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 president@archivists.org.

Today’s Council statement regarding the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, VA, echoes the invitation to email members of Council or president@archivists.org. 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

Announcing Advocacy Toolkit Updates

Thanks to our steering committee member Laurel Bowen, we have successfully updated the I&A Advocacy Toolkit to include several new features! We now have a section specifically dedicated to historic preservation initiatives, including archives and the physical structures that accompany them.

In addition to historical preservation resources, the new material provides substantive ideas on how to think about the value and impact of archives, ways to craft value statements about archives, and advice on how to lobby or energize the support of decision-makers and funders.

In addition to new items, broken links have been fixed and new links have been created to provide more direct connections to relevant websites and resources!

Appropriately related to the update, please check our newest Archivists on the Issues Blog Post written by Heidi Bamford of the Western New York Regional Library Council on creating a local advocacy campaign: Library Advocacy or Climbing Mount Everest: Which Would You Choose?

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

A Celebration of Accomplishments, August 2015-August 2016

Hi everyone! I’m Wendy Hagenmaier, outgoing Chair of the SAA Issues and Advocacy Roundtable. As you know, our Roundtable is a forum for discussion of the critical issues facing the archival profession. We have over 640 members from SAA and beyond. Our group is committed to outreach and advocacy efforts that support the continued growth of the archival profession and nurture archivists and archives. Our Core Values are advocacy, awareness, diversity, education, and dialogue.

With SAA’s Annual Meeting taking place this week, I want to reflect on and celebrate the Roundtable’s accomplishments over the past year. Thank you all for your involvement, insights, and dedication over the last twelve months.

As Chair, my central goal for the past year has been to continue the discussion Past Chair Sarah Quigley started with leaders of SAA and allied advocacy groups to clarify the role of our Roundtable in light of SAA’s advocacy agenda, and to identify the concrete ways in which we can best “support the continued growth of the archival profession and nurture archivists and archives.” I believed like this was a crucial step towards mapping out how I&A could direct its efforts over the year, and into the future. I wanted to prototype some clear, sustainable models of taking concrete collaborative action, and to get as many members as possible involved.

Thanks to the stellar work of outgoing Vice Chair Christine George, an amazing steering committee (who met every month to share ideas and discuss progress), and to all of you, who generously volunteered your time to work on I&A projects, I think we’ve done a wonderful job of tackling that goal, and I’m very excited for everything this Roundtable will accomplish in the next year.

Speaking of which, do you have ideas about projects we could tackle next year or reflections on this year? We’d love to hear them. Please take a minute to share your ideas via this quick survey: http://bit.ly/IandAnextyear

And always feel welcome to get in touch with I&A leadership and our Council liaison throughout the year.

I wanted to share information about some of the Roundtable’s recent activities:

In January of this year, we launched 7 I&A Research Teams, which are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession.

Each Team is led by a member of the I&A Steering Committee, and their ultimate goal is to compile their findings into journalistic Research Posts for the I&A blog. Each Research Post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. Taken together, the Research Posts offer an important overview of issues affecting archives and the archival profession and serve as an informational resource for further research, advocacy action, and the historical record.

Research Posts and the work of Research Teams may inspire the following:

  • I&A Polls – to take the pulse of SAA members on a specific issue, in order to inform potential SAA action
  • Advocacy Overviews – detailed summaries of issues that provide SAA leadership with the information they need in order to determine whether (and how) SAA might be able to assist with an advocacy issue
  • Letters to the editor
  • Collaborations with SAA leadership, committees, sections, and roundtables

We had 87 volunteers for the Research Teams within a 48-hour period and were able to accommodate 42 volunteers. We’re treating the Research Teams as a pilot that will run through the SAA Annual Meeting in August, and we’re hopeful that the Research Team model will prove to be an effective way of mobilizing a large portion of our membership and beyond to engage in work that supports advocacy.

Three of the Research Teams did research on recent legislative activity in order to identify potential allies for archives in Congress. Two Teams were agile, on-call teams who could be mobilized to quickly investigate issues as they arise. One Team monitored the communications of other professional associations, for issues related to archives. And the final Team monitored news media for issues related to archives.

We also launched a WordPress site, to create a flexible online presence that provides a forum for dynamic content and discussion. Our Vice Chair Christine George has done amazing work organizing a very successful series of blog posts called Archivists on the Issues, which features personal reflections from individual archivists about issues facing the profession. The blog has also featured posts by the Research Teams and updates about advocacy talks and events.

