I&A’s Great Advocates is Coming!

Thanks to your nominations, we now have our slate of Great Advocates for our session for SAA in Atlanta! You are cordially invited to join I&A on Friday, August 5 from 8-9:30 am for an engaging Q&A with “Great Advocates”–leaders of advocacy efforts from SAA’s recent history–reflecting on their work and the future of advocacy within SAA.

We’ll be announcing our line of up Great Advocates in early July. To get everyone in the advocacy spirit in the weeks leading up to SAA, each of our Great Advocates (including some who won’t be able to join us on August 5th) will be writing posts for our blog on their experience with advocacy.

To submit questions and follow the event, please tweet at @archivesissues and be sure to use #GreatAdvocates.

Stay tuned!

Steering Share: Laurel Bowen

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from  Steering Committee member Laurel Bowen.

How did you get involved in archives?

In graduate school (history) I regularly passed by a door in the library.  One day I got curious and walked in.  The man in charge of archives, rare, and manuscript collections took me on a lengthy behind-the-scenes tour, explaining what they did and why.  Wow!  Why talk about history described in books when you can touch, feel, and experience it in documents, images, and objects real people leave as evidence of their lives?  My first archives job was working with a large, newly discovered collection documenting a major U.S. social movement.  Professors at the local university pestered us constantly, trying to get hints about what we were discovering.

Why did you get involved with the Issues & Advocacy Roundtable?

I’ve always been inspired by SAA’s goal to increase public awareness of the value of archives and archivists, so I was involved early with the I&A Roundtable.  How public awareness might occur, though, was unclear to me until several property owners in my extensive neighborhood tried to change the residential land use and zoning on their property to sell it to big businesses.  Looking for ways to counter those owners resulted in an eye-opening experience in the practical but powerful ways archives can be used.  As community advocates, archivists can find and use records to persuade government officials to support residents dealing with important quality of life issues.  Citizens appreciate the power of documents and images when that evidence proves a lawyer is presenting only half the story.  And the public values skills in locating and interpreting records when that makes a concrete difference in their lives.

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

I’m troubled about the increasingly creative ways public officials find to avoid transparency and accountability as they govern in our name.  The distance some officials will go to camouflage their actions demonstrates awareness of their responsibilities, but often a sense of power and an “I know best” attitude lure them to the dark side where they become easy prey for people with money and influence.  Officials who serve in the public interest can be careless in creating public records, deny citizens timely access to them, or even misplace or destroy records they are required to maintain and produce.  Citizens also seem distracted and less attentive to their rights … until it’s too late.  Records define rights and responsibilities.  Archivists know records.  Archivists can make a difference!

How would you define advocacy?

Advocacy is being passionate and “vocal,” but it is also being well-prepared and persuasive to those with the power to decide an issue.  Along the way, there may be a need to learn how to read the documents, learn the concepts, and talk the language of other professions well enough to communicate citizens’ viewpoints in a compelling way.  Being able to translate technical issues and government procedures into ordinary language that motivates supporters to stay with the cause–and convinces others to join–is also essential.  And finally, an overall strategy that weaves all of this together improves the likelihood of success.  Sometimes, being called “a thorn in the side” by the powerful is a grudging token of respect for your cause.

Steering Share: Tara D. Kelley

KelleySteering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from  Steering Committee member Tara D. Kelley.

How did you get involved in archives?

I grew up in a town central to Revolutionary War history, the home of the Culper Ring (you can watch fictional versions of our local heroes on AMC’s Turn), so I was always interested in history and ephemera. That, along with an insatiable appetite for reading material, brought me to my local public library, the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. They had a 16mm film projector and screened films every week.  I became an avid viewer and decided I wanted to work in film production.  As an undergraduate, I worked for my university’s Media Center projecting 16mm film, organizing special event screenings, and shipping prints. I noticed the quality of the prints and became more interested in the physical condition of what we screened.

