Stranger in A Middle Land: Observations from the SAA Conference and a Path Forward

By Kenn Bicknell, Digital Resources Librarian, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Library & Archive

There have been countless interesting topics of discussion amongst the Collective Wisdom cohort over the past several months.  One is how the chronological order of the three national conferences has impacted our perceptions of our non-native professional cultures.

While at the Society of American Archivists (SAA) conference in Atlanta, it occurred to me that the “A” in LAM is not just the middle letter, but perhaps also the connector between libraries and archives, which strike me as the most dissimilar.  There are some collections that have more in common outside their brethren institutions than their own, but the conference made me think that archives can be considered the connective tissue between the three sectors.

Libraries and archives historically revolve around textual resources — though certainly not exclusively.  While there are several types of libraries and archives, they do serve readers and share some common concerns and challenges involving collection management, storage, and digitization.

Museums and archives share a goal of collecting and preserving resources of lasting significance.  This is not to say that museums and archives never de-accession materials, nor that libraries do not gather and share items that will reside in their collections in perpetuity.

The SAA conference inspired me to look at our information sectors in new ways.  For the aforementioned reasons, I do believe that the quality of programming had the broadest appeal for a cross-sector audience.  This was enhanced by the size of the conference overall, allowing attendees to focus on a smaller set of session topics and fewer divergent sub-groups and specializations.

I feel that the conversations at SAA about diversity and inclusion, technology and its impacts, and sustainability in its myriad forms were the most cogent and useful of the three conferences, and they have inspired me to outline one possible path forward for the Collective Wisdom Cohort.

The Cohort can make a significant and lasting contribution by laying the groundwork for the development of a LAM Cross-Sector Opportunity Clearinghouse.  In addition to working through a national-level approach across professional associations such as the ALA/SAA/AAM Committee on Archives, Libraries, and Museums (CALM), the Clearinghouse could offer LAM professionals, researchers, and others access to more specific and practical information about collaboration and education across and between LAM sectors.

The Clearinghouse could serve as a sustained and dynamic digest of launching points for smaller “bottom-up” collaborative efforts.  These may include: more practical local (city/county/state) projects/programs; affinity group partnerships; or inspiration for “proof of concept” initiatives.

An Opportunity Clearinghouse could distill our unique compare/contrast experiences and insights from across the conference exchange through a launch pad for future points of inquiry.

Some initial topics of focus should revolve around recurring themes from our AAM/ALA/SAA experience.  This would presumably include some of the major areas of recurrent discussion in our Cohort meetings, including diversity and inclusion, continuing education and professional development, sustainability issues, and technology transfer.

The Clearinghouse can be comprised of resources in multiple formats, such as bibliographies of articles, white papers, research, presentations, seminal blog posts; information regarding specific case studies; a spreadsheet for current LAM cross-sector initiatives (status tracking, contact information).

An “opportunity clearinghouse” would foster cross-sector thinking based on real-world experiences in innovative products and services that may be scalable or replicable across sectors.  It could also highlight initiatives pursued wholly within any one sector that have applicability in others, such as libraries as small-business incubators, archives as digital community news curators, or museums as visual thinking educators.

It has the potential to showcase “lessons learned” in ongoing and completed projects/programs, as well as opportunities which may prove adaptable to other institutions and collections of varying scope and size.  It may empower individuals to learn about and participate in cross-sector collaborative initiatives outside the construct of professional associations, and ultimately raise consciousness regarding the transferability of skill sets between LAM sector jobs.

It could create a focal point for a burgeoning true community of practice across sectors, not just a community of shared values, as well as shine a light on the value of (and need for additional) LAM-based professionals in the broader knowledge economy workforce.