I was invited to give the keynote presentation at the 50th anniversary of the Society of Ohio Archivists annual meeting which was held last week in Columbus. As a native of Ohio and graduate of Wright State University’s Public History Program, I was pleased to return as President of the Society of American Archivists. My presentation focused on the current activities being undertaken by the Society, ranging from Advocacy to Diversity and Inclusion to Member Services. My remarks will eventually be published in the Ohio Archivist, but I thought I would share my section on Diversity and Inclusion with ZSR:
“Fostering diversity and inclusion within the profession continues to be a high priority for SAA because we believe that a more diverse profession better reflects the world that we document. Through SAA’s Mosaic Scholarships and Brenda S. Banks Travel Award, as well as through our partnership with the Association of Research Libraries in the IMLS-funded Mosaic Fellows Program, SAA hopes to continue both increasing the numbers of archivists who are members of underrepresented communities and ensuring their participation in the organization and the profession. Although recruiting those new to the profession is important, retaining them is even more so—and so we focus a lot on mentoring and networking.
SAA traditionally has not commented on issues or events that aren’t related to archives or records; we have reserved our judgments and statements for areas in which our archival experience means something. Last fall’s events in Charlottesville point to the need for archivists to use our expertise to assist communities in researching and determining the meaning and value of the names, images, and monuments in their midst, and whether what those symbols represent is historical truth or something else.
In my first job at the Alabama Department of Archives and History, I learned to process and describe collections and to grapple with the enormity, complexity and, quite often, the awfulness of American history. As a transplanted Yankee, it didn’t take me long to figure out the reason for the Confederate flag above the Capitol, or why the state holidays list included Martin Luther King, Jr./Robert E. Lee Day (still) and Confederate Memorial Day. I understood too well why the street on which I was fortunate to attend the dedication of the Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center also hosted a Ku Klux Klan march several years later. This is not isolated to Alabama, or even to one region of the country. The symbols of oppression and our violent past are all around us.
The Council’s Diversity and Inclusion Working Group was created in 2014 to provide the Council with greater focus and direction in achieving SAA’s strategic goals in D&I, to explore meaningful new initiatives in this area, and to coordinate the work of appropriate component groups to leverage their contributions into broader cultural competency for the Council, staff, and members. The group’s highest priority this year has been to create a toolkit for archivists to use with local community members when they are faced with these types of hard issues.
My own contribution to the toolkit in the past month was to compile some resources specifically on the topic of Memorials and Monuments of Oppression, some of which I shared via the Off the Record blog in “Grappling with our Difficult Past: How Archivists Can Help.” I also hope that we’ll be able to work with archives students to annotate our toolkit entries to provide further context for users.
We have two Task Forces working on diversity-related issues as well.
The Task Force on Accessibility will update and expand our 2010 Best Practices for Working with Archives Employees with Physical Disabilities and Best Practices for Working with Archives Users with Physical Disabilities, both of which focused on archives-specific tools to assist persons with physical impairments. Recommendations were originally limited to mobility, sight, and hearing impairments and the Task Force will be examining addition of neuro-disabilities, temporary disabilities, and others that may be in scope. Drafts will be shared with members and selected groups for feedback this summer, and a final version will be available in the fall.
Our Tragedy Response Initiative Task Force was proposed by our Diverse Sexuality and Gender Section, who were motivated by the Pulse Night Club tragedy as well as far too many other incidents in the past few years. The TF will provide guidance regarding policies, procedures, and best practices for acquisition, deaccessioning, preservation, and access of memorial collections, and will also be considering the details of creating a permanent volunteer tragedy response team to assist communities.”
I closed by sharing the top 6 things I have learned during my career, ranging from developing skills for finding and locating professional development opportunities, the importance of serving as a mentor, and always expressing your gratitude to those who help you. I attended a panel presentation made up of previous SOA Presidents (many of whom were Wright State graduates) and sessions on improving archives discoverability. Along the way, I saw many of my Ohio friends and colleagues and met some in person for the first time, whom I had known online for years. My only regret is I never had time to visit the Skyline Chili across the street from my hotel. Next time!