Archivists on the Issues: Net Freedom and the Federal Communication Commission

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s  post comes from Section intern Samantha Brown, an Assistant Archivist at the New-York Historical Society.


On December 14, the Federal Communication Commission, also known as the FCC, is expected to hold a vote that will decide the fate of Net Neutrality. This vote will likely change the landscape of the internet (Giles 2017). After hearing about this vote, SAA’s President, Tanya Zanish-Belcher, wrote a letter to the FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai. In this letter, she writes that the removal of Net Neutrality rules undermined “…the ability of archives to provide equitable and unfettered access to our shared cultural heritage and will penalize users of archival information from many research communities…” (SAA 2017). To understand the gravity of this vote and how it will directly affect archives, we first must understand what Net Neutrality is.

When someone gets on their computer and wants to visit a website, their browser is connected to their chosen site by their internet provider, also known as the ISP. Currently, the user understands that they will be connected to their chosen site without the ISP interfering with the data they are receiving. This is the main idea behind Net Neutrality (Save the Internet). The rules that the FCC currently have in place guarantee that all websites operate on a level playing field (Feldman 2017). An ISP cannot provide a fast lane to those companies that have the ability to pay more for prioritization (Giles 2017).

Without Net Neutrality rules in place, many fear that ISPs like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon could “…block websites or content they don’t like or applications that compete with their own offerings” (Save the Internet). Services from libraries, archives, and other cultural heritage organizations that are increasingly providing access in a digital environment could easily be disrupted (Peterson 2014). Many of these organizations work with and provide voices to groups that express dissenting viewpoints. The fear is internet providers could be pressured to block websites that feature content that opposes the government or major companies (Newton 2017).

Right now it’s hard to know how many of these fears are justified since no one really knows what the internet will be like in the United States without Net Neutrality. The best way we can currently form an idea of what to expect is to look at other countries that operate without the rules we currently have in place. Fears about the suppression of dissenting viewpoints may not be completely unjustified. In 2005, a Canadian telecom company, Telsus, blocked access to a union website that was working to promote a strike against the company. If companies are able to privilege access to specific apps and websites without oversight, then certain brands and ideas may be granted dominance over others (Glaser 2017). This begs the question, what would happen to the voices of marginalized groups in America without the protections of Net Neutrality (Save the Internet)?  Would organizations working to preserve the history of marginalized groups have access to their websites and online resources limited?




Feldman, Brian. “Without Net Neutrality, What Happens to My Netflix?” Select All, New York Magazine, 21 Nov. 2017,

Glaser, April. “What the Internet Is Like in Countries Without Net Neutrality.” Slate Magazine, 8 Dec. 2017,

Giles, Martin. “Killing net neutrality is bad news for startups-and the customers they want to serve.” MIT Technology Review, MIT Technology Review, 7 Dec. 2017,

“Net Neutrality: What You Need to Know Now.” Save the Internet, Free Press,

Newton, Creede. “Digital advocates decry US plan to end net neutrality.” Al Jazeera News, Al Jazeera, 22 Nov. 2017,

Peterson, Andrea. “Why the death of net neutrality would be a disaster for libraries.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 16 May 2014,

“SAA Urges FCC to Preserve Existing Net Neutrality Provisions.”, Society of American Archivists, 4 Dec. 2017,



So SAA’s Going to Austin. Now What?

This post was written by Stephanie Bennett and the Issues & Advocacy Section’s Steering Committee, in light of the recent news that SAA was keeping its commitment to hold 2019’s annual meeting in Austin, Texas. 

With the announcement from SAA president Tanya Zanish-Belcher that SAA’s 2019 will be in Austin, despite a Council discussion about moving it, SAA members – and all archivists and humans who move about the world – have some thinking to do. And some work to do. Some of us – though not the Californian archivists among us – will attend the meeting. The I&A Steering Committee once more poses questions that we’ve been asking amongst ourselves:

  • How can we, as an organization and as individuals, support the activists of Texas?
  • Is it a betrayal of our personal beliefs or heteronormative myopia if we do attend, in part because we “pass” the Texas legislature’s guide of acceptable personhood?
  • As Eira Tansey points out, the battles between more liberal cities and restrictive, conservative legislatures are happening across the U.S.; where will our harassed queer colleagues find safe harbor?
  • Should we, how can we, support our professional organization(s) in the long run so that these choices between financial precarity or personal harm are no longer required? Does SAA need  (as writer Paulette Perhach called it) a F*ck Off Fund?
  • How can we work within the profession to change foundational systems of oppression? (And all of the questions we posed previously, really)

As an institution, SAA and its component groups, including the sections, have the responsibility to be mindful of how we spend our time and money – especially in Austin. We’ve been watching and listening as Representative John Lewis models the ethics and actions of “good trouble.” At Issues & Advocacy, we are committed to spending our money at LGBTQ-owned and -friendly businesses and establishments that recognize that black lives matter. We will seek opportunities to collaborate with queer archivists to do service and/or fundraising to benefit Texan activists and organizations fighting against the state’s restrictive and occasionally unconstitutional or overturned laws. And we welcome your ideas! If there is an event or organization that you would like to see supported or a topic that you would like to be discussed but do not have the bandwidth to undertake, let us know.

That said, the Society of American Archivists, as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is not permitted to engage in “political campaign activities as defined by the IRS. We are not lawyers, but we do understand that  limits to SAA’s work exist, and, as a body within SAA, the limits for Issues & Advocacy’s work as well. But as individuals, we have the right to political activity and related speech. For those of us who will attend the meeting, we look forward to working in Austin, as both individuals and professional archivists.


