Danna C. Bell 2014-02-11 11:22:43
I came back from the Annual Meeting in New Orleans full of ideas, enthusiasm, and a bit of trepidation. It was exciting to see friends I normally see only at the conference, to hear and participate in some fascinating sessions, and to begin my term as president. However, I also heard some rumblings of concern. I think they all boiled down to one question: “Can SAA really meet my needs?” When I sat down to write this column, the Beatles song “Fixing a Hole” from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album kept running through my head. I looked up the lyrics and one line stuck with me: “I’m taking the time for a number of things that weren’t important yesterday.” SAA is a very different organization than it was when I attended my first conference in New Orleans in 1993. I remember being a new member trying to find my way in an organization that felt incredibly insular. It felt like nearly everyone attending had been an archivist for centuries, and as a young African American woman I didn’t “fit.” Something was missing, and I wondered if SAA was the right place for me. But I was also a bit obstinate. I asked questions. I looked for help and guidance. My persistence was rewarded when I was paired with an amazing mentor who helped me find my way. She became SAA’s first African American president and she continues to provide guidance and support. I am honored to follow in Brenda Banks’s footsteps. Things have changed tremendously. We are seeing huge increases in the number of students and new professionals in the field. However, at the same time, we are seeing major decreases in available employment positions. The DAS program is extremely successful, and archivists are embracing technology and social media. Yet the proliferation of technology is taxing even the most tech-savvy professional. Also, many of my colleagues who are midcareer archivists are wondering how to position themselves for leadership opportunities and where to obtain training to be effective managers. Does SAA have ideas about how to fix these holes? Some are within the new Strategic Plan. Advocacy was a hot topic in New Orleans and will continue to be for many years to come. We need to, as noted in Goal 1. 2, “educate and influence decision makers about the importance of archives and archivists.” This includes developing ways to show how archives provide a strong return on investment for parent organizations. In addition, we must help archivists understand and effectively communicate the importance of archives to thought leaders and funding agents. To ensure that archivists at all levels of the profession—new professionals, midcareer archivists, and elder statespersons—get the support they need, SAA must continue to hear from its members. We need to learn what skills and experience administrators want to see in potential employees. Perhaps SAA can provide additional professional development opportunities or enhance career development resources to ensure that those looking for positions have the skills they need to succeed in the hiring process and afterward. The most important step members can take is to communicate concerns and provide possible solutions. It’s easy to complain, but it’s much more difficult to provide solutions. SAA functions within an extremely tight budget. Do you know of funding opportunities that could help the Society try something different? Is there a way to restructure one program that will provide funds and staff support to do another? Twenty years ago I was more focused on whether I would survive my first SAA conference. Now I’m focused on ensuring that SAA and its members thrive and succeed. I’m strapping on my tool belt. Are you ready to help me fix the holes?
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