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I know y’all are ready for another SAA roundup!!!
SAA in DC always has a lot of energy around it and people at it, due at least in part to it being a joint meeting with the Council of State Archivists (COSA) and the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA). This year was no exception, and was in fact the largest SAA meeting yet, as Tim mentioned. And there were lots of moving parts and opportunities!
My SAA started on Monday afternoon with a visit to the office of Congressional Representative Mark Meadows, who serves on the NHPRC Commission, which was part of a day of advocacy called Archives on the Hill. Kevin Cherry, deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and I visited with a member of Rep. Meadows’ office on Monday afternoon and with a member of Representative David Price’s office on Tuesday morning to advocate for archives, particularly funding to the NHPRC, NEH, and IMLS that provide so much value. It was a bit nerve-wracking – talking to strangers is not my forte. But many hands were involved in orchestrating the visits, so they made it easy to show up and do the talking. The meetings were informative and, dare I say, fun; I’m looking forward to participating in future opportunities like this!
The meeting’s first plenary speaker was Dr. Zeynep Tufekci, UNC SILS professor known for her work examining the intersection of technology, society, and politics. She gave us an interesting look at social media and algorithms, which made obvious to many of us how important archiving the web well is, how difficult it is, and how misunderstood it is. For example, Twitter and YouTube are not reliable archives – not even reliable delivery mechanisms. Her talk was a thought-provoking way to kick off our three days.
Most of the sessions I went to revolved around improved description, metadata, and collections processing. My favorite of these sessions was “Toward Culturally Competent Archival (Re)Description of Marginalized Histories,” especially useful to our work on creating item-level metadata for digitized objects. With the photo collection in particular, it is tempting to describe what you feel, not what you see, which introduces biases, or add modern vocabulary that does not suit the times. It’s a difficult balance, and I appreciated hearing the viewpoints and experiences of four archivist on the matter.
Another useful metadata session discussed updates to the Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS) principles. DACS governs the content of finding aids, which in turn governs the content of related MARC records and other description, so it’s pretty important! And the new principles are quite a departure from the old, so it was great to hear more about how the revisions were written and learn how people have been experimenting with their application.
The last session I’ll mention here was a useful if nerve-shredding session about database migration; nothing strikes fear into the heart of a collections archivist like discussions about moving legacy data around. All the panelists spoke about moving to ArchivesSpace. Panelists had lots of helpful advice but I also appreciated the horror stories; I feel better hearing how we’re all in this together. As outgoing chair of the Collection Management Tools Section, I presided over a similar set of presentations about data clean-up at our meeting: one person spoke about database migration and the other presentation was about improving data in ArchivesSpace to create better linked data. (Re)description comes in many forms and applications!
My meeting also featured: watching Tanya’s presidential address (I was more nervous than she seemed!); a couple of Lunch Buddy sessions, a great way to meet archivists in smaller groups, often over food; a quick trip, my first, to the National Museum of African American History and Culture; lots of hallway and after-meeting conversations with classmates, colleagues, and friends; a happy hour to celebrate rolling off of the Issues and Advocacy Section’s Steering Committee; and roughly a million tweets under the hashtag #saa18.