Steering Committee member Jeremy Brett wrote a truly inspired nomination of Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ron Chernow for the 2016 Jameson Archival Advocacy Award, and they won!

In addition, we partnered with the Regional Archival Associations Consortium Advocacy Subcommittee to revise the I&A Toolkit, which is available on our site. We conducted a survey that provided useful feedback for improving the Toolkit, and will continue to revise it in the future, so it can be a resource for SAA and RAAC members.

We also welcomed nominations for “Great Advocates”–individuals in the archives profession whose advocacy efforts you admire. Thanks to your thoughtful nominations, we have an exciting panel session planned for this meeting!

Our overall goal this year has been to establish sustainable, productive models of advocacy practice that engage our membership broadly and support the advocacy mission of SAA through concrete projects that will make a difference to archivists and archives. To that end, we’ve been encouraging conversation and information-sharing among SAA leadership, various SAA groups engaged in advocacy (including the Committee on Public Policy and the Committee on Public Awareness), as well as the Regional Archival Associations Consortium.

Thank you all so much for your active participation in I&A activities throughout this past year. Archives change lives!

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.

Great Advocates: Kathleen Roe

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_5Great Advocates Q&A with Kathleen Roe

How would you define advocacy?

Advocacy is giving a focused and purposeful message to a targeted audience to effect positive change for your cause.  We use that definition in the Advocacy, Archives and Archivists workshop that David Carmicheal (State Archivist of Pennsylvania) and I have done a number of times for SAA and for CoSA.   It’s based on the definition Larry Hackman provides in his book of advocacy case studies Many Happy Returns and definitions we found in the literature of other professions who do a lot of advocacy work.  

The purpose and audience for advocacy can range from working to gain support from one’s colleagues and management for change in an individual institution, to efforts to increase use of archives by a group of researchers, to political and legislative action with local, state or federal governments, and of course efforts to effect change in our profession.

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

I was fortunate to be at the NY State Archives when then State Archivist Larry Hackman worked with a group of local government officials (a very powerful group in New York) to develop a plan for legislation to create a revenue stream focused on addressing issues of local government records management.  The lessons in that effort were the incredible importance of working with those who will benefit, doing so in a respectful manner and being flexible in crafting approaches that reflect their needs and that they can support, and then stepping back and letting them be the ones to do the primary advocacy—because they can speak most compellingly about their needs.  And all of that was supported by a lot of hard work in the background, gathering data and examples, assembling materials that focused on a legislator’s district and interests, and simply working, working, working to achieve the goal.

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

One of my memorable experiences with legislative advocacy is the very first time I met with a Congressional staffer to advocate for some legislation.   It was 9 a.m., the staffer came in, grunted what I hoped was a hello, and then dropped his head over his coffee so that all I could see what the part in his hair.   I felt like an immediate failure, but pulled out the materials I had prepared for the Congressman he worked for, and figured I would give the part in his hair the full treatment.  After I’d finished my allotted 15 minutes, with only a few grunts and nods from him, I left (he did give me a copy of Roll Call on my way out.)   I headed off to my next appointment feeling like a monumental failure.   Then we got a call ten minutes later from him, in which he said “I’ve spoken to the Congressman. We’ll sign on to the bill as you requested.  Great presentation.” And then he specifically mentioned some of the reasons I’d laid out in my verbal request.   I was dumbfounded—and resolved to give every effort my best shot, because you just never know…..

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

Speak up, speak out, and constantly speak on behalf of what the archives profession can and does contribute.  That means pushing ourselves to find the words that we can comfortably use to explain our contributions (not just what cool stuff we have), and tell the stories of how archives have had real impact on the lives of individuals, groups and communities.

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.)?

We all need to plan in advance and really think through what we are going to say and the approach we are going to use. We need to find out who the person/group is we are talking to, and what kind of message will resonate with them—it might be a compelling story, it might be strong data that speaks to an issue, but it needs to be something that makes sense to that particular person or group.   And it needs to be tailored to the audience—we can’t tell the same story and expect it will reach everyone with equal impact.  To be effective, it may take time to do some background research into the person/group or issue, and to assemble the best arguments and examples.   Advocacy takes time, preparation and patience.

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

There are several issues that mean a lot to me and for which I would love to see advocacy take place.  One is advocating for archives and the archival profession to ensure that our bosses, our users, our communities, and our governing bodies understand the essential role of archives. And that connects to another issue, the generally mediocre/poor pay and status of archivists, reflecting the lack of understanding of our essential role and contributions.  

