A Year of Living Dangerously for Archives

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SAA President Kathleen Roe issued a challenge to SAA members, as archivists, to spend a year “living dangerously” by taking some concerted actions to increase awareness of and advocate for archives.

Call to Action #1: Demonstrate the Value of Archives

People seem to sense – almost instinctively – that archives are important.  They come in droves to see the founding documents on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC.  They comment on “how interesting” it must be to be an archivist.  But they can’t quite put their fingers on why it all matters....

Let’s work together on changing that!  Here are some ideas for how you might take action to raise awareness of archives this fall.


1. Tell a Story

Develop a brief “story” that explains how the use of archival records had an impact on, or resulted in a positive change for, a person or group. 

Your narrative should focus on the outcomes or results of someone using archival records, not on the content of the records.  We’re developing a catalog of stories that we can share with each other (and with the public!) on the SAA website to illustrate how archives change lives.   

Click here for examples of stories

Submit your story


2. Highlight Your Repository

Take advantage of American Archives Month (October!) to raise awareness of archives – and your own repository – by doing one of the following:

Tips on pitching an article idea

Ideas for hosting a repository tour

Tell us about the action(s) you took!

For more ideas on what you can do to help raise awareness of archives this fall, see SAA’s American Archives Month webpage.

Solo Archivists Section

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The SAA Solo Archivists Section supports archivists working alone or in very small staff situations.

Welcome to the SAA Solo Archivists Section (SAS)!  This site can be used to connect to other solo archivists, learn more about our work, find resources, and access our reports and our newsletter, SOLO


To provide education, stimulate communication, and encourage support between archivists working alone or in very small staff situations.


Section leadership can be reached at soloarchivists.saa@gmail.com.  Please contact us with any questions, comments, or ideas for the SAS!

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Students and New Archives Professionals (SNAP) Section

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The Students and New Archives Professionals (SNAP) Section advocates for and addresses the needs of new archivists within SAA and the archives prof

The Students and New Archives Professionals (SNAP) Section of SAA advocates for and addresses the needs of aspiring archivists, students, interns, and early-career archivists by providing a forum to share their questions and learn from others in the profession. 


We accomplish this through our work with student chapters around the country, SNAP chats on Twitter, hosting webinars, and through postings and discussions on our blog about issues and topics of interest and concern to our members, as well as by collaborating with other SAA sections and committees.  


To join the SNAP community, simply subscribe to our email list. (You do not need to be a member of SAA to create an SAA profile and subscribe to SNAP’s communications.)  


You can learn more about SNAP and join the discussion through our various social media channels on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and our Wordpress blog or  you can reach out to us by email.




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Call to Action #2: Archives and the Human Face of War

The experience of war has a compelling interest for many people in the United States.In fact, the Library of Congress Subject Headings categorize American history largely based on war (as opposed to the British, who use the reigns of monarchs!).  Our elected officials often draw attention to their war service, and their detractors point to those who did not serve.  From the Revolutionary War through the Civil War, two World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, and the most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of us have collections that reflect the stories and experiences of soldiers, nurses, and those “at home.”  These letters, diaries, photographs, songs, and oral histories provide very real connections and insights for many people.   

Veterans Day on November 11 and Pearl Harbor Day on December 7 provide us with an opportunity to take advantage of those existing interests to raise awareness of our holdings and the value of archives.

Click here to read national news release.

So here is another opportunity to raise awareness of the importance and value of archives—this time by building on the existing interest in military conflicts and military service.   Do one of the following activities in conjunction with Veterans Day or Pearl Harbor Day, and please let us know about what you did.

1. Tell a Story

Develop a brief “story” that explains how the use of records related to military service or life on the home front has led to an understanding of the experiences of a soldier, nurse, or of families or friends on the home front.  What impact did use of these records have on an individual or group?  

Click here for examples of stories

Submit your story

(Be sure that if you cite the names of people or organizations, they’re okay with it.)

2. Highlight Your Repository

Take advantage of Veterans Day (November 11) or Pearl Harbor Day (December 7) to raise awareness of your holdings related to military service or the home front during a time of war, by doing one of the following:

Tips on pitching an article idea

Ideas for hosting a repository tour



Tell us about the action(s) you took!

