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The Newbie’s Guide to Acting Up in SAA

August 19, 2013

Last week, I attended my very first SAA annual meeting. I left SAA feeling really energized about issues I saw discussed, including open-records legislation, fair labor advocacy, community archives, displaced archives, the diversification of our field and collections, and the professional interests of SAA’s upcoming cohort of students and new archivists.

Aside from the AMAZING cuisine and exceptional host committee, what made the biggest impression on me is that I went into the conference without really knowing much about the inner workings of SAA. As your typical Type-A personality, I decided this simply would not do.

It is easy to get inspired at a big conference like SAA, where some of the best and brightest members of our field assemble for a frenzied exchange of ideals. The challenge is translating that spark into something concrete. As incoming President Danna Bell-Russel remarked, “Turn a complaint into a plan for action”.

So, how do you “infiltrate” a professional organization to turn words into action? I have a few ideas for how to get started…

FIND LIKE MINDS

Create a network of co-conspirators. If you try to do it all on your own, you may burn out or become frustrated with the slow pace of change. Creating a network of partners will not only help you be more effective, it will also help combat activism isolation. What you don’t want is an echo chamber. Endeavor to diversify your peer group.

For me, that means expanding beyond my day to day zone to meet people outside of my own age group, ethnicity, religious group, gender, and socioeconomic class. Find people who complement your skills and experiences. Studies have shown that heterogeneity in groups leads to better decisions (the reverse is also true).

Some of the places I have found archival peers include Twitter, SAA Roundtables, and local conferences. Check out my Twitter list of archives and digital humanities professionals , or this super group from former SAA Council Member Kate Theimer (@archivesnext). The SNAP leadership also compiled a list of SAA 2013 livetweeters.

One great example of this step in action is Rebecca Goldman’s (@derangedescribe on Twitter) work with the SNAP Roundtable. She took her frustration with the dire experiences of students and new archivists whom she met at the 2010 SAA meeting and channeled it into an SAA Roundtable with nearly 1200 members. That’s almost as many people as showed up to the 2013 Annual Meeting. Our Roundtable Meeting was literally standing room only.

IDENTIFY THE CHANGE-MAKERS

Who is in charge of policy decisions? Who has access to a widespread network of organizational stakeholders? These are usually, but not always, recent and current members of the governing body and its subsidiary committees. Other change makers may include prominent researchers and educators.

Check out the official Directory of SAA Leaders with links to the Council roster and leadership rosters for various committees, subcommittees, task forces, working groups, and steering committee. The Council also maintains an officially “unofficial” blog called Off the Record.

Alternatively, you could check out my list of SAA Council Members on Twitter (I’ve found seven so far). On this last note, I just want to mention that I went into the Annual Meeting extremely anxious about having Council Members follow me on Twitter. I was suffering from small fish syndrome. However, engaging with Council Members via social media is a great way to stay aware of changes in the organization. It also provides you with a direct line to the leadership.

GET INFORMED

If you want to make changes, you’ve got know what’s going down. There are more eloquent ways of stating that, but the takeaway is that you should be familiar with the prevailing policies, working documents, research, and governance structures for the issues you care about. First, this means finding out whether SAA has a Section or Roundtable that meets your interests (they probably do). SAA Members can join an unlimited number of roundtables. However, if you don’t want to sign up for a roundtable (or, if you don’t have an active membership for whatever reason) you can still subscribe to their listservs for free. Many roundtables also have social media accounts. Joining a roundtable will expose you to regular discourse on a variety of topics related to your interest.

It is also important to keep track of governing documents. For example, the 2013 Council Meeting Agenda can be found here, with links to multiple reports, talking point summaries, and procedural documents. Eventually, the August meeting minutes will be posted here. You can find reports of the various components here. Policy documents aren’t just for wonks, so get in there and get dirty (proverbially, anyway).

GET INVOLVED

If you want to make changes, you’ve got to show up where the decisions are made. The main forum in SAA is the Annual Business Meeting, where all members in attendance vote on issues that govern the organization. In 2013, only 17% of eligible members actually voted. Participation could probably be improved in the future by introducing virtual voting (instead of postponing the business meeting to the end of an already long conference), but for right now that’s where the action happens.

Personally, I kind of failed on this front at SAA 2013. Apparently, it’s very rare for ANYONE in SAA to submit resolutions for consideration at the Business Meeting. I didn’t even know we could submit resolutions! Apparently, nobody else did either (a bit of hyperbole… I’m sure *somebody* knew). As far as I can tell, no one submitted any resolutions this year, either virtually or from the floor. That’s a real shame. In an organization governed by parliamentary procedures, resolutions are one of the key ways to make changes actually happen. So, this is one arena I hope to improve in next year.

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO INFILTRATE SAA? Share any advice you might have in the comments.

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