Addressing the issue of an uneven historical record is a complex, but essential need that will involve careful, thoughtful advocacy to convey to undocumented/underrepresented communities and individuals that there are safe places and safe ways to document their voices in the experiences of this country—and we may need to advocate with our own colleagues and institutions to expand an understanding of how archives are managed to respect and support those communities in ways that don’t mean using a traditional university/historical society/government archives approach.  

And there are some critical legislative issues and behaviors on the federal, state and regional levels in the current political environment that drive toward feigned openness and transparency when In fact they push toward more suppression and restriction of essential information that it is the right of the public to access.

And there are lots more, but this is not a dissertation or ten year advocacy to do list!

What motivates you to continue when the going gets rough?

Archives change lives.  I believe each of us has a responsibility to our fellow/sister human beings (wherever they are) and to paraphrase John Wesley  “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.”   My way of acting on that imperative is to strive to bring people and groups together with archives and archival records to help them accomplish the positive changes they want to see.

Great Advocates: Dr. Rand Jimerson

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_4Great Advocates Q&A with Dr. Rand Jimerson, Western Washington University

How would you define advocacy?

SAA’s “Core Values of Archivists” defines advocacy by stating what archivists do as advocates: “Archivists promote the use and understanding of the historical record. They serve as advocates for their own archival programs and institutional needs. They also advocate for the application of archival values in a variety of settings including, to the extent consistent with their institutional responsibilities, the political arena. Archivists seek to contribute to the formation of public policy related to archival and recordkeeping concerns and to ensure that their expertise is used in the public interest.”

For me, advocacy means any effort made to connect the work of archivists and the documentary evidence we select and preserve with the needs, concerns, and interests of our institutions, users of archives, and the society we serve.

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

Sometimes we learn the hard way. Early in my career, as the first archivist ever employed by a public state university, I developed and directed a two-year grant project to conduct a survey of all university records being produced in offices and to establish a records management program. This would be necessary in order to determine what functions of the university needed to be documented and what records should be selected for the archives. I thought that showing the administrative benefits of good recordkeeping practices, such as cost savings and efficiency, would provide the best argument to fund and expand a combined archives and records management program.

Unfortunately, I had not identified correctly the internal power systems of the university. The Vice President for Finance and Administration recognized the benefits of improved recordkeeping and endorsed our request for two full-time staff members. However, the Vice President for Academic Affairs (to whom I reported via the University Library) did not see the academic or research value of such a program. This was the more senior VP. Thus, we did not receive funding and I remained as the “lone arranger” in the University Archives.

Moral of the story: Know who has the authority and power to make decisions that affect the support needed for archival programs. Explain the benefits of good archival practices and programs in ways that this person (or persons) will appreciate.

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

My most memorable advocacy moment was speaking with Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy about the importance of the National Archives and Records Administration. I was President of SAA in 2004-2005. The George W. Bush administration had just forced Archivist of the United States John Carlin out of office, despite legal provisions that prohibited politically-motivated appointments for this position.

Late one evening I was waiting in Boston’s Logan Airport for my flight home from a library/archives conference. In a nearly empty lobby I looked up to see Senator Kennedy speaking with someone. When the other person left, I took a deep breath and approached the Senator. I introduced myself and stated that SAA was concerned about the dismissal of Carlin and about the proposed nomination of historian Allen Weinstein to be the next Archivist of the US. Kennedy asked about Carlin and SAA’s concerns and then gave me the phone number of his chief assistant on such matters. “Call her on Tuesday when you get home,” Kennedy told me.

As Weinstein’s nomination moved forward, SAA developed, in collaboration with NAGARA and the Council of State Archivists, a list of questions for the Senate committee reviewing Weinstein’s nomination to ask the nominee. Weinstein invited me to have lunch with him at the Cosmos Club in Washington, DC, during one of my visits there. My brief meeting with Senator Kennedy and SAA’s involvement in reviewing the nomination did not make a direct difference—SAA Council determined that we would neither support nor oppose the nomination, but instead issued a statement critical of the partisan nature of Carlin’s improper dismissal—but at least we were consulted as the Weinstein nomination proceeded.

