaching that level of leadership myself seemed daunting. It made me wonder: do most women in SAA feel like they have the resources to claim leadership positions? Do we encourage women to seize leadership roles in SAA, and furthermore, at their own institutions? This blog post will reflect on some of the amazing role models of female leadership in SAA and highlight some resources and tips for those interested in climbing the leadership ladder.

Female Leaders in SAA History

If you look at the numbers of SAA leadership at the highest level, they tell an interesting story. Twenty of SAA’s 72 presidents since 1936 have been women; female presidency started with Margaret Cross Norton as the fourth SAA president in 1943. Since 1972, 7 out of the 9 executive directors have been women. Women archivists can look to this history of female leadership for inspiration as we progress along the leadership path outselves.

As I researched this post, I came across Michele F. Pacifico’s essay, “Founding Mothers: Women in the Society of American Archivists, 1936-1972,” in American Archivist. It is a wonderful read that explores the role that women played in SAA during its early years and highlights discrepancies between male and female membership and leadership.

Since SAA’s conception, women have been guiding and shaping it. In 1935, the American Historical Association created a “Committee of Ten on the Organization of Archivists” to establish a national organization of archivists (Pacifico 372). Two of those committee members were women. Pacifico writes:

Both [Margaret Cross Norton and Ruth Blair] had been active in the AHA Conference of Archivists and were interested in developing a separate professional organization for archivists. As early as 1929, Norton had encouraged archivists to detach themselves from historians. (372-373).

The vision and determination these women expressed is inspirational. Although their male counterparts outnumbered them, they were an integral part of developing the profession we are a part of today.

As archivists, we can learn a lot from Pacifico and the women she writes about. Although her essay was published in 1987, similarities to today shine through. She explains that between 1937 and 1972, only 10.9% of conference presenters and participants were women. She writes, “A close examination shows that year after year the same women were asked to present papers, chair sessions, or teach workshops” (378). During my time as an SAA member, I have seen people present year after year and I encourage more women to step forward and seize those opportunities.

Tips for Seizing Leadership Opportunities

  1. Apply to be an SAA intern for a section or committee. If you are a young professional and looking for a way to experience section leadership, apply to become a section intern. SAA emails about this annually in the spring.
  2. Find an SAA section you enjoy and put your name forward for elected positions. In “Roundtables as Incubators for Leadership: The Legacy of the Congressional Papers Roundtable,” Leigh McWhite writes, “For professional newcomers, the smaller scale of the roundtable environment will prove less intimidating than the much larger organization of SAA. Regardless, leadership often requires that you volunteer yourself” (309:6). Section steering committee nominations are open every spring, also. If you know you’re interested, email steering committee members to let them know.
  3. Write for a blog, section or regional newsletter, Archival Outlook or The American Archivist. Writing for an SAA or SAA-affiliated publication can be a great way to get your name out there, while not requiring the time commitment of section or committee service. Often publications will send out a call for pieces, but if you have a great article idea, contact the publication you are interested in.
  4. Present a poster or be part of a panel presentation at SAA annual conference. Posters are a great gateway to professional presentations if you are nervous about public speaking. That being said, archivists are a friendly bunch and often a supportive audience for people who have presentation jitters. Calls for annual conference presentations usually go out around October.
  5. Find a mentor who you want to emulate and ask questions! Mentors provide professional knowledge, guidance, and support. Even if you are only able to have an informational interview instead of an ongoing relationship, talking with someone who has a job or position that you’re interested in is invaluable. Seek out a colleague, a fellow alum from your graduate program, a professor, or another professional who you have connected with. SAA’s program might be a useful start, too. Mentorship can happen at any stage of your career. Don’t hesitate to reach out to people who can help you take the next step in your career.

I hope my findings and reflections on female leadership in SAA have invigorated you to take the next step in your own career and leadership journey.


Finding Our Voice: Advocacy in a Difficult Time

This post was written by Courtney Dean and the Issues & Advocacy Section’s Steering Committee, in light of several recent events.

In light of recent acts of white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, personal attacks on the SAA-run Archives and Archivists listserv, and reports of harassment against several SAA 2017 panelists whose sessions addressed diversity, inclusion, and the dismantling of white supremacy in archives, the I&A Steering Committee has been considering the following questions and invites you to join with us:

  • How can we work within the profession to change foundational systems of oppression?
  • What can we do, individually and collectively, when colleagues are being harassed for their work and/or their ethnicity, gender, etc.?
  • How can we as a section provide a platform for elevating traditionally marginalized voices in the profession?
  • How can we create a safer space for difficult and vulnerable professional conversations?
  • How can we further SAA’s goal of inclusiveness?