For more ideas on what you can do to help raise awareness of archives this fall, see SAA’s American Archives Month webpage.

Call to Action #3: A Seasonal Toast to Archives


As we approach the holiday season – replete with wishes of good cheer and year-end toasts, let’s take an opportunity to share the thoughts we all encounter that remind us of the value of archives. 

Why do archives matter?  This month’s challenge is simple:  Think about the “quotable” statements you’ve heard or read—perhaps in a professional presentation, an archives class or workshop, a newspaper, magazine, or journal article, a novel or play.  The statement may have been made by someone with international recognition, a local “everyday” person, one of your professors, or a friend.  Whatever she or he wrote or said, it made you think, “Yes, that’s why archives are important, that’s why what I do matters….”  

Share your quote with us.  We’ll add it to the resources on which we can draw as we move forward in our efforts to raise awareness of and to advocate for archives.  In this season of giving, let’s share with each other some insights about the value of archives.



 “…records are crucial to hold us accountable…They are a potent bulwark against human rights violations.”  —Bishop Desmond Tutu

“Without archives many stories of real people would be lost, and along with those stories, vital clues that allow us to reflect and interpret our lives today.” —Sara Sheridan

"Of all our national assets, Archives are the most precious; they are the gift of one generation to another and the extent of our care of them marks the extent of our civilization." —Arthur G. Doughty, Dominion Archivist, 1904-1935

“As archivists appraise records, they are doing nothing less than determining what the future will know about its past: who will have continuing voice and who will be silenced.” —Terry Cook


Share your quotes via Twitter or Facebook using #ArchivesQuotes or submit them via email to saahq@archivists.org.  

Quotes are also being collected on Tumblr: http://archivesquotes.tumblr.com/



Call to Action #4: Why I Am an Archivist

In past months, the calls to action for the “Year of Living Dangerously for Archives” have focused on the value that others find in archives.  Now it’s time to talk about the value WE see in what we do.  Whether you came into this profession intentionally, by way of a related profession, or by some unforeseen path, there is a reason why you have decided to stay.  Please take a few minutes (now!) to think about why you are an archivist and to share your reflections with us.  

Add your comment to our post on Facebook. You can also post it to Twitter (#WhyIAmAnArchivist), or send your statement (of 500 words or fewer) to saahq@archivists.org.  If you’d prefer to share your story by YouTube or other medium, just alert us (via saahq@archivists.org) where to find it.  We’d like to share your submission with others; if you would prefer that we not do that, please specify that in your message.     

So let the conversation begin:  Why are you an archivist?


Call to Action #5: Why People Love Archives

We recently heard from many of you about why you’re an archivist and what you love about archives. We truly do have strong, energetic supporters of all kinds—from journalists to genealogists, students to stakeholders, there are people who can and do say wonderful things about the value of archives. So ask your supporters why they love archives.

This month, we encourage you to seek input, comments, or testimonials on why archives matter to others.  We can use comments like these when we are promoting our programs to our managers, resource allocators, legislators, and even the public.

Here are some ideas for how to gather that information:

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Call to Action #6: Voices from the Archives

One of the wonderful things about archival records is that they can "give voice" to people from the past:  a civil rights activist from Alabama, a farm wife from Kansas, a Chicano politician from Texas, a World War I pilot, a factory worker from Detroit, a fly fisherman from Montana, a schoolchild in Alaska.  What amazing voices exist in your archives?

This month we hope you'll share some examples of individuals from the past who have a unique, surprising, or very compelling story to tell.  They need not be "famous." In fact, we hope you will tap into the diversity of voices and experiences that our records represent—the people who might normally go unheard but who have compelling stories that we can share.

Please take time in March to share with us at least one "voice" from your archival collections.  Keep it simple and concise.  In just a paragraph (or two), tell us the highlights of the individual's life or role and indicate why you think his/her voice is important.  You may want to include a quotation or photo if it helps to tell the story. Send it to us at saahq@archivists.org.

After you've submitted the story to us, think about how you can share this person's life with others—maybe via a Facebook or blog post to your users, tweeting quotations from a diary, engaging a journalist to do an article in your local newspaper.  Find a way yourself to give voice to the incredible people in your archival "neighborhood"!