After graduating and spending the first part of my career in film casting and PR, I realized that I wanted to pursue film archiving and preservation. As a first step on that path, I earned an MLIS at Rutgers University, then was accepted to George Eastman Museum’s Selznick School of Film Preservation.

Why did you get involved with the Issues & Advocacy Roundtable?

I knew I&A by reputation: they were the ones bringing important news about archives to our attention. It was particularly impressive that I&A followed up with action; for example, issuing letters of support and working in concert with other organizations to resolve problems. When I&A began to look for Steering Committee members, I hoped to be able to contribute to their efforts. Also, as an AMIA member, I hoped there would be areas where we could collaborate.

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

Right now, my major concern is funding, whether that’s funding for archive positions (as budgets are cut and salaried jobs with benefits are jeopardized) or for archives as a whole (as in Illinois, where the governor has eliminated funding and closed the Illinois State Museum). It’s an ongoing problem.

How would you define advocacy?

I think of advocacy as a constant public relations campaign in support of a cause. You need to inform the public about why a particular issue is important and do that in a way that is brief but memorable. I think about Keep America Beautiful’s 1971 PSA showing Native American Iron Eyes Cody crying: that had a major impact on public attitudes about pollution and the environment. What would our PSA look like? What is our message about the importance of archives?


One Year, Nine Months, and Fourteen Days Raising Archival Awareness, and Counting

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Below is a post from Sami Norling who is the incoming chair of SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness. 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 archivesissues@gmail.com.

It has been one year, nine months, and fourteen days since the Society of American Archivists’ Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) met for the first time and began to tackle our duties and responsibilities as set by SAA Council. The full description of COPA can be found here but, in short, we are tasked with identifying key audiences that SAA should target its advocacy efforts toward, and to help the SAA Council shape the form, content, and messages presented in those efforts. While there is some overlap between COPA and the more established Committee on Advocacy and Public Policy (CAPP) and the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable they both tend to focus more on opportunities for SAA to shape public policy (legislation) that affects archivists and our profession, institutions, and stakeholders. COPA’s brand of “advocacy” focuses on how we, as individuals and through our professional society, can promote awareness of archivists, archival work, and archives to various audiences.

The Committee on Public Awareness is a direct product of SAA’s Strategic Plan for 2014-2018, which places advocacy and raising public awareness as priority No. 1.

ArchiveAWARE image

The Strategic Plan outlines four ways in which SAA will work to reach this goal–three of which relate directly to the work that COPA has been asked to complete:

1.1. Provide leadership in promoting the value of archives and archivists to institutions, communities, and society.

1.2. Educate and influence decision makers about the importance of archives and archivists.

 1.4. Strengthen the ability of those who manage and use archival material to articulate the value of archives.

I entered into this committee appointment (my first within SAA)  fully expecting that the process of developing awareness resources, messages, and/or campaigns would be lengthier than I could imagine, with some very difficult and even unpleasant parts, but I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting the intense groundwork that would have to be laid at that first meeting before we could proceed with any actual planning–groundwork that required us to face head-on some difficult questions about the work that we do and the issues that we all encounter as members of a profession with a surprisingly low level of public visibility. By the end of that first meeting, we had come to terms with the fact that while we do a (relatively) good job at communicating with other archivists about the work that we do, the roles we play professionally, and even a bit about the value of archives and archivists, as a profession we have been unsuccessful at effectively communicating this to non-archivists. The good news is that we DO belong to an inherently interesting and important profession (and that’s not just something we tell ourselves as we work through grad school or the tedious parts of daily archives work, all while facing poor employment prospects and practices).