Over the coming weeks we will be brainstorming our role as section within SAA, but we would also like to hear from the profession at large. SAA Council’s statement in response to A&A listserv activity provided the following prompt: If you have ideas about 1) how the List might be improved or 2) any new communication tools that we might consider as an enhancement to or substitute for the A&A List, please send your ideas to SAA President Tanya Zanish-Belcher at

Today’s Council statement regarding the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, VA, echoes the invitation to email members of Council or Specifically, sending along resources that can be included in a “toolkit that will offer specific information and resources on how our profession can work with communities to identify, combat, and dismantle acts and symbols of white supremacy” may be useful.

The I&A section also encourages submissions to our blog addressing any of the above topics. We reiterate Council’s stance against violence and intimidation and are wholly committed to working towards an inclusive professional organization.

Further reading

#ThatDarnList: The Saga Continues, Concerned Archivists Alliance

This most recent controversy demonstrated that there is still a serious problem in the archival profession with the mythical concept of archival ‘neutrality’ and with some archivists’ inability or unwillingness to entertain the notion that we can still be unwelcoming or even hostile to minorities in the profession.

SAA Statement on white supremacist violence in Charlottesville

ALA Statement on white supremacist violence in Charlottesville

Rare Book School statement on white supremacist violence in Charlottesville

Community Response to Charlottesville, list of actionable items added to by all, compiled by Michaela Suminski

The Problem of Perception, Feminist Killjoys

Archivists on the Issues: Podcasts as Oral Histories

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from Samantha “Sam” Cross, the Assistant Archivist for CallisonRTKL.

If you have an issue you would like to write about for this blog series or a previous post that you would like to respond to, please email Please note that opinions expressed in Archivists on the Issues posts do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Section.


What I’m proposing isn’t that all podcasts are oral histories, but that podcasts should be considered another avenue of the oral history tradition. Oral histories, as a medium of historical study, have been a boon to historians, researchers, and archivists given the information they provide. Through the recounting of people who have actually lived through and experienced specific events or eras in history, we’ve been better able to flesh out the socio-economic and political nature of lives led that might have been forgotten – unintentionally or otherwise – by the written record.

In the past, however, oral histories were limited by the technology available. Having the right equipment with which to record required money and, unless you worked for a university with a large staff, transcription was a time consuming affair. On the user end, access to tapes and/or transcripts were dictated by institutional policy, which presented its own ethical problems when dealing with marginalized communities.

Technological advancements seem to be, in some cases, the great equalizer. Recording devices with good sound quality are relatively cheap, though most smart phones provide free downloadable apps for recording as well. Editing and transcription software is free to download on the internet and accessibility to audio, video, and transcripts have increased as more collections become digitized. The line between oral historian and podcast host is about as blurred as it can be. So what prevents us from accepting podcasts as a means of doing oral history? Well, I suppose we need to look at what podcasts are and how they’ve carved out their own niche in popular culture.

Podcasts, as a medium, evolved from the soundbite driven interviews of radio and television, but as the technology has improved podcasts have grown into a far more dynamic, narrative driven medium. Part of that narrative includes extensive and, in some cases, intimate interviews with celebrities or well-known public figures. These interviews then provide first-hand accounts of different eras of history and industries such as comedy, Hollywood, and politics. There are literally hundreds of podcasts available to download on iTunes, Soundcloud, Stitcher, etc, and very little stands in the way of participation. If you have a smartphone and a decent wifi signal, then a podcast you can record.

Perhaps that’s where the hesitancy lies, in the ubiquity of podcasts. There’s an overwhelming amount of data and hours of audio to sift through, but can we rely anymore on the hosts or panelists of these programs than we do on actual oral historians? With oral histories, at least there’s a purpose behind it that veils itself in attempting to add supplemental information to the current documented record. Podcasts are entertainment. They’re superfluous and disposable when compared to the weighty task of recording and transcribing the words of active agents who lived through events that shaped our society. And yet, some podcasts inadvertently accomplish the same goal even if that was never their original intent.

I’ve been a long time listener of the WTF with Marc Maron podcast. Granted, when Maron started his show, he didn’t know or anticipate what podcasts would become or where he would land with his listeners, but his transition from enraged comic to engaged interviewer was what got me thinking about the idea of podcasts as oral histories. Specifically episodes 358 and 359 when Maron talked with Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, respectively. The comedic landscape as we know it began with Brooks and Reiner’s generation and the two are forever linked with the late Sid Caesar and his comedic force of nature. They are also the products of a bygone era of vaudeville and Catskill comedy. And while I understand the showmanship behind interviews for public consumption, the intimacy of a long form conversation shouldn’t be overlooked.