Archivists on the Issues: Women Archivist Leaders and How to Become One

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today is the final post from Adriana Flores, Archivist and Special Collections Librarian at the University of Puget Sound, who has been blogging at Issues & Advocacy this year.

After attending the Society of American Archivists’ annual conference this past week, there’s no question that women are present in our profession. From the sea of cardigans to the long bathroom lines, women make their presence known. As I looked around at all the amazing female leaders in SAA, the idea of reaching that level of leadership myself seemed daunting. It made me wonder: do most women in SAA feel like they have the resources to claim leadership positions? Do we encourage women to seize leadership roles in SAA, and furthermore, at their own institutions? This blog post will reflect on some of the amazing role models of female leadership in SAA and highlight some resources and tips for those interested in climbing the leadership ladder.

Female Leaders in SAA History

If you look at the numbers of SAA leadership at the highest level, they tell an interesting story. Twenty of SAA’s 72 presidents since 1936 have been women; female presidency started with Margaret Cross Norton as the fourth SAA president in 1943. Since 1972, 7 out of the 9 executive directors have been women. Women archivists can look to this history of female leadership for inspiration as we progress along the leadership path outselves.

As I researched this post, I came across Michele F. Pacifico’s essay, “Founding Mothers: Women in the Society of American Archivists, 1936-1972,” in American Archivist. It is a wonderful read that explores the role that women played in SAA during its early years and highlights discrepancies between male and female membership and leadership.

Since SAA’s conception, women have been guiding and shaping it. In 1935, the American Historical Association created a “Committee of Ten on the Organization of Archivists” to establish a national organization of archivists (Pacifico 372). Two of those committee members were women. Pacifico writes:

Both [Margaret Cross Norton and Ruth Blair] had been active in the AHA Conference of Archivists and were interested in developing a separate professional organization for archivists. As early as 1929, Norton had encouraged archivists to detach themselves from historians. (372-373).

The vision and determination these women expressed is inspirational. Although their male counterparts outnumbered them, they were an integral part of developing the profession we are a part of today.

As archivists, we can learn a lot from Pacifico and the women she writes about. Although her essay was published in 1987, similarities to today shine through. She explains that between 1937 and 1972, only 10.9% of conference presenters and participants were women. She writes, “A close examination shows that year after year the same women were asked to present papers, chair sessions, or teach workshops” (378). During my time as an SAA member, I have seen people present year after year and I encourage more women to step forward and seize those opportunities.

Tips for Seizing Leadership Opportunities

  1. Apply to be an SAA intern for a section or committee. If you are a young professional and looking for a way to experience section leadership, apply to become a section intern. SAA emails about this annually in the spring.
  2. Find an SAA section you enjoy and put your name forward for elected positions. In “Roundtables as Incubators for Leadership: The Legacy of the Congressional Papers Roundtable,” Leigh McWhite writes, “For professional newcomers, the smaller scale of the roundtable environment will prove less intimidating than the much larger organization of SAA. Regardless, leadership often requires that you volunteer yourself” (309:6). Section steering committee nominations are open every spring, also. If you know you’re interested, email steering committee members to let them know.
  3. Write for a blog, section or regional newsletter, Archival Outlook or The American Archivist. Writing for an SAA or SAA-affiliated publication can be a great way to get your name out there, while not requiring the time commitment of section or committee service. Often publications will send out a call for pieces, but if you have a great article idea, contact the publication you are interested in.
  4. Present a poster or be part of a panel presentation at SAA annual conference. Posters are a great gateway to professional presentations if you are nervous about public speaking. That being said, archivists are a friendly bunch and often a supportive audience for people who have presentation jitters. Calls for annual conference presentations usually go out around October.
  5. Find a mentor who you want to emulate and ask questions! Mentors provide professional knowledge, guidance, and support. Even if you are only able to have an informational interview instead of an ongoing relationship, talking with someone who has a job or position that you’re interested in is invaluable. Seek out a colleague, a fellow alum from your graduate program, a professor, or another professional who you have connected with. SAA’s program might be a useful start, too. Mentorship can happen at any stage of your career. Don’t hesitate to reach out to people who can help you take the next step in your career.

I hope my findings and reflections on female leadership in SAA have invigorated you to take the next step in your own career and leadership journey.


Finding Our Voice: Advocacy in a Difficult Time

This post was written by Courtney Dean and the Issues & Advocacy Section’s Steering Committee, in light of several recent events.

In light of recent acts of white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, personal attacks on the SAA-run Archives and Archivists listserv, and reports of harassment against several SAA 2017 panelists whose sessions addressed diversity, inclusion, and the dismantling of white supremacy in archives, the I&A Steering Committee has been considering the following questions and invites you to join with us:

  • How can we work within the profession to change foundational systems of oppression?
  • What can we do, individually and collectively, when colleagues are being harassed for their work and/or their ethnicity, gender, etc.?
  • How can we as a section provide a platform for elevating traditionally marginalized voices in the profession?
  • How can we create a safer space for difficult and vulnerable professional conversations?
  • How can we further SAA’s goal of inclusiveness?