During that first committee meeting, we came to the conclusion that the audience that we would focus our efforts on would be professional archivists. At first, it may seem like an odd choice of target audience considering that our ultimate goal is to raise overall public understanding and awareness of the value of archivists and archives (after all, professional archivists likely already have a pretty good understanding of archival work and its value). However, we came to the realization that even though archivists have this understanding, many archivists may not have the ability or resources to effectively convey this message to their stakeholders, users, or communities, let alone the general public. By focusing on professional archivists in our efforts—providing resources, sharing ideas and examples, and creating a community of practice for successful, innovative outreach—we would build the capacity of thousands of archivists around the country to convey the value of archivists and archives to a potentially infinite number of audiences—something that we could never hope to do as a ten-person committee.

In the one year, nine months, and fourteen days since the first COPA meeting came to an end, work has been completed in fits and starts, with some notable highlights:

  • Promoting Kathleen Roe’s “Year of Living Dangerously for Archives” calls to action
  • The first #AskAnArchivist Day was held on October 29, 2014
    • 2,000+ participants and 6,000+ tweets (after only six weeks from idea to event!)
  • Launch of the “Archives Change Lives” campaign at the 2015 annual meeting, complete with promotional video (with archivists as target audience)
  • Second annual #AskAnArchivist Day held on October 1, 2014
    • 2,800+ participants and 7,500+ tweets (and a much more concerted promotion effort)
  • Launch of ArchivesAWARE! blog in February 2016
  • Launch of SAA’s new website on March 30, 2016, with a new emphasis on advocacy and awareness with some content aggregated by COPA members

These last two developments are particularly notable in that they reflect COPA’s growing capacity for sustained activity and productivity—something that many new committees struggle with in their early stages. At this time, the ArchivesAWARE! blog is the primary focus of COPA’s work. First conceived as a venue for taking static lists of advocacy/awareness resources and tools—like those listed on the new SAA advocacy pages—and breathing life into them by providing context and showing practical applications, the blog has become much more than that. With explorations into archival outreach theory, interviews with and articles from archivists who are actively creating and implementing innovative outreach projects/programs, an original comic answering the ubiquitous question: “What is an archivist?,” and so much more, ArchivesAWARE! is starting to become a vital community of practice for archival outreach.

As the blog continues to evolve, there is much to look forward to, with many opportunities for archivists to share the work that they are doing to raise awareness, not only of their collections, but of the valuable work that archivists do and the impact this has on their communities. The editors are always eager to hear from archivists with projects, programs, and thoughts to share. To read more about the submission process and editorial guidelines, visit the About page, or e-mail your ideas to archivesaware@archivists.org!

Sami Norling is the Archivist at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and incoming Chair of the Committee on Public Awareness.

I&A Needs Help with AT—No, Not that AT…

If you’re a member of I&A, you might know that we have an Advocacy Toolkit. (Hint, it’s the second from the left on our menu bar.) Compiled in 2013 and updated periodically by the I&A Steering Committee, the Advocacy Toolkit is meant to provide a starting place for advocacy. Your current Steering Committee has decided that the time has come to revamp the Advocacy Toolkit. We’re partnering up with the Regional Archival Associations Consortium (RAAC) Advocacy Subcommittee and need your help.

When you have a few minutes to spare, go check out the Advocacy Toolkit. Once you’ve perused it, take our quick survey. Tell us how you’d improve the Advocacy Toolkit and what resources you’d add. The survey will be open until 5/16/16. Feel free to share this with all your archivist friends.

If you have questions about the survey, or thoughts beyond the survey, feel free to contact us at archivesissues[at]gmail[dot]com. And stay tuned. We’ll keep you posted with our progress.

Steering Share: Sarah Quigley

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from immediate past Chair and Steering Committee member Sarah Quigley.

Photo credit: Emory Photo/Video

How did you get involved in archives?