Have Brooks and Reiner provided similar answers to questions over their long history of giving interviews? Yes, but the context of those interviews, which theorists love to extol, are predicated on previous soundbyte driven formats. An appearance on a late night show or an interview in a magazine facilitates short, almost concise answers, which become practiced over time. But when the format expands and the limitations are loosened the results become a completely different animal. There’s also the matter of the host or interviewer’s intention. Again, it adds to the context of the piece. Maron’s goal, ultimately, is to understand the people who visit him in his garage/studio. Citing his own journey of self-awareness, his aim is to talk about what brought the interviewee to the moment of conversation. He tries to go deeper with his guests, sussing out who they are, where they come from, and the environment that shaped them. No audience, no real time constraints, just Maron and whoever’s on the other side of the mic. Historical value may not have been the primary goal, but as a byproduct it’s just as useful.

Podcasts, then, through the archival lens have tremendous potential to act as another form of supplemental material as well as a means by which our own passions might bear fruit. Kate Brenner recounts her revelation regarding the potential of podcasts as tools of oral history while listening to an analysis of an episode of Radiolab:

I was waiting outside a pizzeria for my delivery to be ready when the episode “Finding the Story When You Know Too Much” came on.  

The episode analyzed a Radiolab episode that I’d heard before, and really enjoyed because it used oral histories. Ostensibly, the point of this episode was that the producer of the piece on German POW camps in Iowa had to learn everything about the subject and then figure out how to whittle it down to a coherent podcast.

But that’s not what I heard.

I heard the story of a woman who was passionate about a subject, did all the research, and made an impeccable case as to why it should be made into a podcast. The dramatic climax of her narrative is getting rejected for the podcast, until she’s in line at security about to fly somewhere and gets a call from Radiolab. They want her to come in immediately to talk about her idea. She ditches her flight and goes to work on her episode.

Podcasts are not oral histories in the sense that hosts or production teams have a clear intention to create them. Instead, podcasts are conversations that provide just as much, if not more, supplemental information that historians and archivists alike can find value. Podcasts don’t have to carry the weight of academia nor do they require permission to be accessed. They are free (mostly) to be consumed but that doesn’t mean they are lacking in the necessary information or context needed to flesh out the historical record. If anything, the more podcasts that are made, the more potential we may have to find voices that might have been lost.


Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This end-of-the-year post is from Steering Committee member Alison Stankrauff, Archivist and Associate Librarian at Indiana University South Bend.

What is an example of an elevator pitch you have used concerning your own archives and who was the audience?

I have asked people in the greater South Bend community (known as “Michiana” as we’re so close to the state of Michigan) for materials for our Civil Rights Heritage Center (CRHC) Collections. The CRHC is a university-city partnership with its mission statement detailed as this:

The Civil Rights Heritage Center (CRHC) at Indiana University, South Bend, is committed to the advancement of civil rights and social justice research, education, and outreach, especially in the Michiana region. It fosters empirical and analytical research, sponsors student inquiry and activities and convenes faculty, visiting scholars, policy advocates and others to examine and discuss issues of importance to racial and ethnic minorities, to the poor, gays and lesbians, and to other potential beneficiaries of civil rights advances. The CRHC’s programming work focuses on civil rights education, economic justice, and voting rights.

In the area of research, the CRHC is committed to detailing and documenting the local civil rights history of Northern Indiana, and Michiana, as part of the larger national narrative of Civil Rights Activism among African-Americans, Mexican Americans, and other groups.

I have asked people at CRHC events know that I want their records. I’ve told them that their stories – the stories of the marginalized: the area’s stories of the African American, Latinx, and LGBTQ communities – won’t get told without their voices joining to the chorus.

Give an example of a controversial item or collection piece from your archive (or previous position) and how you dealt with the situation.

We hold the collections of all of our Chancellors of our campus. In our campus hierarchy the Chancellor serves as the head of our campus. Our second Chancellor, who served from 1988 to 1995, was indicted with multiple cases of sexual harassment by several women on campus, workers at several levels. The cases came to the fore in the final years of his tenure. He was, by the end of the court cases, deposed from IU South Bend. Not the way that you want your campus to get in national news! Our collection for this Chancellor hold sensitive communications surrounding the sexual harassment cases.

Through the years I’ve had people asking for the collection for research. As a public university with public collections, they are indeed open for research. That being said, when I get requests to use this collection, I have a conversation – an “interview” if you will – to further ascertain what the researcher/requestor wants to do with the content. I make sure that they have access to its materials accordingly.

What do you think archivists should be focusing on in the future? Where do you see the future of archives?

It’s difficult to choose just one thing for us archivists to focus on! One main thing to me is just how critical it is to make sure that we’re collecting content from marginalized people. Women, African Americans, Latinx, LGBTQ people – just to name a few communities – have had our stories not collected. Our histories and stories can get lost through time. So it’s critical that we sew the gaps in the cloth as we go along. Archivists can make sure that the full representation of our community – with all its “sub” communities – is collected, preserved, documented. So ultimately we can make it accessible.

I want to see more great partnerships between communities, repositories, and associated institutions happen. There are so many different ways that we can as archivists tell the full and complete and fully representative story of history.