Over the coming weeks we will be brainstorming our role as section within SAA, but we would also like to hear from the profession at large. SAA Council’s statement in response to A&A listserv activity provided the following prompt: If you have ideas about 1) how the List might be improved or 2) any new communication tools that we might consider as an enhancement to or substitute for the A&A List, please send your ideas to SAA President Tanya Zanish-Belcher at

Today’s Council statement regarding the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, VA, echoes the invitation to email members of Council or Specifically, sending along resources that can be included in a “toolkit that will offer specific information and resources on how our profession can work with communities to identify, combat, and dismantle acts and symbols of white supremacy” may be useful.

The I&A section also encourages submissions to our blog addressing any of the above topics. We reiterate Council’s stance against violence and intimidation and are wholly committed to working towards an inclusive professional organization.

Further reading

#ThatDarnList: The Saga Continues, Concerned Archivists Alliance

This most recent controversy demonstrated that there is still a serious problem in the archival profession with the mythical concept of archival ‘neutrality’ and with some archivists’ inability or unwillingness to entertain the notion that we can still be unwelcoming or even hostile to minorities in the profession.

SAA Statement on white supremacist violence in Charlottesville

ALA Statement on white supremacist violence in Charlottesville

Rare Book School statement on white supremacist violence in Charlottesville

Community Response to Charlottesville, list of actionable items added to by all, compiled by Michaela Suminski

The Problem of Perception, Feminist Killjoys

Archivists on the Issues: Podcasts as Oral Histories

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from Samantha “Sam” Cross, the Assistant Archivist for CallisonRTKL.

If you have an issue you would like to write about for this blog series or a previous post that you would like to respond to, please email Please note that opinions expressed in Archivists on the Issues posts do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Section.


What I’m proposing isn’t that all podcasts are oral histories, but that podcasts should be considered another avenue of the oral history tradition. Oral histories, as a medium of historical study, have been a boon to historians, researchers, and archivists given the information they provide. Through the recounting of people who have actually lived through and experienced specific events or eras in history, we’ve been better able to flesh out the socio-economic and political nature of lives led that might have been forgotten – unintentionally or otherwise – by the written record.

In the past, however, oral histories were limited by the technology available. Having the right equipment with which to record required money and, unless you worked for a university with a large staff, transcription was a time consuming affair. On the user end, access to tapes and/or transcripts were dictated by institutional policy, which presented its own ethical problems when dealing with marginalized communities.

Technological advancements seem to be, in some cases, the great equalizer. Recording devices with good sound quality are relatively cheap, though most smart phones provide free downloadable apps for recording as well. Editing and transcription software is free to download on the internet and accessibility to audio, video, and transcripts have increased as more collections become digitized. The line between oral historian and podcast host is about as blurred as it can be. So what prevents us from accepting podcasts as a means of doing oral history? Well, I suppose we need to look at what podcasts are and how they’ve carved out their own niche in popular culture.

Podcasts, as a medium, evolved from the soundbite driven interviews of radio and television, but as the technology has improved podcasts have grown into a far more dynamic, narrative driven medium. Part of that narrative includes extensive and, in some cases, intimate interviews with celebrities or well-known public figures. These interviews then provide first-hand accounts of different eras of history and industries such as comedy, Hollywood, and politics. There are literally hundreds of podcasts available to download on iTunes, Soundcloud, Stitcher, etc, and very little stands in the way of participation. If you have a smartphone and a decent wifi signal, then a podcast you can record.

Perhaps that’s where the hesitancy lies, in the ubiquity of podcasts. There’s an overwhelming amount of data and hours of audio to sift through, but can we rely anymore on the hosts or panelists of these programs than we do on actual oral historians? With oral histories, at least there’s a purpose behind it that veils itself in attempting to add supplemental information to the current documented record. Podcasts are entertainment. They’re superfluous and disposable when compared to the weighty task of recording and transcribing the words of active agents who lived through events that shaped our society. And yet, some podcasts inadvertently accomplish the same goal even if that was never their original intent.

I’ve been a long time listener of the WTF with Marc Maron podcast. Granted, when Maron started his show, he didn’t know or anticipate what podcasts would become or where he would land with his listeners, but his transition from enraged comic to engaged interviewer was what got me thinking about the idea of podcasts as oral histories. Specifically episodes 358 and 359 when Maron talked with Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, respectively. The comedic landscape as we know it began with Brooks and Reiner’s generation and the two are forever linked with the late Sid Caesar and his comedic force of nature. They are also the products of a bygone era of vaudeville and Catskill comedy. And while I understand the showmanship behind interviews for public consumption, the intimacy of a long form conversation shouldn’t be overlooked.

Have Brooks and Reiner provided similar answers to questions over their long history of giving interviews? Yes, but the context of those interviews, which theorists love to extol, are predicated on previous soundbyte driven formats. An appearance on a late night show or an interview in a magazine facilitates short, almost concise answers, which become practiced over time. But when the format expands and the limitations are loosened the results become a completely different animal. There’s also the matter of the host or interviewer’s intention. Again, it adds to the context of the piece. Maron’s goal, ultimately, is to understand the people who visit him in his garage/studio. Citing his own journey of self-awareness, his aim is to talk about what brought the interviewee to the moment of conversation. He tries to go deeper with his guests, sussing out who they are, where they come from, and the environment that shaped them. No audience, no real time constraints, just Maron and whoever’s on the other side of the mic. Historical value may not have been the primary goal, but as a byproduct it’s just as useful.

