Great Advocates: Alison Stankrauff

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.

StankfrauffGreat Advocates Q&A with Alison Stankrauff

How would you define advocacy?

I see advocacy as twofold.

I see advocacy for areas where archives intersect with issues of social justice. I see it as critical for archivists to see those intersections between what we do every day: collect, preserve, and make accessible historical materials of all stripes – and social justice. I see myself as an advocate for archivists, archives (and like institutions) as well as the publics that we serve.

I also see a role for myself – and other archivists – to be proactive where our activities as archivists, as professionals, affect others. Case in point: being active in being vocal with workplace issues like labor strikes when the Society of American Archivists conference may be happening in a hotel or conference venue involves workers on strike. My stance is to consider the issue at hand matched with the civil rights and greater good of those workers. What we do as professionals greatly affect others.

What draws me to be a leader in the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable is the strong draw that I feel to issues of social justice. What I think that this means for my participation in this roundtable is that I see it as an advocate for archivists as well as the publics that we serve. I would work to make sure that critical issues that are central to the concerns of archivists and preserving – and making accessible – the historical record are addressed.

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

I think that – perhaps – the first time I saw the connection between archives and advocacy was as an undergraduate History student. Admittedly I wasn’t a very focused one – until a critical internship I had sponsored by Washburn University of Topeka, Kansas (not my own undergraduate institution – which was Antioch College of Yellow Springs, Ohio. Washburn merely provided that all-important internship). I saw the work that archivists did with the research that I did day in, day out for the internship – largely at the Kansas Historical Society, but also at other institutions. I saw the work they did as advocacy – from preserving the materials to, as a state institution, having to advocate for funds – to serving the history up to the public. Through this I saw the critical roles that archivists serve on many levels.

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

I don’t know that I can pinpoint one particular lesson.

But I can give text from one of the actions that we took as a Roundtable in 2011 – in a letter that we wrote on behalf of the Hungarian Archives in collaboration with the wider SAA. This was while I was Chair of the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable.

The Society of American Archivists is deeply concerned about a recent decision by the Hungarian Ministry of Public Information and Justice with regard to the government archives.  The Ministry apparently has decided to rectify historical wrongs committed by the former communist regime in Hungary by de-accessioning the surveillance files assembled by the nation’s secret police and Ministry of the Interior.  These files are scheduled to be removed from the Historical Archives of Hungarian State Security and returned permanently to their subjects, who presumably will be permitted to destroy their own files at their discretion.

We believe that the Hungarian government is likely sincere in its desire to see moral justice done.

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

Honestly it’s difficult to pinpoint only one thing to help to advocate for the archival profession. But I do think that being incredibly focused on archives in danger – whether its repositories facing funding cuts, closing altogether, natural disasters, etc. – is key. And then responding to those dangers to those repositories – by gathering the widest swath of response from as many professionals as possible – in a very targeted way. I think to partner this response with other associated organizations that have a shared stake in the message at hand makes for a stronger case.

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.)?

I think that it depends on what the need is at hand – and just whose need it is.

But perhaps one thing that can be helpful in any case is:

Supporting the request with data that shows the need(s) at hand.

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

It’s difficult to choose only one.

I think that in particular when any archive faces closure and/or severe budget cuts and/or loss of personnel we’re all in danger. And this needs the immediate and concerted advocacy and voice that I note in the question above about encouraging archivists to do one thing to help advocate for the archival profession.

What motivates you to continue when the going gets rough?

Honestly it’s the amazing nature of archives themselves. The fact that they are repositories of one-of-a-kind materials that chronicle communities and that they’re the only spots to do that is incredible. It reminds me – constantly – that the work that I do is critical.

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