Great Advocates: Larry Hackman

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.

Great_Advocates_3Great Advocates Q&A with Larry Hackman

How would you define advocacy?

When I was preparing Many Happy Returns, I used my own definition of advocacy, which was “activities consciously aimed to persuade individuals or organizations to act on behalf of a program or institution, in our case archives.” When I was preparing a keynote address for the Archives and Records Association of Great Britain, I discovered in their newsletter a better and fuller definition. Advocacy is “the process whereby an organization seeks to influence others in order to gain support for its mission, interests or a course of action. In order to achieve this, networks of support are developed and used to lend credibility, wield influence and offer third party endorsement.”  I like the emphasis on developing and using support and on wielding influence in order to gain support in this definition, and I like the stress on consciously aimed and to act in my own.

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

A formative experience for me was advocating support for the NHPRC’s historical records program during the years I was its first director (1975-81).  This meant learning how to encourage advocacy from archivists and others from around the country before there was an established network for this purpose.  Especially challenging was reacting to Ronald Reagan’s 1981 proposal to abolish all funding for NHPRC grants. The formation and first efforts then of the “Coalition to Save our Documentary Heritage” was an important achievement, as well as a learning experience, and that Coalition played an important part later in the effort to make the National Archives an independent agency.

I learned throughout those years that it was important to build a coalition broader than archivists and their associations and one that could activate individuals, organizations and governments across the country.   Also, that it was invaluable for there to be a knowledgeable and personable “lobbyist” (Page Miller located in the office of the American Historical Association but supported by a variety of organizations, including the SAA) who knew key staff people on the Hill and who could discover and respond to the interests of key leaders in the Congress. In general, successful advocacy requires access to key decision makers; it requires understanding their world and their views on the particular situation at hand; and it requires advocacy by individuals and groups that are significant to the decision makers who can make a difference.

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

Most of these involved the success of the New York State archives during my years as state archivist (1981-95) in building influential allies to obtain key pieces of new legislation, greatly increased appropriations and staffing, and to demonstrate our own independent reputation and influence.  Almost all of this depended in part on effective, energetic advocacy by the state archives and by many influential individuals and organizations whose support was developed through our good service, high visibility and credibility, thoughtful proposals, and tireless effort. Our success also demonstrated the importance to effective advocacy of establishing a clear agenda developed in a consultative process and communicated broadly and effectively to those whose interests would be served.  Without that agenda describing the separate objectives, each with a clear rationale, advocating the individual items on it would have been much more difficult.

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

Emphasize advocacy that has clear objectives and that aims to secure action by interested and influential parties to address those objectives.  Do not assume that informational efforts to reach the general public are likely to lead to meaningful action.  Identifiable success may be very difficult when advocating “for the profession.”

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.)?

Action in “the local context” is, in my view, the most important advocacy needed to improve archival conditions, not only in that “local context” but also from a nationwide perspective. The dilemma for many individual archivists, given their placement within a larger organization, is how to encourage and contribute to effective advocacy on behalf of their program.  The initial targets of archival advocacy often are within the organization itself.  How to encourage, activate, and guide managers in and above and around the archives is challenging.  And then, where necessary (and it often is necessary), to develop relationships with others outside the archives and the parent organization who can influence these internal managers to provide leadership and support.

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

Gaining the interest and support on records and archives policies practices from particular national, regional, state and local associations that have influence with their organizational members through education, regulation, certification, funding, awards, and other carrots and sticks.

What motivates you to continue when the going gets rough?

Advocacy ought generally to be carried out within a broad framework of plans and priorities looking well into the future and beyond any single agenda item.  When a particular objective is not achieved, one then can readily turn to other agenda items that cry out for action. Avoid getting stuck on a single objective. Often it is practical to advocate the removal of internal policy and procedural barriers that stand in the way of broader progress.

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