ICYMI: Archives Association of Ontario Annual Meeting 2017

Our ICYMI series provide summaries of presentations, publications, webinars, and other educational opportunities that are of interest to I&A members. If you have an issue you would like to write about for this blog series or a previous post that you would like to respond to, please email The following is from Sara Janes, University Archivist for Lakehead University, Ontario.

The 2017 conference of the Archives Association of Ontario was held on the University of Toronto Campus, April 26-28. The theme, “Come Together: Meaningful Collaboration in a Connected World,” felt relevant to the participants as we discussed ways to work with each other and with the public to better support archives and communities across the province.

Focus on decolonization and Indigenous issues

Decolonization and indigenous issues were a significant theme, particularly as archives are beginning to respond to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and are engaging with Canada 150 celebrations. In one plenary session, Michael Etherington, of the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, spoke about those calls to action, and the frequent disconnect between colonial institutions and Indigenous people and communities; in the other, Raymond Frogner, Director of Archives at University of Manitoba’s National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, spoke about the impact of Indigenous thinkers such as George Hunt on archival theory and practices.

Responses to the TRC, engaging with Canada’s colonial past and present, and social justice issues were well represented throughout the conference, and these themes were often tied in with discussions around acquisition, archival management, and digital outreach, as well as working groups formed within various organizations.

Focus on collaboration and partnerships

Other presentations highlighted collaboration and cooperation between institutions. Papers touched on: collaboration for acquisition and collection development, appraisal of government records, sharing resources for digital preservation, teaching courses using archival material, online outreach and collaborative exhibits, and the work of student and young professional organizations. Overall, the program was excellent, and attendees found it difficult to choose between sessions.

Talks were also held on the past, present, and future of the Archives Association of Ontario, giving members a chance to learn more about how this organization has been shaped over the years and its plans for the future. In particular, this included a report on the first year of the Provincial Acquisition Strategy, and feedback on how to continue building cooperation between archival institutions in the province.

Other highlights

The formal side of the conference was supported by a variety of other opportunities for socializing, networking, and learning. Four archives tours were held: to the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto, the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library and University of Toronto Archives, and the John M. Kelly Library Conservation Studio. The opening reception was held at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, and attendees had many opportunities to catch up with each other during breaks and at pub nights.

The Banquet, held at Hart House, celebrated 20 years of the Archives and Records Management program at the University of Toronto iSchool. The Awards Lunch was held at at the Faculty Club, and honoured Suzanne Dubeau, Nick Ruest, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and the Hastings County Historical Society.

Many of the conference presentations have been posted online, and a Storify is also available.


Sara Janes is University Archivist for Lakehead University. She has an MLIS from McGill University, and has worked in archives and records management for ten years, with a focus on digital records issues, outreach, and education.


End of Year Steering Share: Rachel Mandell—Looking Forward and Reflecting Back

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This end-of-the-year post is from I&A Vice Chair/Chair-Elect Rachel Mandell, Metadata Librarian at the University of Southern California Digital Library.

This year has been an exciting whirlwind for me—from starting a new job as a permanent library faculty member to deciding to continue with the Issues and Advocacy Section as the incoming Chair, I have taken on more responsibility, learned a lot more about what it means to be a professional archivist/ librarian, and have just started to figure out how to juggle it all.

As we wind down in our current positions with the Issues and Advocacy Section and look forward to our official section meeting in Portland, I want to take this opportunity to thank Hope Dunbar, our outgoing Chair, who has been a great leader throughout this past year.  I also want to thank the rest of the amazing Steering Committee for your enthusiasm and dedication to the section and the cause! I will need to ask for your continued support next year—I hope I can live up to the legacy that Hope is leaving behind.  

As I prepare myself to step into my new role as Chair, I want to use this post to reflect on what we accomplished this year and what I hope to continue working towards next year. This list is by no means comprehensive—these are just some of the achievements that stick out for me personally.

  1. Our nomination for SAA’s J. Franklin Jameson award was selectedThe Steering Committee nominated The Environmental Data & Governance Initiative & The Technoscience Research Unit, University of Toronto, and it was selected!  We are so proud!
  2. Updated the Issues and Advocacy ToolkitOne of our amazing Steering Committee members, Laurel Bowen, spearheaded the toolkit update this year.  She added significant content from the history and historic preservations professions, which provide substantive ideas on how to think about the value and impact of archives, to craft value statements about archives, and how to lobby or energize the support of decision-makers to relevant content on other websites.
  3. Social media updates: Daria Labinsky, another one of our esteemed Steering Committee members, was our social media rock star—she was on top of promoting all of our blog posts and getting important information out to our members through our Facebook page and Twitter feed.
  4. Maintained an Active I&A Blog: A HUGE shootout to Steering Committee member Stephanie Bennett—who coordinated and posted blog posts. We were able to maintain an active blog this year across our four series: Archivists on the Issues, In Case You Missed It (ICYMI), Research Posts, and Steering Shares.
  5. Research teams: This year we had Legislators Research and General News Monitoring Research Teams. These are logistically difficult to coordinate, but our teams and team leaders did a great job this year keeping up on the issues that affect our profession. You can check out some of the teams’ findings in our Research Posts category in our blog.
  6. Coordinated a great panel for our section meeting at SAA this year: This year, we’ll have a panel discussing experiences with controversial archival collections as well as their best practices for access and display. Promises to be an interesting discussion! Come check it out—Friday, July 28th from 11:15-12:30p during SAA in Portland. 
  7. Monthly meetings/Bi-annual joint calls: Every month, Hope leads a Steering Committee meeting as well as two joint calls with our collaborators: the Regional Archival Associations Consortium (RAAC) Advocacy Subcommittee, the Committee on Public Policy, and the Committee on Public Awareness.  It’s exciting to see where our groups’ interests align and we can develop collaborative initiatives. 