Podcasts, then, through the archival lens have tremendous potential to act as another form of supplemental material as well as a means by which our own passions might bear fruit. Kate Brenner recounts her revelation regarding the potential of podcasts as tools of oral history while listening to an analysis of an episode of Radiolab:

I was waiting outside a pizzeria for my delivery to be ready when the episode “Finding the Story When You Know Too Much” came on.  

The episode analyzed a Radiolab episode that I’d heard before, and really enjoyed because it used oral histories. Ostensibly, the point of this episode was that the producer of the piece on German POW camps in Iowa had to learn everything about the subject and then figure out how to whittle it down to a coherent podcast.

But that’s not what I heard.

I heard the story of a woman who was passionate about a subject, did all the research, and made an impeccable case as to why it should be made into a podcast. The dramatic climax of her narrative is getting rejected for the podcast, until she’s in line at security about to fly somewhere and gets a call from Radiolab. They want her to come in immediately to talk about her idea. She ditches her flight and goes to work on her episode.

Podcasts are not oral histories in the sense that hosts or production teams have a clear intention to create them. Instead, podcasts are conversations that provide just as much, if not more, supplemental information that historians and archivists alike can find value. Podcasts don’t have to carry the weight of academia nor do they require permission to be accessed. They are free (mostly) to be consumed but that doesn’t mean they are lacking in the necessary information or context needed to flesh out the historical record. If anything, the more podcasts that are made, the more potential we may have to find voices that might have been lost.

Archivist on the Issues: The Best of Both Worlds, Combining physical & digital primary source education

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from Adriana Flores, Assistant Archivist for Acquisitions at Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center.

If you have an issue you would like to write about for this blog series or a previous post that you would like to respond to, please email Please note that opinions expressed in Archivists on the Issues posts do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Section.


If you have been keeping up on current trends in the archival profession, then you have heard about teaching with primary sources. The topic has had a distinct presence at the past few annual meetings, particularly the Reference, Access, and Outreach section’s full-day unconference, “Teaching With Primary Sources,” happening for the third time in Portland. However, another trend has also sparked my interest: creating education programs that utilize digitized archival materials. These programs offer access to primary sources in a whole new way and force archival educators to re-imagine the ways we’ve taught archival intelligence in the past. Clearly, teaching with primary sources is a vast subject with many approaches.

As an early professional, I am torn over how best to bring materials to college students. Should students be brought into the reading room to handle our rare and exciting materials themselves or should our items be scanned so students can access them from the comfort of their laptop? Or should students be exposed to both? To explore this issue further, I reviewed current literature on primary source education that highlight projects involving both physical and digital primary sources.

First, a quick overview of teaching with primary sources. Many archivists are not professionally trained educators so new publications, webinars, and other tools are vital to the transition from custodian to educator. Professors often enjoy incorporating primary sources into their classes because it gives their students an opportunity to engage with their lessons in a new and exciting way. In Teaching With Primary Sources, authors Elizabeth Yakel and Doris Malkmus write:

Textbooks and lectures present information in an authoritative voice, striving for clarity and concision, but research shows that students learn best when they experience cognitive dissonance and must struggle to make sense of new information by integrating it into an existing framework or building one around. (p. 35)

When engaged with primary sources, students are forced to think beyond the pre-packaged information often found in textbooks or articles. This method of teaching presents numerous opportunities for archival repositories to become more involved in course curriculum on campus.

When teaching with primary sources, the first approach that archivists can employ is straight-forward: bring students into archives. By allowing students to see archival materials first-hand, to touch them, to even smell them, understanding of the item can completely change. Physical materials often spark an interest in history by making an event or idea seem more tangible. Additionally, by being in an archival repository, students are able to learn more about how archives work and how to do research, also known as archival intelligence. As described in “AI: Archival Intelligence and User Expertise”:

Archival intelligence is a researcher’s knowledge of archival principles, practices, and institutions, such as the reasons underlying archival rules and procedures, how to develop search strategies to explore research questions, and an understanding of the relationship between primary sources and their surrogates. (p. 52)

By bringing college students into the archival repository and showing them primary sources, the archivist is able to impart archival intelligence, which will hopefully impact their future research skills. Overall, working with physical archival materials can make a lasting impact on students, which is both exciting and rewarding for archival educators.

Another approach to teaching with primary sources involves digital surrogates, which can be used to create online collections or exhibits, and expose a wider audience to archival materials. These platforms oftentimes make students feel more comfortable with the process of using primary sources; students can access documents from the comfort of their laptops without the limitations of reading room hours. Additionally, these methods can be great for distance or online-only students who are unable to visit campus. Digital projects will only become more prominent in our profession and it is worth investing the time to learn how to implement them.

It seems that the best way to expose students to primary sources is through a combination of physical and digital methods. By doing so, instructors are able to broaden their students’ research skill-sets and foster comfort and confidence with both in-person and online research. Yakel and Malkmus write:

While online sources are increasingly being used as substitutes for physical documents, both educators and archivists have also used online and physical records in a complementary sense. Instructors may introduce documents online to familiarize students with the sources and then bring students into the archives to focus on some of the material aspects of the items. Likewise, archivists may begin by introducing students to the actual records and then have them finish assignments using online collections…In the end, the important thing for both primary source and archival literacy is that students understand the advantages and disadvantages of using only actual, only online, or both types of primary sources. (p. 44)

By using primary sources in multiple formats, students are able to gain complementary research skills that will help them throughout their college career and beyond.