Like many of us, I was a history major in college.  I never really saw myself as a tenure-track professor, though, and I always imagined I’d work in public history.  When I started library school, I wasn’t sure exactly where I would end up.  I took classes in Museum Studies, librarianship, and the Archival Enterprise, as we called it at the University of Texas.  I was lucky to have David B. Gracy, II as my advisor and mentor, and as anyone who’s met him can attest, resisting his passion for the field is impossible.  I caught archives fever from him and took a part time job preparing the papers of Judge Jack Pope for acquisition by Abilene Christian University.  That project was the first time I fully understood that being an archivist is being a storyteller.  You have all the pieces of a life in front of you, and it’s your job to reassemble them into something that faithfully represents the creator and their work.  That felt important.

Why did you get involved with the Issues & Advocacy Roundtable?

It was impressed upon me from the very beginning of my career that being silent in this profession is dangerous.  Too few people understand our mission and our value, and our position is often too precarious.  A fundamental aspect of our jobs is to advocate for ourselves, our repositories, our collections, and our profession.  But more often than not we learn how to do that on the fly, when crises arise, or when fires need to be put out.  The Issues and Advocacy Roundtable brings people together so we can learn from and support one another before and during times of crisis.

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

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about social justice and archives and I’m paying close attention to the conversations that are happening around this issue.  Not just documenting social justice movements, which is certainly a pressing issue these days, but also how we ensure that our profession is justice-centered and that our collections are representative.  If we’re doing our jobs right, we’re casting wide nets for staff and collections but it can be difficult to overcome our own biases.  I’m proud of my colleagues who are calling out privilege in the profession and encouraging us to be conscious practitioners of justice in our work.

How would you define advocacy?

Advocacy is political, whether it’s in the literal sphere of public politics or within the confines of an individual institution.  Advocacy is the active and organized support of a cause or issue with a specific, concrete outcome in mind.  It can take a lot of forms, but generally centers around persuading people in power to support your cause via legislation or funding.

Intern Share: Rachel Mandell

MandellSteering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from our intern Rachel Mandell.

How did you get involved in archives?

I have always felt at home when visiting museums, galleries, libraries, and universities. I knew I wanted to work at some kind of memory institution—but didn’t quite know to what capacity. I even worked at in the library stacks as an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley. A few years after graduating, and unhappy in the publishing business (my first job out of college), I discovered the Master’s in Library and Information Science degree.  As I explored the field through graduate school at UCLA and internships at the Wende Museum of the Cold War and the Academy of Motion Pictures, I found that I was most excited when working with archival materials such as letters, photographs, films and physical objects of material culture. I was hooked!

 Why did you volunteer to be the Issues & Advocacy Roundtable intern?

I saw the internship as a unique opportunity to get involved with the Society of American Archivists.  As an early career Project Archivist, I have found it difficult to acquire the institutional support and flexibility that would allow me to participate in this organization. More importantly, even in my limited experience in the field (about 4 years), I have already experienced situations in which I needed to make a case for my specialized skills and the archival profession. When I saw the call for interns and looked at the Issues and Advocacy Toolkit online, I realized that the toolkit might have been able to help me better take a stand in those situations. I figured it was a chance for me to actively participate in the archival community and also help improve the tool, which may prove valuable to others in the future.

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

My current work on the Japanese American Digitization Project at California State University Dominguez Hills deals with an archival issue that has become very important to me—accurate archival description. The controversy surrounding the way that the Japanese American experience in the 20th century was historically and typically described by government agencies such as the War Relocation Authority is very present in this project. For example, internment is not a preferred or even an accurate term when describing the nearly 120,000 people who were forced to leave their homes. Internment refers to the legally permissible detention of enemy aliens in the time of war. However, it is extremely problematic to apply this term to the unlawful incarceration of American citizens—and nearly 2/3 of those people incarcerated were US citizens. As archivists, we have the power to describe and therefore perpetuate a particular perspective of history– archival description should not be taken lightly. Terminology and description are power tools.

 How would you define advocacy?

Advocacy for me means feeling passionate about a cause, finding others to collaborate with, and together working towards a specific goal.  I do think that advocacy can be a solo-effort, but I also believe that successful advocacy relies on building relationships and making connections with people. Though these connections, we can exchange information and opinions in hopes of promoting mutual understanding and make strides towards something better!