Looking towards next year, which officially starts after the SAA Annual Meeting in Portland, I hope to get started on the following:

  • Library Design Share PortalPossible pilot project for I&A, and collaborators, modeled after the Library Design Share Portal, where we could create templates that could be used for advocating for the library.
  • An Issues and Advocacy Intern: We have decided to join SAA in a call for interns. We hope to offer our intern some great experience of working with our toolkit, perhaps overseeing legislative or general research teams or coordinating some of our outreach efforts. I actually started with I&A as an intern, so it’s very exciting for me to guide our intern.
  • Continue with the momentum of our blog: I really hope to keep up with our blog presence!!  Can’t let the momentum run out now!

I am really looking forward to serving as Chair next year. I want to do a good job and be a good leader.  I hope that the rest of the steering committee holds me to that! Thanks for a great year everyone! Go Team!

Archivist on the Issues: The Best of Both Worlds, Combining physical & digital primary source education

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from Adriana Flores, Assistant Archivist for Acquisitions at Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center.

If you have an issue you would like to write about for this blog series or a previous post that you would like to respond to, please email Please note that opinions expressed in Archivists on the Issues posts do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Section.


If you have been keeping up on current trends in the archival profession, then you have heard about teaching with primary sources. The topic has had a distinct presence at the past few annual meetings, particularly the Reference, Access, and Outreach section’s full-day unconference, “Teaching With Primary Sources,” happening for the third time in Portland. However, another trend has also sparked my interest: creating education programs that utilize digitized archival materials. These programs offer access to primary sources in a whole new way and force archival educators to re-imagine the ways we’ve taught archival intelligence in the past. Clearly, teaching with primary sources is a vast subject with many approaches.

As an early professional, I am torn over how best to bring materials to college students. Should students be brought into the reading room to handle our rare and exciting materials themselves or should our items be scanned so students can access them from the comfort of their laptop? Or should students be exposed to both? To explore this issue further, I reviewed current literature on primary source education that highlight projects involving both physical and digital primary sources.

First, a quick overview of teaching with primary sources. Many archivists are not professionally trained educators so new publications, webinars, and other tools are vital to the transition from custodian to educator. Professors often enjoy incorporating primary sources into their classes because it gives their students an opportunity to engage with their lessons in a new and exciting way. In Teaching With Primary Sources, authors Elizabeth Yakel and Doris Malkmus write:

Textbooks and lectures present information in an authoritative voice, striving for clarity and concision, but research shows that students learn best when they experience cognitive dissonance and must struggle to make sense of new information by integrating it into an existing framework or building one around. (p. 35)

When engaged with primary sources, students are forced to think beyond the pre-packaged information often found in textbooks or articles. This method of teaching presents numerous opportunities for archival repositories to become more involved in course curriculum on campus.

When teaching with primary sources, the first approach that archivists can employ is straight-forward: bring students into archives. By allowing students to see archival materials first-hand, to touch them, to even smell them, understanding of the item can completely change. Physical materials often spark an interest in history by making an event or idea seem more tangible. Additionally, by being in an archival repository, students are able to learn more about how archives work and how to do research, also known as archival intelligence. As described in “AI: Archival Intelligence and User Expertise”:

Archival intelligence is a researcher’s knowledge of archival principles, practices, and institutions, such as the reasons underlying archival rules and procedures, how to develop search strategies to explore research questions, and an understanding of the relationship between primary sources and their surrogates. (p. 52)

By bringing college students into the archival repository and showing them primary sources, the archivist is able to impart archival intelligence, which will hopefully impact their future research skills. Overall, working with physical archival materials can make a lasting impact on students, which is both exciting and rewarding for archival educators.