Lastly, working with both physical and digitized primary source materials presents one more exciting opportunity: digital humanities projects. At Nebraska University, archivists worked with faculty to create a series of classes that explored the relationship between physical and digital primary sources. Their goal for their students was to “…personally work with collections and learn more about the benefits of archival research through use of the materials in potentially compelling interpretative projects, and the online world would be able to discover our collections digitally” (Brink et al, p. 163). Digital humanities projects hold a great deal of potential for what primary source education can look like in the future; these projects are creative, collaborative, and constantly evolving. If you are struggling for a way to connect with humanities professors on campus, this is a great place to start.

Teaching with primary sources cannot be ignored by college and university archivists. Both physical and digital sources have their benefits and disadvantages while teaching, but I believe an education program is strongest when they are combined. If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend SAA’s Teaching With Primary Sources, ACRL’s Past or Portal: Enhancing Undergraduate Learning through Special Collections and Archives, as well as attending RAO’s unconference. Any success stories, ideas, or reading suggestions? Please leave your comments below!


Adriana Flores is the Assistant Archivist for Acquisitions at Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. She graduated in 2016 with her MLIS from Simmons College, with a concentration in Archives Management. Currently, Adriana is also a contributor for SNAP’s “Year in the Life” blog series.


Sources Cited

Brink, Peterson, and Mary Ellen Ducey, Andrew Jewell, and Douglas Seefeldt.”Teaching Digital History through the University Archives: The Case of Nebraska U: A Collaborative History.” In Past or Portal?: Enhancing undergraduate learning through special collections and archives, by Eleanor Mitchell, Peggy Seiden, and Suzy Taraba, 163-68. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2012.

Yakel, Elizabeth, and Deborah Torres. “AI: Archival Intelligence and User Expertise.” The American Archivist 66, no. 1 (2003): 51-78. Accessed April 20, 2017. doi:10.17723/aarc.66.1.q022h85pn51n5800.

Yakel, Elizabeth, and Doris Malkmus. “Contextualizing Archival Literacy.” In Teaching with Primary Sources, by Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe and Christopher J. Prom, 5-68. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2016.


Archivists on the Issues: The Neutrality Lie and Archiving in the Now

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from Samantha “Sam” Cross, the Assistant Archivist for CallisonRTKL.

If you have an issue you would like to write about for this blog series or a previous post that you would like to respond to, please email Please note that opinions expressed in Archivists on the Issues posts do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Section.


Neutrality is a lie. The sooner archivists agree on that matter, the better the profession will be. It’s not even a good lie, considering the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Howard Zinn’s infamous 1977 speech to the archival community called us out, stating: “The archivist, even more than the historian and the political scientist, tends to be scrupulous about his neutrality, and to see his job as a technical job, free from the nasty world of political interest: a job of collecting, sorting, preserving, making available, the records of society.”

Echoing Zinn, archivists ourselves have revealed the facade of neutrality built into every step of the archiving process. Terry Cook, Helen Samuels, Mark Greene, and Richard J. Cox all consider appraisal “the critical archival act,” the step from which other aspects follow.[1] The selective nature of collecting and retention policies allow archivists to claim that they cannot collect anything outside of the established boundaries. Vernon Harris pointed out that even collection description is a byproduct of cultural and societal biases that construct their own narrative.[2] Last February, in an interview with the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA), Jarrett Drake bluntly stated that “Archives have never been neutral – they are the creation of human beings, who have politics in their nature.”

Claims of neutrality distance archives and archivists from the Now. In his book, Flowers After the Funeral: Reflections on the Post-9/11 Digital Age, Cox anxiously critiqued the purpose of digital and physical collecting in 9/11’s immediate aftermath. From his perspective, the compulsion to archive as a means of remembrance negates the “necessary” distance that the archival act supposedly demand.[3] That distance is where neutrality lives, allegedly, a convenient barrier between archivists and the real world. However, as Randall Jimerson states, “neutrality is the abdication of responsibility.”[4] It deters active archiving and reduces archivists to passive recipients. In reality, archivists have the potential, if not the responsibility, to act and explore other options of collecting and serving their communities.

Easier said than done, but if we want to fight against the perception of neutrality, we have to make a greater case, as a profession, for active, deliberate archiving. A stereotype remains that archivists are basement-dwellers covered in dust, gatekeepers of documents that have long surpassed their use. In truth, archivists have been agents of political disruption and social activism since the beginning of our profession. But whereas archivists of the past were limited by fledgling technology, archivists today can utilize technology to our advantage for the specific purpose of archiving the Now.

While Cox reflected on emerging digital spaces with caution in 2003, archivists in 2017 embrace the tools at our disposal. The ubiquity of platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and tumblr has turned the average person into an amateur historian or archivist. We openly document ourselves via tweets, vlogs, and status updates. For those in marginalized communities, the opportunities for visibility – evidence of existence – are enormous.

One of the first online platforms to formulate a response to deliberately archiving digital content was Documenting the Now (DocNow), a suite of tools designed to help researchers mine social media datasets as well as collecting and preserving digital content. The group began in 2014 in response to the Ferguson protests and the Black Lives Matter movement that chronicled events in real time and disseminated information quickly via Twitter and other platforms. DocNow’s mission is to put archiving power into the hands of those within marginalized and activist communities, offering ownership and access that traditional archives cannot provide. That power allows communities to hold others accountable, bypassing distance and neutrality for active and speedy responses, whether from law enforcement or a global community of witnesses.

Archiving the Now has naturally extended into “guerilla archiving events,” intent on swiftly preserving content of all kinds. One example is the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative efforts to preserve public data regarding climate change in danger of disappearing under the current presidential administration.