Be Our Bueller

The great F. Bueller once commented at the end of his infamous day off: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around for a while, you could miss it.” Sadly that is all too true when it comes to all of the amazing advocacy presentations and webinars and publications. It’s pretty hard to keep track of all of those possibilities, let alone attend/listen/read them. That’s why I&A is asking you to be our Bueller…reviewer.

Did you hear about an interesting advocacy webinar? Are you presenting about advocacy at a conference? Planning a symposium? Have you seen a tweet about a new publication? Let us know and we’ll list it here on our website and share it on social media

Do you want to do a solid for those who couldn’t attend/listen/read? Contribute an ICYMI post for our blog about whatever advocacy–or issues, we do have two components to our name after all–for our blog. Check out our sign up sheet to claim one and send in your summary.

We ask that ICYMI posts contain appropriate links for readers to find out more information and follow our guidelines for blog contributors. Completed posts should be sent to archivesissues@gmail.com. Contributors need not sign up ahead of time to write a summary, but preference will be given to those who called it first.

Call for Ideas: Nominate a Great Advocate

Do you know an SAA member who has advocated for archives and archivists? Is there an SAA leader who inspires you? Who are your advocacy role models?

The Issues and Advocacy Steering Committee wants to know.

At the SAA Annual Meeting in August 2016, the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable’s gathering will feature an engaging Q&A with “Great Advocates”–leaders of advocacy efforts from SAA’s recent history, who will reflect on the themes of their work and the future of advocacy within SAA.

Your nominations will help the Steering Committee identify possible “Great Advocate” participants for the session. Please feel free to nominate yourself, too!

Submit ideas using this form (it’s super simple and brief–no long answers required) by 3/18: http://goo.gl/forms/whiuXPa93s

Steering Share: Jeremy Brett

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This Steering Share is from Steering Committee member Jeremy Brett.

How did you get involved in archives?

I’ve always been fascinated by history and the documents and objects that make up its record. When I entered library school, I originally was planning to work in public libraries; however, very quickly I realized (being a double major in history) how exciting it was to actually handle and work up close with primary documents, to be “touching history”, as it were. I switched over to concentrate on archives, because I wanted to be in a position to work with, protect, and make accessible those documents.

Why did you get involved with the Issues & Advocacy Roundtable?

I am a big believer in the idea that archivists can no longer be neutral custodians. We have a responsibility to understand how important the records we protect are in documenting the evolution of human culture and civilization and in preserving the documentary record of our rights, responsibilities and duties in a democratic society. I think more archivists need to be aware of this crucial responsibility of ours and to make their societal value more obvious to the general public. The Roundtable, as an instrument of encouraging awareness (and occasional necessary outrage), is a very important part of SAA for this reason, and I wanted to be a part of any group that would take on this vital professional duty.

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

I am quite concerned with the growing (and worrying) tendency of politicians and public officials to avoid documenting their activities, their tendency to stonewall FOIA requests, or their use of the increasingly threadbare excuse of ‘security’ to escape public scrutiny. One of the fundamental tenets of our society is and should be our right to know what our government is doing in our name, and one of our responsibilities is to hold our elected officials accountable for their actions. How can we accomplish the latter unless we have a full understanding of what they’ve been up to? As archivists, we need to stand together and push for as open a records environment as we can get (allowing, of course, for personal privacy).

How would you define advocacy?

To me, ‘advocacy’ is distinct from the concept of ‘outreach’, in that the latter refers to our attempts to publicize our institutions and our collections. Advocacy, rather, to me, is a more expansive set of behaviors that incorporates active agitation for logistical-based outcomes such as increased funding or more political influence for one’s institution, as well as proactive action concerning records-related issues as a whole (i.e. access, FOIA, fair use, etc, etc.)