SAA recap part I: Archives * Records in Washington, DC

Contributed by DVAG Travel Grant winner Anastasia Matijkiw. Part I of II

Earlier this fall, I had the pleasure of attending the 2014 Society of American Archivist Conference, Archives * Records: Ensuring Access in Washington, D.C. Through attending sessions, panels, and talks, I learned a great deal while making new connections and reconnecting with old friends. The experiences I had at SAA14 had a significant impact on me, providing me with valuable insights and information to bring back to the DVAG community. None of this would have been possible without the generous financial contributions of DVAG.

While at SAA, I made an effort to attend sessions that focused on two themes: archival education and the early professional, and working with obsolete digital media. I started the conference by attending my first roundtable, the SNAP Roundtable. A joint meeting between SNAP and the lone arrangers, the roundtable was an ideal first interaction with SAA. Surrounded by both new and seasoned professionals, the program had two panels; the first focused on working as an archival consultant, and the second on internships and mentoring. As a new professional, both of these panels were eye opening. Thinking about becoming an archival consultant can be intimidating, but the speakers, Rachel Binnington, Elizabeth Keathly, and Danielle Cuniff Plumer, all had encouraging words and practical advice for those seeking this route, from how to handle finances as an independent consultant to marketing yourself. The second panel, focusing on internships and mentoring, was enlightening. Consisting of professionals and educators who supervise archival interns, the panel gave an interesting perspective of the supervisor.

I continued to attend sessions that I found relevant to archival education and new archivists throughout the conference. Two sessions that were of note in exploring issues that are relevant to the new archival professional included Session 106: Archival Education: Outcomes and Opportunities (and the following brown bag lunch Continuing the Conversation: Archival Education – And Beyond) and Session 501: Taken for Grant’ed: How Term Positions Affect New Professional and the Repositories That Employ Them. Archival Education: Outcomes and Opportunities, a panel discussion that included a recent graduate, an archival professor, a program director, and a hiring manager, aimed to explore what archival programs should be focusing on and what skills we are expected to graduate with. How we view the future of archival education, and what we expect from it is important and needs to be clarified for all parties involved; the student, the professor, and the hiring manager. The panel started and continues to motivate a conversation that is relevant to not only students and new professionals, but also the seasoned archivist. However, I found that there were several significant details omitted from the discussion, including the lack of a traditional student on the panel (the student representative provided the perspective of an all-online course of study) and the efforts of programs such as the Archival Education and Research Institutes (AERI), a collaboration between the leading archival education programs that address the future of archival education. As a profession, we direly need to define how we will educate future generations of archivists, and what we expect from them not only before entering programs, but also the tangible skills they should have developed when they leave. The conversation continued after the session during a brown bag lunch- a conversation that highlighted as a profession how much we lack an understanding of what we want from education. Like many previous conversations, it reflected a continual desire to talk, but a lack of conviction to act on our words. The attitude that some of our profession has of new archivists is shocking. However, I left still hopeful that those of us who feel strongly about preparing a future generation of archivists can continue the conversation, and incite action for change.

Taken for Grant’ed did not focus so much on education, but rather the challenges of the project archivist. Although I am not employed in a project position, I found this program eye-opening, as this is a topic many archivists, not just the new, encounter. The panel, consisting of project archivists, managers, and granting organizations, explored project positions from their different perspectives. In a field where jobs that could be done by permanent staff are often done by project archivists, where project archivists are often moving on to their next position by the time they are comfortable in their repository, the panel provided insights into what repositories can do for their project positions, as well as how to handle being a project position. Helpful advice from the panel included always being advocate for yourself (being “pleasantly persistent”), always be looking for a position, and, in the words of Mark Greene of the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming, “Ask not what you can do for our repository, but what your repository can do for you.”

Stay tuned for upcoming Part II to hear about the rest of Anastasia’s SAA experiences, focusing on digital preservation and handling obsolete media.

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