This year Patrick Burden was awarded SAA Annual Meeting Travel Grant funds to attend SAA Annual Meeting in-person. Below is Patrick’s rundown of the experience in Boston.
Regarding events that unite archivists, the annual meeting for the Society of American Archivists (SAA), called Archives*Records, is close to the top.
Having a dedicated event travel the country to educate about the profession is a blessing for those early in their career like myself. Suppose you are unsure about the event and are looking for some information before deciding to go. In that case, I hope that I can answer some of your questions.
The event I attended was in Boston; the pandemic is in a state where things are still up in the air regarding how people are handling this. SAA decided to create its first-ever hybrid event in which a programming option was made available online and in person. This means that there was specific content for both online and physical events. Thankfully, enough coverage was recorded for future viewing, so either side had something to look forward to later.
What this means for someone attending the event in 2022 is that the average attendance was hovering around 900. This caused a large amount of the schedule to be on a more west coast time even when the physical event was on the east coast. In the past, it would be common to have several events taking place at 9 AM and a full day’s worth of activities. Instead, outside of the main event taking place, most of the sessions started in the afternoon. There were opportunities to explore the host city with some excursions to local archives, unfortunately I was unable to attend these personally but if you can I would highly encourage doing so.
With the help of the Delaware Valley Archives Group (DVAG), I received a grant to help cover some of the costs for me to travel in person to the event. I was able to arrive a day early to see what took place for “Day 0” of the event. It mainly consists of vendors showcasing mini conferences over their products.
ArchivesSpace, Preservica, and Iron Mountain had offerings in which they made some product announcements and social mixers. If you cannot make these events due to time or cost, I can safely say you are not missing out on too much.
Before arriving, I took advantage of the SAA mentor program for the event. This program is offered free of charge to connect you with someone attending the event to provide some advice and a friendly face to talk to. I met Bryan, who does digital preservation, and we had multiple conversations throughout the event. I asked him about what events I should attend and general career advice. Having someone to talk to and get some personal advice was a massive help in calming my nerves. I recommend taking advantage of this when you are going for the first time.
As with many events, some “traditions” take place each year. One of the first events offered is specifically for first-year attendees and students to network with one another. I would not skip this event; it will allow you to meet people willing to engage you for being in a similar situation. Also, when attending events, you will see their faces to gravitate towards to compare your experiences.
The opening ceremonies had an address from the SAA president and issued the year’s rewards. The keynote address was an engaging conversation highlighting how people were handling the work life balance. Finally, there was an evening offering titled Archives at the Movies. I can safely recommend this if you can view it in person.
As with many events, there is a vendor hall to explore. Companies were setting up booths to share information and answer questions to convince you that you need their services for your institution. The issue is that if you are not a working professional and looking for more information for a small personal project, you will very quickly realize that the vendors are not interested. They have their priorities at the event, but the cold shoulder gave a significant impression. So, unless you are in a situation where you are representing an institution, it is ok to just walk around to see what is on offer and then move on.
In the same space, there is a poster display. This is where both students and professionals create an infographic and apply it to a poster board to share their research findings. There are designated times when the author of these works is available to take questions and share their results. If you are research inclined, you can bring up a subject to the SAA foundation and get some help attending the event yourself. Suppose you rather enjoy the work of others. In that case, I highly recommend talking to the poster creators and deep diving into subjects that may not be on your radar.
The main event for most people is going to be the talks taking place. Not only does it allow you to learn more about topics that you are unfamiliar with, but it also allows you to talk to people after the discussion is over. My focus was to go to the events not being recorded since I could watch the others after the event to maximize what topics I could view.
The topics tend to be on a spectrum from cultural issues to practical ones depending on the year. This was a cultural event with a lot of focus on exploring how to incorporate minority voices and current archival issues about capturing the unique circumstances of the environment in a hybrid working world.
At the end of the event, I can safely say that the overall impression was a microcosm of our unique times. This event attempted to ensure that those attending in person and virtually could have an experience that many desperately wanted to have again. There were plenty of opportunities for people to talk to one another and share ideas. There were many talks to listen in on and gain valuable information and ideas to take back with them. The overall event did a fantastic job, given the unique circumstances.
I want to give a special thank you to Bryan for being my mentor for the event, as well as DVAG for allowing me to attend this event. Without their help, I would not be able to report on my experiences for you. If you decide to go, I recommend packing business casual attire, grabbing 100 business cards, and wearing comfortable footwear. Also, taking a break to allow yourself to have a sharp mind will help you make connections that will last far beyond the event itself. I hope to see you all in 2023.