Untapped Potential: Reflections on SAA

By Jan L. Hebbard, Outreach Archivist, Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia Libraries

As I think I mentioned in my very first reflection post, I have now worked in an archive for eight years but have always felt a bit like a pretender using the term “archivist” to describe myself. I do not have a degree in library science like most of my colleagues. At the time I was hired by the Russell Library I had only been inside archives as a researcher in graduate school. That said, I have always felt that I bring something essential to my institution – a different perspective and training that are useful in the pursuit of outreach, which is my focus. I create public programming and exhibitions to help the public connect to our archival collections. Over the past eight years I have taken workshops and webinars to learn more about archives, and am now a certified archivist – having taken and passed a lengthy examination. But 2016 was my first ever experience of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) conference.

Because I was already a member of museum professional organizations in graduate school and the majority of my job duties at the archive focused on exhibits and programming, I naturally spent professional development funds attending museum conferences, which I knew would serve those interests and duties. It was a very rewarding experience to attend SAA and find all I’ve been missing out on! It was a great conference, maybe the best I have been to all year (which is saying a LOT in this particular year). The top five things I liked about SAA:

  • The size: it felt intimate and not overwhelming, but also provided enough sessions that I had to pick and choose which to attend, because so many fit my interests.
  • The size of the conference meant that everything was close together – it was easy to get to any session because of their proximity to one another, and the hotels where most people stayed were also close together – making it easy to catch up for coffee or drinks with colleagues before and after sessions.
  • The main evening event was built into the cost of attendance, so everyone was there! And the World of Coke and Center for Civil and Human Rights were great places to explore.
  • I found out more about the world of outreach in archives! I went to no less than 3 excellent presentations highlighting innovative outreach programs. Although there were not any sessions that I found addressed archival exhibits, I was pleased with the offerings and now have lots of ideas for future sessions at SAA as well as ideas to bring back to my everyday activities at UGA.
  • I began to see archives more clearly as a bridge between libraries and museums, and SAA as a place that could aid future LAM discussions and projects, potentially offering support for our cohort.

Much as our cohort experienced at AAM and ALA, there were many sessions focused on promoting diversity within the archives profession; training new leaders in the field; and expanding collecting areas to be more inclusive. Members of our cohort attended a work session for one of the working groups at SAA, one focused on archives in museums, and found an audience very interested in our cross sector explorations and in what comes next. We told them a bit about what we as a group had encountered so far and that our ideas for the future and any potential projects or products from our experience would begin to take shape in the coming months.

Perhaps it is because we attended a business meeting for a working group, but my impression of SAA was that its members take seriously the writing of policies and procedures to guide their work. Not that professionals in every sector don’t take their work seriously, but I did sense that there is an interest in LAM initiatives and a willingness to take things forward if approached. That sense feels comforting and hopefully will help to fuel our ideas for future projects as a group. And perhaps from that solid foundation we could have greater success in reaching out to ALA and AAM to build stronger collaborations.

I’ve reached the end of our three conferences and truth be told, I am feeling conference fatigue! But the enthusiasm and creativity I found amongst my archival colleagues at SAA renewed me. This is certainly a conference and a community that I am now more committed to being a part of moving forward.