Another approach to teaching with primary sources involves digital surrogates, which can be used to create online collections or exhibits, and expose a wider audience to archival materials. These platforms oftentimes make students feel more comfortable with the process of using primary sources; students can access documents from the comfort of their laptops without the limitations of reading room hours. Additionally, these methods can be great for distance or online-only students who are unable to visit campus. Digital projects will only become more prominent in our profession and it is worth investing the time to learn how to implement them.

It seems that the best way to expose students to primary sources is through a combination of physical and digital methods. By doing so, instructors are able to broaden their students’ research skill-sets and foster comfort and confidence with both in-person and online research. Yakel and Malkmus write:

While online sources are increasingly being used as substitutes for physical documents, both educators and archivists have also used online and physical records in a complementary sense. Instructors may introduce documents online to familiarize students with the sources and then bring students into the archives to focus on some of the material aspects of the items. Likewise, archivists may begin by introducing students to the actual records and then have them finish assignments using online collections…In the end, the important thing for both primary source and archival literacy is that students understand the advantages and disadvantages of using only actual, only online, or both types of primary sources. (p. 44)

By using primary sources in multiple formats, students are able to gain complementary research skills that will help them throughout their college career and beyond.

Lastly, working with both physical and digitized primary source materials presents one more exciting opportunity: digital humanities projects. At Nebraska University, archivists worked with faculty to create a series of classes that explored the relationship between physical and digital primary sources. Their goal for their students was to “…personally work with collections and learn more about the benefits of archival research through use of the materials in potentially compelling interpretative projects, and the online world would be able to discover our collections digitally” (Brink et al, p. 163). Digital humanities projects hold a great deal of potential for what primary source education can look like in the future; these projects are creative, collaborative, and constantly evolving. If you are struggling for a way to connect with humanities professors on campus, this is a great place to start.

Teaching with primary sources cannot be ignored by college and university archivists. Both physical and digital sources have their benefits and disadvantages while teaching, but I believe an education program is strongest when they are combined. If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend SAA’s Teaching With Primary Sources, ACRL’s Past or Portal: Enhancing Undergraduate Learning through Special Collections and Archives, as well as attending RAO’s unconference. Any success stories, ideas, or reading suggestions? Please leave your comments below!


Adriana Flores is the Assistant Archivist for Acquisitions at Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. She graduated in 2016 with her MLIS from Simmons College, with a concentration in Archives Management. Currently, Adriana is also a contributor for SNAP’s “Year in the Life” blog series.


Sources Cited

Brink, Peterson, and Mary Ellen Ducey, Andrew Jewell, and Douglas Seefeldt.”Teaching Digital History through the University Archives: The Case of Nebraska U: A Collaborative History.” In Past or Portal?: Enhancing undergraduate learning through special collections and archives, by Eleanor Mitchell, Peggy Seiden, and Suzy Taraba, 163-68. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2012.

Yakel, Elizabeth, and Deborah Torres. “AI: Archival Intelligence and User Expertise.” The American Archivist 66, no. 1 (2003): 51-78. Accessed April 20, 2017. doi:10.17723/aarc.66.1.q022h85pn51n5800.

Yakel, Elizabeth, and Doris Malkmus. “Contextualizing Archival Literacy.” In Teaching with Primary Sources, by Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe and Christopher J. Prom, 5-68. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2016.



Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This end-of-the-year post is from I&A Steering Committee member Daria Labinsky, Archivist at the National Archives at St. Louis.

Want to get your message heard by a member of Congress? Here’s some advice from an intern in the trenches. Let’s call her Intern X. She spends hours every week in the Washington, D.C., office of a U.S. senator, fielding the calls and mail of the American people. While honing her ability to deal with difficult customers, Intern X is also picking up pointers on what works and doesn’t work when you’re trying to influence a legislator.

Note that this is what it’s like in this office; other Congressional offices may not operate in exactly the same way.

What’s the most important thing to know? “Make sure you only contact your Congress person,” she says. “I don’t need to hear anything about (for example) Elizabeth Warren. I can’t do anything about Elizabeth Warren.” And when you call a member of Congress who doesn’t represent you, you’re making it harder for someone whom they do represent to get through on the phone.  

What’s the best way to get your Congresswoman or man’s attention? Set up an appointment to meet her or him in person. Intern X’s senator hosts regular events for constituents in D.C. when the Senate is in session. There’s a section on legislators’ websites where you can schedule appointments in D.C. or in your state.

 “Town Halls are not as useful as private meetings in a conference room with 10 people,” says Intern X. “Even if you can’t meet with a senator, you might be able to meet with one of their aides. Town Halls are more for just asking questions.”

Next best? “If it’s time sensitive, then call or fill out a comment form on our website,” she says.

More about phone calls. “Don’t call assuming you’re going to talk to a United States senator.” They’re seldom in their offices, and the offices get thousands of calls each week.

Voicemail is OK. Try not to get frustrated if your call goes to voicemail. “Understand that they answer to a lot of people, and if you’re getting voicemail, that probably means they’re getting a lot of calls,” Intern X says. Rest assured that those voicemails are indeed being listened to—even on days when a thousand calls come in. “Don’t assume because you’re getting voicemail, you’re being avoided.”

