Great Advocates: Christine George

Back in March, we asked you to nominate “Great Advocates”–SAA members who inspire you with their advocacy efforts. Thanks to your nominations, we have a fantastic slate of Great Advocates.

You are cordially invited to join I&A’s gathering at SAA in Atlanta on Friday, August 5 from 7:30-9:00 am (it’s early, but there will be donuts and coffee!) for an engaging Q&A with leaders of advocacy efforts from SAA’s recent history, reflecting on their work and the future of advocacy within SAA.

To get everyone in the advocacy spirit in these weeks leading up to SAA, we’re publishing Q&As with each of our Great Advocates (including some who won’t be able to join us on August 5th).

To submit questions for the in-person session and follow the event, please tweet at @archivesissues using #GreatAdvocates or email archivesissues [at] gmail [dot] com.

Once they’ve all been posted, you’ll find all of the Q&As in the series here.

GeorgeGREAT ADVOCATES Q&A WITH CHRISTINE GEORGE

How would you define advocacy?

I see advocacy as action, a continual push forward. It’s bringing attention to something—an issue, a person, an organization—and making your position heard.

What was the very first lesson you learned about advocacy–either how to do it or why it’s important?

Not only do words matter, but how you present them matters too. In elementary school, I had a teacher who would have us write position pieces. She would walk around the classroom, read part of the composition and then ask the dreaded questions: “So what? Why should I care?” She expected her students to be able to vocalize what was written. Some of us were better at speaking and others at writing. It’s important to build up your skills to be able to advocate both in writing and verbally. Later, law school really drove that lesson home.

Describe your most memorable experiences with advocating for archivists and archives.

I’d have to say, the work I did to bring attention to the Belfast Project and archival privilege was pretty memorable. It was a learning experience of all the different avenues of advocacy that are available to an individual. I presented at local, regional, and national conferences. I wrote a thesis, articles, and blog posts. I even looked into writing an amicus brief, in case the US Supreme Court decided to hear the case. It’s also the reason I got involved with the Issues & Advocacy Roundtable.

If you could encourage archivists to do just one thing to help advocate for the archival profession, what would that one thing be?

No matter how annoying it may be, no matter how many times you have to do it, always, always explain to people what you do, and, if you can fit it in, why what you do is important. Don’t say we’re just like librarians. The more people who are exposed to what it is that archivists do, the less time we’ll have to spend covering that when advocating for something in the future.

What strategies and skills would you recommend archivists use when they are advocating for something in their local context (for example, for additional funding or personnel, policy changes, etc.)?

Get yourself a few people who can provide feedback. I have a group of friends in archives, libraries, and outside the information profession all together that I will use as sounding boards. If I’m writing something, I asked them to read it over to see how it works with people who know archives and those who don’t. I’ll talk it out with them, have them ask me questions, to refine what I’ll say and anticipate potential questions. Preparing this this before has helped me make my message clearer and concise. Particularly when speaking, it makes me feel more confident in the message I’m delivering.

What is an archives issue that means a lot to you and requires advocacy?

Archival privilege. I don’t know if it’s something that will ever actually come to exist, but I think it’s an important conversation archivists and those in related fields need to have. How can we, in good conscience, take in collections that could be used against the donors? History may be written by the winners, but all should be represented in the historical record. If we cannot collect materials from controversial or dissident groups, we will be doing a great disservice to future generations.

What motivates you to continue when the going gets rough?

In the musical 1776, Stephen Hopkins, representative from Rhode Island, has this line, “…in all my years I ain’t never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about. Hell yeah! I’m for debating anything.” Perhaps it’s a byproduct of law school or being raised by lawyers, but I never think that there is going to be absolute agreement. There will always be an opposing side or a Devil’s Advocate or someone who is just contrary. Debate and discussion make things better. Not agreeing with someone’s idea isn’t a bad thing. It’s an opportunity to dialogue, reevaluate, and, hopefully, come up with something better. However not everyone subscribes to that view, and I can say from personal experience that being on the receiving end of some nasty anonymous trolling is upsetting. It’s hard to get past it, but I try to remind myself that just because some don’t want to hear what I have to say doesn’t mean I should be silent.

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