Archivists on the Issues: Where are all the California Archivists?

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from Joanna Black, the Digital Archivist at the Sierra Club’s William E. Colby Memorial Library.

It started with a discriminatory “bathroom bill” and ended with the absence of almost an entire state’s worth of SAA members. For this upcoming SAA 2019 annual conference in Austin, TX, there will be a considerable gap in representation from California-based archivists, most of whom are employed by the State of California.

Many of us recall in 2017 when the issue was first brought to the attention of SAA members. After the SAA Council narrowly voted to move forward with holding the 2019 annual conference in Texas – a state where legislators tried passing “bathroom bill” SB6[1] and, when that failed, passed HB 3859[2] which allows child welfare providers to refuse adoptions to LGBTQ individuals based on “sincerely held religious beliefs” – the SAA Council acknowledged[3] that Californians will be subject to California State Assembly Bill 1887,[4] which bans California State employees from traveling on business to Texas. This ban extends to the SAA 2019 annual conference.

Putting aside the appalling nature of HB 3859 and how social justice intersects with the archival profession (which the SAA AGM Program Committee Co-chairs acknowledge here), little attention has been given by SAA leadership on the impact of California archivists’ absence from this year’s conference. Beyond loose commitments to implement “live-streaming and/or other virtual conferencing options”[5] for those who cannot travel, and with limited evidence[6] two weeks before the annual conference that this commitment will be adequately honored, the exclusion of most California SAA members should be of concern to all members who value diverse perspectives and inclusion within the organization.

Each SAA annual conference is a chance to share professional values, build partnerships, and exchange ideas. It is one of the most prominent opportunities of the year for members to introduce themselves to greater diversity within the profession. The SAA Archives Records 2019 program website states:[7]

By attending the Joint Annual Meeting, you can:

  • Bring back fresh ideas and new knowledge to benefit all of your colleagues;
  • Discover cutting-edge tools and resources in the Exhibit Hall;
  • Enhance your professional development by attending a pre-conference course;
  • Become a better advocate for the archives, records, and information profession;
  • Network with colleagues, who may share new ideas you can implement at your institution or in your classroom; and
  • Promote your institution’s profile in the archives community!

But without the attendance of most California archivists – one of the most diverse blocks of archivists in the world – SAA members should consider how this absence limits perspectives within the conference itself and hinders the exchange of information within the profession as a whole. California is home to some of the most forward-thinking archivists in SAA, but how will their knowledge reach other members? How do California archivists build partnerships with other institutions when most are excluded from this year’s primary networking event? As one archivist from the University of California library system told me last month, “As archivists, we like to discuss inclusivity, but I do not find anything inclusive about holding our national meeting in a place where the majority of the archivists from our largest and most diverse state are unable to attend.”

As a California-based archivist, I am one of the lucky few who will be attending the conference this year (I am not a California State employee). I will be representing my institution as well as all my California colleagues who can not attend. As I prepare to be “on the front line”[8] of activism in Texas, I reflect on SAA’s Statement on Diversity and Inclusion. Diversity, it reads, encompasses not just “socio-cultural factors” but “professional and geographic factors” that reflect SAA’s “desire for broad participation from archivists working in various locations, repository types and sizes, and professional specializations.”[9] With little support offered to those California-based archivists excluded from the conference this year, SAA is falling short of its own commitment to “promote diversity and inclusion in all of [SAA’s] professional activities with an eye to ensuring effective representation of our members.”[10]

The SAA 2019 annual conference promises to address the intersection of social and political issues with the work of archives and archivists.[11] This also extends to the ways SAA members are able to show up, participate, and grow within the organization and its events. All SAA members should be cognizant of our colleagues, whether from California or elsewhere, who cannot attend the 2019 annual conference. When conference goers come together in Austin next month, let us support not only those whose lives are negatively impacted by the bigotry steeped in bills like HB 3859 but our archivist colleagues as well who, by extension of discriminatory legislation, have been excluded from this year’s gathering.

 

[1] Alexa Ura and Ryan Murphy, “Here’s what the Texas bathroom bill means in plain English,” https://apps.texastribune.org/texas-bathroom-bill-annotated/, (July 13, 2019).

[2] Legislature Of The State Of Texas, Chapter 45. Protection Of Rights Of Conscience For Child Welfare

Services Providers, https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/85R/billtext/pdf/HB03859I.pdf – navpanes=0, (July 13, 2019).

[3] Tanya Zanish-Belcher, “An Open Letter to SAA Members Regarding the Location of the 2019 Annual Meeting,” https://www2.archivists.org/news/2017/an-open-letter-to-saa-members-regarding-the-location-of-the-2019-annual-meeting, (July 13, 2019).

[4] State Of California Department Of Justice Office Of The Attorney General, Prohibition on State-Funded and State-Sponsored Travel to States with Discriminatory Laws, Xavier Becerra. Assembly Bill No. 1887.  https://oag.ca.gov/ab1887 (July 13, 2019).

[5] Zanish-Belcher, https://www2.archivists.org/news/2017/an-open-letter-to-saa-members-regarding-the-location-of-the-2019-annual-meeting.

[6] There is no mention on the program website that any virtual conferencing options will be available to members. However, after reaching out to Carlos R. Salgado, Manager of SAA’s Service Center, regarding the virtual conferencing option, I was told that SAA “will be introducing live streaming this year and will be posting information to the conference website this week” (email received Jul 15, 2019).

[7] “‘Making Your Case’ to Attend,”https://www2.archivists.org/am2019/resources/making-your-case (July 13, 2019).

[8] Zanish-Belcher, https://www2.archivists.org/news/2017/an-open-letter-to-saa-members-regarding-the-location-of-the-2019-annual-meeting.

[9]  SAA Council, “SAA Statement on Diversity and Inclusion,” https://www2.archivists.org/statements/saa-statement-on-diversity-and-inclusion (July 13, 2019).

[10] ibid.

[11] Zanish-Belcher, https://www2.archivists.org/news/2017/an-open-letter-to-saa-members-regarding-the-location-of-the-2019-annual-meeting.

One thought on “Archivists on the Issues: Where are all the California Archivists?

  1. Thank you for writing this. I will very much miss the presence of our California colleagues this year. I think this also represents an opportunity to begin radically rethinking conference culture.

    Something that’s missing from these conversations is the reliance that organizations like SAA have on achieving their budget through an annual meeting. When an org is heavily reliant on a successful conference for income, this means it will be far less willing to risk upending the status quo (or contracts with huge penalties for changes).

    I will be very interested to see if the loss of California archivists impacts the bottom line of how much money is made from this annual meeting – because the decision to cancel conferences is often a financial one, and if I recall correctly, has factored into previous decisions not to cancel past conferences in similar circumstances.

    The other thing that concerns me about reliance on conferences for income is it locks in a huge professional carbon footprint. I would love to see conferences in our field begin to embrace a “node” model, which is already *such* a part of our practice to begin with when we think about things like regional NARA facilities or interlibrary loan, etc. Here is an example we could emulate https://displacements.jhu.edu/nodes/ If we had a node model, it would open up conferences not just to those barred from attending certain locations, but also increase participation from many others who due to financial or life circumstances, cannot make the trip either.

    Like

Leave a Reply (Note: The Issues & Advocacy Roundtable is committed to providing a welcoming environment for everyone who participates in its online spaces. All comments must honor the SAA Code of Conduct: http://www2.archivists.org/statements/saa-code-of-conduct.)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s