The annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists in Washington, D.C., was a special meeting for me this year. It was my first annual meeting since serving on SAA Council (the society’s governance board) which meant I was free of committee meetings and could actually chose what I wanted to attend! It was also Tanya Zanish-Belcher’s shining moment as SAA President — her term concluded at end of the annual meeting. From the opening plenary to the closing business meeting, Tanya did a terrific job during a very full year as president.

I also got to catch up with many friends who I had not seen in several years as well as be amazed at how successful many of my former graduate assistants have become. One now heads Technical Services for UNC’s special collections; another is the Head of Special Collections at George Mason; another heads public relations for the National Archives to name just a few. I also got to talk with one of my mentors and former boss — David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States. He is currently caught up in the midst of Kavanaugh confirmation.

In addition to attending sessions, I also chaired a session — Race, Slavery, and the Rise of the Academy. Designed as a discussion section, we anticipated 40 to 50 attendees — instead over 140 came to the session. Joining me as discussion leaders were archivists from William & Mary, Brown, and Spelman. After we each gave opening statements, we asked audience questions such as:

  • What role have archivists and the archival record played in these discussions?
  • How can we as archivists facilitate this research into and reconciliation with our institutional pasts?
  • What opportunities for diversifying the archival record might result from these examinations?
  • As archivists, how do we advocate for sharing our often complicated and difficult past in order to insure a more inclusive and diverse future?

A mic was located in the middle of room and a thoughtful and challenging conversation followed. Some takeaways were:

  • We need to do more
  • We need to collaborate more
  • We need to add value to the communities we are striving to document

The last session I attended focused on Archival Values — I am a contributor to the forthcoming festschrift on this topic. We did the session in a world cafe format — I participated in conversations about selection and advocacy.

It was fun to be in midst of archivists again, but it was also a reminder about how my career identity has changed since becoming dean.