Another is the Women’s March on Washington Archives Project. As stated by coordinators Danielle Russell and Katrina Vandeven, the Project evolved from a desire to “ensure the preservation of women’s voices and responses to politics and legislation in wake of the intensely controversial 2016 elections.” Though materials aren’t immediately accessible, the project goal was to make available for future research the evidence and first-person accounts. Had archivists not acted, those voices would be lost and efforts to understand marchers’ motives would be at the mercy of speculation.

Even the Internet Archive, a repository of online content, has positioned itself as a tool of accountability through the Wayback Machine and its recent endeavor to collect the 45th president’s online statements, interviews, and sound bites. Like DocNow, the Internet Archive made deliberate efforts to provide evidence and access for the explicit, immediate purpose of use by journalists and citizens. These are efforts of people who understand the luxury of neutrality and the power of inaction. If they chose to remain neutral, the historical record would remain ever incomplete. Keeping up with the current pace of “historical” events is no easy feat, nor will archivists capture everything. But as archivists choose to act, we leave a far more encouraging and greater history in our wake.

Samantha “Sam” Cross is the Assistant Archivist for CallisonRTKL in their Seattle office where she oversees the physical and digital documents and drawings of the global architectural firm. A graduate of Western Washington University, Sam has a Bachelor’s in History and a Master’s in History with an emphasis in Archive and Records Management. In her free time she runs and writes for The Maniacal Geek and hosts That Girl with the Curls podcast where she talks with guests and friends about geek culture, comics, movies, and whatever weird thoughts pop into her head.



[1] Terry Cook, “Documenting Society and Institutions: The Influence of Helen Willa Samuels” in Controlling the Past: Documenting Society and Institutions, Essays In Honor of Helen Willa Samuels, ed. Terry Cook (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2011): 2.

[2] Verne Harris, Archives and Justice: A South African Perspective (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2007): 142-143

[3] Richard J. Cox, Flowers After the Funeral: Reflections on the Post-9/11 Digital Age (Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 2003): 4-5.

[4] Randall C. Jimerson, Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2009): 294

Step Up to the Plate: Archival mentorship for students and early professionals

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post about early career mentorship comes from Adriana Flores, Assistant Archivist for Acquisitions at Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center.

If you have an issue you would like to write about for this blog series or a previous post that you would like to respond to, please email Please note that opinions expressed in Archivists on the Issues posts do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Section.

As an early professional, my path to becoming an archivist has been filled with mentors. I have no doubt that I would have eventually made it to where I am today on my own, but I arrived much faster with the help and guidance of professional mentors. Although I was extremely lucky to have multiple mentors who prepared me for graduate school and assisted me in my career, not every young archivist is provided that service. Since I made the transition to full-time archivist and now supervise student employees and interns, I have contemplated what makes a good mentor and how to become one myself. I explored archival literature, interviewed people I know throughout the field, and reflected on my own personal experiences in the hopes of starting a greater conversation on how to become a mentor and why mentorship is vital in our field.

Be open and willing to share with others

Archivists first need to be open and willing to share with others. There have been many conversations lately about archivists moving away from a “gate-keeping” mentality, which we can practice not only with our patrons but with our students and early professionals. If archivists are more willing to openly share their experiences with others, within and beyond the profession, then our profession will be much more visible and approachable. In an article entitled “Mentored learning in Special Collections: Undergraduate archival and rare books internships,” the authors elaborate on this point in the context of student internships:

It is imperative for all library professionals, regardless of their responsibilities, to reach out to and mentor individuals who are interested in our profession if it is to remain relevant and vibrant in the future…By creating meaningful internship experiences for our students and volunteers, at the very least we will engender goodwill for our profession and create future ambassadors for our institutions and for our professional role in society. (page 60)

By being open and sharing knowledge with others, archivists can generate mentorship opportunities.

Actively look for mentoring opportunities

Next, I encourage all archivists to actively look for opportunities to become mentors. Although outgoing students will often seek out mentors themselves, it drastically helps when the mentor takes initiative and identifies mentorship opportunities themselves. If you actively search for opportunities to share knowledge, either through a workplace supervision role, at a local LIS program, or at a conference, you will foster potential mentoring relationships.

One of the easiest ways to become a mentor is through supervisory work. When asked about the main difference between a supervisor and mentor, Simmons College’s Professor Donna Webber responded:

I would say a supervisor directs and instructs work and the relationship usually ends when the internship ends. A mentor develops a long-lasting relationship and helps guide a new archivist into the profession. (Webber, personal interview)

If you are hoping to transition from supervisor to mentor, talk with supervisees about life beyond daily responsibilities. Ask them to take part in office meetings, explain the institution’s organizational structure, or discuss archival trends and issues with them. All of these actions will instill confidence in your protégé and will help guide them through their early career.

Don’t let your age or length of career stop you from mentoring

Even if you are a young archivist, I recommend thinking about becoming a mentor, even if you’re also a protégé. It is hard to recognize when you have learned enough to pass on knowledge, but in my experience it happens much quicker than you would expect. One of my past fellow interns and the current Project Archivist at Hoover Institution Archives, Paige Davenport, spoke with me recently about her attitude towards becoming a mentor as an early professional. She shared:

Although I have not participated in an official mentorship program, in my current position I supervise two graduate interns. It is my hope that I can guide them into the field as my internship supervisors did for me, as well as excite them about being part of this field. (Davenport, personal interview)

Like Paige, you do not need to participate in an official mentorship program to become a mentor. Start small if you’re concerned about your qualifications, but never pass up an opportunity to help and advise others due to your age or number of years in the profession.