The lesson I took away from this was that it is always good to be prepared and to take advantage of an unexpected opportunity to speak up on behalf of archival concerns. Being part of the conversation is essential, even when there is little chance to change the outcome of events. Advocacy requires preparation—knowing what one needs to convey (perhaps as an “elevator speech”)—and then taking advantage of any opportunity that might arise.

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

I think every archivist should be proud of the title “archivist.” I always wear hats, so it is natural for me to wear an SAA baseball cap with the word “ARCHIVIST” boldly on the front. One of my earlier SAA caps carries the term “100% ARCHIVIST.” When I introduce myself to people I say, “I am an archivist—and also an historian,” putting my primary professional commitment first. (Many archivists might say, “I am an archivist—and also a librarian,” or whatever is appropriate.)

Any encounter can become a “teachable moment.” It’s always good to have in mind an “elevator speech”: what can you say in 30-60 seconds that will explain the importance of being an archivist? For example, I might say, “I am an archivist. Archivists contribute to society by determining what information from the past and present will be needed in the future. Archival documentation contributes to social memory, holds public officials and leaders accountable to their constituents, enables us to apply knowledge of the past to future decisions, provides a basis for social and group identity, and can assist in promoting social justice and the public good.” (Or I might use a shorter version of this, as appropriate.)

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.)?

It is important to remember that there is no single answer for the best strategy for advocacy. Each situation will require special insights into the ways archivists can promote their repository’s needs or the good of the profession or of society. For ideas, I recommend reading about other archivists’ experiences and ideas. A good starting point is Many Happy Returns: Advocacy and the Development of Archives (SAA, 2011), edited by Larry J. Hackman. It contains more than a dozen case studies and reports of advocacy efforts in a wide variety of institutional settings (academic, government, business, artistic organizations, etc.).

One key to effective advocacy is identifying the important decision-makers in your organization. Find out their priorities, interests, and goals, and try to show how the archival program can contribute to the good of the institutions. Each person may have a different perspective, and it is important to identify and respond to their concerns.

Another thing to remember is that advocacy is a continual process, not a one-time “event” or activity. It needs to be built into everything an archivist does. Since few people know much about archives, this will be an educational process. Learn how to communicate the benefits of archives for your institution, rather than focusing first on the needs of the archives. If those who control funding (resource allocators)  recognize the contributions that the archives makes or could make, they will be more likely to provide the necessary funds than if you simply complain about your lack of resources. How can you make their jobs easier or more effective?

In promoting the ways that the archival program enriches or benefits the larger institution, find opportunities to communicate effectively throughout the institution and beyond. Social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.) can provide a platform on which to build an effective advocacy and public awareness program for the archives. So can old-fashioned “word of mouth” and print media.

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

Ever since my teenage years in the early 1960s, when my father worked for civil rights in Alabama, I have been committed to social justice, equality, and the dignity of all people in society. Archives contribute to these purposes in numerous ways: by holding public leaders accountable to the people, by documenting human rights infringements, by providing one means to redress grievances and abuses, and by helping to ensure that the past will not be forgotten. These are issues that require continual advocacy.

Not all archivists would agree with the goal or function of advocacy for such “political” issues, but as a profession I believe that archivists need to take an activist role. The American Library Association, for example, speaks out actively in defense of freedom of information and other social causes. I think it is especially important for archivists, who select and preserve primary source documentation—which often does not exist in multiple copies or locations—to recognize that all of our actions inevitably take place in a political environment. If we do nothing to redress or prevent social wrongs, we support the status quo and forces of oppression. In order to promote a balanced and fair approach to documenting society, we should encourage and support affirmative action (what I call “affirmative archives”) on behalf of those who otherwise might not have a voice in public affairs or a recognition in historical documentation.

What motivates you to continue when the going gets rough?

The importance of archives to the life of society and the protection of individuals’ rights provide motivation for my commitment to the archival enterprise. In our day to day work it sometimes seems difficult to remember the ultimate purposes we serve. But in the words of the civil rights era song, we need to keep our “eyes on the prize.” Especially when the going becomes difficult we need to commit ourselves to the people we serve by providing authentic and reliable documentation of the past and present for future generations.

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.

Great Advocates: Dr. David B. Gracy II

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_2Great Advocates Q&A with Dr. David B. Gracy II

How would you define advocacy?

The work done (by archivists individually, by associations of archivists, and/or by others) to cultivate the environment for accomplishing the archival mission.

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

That the way the archival story is told is as important as the message.  If the hearer is not engaged by the telling, likely he/she will miss the message.

