Great Advocates Panel Recap

On Friday, August 5, a hardy group of archivists gathered first thing in the morning at the Issues & Advocacy Roundtable meeting for donuts, coffee, and the good advice of a few Great Advocates of archives — Dr. David Gracy II, Dr. Rand Jimerson, and Kathleen Roe. We’ve heard from a number of them via the I&A blog, but it’s always great to hear the fire in their voices in real time.

The Twitterati did a great job of tweeting the wisdom and passion shared by Gracy, Jimerson, and Roe, as compiled via Storify. Below are notes and partial transcripts of their comments. It’s by no means perfect, but I hope it conveys the passion and the encouragement of the speakers and gives you some mantras when faced with the opportunity to advocate!

And if anyone wants to collaborate on designing Archivist t-shirts or a fabric (since I don’t wear hats like Rand) – I’m interested.

Thinking about SAA’s involvement with advocacy over the past decades:  What do you think the profession has been most successful in doing?  Where do we need to focus additional attention? What do you think SAA’s advocacy agenda should look like in the future?

Gracy:  We started with Archives Week instead of Archives Month because we figured if we could get seven days – hot dog!
Advocacy was largely an individual activity at the start of SAA.
Misinformed malevolent stereotypes of archivists.

Roe: One of the places we’re most effective at is, if there’s a specific issue in front of us – for example, when SAA advocated to take National Archives independent or NHPRC funding.
We’ve done well when there’s a specific issue.

Jimerson:  Our focus on SAA has long been on crisis intervention. First involvement in NHPRC funding goes back about 35 years.
SAA now, thanks to all of you and your energy and enthusiasm, is getting to the point of advocating for causes and issues before they become pressing.

Roe: I’ve been asked to write a volume on advocacy and outreach as part of the archives fundamental series – we now have embraced this as our responsibility.
What more to do?
We have to stop crisis response. We need to identify those critical issues and not just public policy and awareness – and outline how we’re all going to work towards this.
I heard someone tell the women in the coffee shop that we are basically librarians…Those young ladies down there are primed to learn about archivists. We have to push ourselves forward…be assertive about promoting and targeting specific places to advocate.

Gracy: We’re moving to a point dealing with this where archival education needs revision so that advocacy isn’t just a topic…but becomes part of every topic we deal with.
A principal advocate is the reference archivist! People are primed to understand more and learn more.

What role do you think the I&A Roundtable can play regarding advocacy?

Gracy: Keeping going – the more you do it, the more you’ll see an area to go a little farther.

Jimerson: [I&A can] hold SAA’s feet to the fire and don’t let them back down on taking stances on important issues…Things like Wikileaks are archival issues, not just political issues.
SAA Council doesn’t respond to reports – give them information and ask them to take a specific action.

Roe: When people say SAA or Council should do something – well, SAA is us…Research teams help provide important background. When I was president, I spent 20 hours a week on SAA business so didn’t have time for much else. Research teams help flesh out the issues for folks to take stance.
Put your feet on the ground. Don’t wait for us to do it. It’s up to members to provide critical mass.

Frank Boles (from audience): Also, be ready to compromise. Understand that a president is trying to find a position that 5,000 people can support. There can be three passionate people and several thousand who haven’t heard of it. Educate the other members so that they validate your cause.

Twitter question: What are your solutions for getting students engaged in the issues occupying the profession, not just the theories?

Jimerson: One of the questions I’ve always posed to students is, is advocacy something that you do with leftover time or….

Gracy: Have assignments that require students to get in touch with someone in the field, someone dealing with the issues. Gets students more familiar with matters folks are dealing with in the field.

Sarah Quigley (from audience): If your professor’s attitude is that advocacy isn’t optional, students get that – learn that.

Roe: Use the resources in your class that SAA provides regarding outreach and advocacy.
Elsie Finch article–“Making Sure They Want It: Managing Successful Public Programs”–outreach is an administrative function.

Gracy: Advocacy is a leadership function! Only one presidential address has had the word leadership in the title – in the 1950s.
Think about it in terms of what we consider the breadth of leadership to be.

At this Annual Meeting and in recent months, SAA members and leaders have had many discussions about diversity and inclusion. What do you see as the relationship between advocacy and diversity and inclusion within SAA and within the archives profession?

Jimerson: Like the speaker said yesterday, we need to think of these as verbs not nouns. We need to have that as a fundamental aspect.

Roe: Learning the cultural competency so that we can work effectively regarding diversity and inclusion. That education is a critical piece because we cannot be effective advocates for archives if we’re not advocating for all.
Until we lift every voice, we fail…that’s a big job for us to learn.

As archivists, we believe our profession has a value to society (serves the public interest; contributes to a greater good).  We are also encouraged to know our audience, target our message, define the action we want to achieve, and gain allies for our cause–which seems to work well when advocating for specific action from government officials, administrators, and organizations.  But how do we apply those principles when advocating for the value of the profession among the amorphous group we call “the public”?  How do we, in a targeted way, reach “the public” and convince them that archives matters?  And then evaluate the results and refine our approach?

Gracy: There are groups within the public that we have a connection with, like genealogists and historians. Large groups with associations, so there’s an institutional way to work toward the public at large.
Enjoy archives! Enjoy talking about archives! If people find you having a good time, if archives appears to be fun – they’ll join you! If people don’t see you having fun…I hate to say the word dusty.
People just seeing you having a good time is going to go a long way.
Listen to yourself and what you’re saying about archives – have a good time.

Jimerson: There is no general public. You’re not talking to everybody all at once. There are specific audiences and new audiences.
I wear my archivist hat all the time – people ask and I launch into a short explanation of what archivists are and what we do.
“Well that sounds interesting.” “You bet it is!”

Roe: Chunk off those people and launch an effective campaign at them. Lawyers, tech people…Identify people and go get those pieces.
It’s a step at a time, a person at a time, a group at a time – we have to intentionally pick groups.

Gracy: You’re hearing passion in all these voices. How it’s presented is as important as the message.

In one minute each, what point about advocacy do each of you most want to leave us with?

Jimerson: Do it now, do it all the time, don’t let up, it’s never over.

Roe: Be absolutely relentless. It’s all the time. The old Methodist saying, “Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, to all the people you can, for as long as ever you can.”

Gracy: If it’s in your mind that it’s essential, you’ll have a good time with it, and you won’t worry about having a pre-planned speech. It’ll be part of who you are.
Our motto should be “yes we can” not “oh god, do I have to.”
There’s a recessive gene – we like to recess into the archives. But we have a messianic gene – we all believe! Go out and get it!

Stephanie Bennett is a new member of the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable Steering Committee. She is the Collections Archivist for Wake Forest University, which is also her alma mater. She holds an MSLIS with an Archives Management concentration from Simmons College and is a member of the Academy of Certified Archivists

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One thought on “Great Advocates Panel Recap

  1. Pingback: Professional Development – SAA 2016, finally

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