Support mentorship programs

My last suggestion is to support any and all archival mentorship programs, especially programs that focus on diversity. Mentorship programs provide structure and resources for professionals who are new to mentoring, and they provide an avenue for students and early professionals to seek guidance and support. Mentorship programs are vital to the survival of the profession and programs that emphasize diversity are key to making our profession more reflective of the society we live in. Marginalized groups of people deal with many professional barriers and mentorship may help young archivists from these groups successfully navigate the workplace. If our profession is to grow and prosper, then we need to support the amazing mentorship programs that are available and create more to address the profession’s shifting needs.

Avenues for mentoring

Here are a few resources to explore if you’re interested in becoming a mentor:

  • Become a SAA Mentor. Learn more about the SAA Mentoring program here.
  • If you can attend the annual meeting, become a SAA conference navigator and advise a student or early professional through the experience. Keep an eye open on information regarding this program as SAA 2017 approaches.
  • Support any of the Association of Research Library’s diversity programs, especially their joint program with SAA, the Mosaic Program.
  • See if your regional association has a formalized mentorship program, such as the Northwest Archivist Mentorship Program or the New England Archivist Mentoring Program. If not, and you’re willing, start one up!
  • ALA’s Libraries Transform has a broader range of library and information science mentorship opportunities if none of the above hit the mark.

Please share other suggestions for mentorship opportunities and mentoring in the comments. I hope that this has been thought provoking and helpful; I owe a lot to the mentors in my life and I hope I’m doing my part by becoming a mentor myself and keeping the conversation going.



Adriana Flores is the Assistant Archivist for Acquisitions at Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. She graduated in 2016 with her MLIS from Simmons College, with a concentration in Archives Management. Currently, Adriana is also a contributor for SNAP’s “Year in the Life” blog series.


Archivists on the Issues: Disability Records Accessibility at the University of Texas at Arlington

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post about the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries’ Texas Disability History Collection comes courtesy of UTA’s Jeff Downing and Betty Shankle.

If you have an issue you would like to write about for this blog series or a previous post that you would like to respond to, please email Please note that opinions expressed in Archivists on the Issues posts do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Section.

July’s oven-like heat drenched Jim Hayes’ shirt with sweat as he pulled cable for Western Electric one last time. On Monday he was going to trade his workman’s clothes for the olive drab of the Army, but today was his 18th birthday and he intended to celebrate.

Once home, he shoehorned eight of his family and friends into his 1963 Ford Fairlane and made the short drive to Fort Worth’s Lake Benbrook.  During the ride Jim’s younger brother, John, bragged that he could swim the length of a nearby cove faster than Jim. As soon as the car pulled up to the lake, John sprang from the car and sprinted into the water. John was far ahead even before Jim got out of the car, but Jim knew a shortcut and he was a fast runner. He tore across the bank to a floating barge and climbed on top of the slippery barrier rail, ready to jump over it and into the lake.

Jim Hayes acquired quadriplegia on July 28, 1967, when he lost his footing and pitched head-first into two feet of water, breaking his neck.

After the accident, Jim enrolled at the University of Texas at Arlington. In 1971, only two majors were taught in wheelchair-accessible buildings—history and accounting. Jim chose history; he hated math.

Jim had been an athletic youth and he worried about the health effects of a sedentary life in a wheelchair. In 1976 he founded the Freewheelers wheelchair basketball team, which later changed its name to Movin’ Mavs. The team brought national attention to UTA when it won four National Wheelchair Basketball Association championships in a row, establishing the school as a leader in adaptive sports. In 1989, Hayes and UTA offered the first full-ride scholarships for adapted sports in the country, forcing other universities to follow suit or lose talent to UTA.

Cover, Sports 'N Spokes, May/June 1992
“15th National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament: Movin’ Mavs Successfully Defend Title,” Sports ‘N Spokes, May/June 1992. From University of Texas at Arlington. Movin Mavs Records.

When Jim died in 2008, hundreds attended the memorial service on the UTA campus and told stories of how he encouraged them to persevere. Jim’s own view of perseverance was summed up best in an interview he gave to the Dallas Morning News: “You can sit in a dark room watching TV and eating Cheetos for the rest of your life, if that’s what you want. But you don’t have to.”

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates nearly one-fifth of the population has a disability, making this the largest minority group in the country and the only one that anyone can join at any time. The history of disability leaders, activists, and milestones is often marginalized, making it difficult for members of the disability community to discover their own stories of empowerment, development, and activism.

Jim’s story is one of hundreds preserved in UTA Libraries’ Texas Disability History Collection (TDHC) online. The site, launched in 2016, makes once-hidden disability records available to researchers anywhere. The project was a collaboration between two Libraries’ departments, Digital Creation and Special Collections, and the University’s Disability Studies Minor. Funding was provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act.

UTA Libraries believed it was crucial to incorporate best practices for online accessibility into the website, encompassing visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities. During the website development process, UTA Libraries followed the standards issued by the Web Accessibility Initiative.

Special Collections partners were tasked with selecting 1,500 documents and photographs for the site from existing archived collections. Locating records not accessed regularly proved challenging.  A priority was to determine keywords to use for searching finding aids, since Special Collections houses few collections entirely comprised of disability records. For example, we encountered difficulty finding polio records; it took a while to learn that, decades ago, polio was often called infantile paralysis. After re-thinking our search terminology, we located many more disability manuscript and photograph records than we thought possible.