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

(1) Creating, generating support for, and pursuing the Archives and Society initiative as the theme of my SAA presidency to empower archivists in advocating on behalf of (a) the archival service to society, (b) the integrity of archival professionals and the archival profession, and (c) their own archival situations.

(2) Engaging the Texas State Historical Association—the leadership and members individually—to realize that support of archives in Texas is fundamental work of historians to meet the historians’ obligation to ensure that subsequent generations of historians have at least as robust an archival resource from which to work as was passed to them.

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

See advocating archives as a fun activity in and of itself.  Defined as work done to cultivate the environment for accomplishing the archival mission, advocacy does not inherently require a specific goal and subsequent judgment as to the goal’s achievement.  When person A sees the archivist having fun about the work of contributing to the social fabric, person A is positioned to reconsider stereotypes of the archival enterprise and even become an advocate too.

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.)?

(1) Do your research on the audience that is the object of your advocacy.  Know matters important to the audience to which you can relate archives.  Learn their vocabulary to position you to speak about archives in terms that can resonate as fully as possible.

(2) Be yourself, which will convey your pleasure in and commitment to archives.

(3) Listen to yourself advocating for archives so as to be continually modifying your message to make it the most pertinent and moving possible for the person(s) in front of you and through that person(s) to every decision maker to whom the person in front of you has to advocate on your behalf.

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

Support of the archival service to society.

What motivates you to continue when the going gets rough?

Unswerving commitment to the value of the archival service to society, and to managing archives as the pillar of civilization that they are.

Great Advocates: Christine George

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.

GeorgeGREAT ADVOCATES Q&A WITH CHRISTINE GEORGE

How would you define advocacy?

I see advocacy as action, a continual push forward. It’s bringing attention to something—an issue, a person, an organization—and making your position heard.

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

Not only do words matter, but how you present them matters too. In elementary school, I had a teacher who would have us write position pieces. She would walk around the classroom, read part of the composition and then ask the dreaded questions: “So what? Why should I care?” She expected her students to be able to vocalize what was written. Some of us were better at speaking and others at writing. It’s important to build up your skills to be able to advocate both in writing and verbally. Later, law school really drove that lesson home.

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

I’d have to say, the work I did to bring attention to the Belfast Project and archival privilege was pretty memorable. It was a learning experience of all the different avenues of advocacy that are available to an individual. I presented at local, regional, and national conferences. I wrote a thesis, articles, and blog posts. I even looked into writing an amicus brief, in case the US Supreme Court decided to hear the case. It’s also the reason I got involved with the Issues & Advocacy Roundtable.

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

No matter how annoying it may be, no matter how many times you have to do it, always, always explain to people what you do, and, if you can fit it in, why what you do is important. Don’t say we’re just like librarians. The more people who are exposed to what it is that archivists do, the less time we’ll have to spend covering that when advocating for something in the future.

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.)?

Get yourself a few people who can provide feedback. I have a group of friends in archives, libraries, and outside the information profession all together that I will use as sounding boards. If I’m writing something, I asked them to read it over to see how it works with people who know archives and those who don’t. I’ll talk it out with them, have them ask me questions, to refine what I’ll say and anticipate potential questions. Preparing this this before has helped me make my message clearer and concise. Particularly when speaking, it makes me feel more confident in the message I’m delivering.

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

Archival privilege. I don’t know if it’s something that will ever actually come to exist, but I think it’s an important conversation archivists and those in related fields need to have. How can we, in good conscience, take in collections that could be used against the donors? History may be written by the winners, but all should be represented in the historical record. If we cannot collect materials from controversial or dissident groups, we will be doing a great disservice to future generations.

What motivates you to continue when the going gets rough?

In the musical 1776, Stephen Hopkins, representative from Rhode Island, has this line, “…in all my years I ain’t never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about. Hell yeah! I’m for debating anything.” Perhaps it’s a byproduct of law school or being raised by lawyers, but I never think that there is going to be absolute agreement. There will always be an opposing side or a Devil’s Advocate or someone who is just contrary. Debate and discussion make things better. Not agreeing with someone’s idea isn’t a bad thing. It’s an opportunity to dialogue, reevaluate, and, hopefully, come up with something better. However not everyone subscribes to that view, and I can say from personal experience that being on the receiving end of some nasty anonymous trolling is upsetting. It’s hard to get past it, but I try to remind myself that just because some don’t want to hear what I have to say doesn’t mean I should be silent.