“The maximum number of phone lines we can have ringing is six or seven,” she says. The interns and staff listen to and document all the messages, including the hundred or so that come in overnight.  

You need to provide some kind of identifying information–even if it’s just your ZIP Code. Intern X sometimes speaks to people who refuse to provide any identifying information. “I can’t record your comment if I don’t have a ZIP Code, because I can’t verify you’re from our state,” she says.

What about snail mail? If you want to discuss an issue that’s not time sensitive, then sending a comment by mail can be better than calling. “We can take as much mail as we get but only have so many people who can answer the phones,” she says. “And if you want your mail to make an impact, have a return address.”

What about faxing? “Faxes are useless. We get so many faxes. If you just want to comment or give an opinion, then don’t fax. We get too many, and it’s too easy for them to fall through the cracks.”

Don’t send form letters. They usually get shredded without reading. “Some offices have software that can recognize form letters,” making them easier to dispose of, she says. “Some of them are subtle, like, I read one that I didn’t know was a form letter until I read the same thing over three or four times.”

The petition-type email letters that many organizations email out—the ones where you add your name and contact information, and maybe personalize them, are OK, as long as they’re from a constituent.

Some postcards are OK. “Like, if it says, ‘Dear (Senator), I’m writing because I’m concerned about (some issue) and this is why (I feel this way)’—that’s OK.”

Don’t be mean. “Being nice on the phone never hurts,” she says. “I don’t know if it helps but there’s no downside.” She often gets calls from people thanking the senator for a specific vote, or even thanking the intern for answering the phone.   

And lastly,

No cash. “Don’t mail money to the Congressional offices, because we can’t legally take it.” (Like archivists have a lot of extra cash lying around. … )

Research Post: Archiving Accounts of War Crimes–Preserving History, Protecting Victims

I&A Research Teams are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession. Under the leadership of the I&A Steering Committee, the Research Teams compile their findings into Research Posts. Each post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. This comes from the General News Media Research Team, which monitors the news for issues affecting archivists and archives.

 Please be aware that the sources cited have not been vetted and do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Section.


The Syrian and Iraqi civil wars spotlight two archival problems faced by countries experiencing or recovering from war. The first problem centers on the protection of a country’s archives and cultural landmarks. The Islamic State has looted, smuggled, and destroyed ancient monuments, artifacts, and manuscripts in Syria, most infamously in Palmyra.[1] The Islamic State has also destroyed pre-Islamic and Islamic manuscripts in Mosul, Iraq, which Mosul citizens, not surprisingly, view as an attack on their heritage.[2] The second problem centers on capturing and preserving materials that document war crimes, such as videos, photographs, court transcripts, surveillance files, and a variety of other materials that prove torture, extrajudicial punishments, and repression have occurred. Individuals often face serious risks acquiring and preserving such materials due to the destruction caused by war, along with the aggressors’ desire to escape justice. Sound and Image, a group operating in Syria and Turkey, maintains records of the Islamic State’s crimes (the Islamic State has targeted and killed some of its members).[3] Hadi al Khatib and Jeff Deutch, who live in Berlin, created the Syrian Archive, which focuses on video footage of war crimes in Syria, regardless of the perpetrators’ affiliation. Syrian Archive members catalog the videos and assign metadata.[4]

Countries recovering from war benefit from archivists’ preserving both historical materials and contemporary documentary evidence. Historical manuscripts, photographs, and other records express the cultural heritage of ethnic groups and nation states, which can serve as a source of unity. Evidence of war crimes aids the pursuit of justice, restitution, and healing. The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner succinctly stated the latter point in the recent Rule-of-Law Tools for Post-Conflict States: Archives:

When a period characterized by widespread or systematic human rights violations comes to an end, those who suffered under the previous regime or during a conflict will particularly seek to fulfil their rights to the truth, justice and reparation, as well as demand institutional reforms to prevent the recurrence of violations. To meet these demands States use a variety of approaches: investigations and prosecutions, truth-seeking activities, reparation initiatives, and institutional reforms to reduce the possibility that repression or conflict will recur. Every one of these processes relies on archives.[5]

Archivists operate under enormous strain, however, when attempting to preserve materials in countries with ruined infrastructure, political instability, and few financial resources. An archives’ existence is often at stake under these circumstances. Still, the United Nations argues that sensitive records ought to stay in the countries of origin and that only copies should be deposited in archives located in other secure countries.[6] The National Archives of Finland, for example, recently accepted “digital copies of documents that have become endangered due to the Syrian Civil War.” The archives had previously accepted documents concerning the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres in Lebanon.[7] The Nile River Museum in Egypt also houses artifacts collected for a future museum of South Sudan, which declared its independence in 2011. The country is attempting to build a national archive, museum, and theater to preserve the cultural heritage of the new country’s 10.5 million citizens. While artifacts are in Egypt for safekeeping, archival documents still remain in Juba, the capital city, amidst a new civil war. Many of the archivists there fled to refugee camps when the conflict began, but staff member Becu Thomas stayed in the capital. Thomas thought that his country never learned from its past. He now works diligently to arrange and digitize South Sudan’s historical documents.[8]