The Digital Creation department staff were responsible for project management, scanning materials, and building the website using Drupal. The chair of the Disability Studies Minor and her assistant were tasked with compiling a group of 40 oral histories, as well as advising on the site’s taxonomy.

Building for the Future

The foundational work on TDHC described above feeds into coming work by the Disability History/Archives Consortium in building a U.S.-wide portal for disability history collections. UTA researchers are already using the TDHC as a primary research tool. As a result of the project, UTA Libraries has developed expertise around designing maximally accessible websites and collecting disability-related materials. Growth of the collection and website is assured with $10,000 in additional support from UTA’s College of Liberal Arts. Connections are being made with State of Texas officials responsible for supporting disability efforts. In 2017-2018, an inventory to identify other disability-related collections in Texas will happen to inform planning of future activities.

Because of the project, the UTA Libraries has added disability records to its collection scope and is the “only repository in the state focused on collecting Texas disability history.” There remain many stories to tell.


Jeff Downing, Digital Projects Librarian, UT Arlington Libraries. Jeff has been a Digital Projects Librarian at UTA Libraries for four years. During his 35 year career, Jeff has worked for a number of libraries and library-related organizations, including Amigos Library Services, the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory Library and of course UT Arlington.

Betty Shankle is the University and Labor Collections Archivist at the University of Texas at Arlington Special Collections. Betty has worked in the Archives field since 2004 and served on local, state and regional professional committees, presented at local and regional conferences, published articles, and curated several archival exhibits.

Library Advocacy or Climbing Mount Everest: Which Would You Choose?

Today’s post comes courtesy of Heidi Bamford, Outreach and Member Services Coordinator for the Western New York Library Resources Council (WNYLRC). As archivists and archives-funding organizations continue to advocate for our institutions, WNYLRC’s work provides examples of how to structure outreach and engage with local and state government leaders.

If you are in the library world, you know how hard it is to get people to think of your work and your space as anything more than a quiet place to read a good book. And you always hear the phrase, “Everyone loves their library” to the point you want to throw down the gauntlet and ask, “Do you REALLY?!” Library advocacy can be a difficult and frustrating activity, but like the glaciers, things will eventually begin to move and people will take notice!

The Western New York Library Resources Council (WNYLRC) began a concerted library advocacy campaign about three years ago and have been fine tuning and changing it up since that time. The first year began with office visits to New York State Senate and Assembly members representing people, and libraries, in upstate New York’s six counties. The goal during our first year was to establish a connection with each of the district offices we visited – getting to know both the representative and his or her staff – and to assess who were our best potential allies and active supporters. We sent them a quarterly e-newsletter of library achievements in their districts to keep us on the radar after the budget was passed that year.

NY Assemblyman Andy Goodell, 150th district, far back left at the cabinet corner, with staff, trustees and friends of the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System and the Southern Tier Library System libraries

From the start, the intention was to make our advocacy efforts an educational experience for the legislators. We assumed their knowledge of what libraries are and who we serve was limited – which was the case with most representatives. In the second year, we worked to help them realize that libraries are everywhere. Their districts encompassed not just public libraries but school, academic, hospital, corporate, museum, historical society, and art gallery libraries! During the second year, we gave each representative a framed historic image from his or her district that had been digitized and put up on New York Heritage – a WNYLRC program services for members. We also made note of each member’s committees and their biographical information. What schools did they attend? Maybe one of our academic libraries. What were their special interests or organizations? Maybe one of our special libraries… and so on.

This year, we held district meetings at various public, school, academic and special libraries across the region, instead of going to district offices as in previous years. Library programs and services were highlighted, demonstrating our support of community lifelong education, regional economic development and quality of life! We touched on some “negative” aspects of our situation: the dire need for basic construction and renovation of many library buildings; the lack of staff to meet growing demands for library programs and services; the high cost of maintaining technology and electronic resources. But our main focus was that libraries are vibrant and necessary elements in the lives of practically everyone living in New York State! This year, we shifted the emphasis from “I love my library” to “I NEED my library.”

NY State assemblyman Ray Walter, 146th district, left, with Amherst Libraries’director Roseanne Butler-Smith,WNYLRC Executive Director Sheryl Knab, and Nioga Library System director Tom Bindeman

Recently, we were able to meet with the Governor’s regional representative to bring our message to the executive branch. We have consistently faced our stiffest resistance to budget growth at the state level. We had no idea of the existence of this office and so were pleased to have the opportunity to bring our message to the Governor. We noticed that the office has less awareness of libraries than legislative offices, simply because it is removed from the local everyday interactions with entities like libraries! So, reaching out to make these important connections and to inform policy makers of the work we do and the impact we have on people is critical to our success – no other way around it! Our efforts are not just about the resource allocators’ awareness of what librarians’ work, but of telling them an attention-getting story of how we do it. So go on, get out there and start those glaciers moving!

Heidi Bamford has been with the Western New York Library Resources Council (WNYLRC) since 1990, first as the Regional Archivist for the Documentary Heritage Program and more recently as WNYLRC’s Outreach and Member Services Coordinator. Before that she worked at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. after graduating with an MA from the University at Buffalo. She has two daughters who she is very proud of and who are also library supporters, both in terms of using them and often owing fines for overdue materials!