SAA 2016: Our Scholarship Recipients Report Back [1/2]

[Posted on behalf of DVAG SAA Travel Grant recipient, Rayna Andrews. Want to hear more about SAA? Join us at Cooperage Wine & Whiskey Bar at 5:30 pm on August 22 for our post-SAA happy hour. The address is 123 S 7th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106.]

During the first week of August, the Society of American Archivists descended upon downtown Atlanta for the SAA annual meeting, Archives*Records 2016. Thanks to DVAG’s travel grant, I was able to join my fellow archives professionals in Atlanta for a week of educational sessions and professional networking.

Attending the SAA annual meeting was a phenomenal opportunity for me. As a newer archivist and one on the job market, it provided me with countless opportunities to expand my professional network and further develop connections with other archivists. I was also able to take advantage of the resources at the career center and met with a career counselor to go over my resume and cover letter. This was a particularly valuable experience and I have already begun making adjustments based on her suggestions.

My first stop at SAA after registration was the Students and New Archives Professionals (SNAP) Roundtable meeting on Wednesday evening. SNAP is a great group and focuses on many of the unique issues concerning new archivists. I encourage any new professionals and first time attendees to take a look at SNAP and the myriad resources available for navigating the meeting.

One aspect of archives in which I am particularly interested is the intersection of archives and social justice and activism. Diversity and how archives work to better serve underrepresented and marginalized communities is a prominent theme in archives and it was well represented at this year’s meeting. Throughout the meeting, I frequently found myself in the position of having to choose between multiple sessions discussing community partnerships and other ways for archives to be more inclusive in their practices. It was frustrating since I wanted to attend them all, but it speaks to the strength of the program.

Both the keynote and the President’s address focused on SAA’s new diversity and inclusion policy. Outgoing president Dennis Meissner spoke extensively about cultural competencies and keynote speaker Chris Taylor emphasized that while working toward the very necessary goal of inclusion “the golden rule is no longer good enough.” He champions the platinum rule: to treat others as they want to be treated. This applies not only to staffing within our institutions, but also to the communities with which we engage and whose materials we hope to collect.

With my own interests and the new SAA guidelines for diversity and inclusion in mind, one of the best sessions I attended was a pop-up on archives and digital inequality. The fishbowl session facilitated a discussion of the role of archives in collecting and providing access to underserved communities, and what our responsibilities are to them. The session was really interesting because throughout the discussion we raised a lot of questions, but did not really settle on any answers. These are complex problems and they therefore require complex and dynamic solutions. It seems as though many of us were happy to set the discussion in motion and at the end of the session somebody raised the possibility of developing a section to continue exploring these issues. I found the discussion interesting and enlightening and I hope that the new section does come to fruition.

Overall, attending Archives*Records 2016 was a fantastic opportunity. Beyond the gratifying experience of being surrounded by people who understand what you do and why you do it, I learned so much and came away with lots to think about and read (did I mention I bought four books at the SAA bookstore?). After hearing and participating in great discussions, I am excited to see how we continue to apply what we’ve learned.

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