[Posted on behalf of DVAG SAA Travel Grant recipient, Laurie Sather. 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.]
Despite having been a member of SAA for the past 7 years, this was the first time I was able to attend the Annual Meeting and I am very grateful to DVAG for the travel scholarship that enabled me to go. For this post, I was asked to focus on what I am taking away from my experience at SAA.
At this conference I had the privilege of presenting twice, once at a section meeting and once at a concurrent session. I had the opportunity to attend 6 sessions, 2 plenaries, and visit with several helpful vendors. I got to catch up with many archivists whom I consider my friends that I rarely get to see anymore because they have moved away. I meet and spoke with many new people and some long-time colleagues. I learned some interesting things at the sessions I attended and even have some potential solutions to problems specific to my work that I am now exploring.
My major takeaway though is a bit different than learning about a new tool or an idea for an improved workflow. There was a moment when an archivist that I consider a role model said something along the lines about what is really important about archives. It was during a private conversation that I shared with two archivists that I deeply respect and admire. I say “shared,” but really they were talking and I was listening. The archivists were talking about government records and one mentioned that a man holding political office claimed that he never made a government record the entire time he was in office and was able to mark everything as personal therefore prevented materials from being transferred to the archives where they belong. Policies could change this and ensure the transparency and access to government records which is a fundamental right and one of the tenants that got archives started in the first place.
The National Coalition for History (NCH) is a consortium of advocates for regulatory issues. At the moment archivists don’t have representation on the policy board at the NCH. The Regional Archival Associations Consortium (RAAC) has been trying to raise enough money to join as a group to get a seat at the table. I highly encourage you to contact your regional archives organization (MARAC, NEA, MAC, etc.) and express your support for contributing the money necessary towards becoming a policy board member of NCH so that archivists will have a voice in advocating for issues related to declassification of federal records, funding for archives and historical preservation programs, and promoting history on Capitol Hill.
We know that archives are important and we know that we are generally not very good at advocating for ourselves. The NCH is a group that can advocate on our behalf and make a difference. My takeaway is that while things like technology or outreach are important, what is truly important is 1) that archives matter and 2) the necessity of taking steps, however tiny they may feel, towards advocating for archives and access to public records.