France provides another example of the relationship between archives and countries recovering from war. The French government declassified over 200,000 records in December 2015 that document the Vichy government’s collaboration with the Nazis. The records may shed light on arrests and executions previously shrouded in secrecy, allowing researchers, family members, and others to come to terms with a difficult past. The French government, however, decided not to declassify documents relating to the country’s occupation of Algeria.[9] Algerians fought a bloody war for independence from France between 1954 and 1962. Materials relating both to war crimes and torture that occurred during the war, as well as cultural materials from pre-colonial Algeria, remain in French archives. Abdelmadjid Chicki, who serves as the director of Algeria’s national archive center, argues that records produced on Algerian soil belong to Algeria. Members of the French national archives argue that France owns materials that French citizens collected. France has offered to share copies of the Algerian materials with Algeria[10], a reversal of the previously mentioned position that the United Nations holds. Algerians have resorted to buying Ottoman-era documents at French auctions in order to develop an extensive collection of historical materials from their country.[11]

While France refuses to return records to Algeria, French archivists are attempting to develop a complete archival record that incorporates materials from former colonies. The French National Archives started Le Grande Collecte, a project to acquire and preserve materials from West Africans who lived under French rule or who migrated to France.[12] The French government also strongly supports a UNESCO fund to restore ancient sites and archives in places like Syria and also to find “safe havens” for endangered items. Some nations are worried about losing control of their cultural heritage.[13]

Archivists must balance the sometimes competing goals of protecting records and respecting the rights of record creators, owners, and subjects. Moving and storing records around the globe may aid preservation but not access for those who need them most. When these records are associated with crimes and torture, there may be other motives besides preservation behind the relocation of materials. A repository outside London, for instance, houses records that document the torture of people in 37 former British colonies, including Kenya, who fought for independence. The records’ existence remained a guarded secret from the rest of the world until recently, even as victims of violence sought justice for years.[14] Such records must be preserved and made accessible so that restitution and accountability can occur, and so that countries recovering from war can move forward.


 List of Further Readings

The I&A Steering Committee would like to thank the General News Media Research Team, and in particular Audrey Lengel and Sean McConnell, for writing this post. The General News Media Team is: Courtney Dean; Lori Dedeyan; Audrey Lengel; Sean McConnell; and Daria Labinsky, team leader. If you are aware of an issue that might benefit from a Research Post, please get in touch with us:

Sources Cited

[1] “Alarmed at destruction in Palmyra, Security Council reiterates need to stamp out hatred espoused by ISIL,” UN News Centre, January 20, 2017. Accessed April 17, 2017.

[2] “Rubble, Ash Left in Mosul Museum Retaken from IS,” Voice of America, March 8, 2017. Accessed April 18, 2017.

[3] “Syria: Witnesses for the Prosecution,” Al Jazeera, November 19, 2016. Accessed April 18, 2017.

[4] “Syrian Archive catalogues war atrocities online,” Deutsche Welle, December 29, 2016. Accessed April 18, 2017.

[5] United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, Rule-of-Law for Post-Conflict States: Archives (New York and Geneva, United Nations, 2015), 1.

[6] Ibid., 10, 40.

[7] “Endangered Syrian documents taken into safekeeping at the National Archives of Finland,” Ministry of Education and Culture, February 12, 2016. Accessed April 18, 2017.

[8]Strochlic, Nina. “Can Archivists Save the World’s Newest Nation?” National Geographic. November 3, 2016. Accessed April 22, 2017.

[9] Danny Lewis, “France is Making Thousands of Vichy-Era Documents Public,”, December 29, 2015. Accessed April 19, 2017.

[10] Christian Lowe, “Algeria, France tussle over archives 50 years after split,” Reuters, July 4, 2012. Accessed April 19, 2017.

[11] Abdul Razak bin Abdullah, “Algeria obtains Ottoman-era documents at French auction,” Anadolu Agency, March 4, 2017. Accessed April 19, 2017.

[12] Alison Hurd, “France adds African perspective to colonial period archives,” Radio France Internationale, November 21, 2016. Accessed April 21, 2017.

[13] Erin Blakemore, “New Fund Pledges to Protect Cultural Heritage from War and Terror,”, March 21, 2017. Accessed April 21, 2017.

[14] Marc Perry, “Uncovering the brutal truth about the British empire,” The Guardian, August 18, 2016. Accessed April 21, 2017.