Call to Action #7: Speaking up for History and Archives: The Congressional History Caucus

When we want to advocate for archives in Congress, it will certainly help if our Representatives are aware of archives and why they are important.   So here’s an opportunity to reach out to your member of Congress and ask him or her to join the Congressional History Caucus.  This is not hard--you can do it!   Don’t count on someone else writing—because they may be waiting for you to do it instead.   So please, read the information below and then contact your member of Congress.

The key to success on Capitol Hill is having relationships in place before they are needed.  That’s why the National Coalition for History (of which SAA is a Policy Board member) has worked for two years to promote the formation of a Congressional History Caucus. 

Four Congressmen – John Larson (D-CT), Tom Cole (R-OK), Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), and Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) – have agreed to co-chair a Congressional History Caucus and on March 30 they circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter soliciting members of Congress to join them in this effort in 2015.  The caucus provides a forum for members of Congress to share their interest in history and to promote awareness of the subject on Capitol Hill.  It also provides an opportunity for the history (and archives) community to serve as a resource to Congress.

It is important for our community to build lasting relationships between members of Congress and archivists, historians, teachers, students, researchers, genealogists, and other stakeholders in their districts.  The History Caucus will increase our visibility and provide a network of supporters in Congress to whom we can reach out when issues arise.


Here’s what you can do in April to help!

Please help us by reaching out to your representative to seek her or his support in creating a strong and vibrant History Caucus. If constituents ask, members often listen—so we need to ask.  We’re not asking for federal funding or a policy change, so you’re more likely to get a positive response if you take the time to make the request.

The National Coalition for History’s website includes step-by-step instructions for contacting your representative to ask her or him to join the History Caucus.

Contact your representative using one of the following options:

  1. Send a message.  Go to the House website at http://www.house.gov/. The system allows you to search for your representative by ZIP code, taking you to a link to her/his website and contact information.  Congressional offices allow you to send an email via the home page if you are from the district.  Urge your Congressperson to contact Congressman John Larson’s office at 202-225-2265 to join the Caucus.  Be sure to add a link to the 2015 Congressional History Caucus Dear Colleague letter in your email message.
  1. Make a phone call.  All members of Congress can be reached via the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121. A personal phone call is preferable to an email – but do what you feel comfortable doing. Urge your Congressperson to contact Congressman John Larson’s office at 202-225-2265 to join the Caucus.  If you speak to a staff member, be sure to get his/her name and email address so that you can forward a copy of the 2015 Dear Colleague letter.

Whichever communication option you choose, please personalize your message by citing your background or explaining your connection to history.  Mention the institution in which you work or study in your congressional district.  Refer to the Dear Colleague letter for talking points.

Once you’ve contacted your Member of Congress, tell us (at saahq@archivists.org) whom you’ve contacted and how it went.  Has your Congressperson agreed to sign on?

Call to Action #8: Take the First High-Stakes Archival Essay Test!

The press is focusing this month on the debate about the value and impact of high-stakes testing for students. As archivists, we have had our own array of experiences with examinations, whether for the Digital Archives Specialist Certificate, the Academy of Certified Archivists exam, or our graduate program examinations.   But there’s one test on which we all need more than a passing grade—and that’s explaining archives and archivists to others.   It is the “core competence” that we all must have to raise awareness and demonstrate the value of archives.  So here are four essay questions (also known as “story problems”) that we invite you to answer in 500 words or fewer.   And as my favorite English teacher, Mrs. Arrick, would say, “Be clear, be concise, be compelling.”    

Submit your essay (we won’t grade it!) to:   saahq@archivists.org or post your comment below.

  1. You’re attending the SAA Annual Meeting in Cleveland.   You and a few friends walk into a local clothing boutique and the owner greets you with “Welcome, what brings you to Cleveland?” (She knows you’re from out-of-town because, of course, you’ve forgotten to take off your name badge.)    You reply: “I’m here for the Society of American Archivists’ Annual Meeting.”   And she says, “Oh, that’s so cool.  What is it you people do anyway?”  Your friends scatter and begin looking through the clothing racks.  It’s up to you to respond….and your answer is:

  2. You’re at your sister Jean’s wedding reception and notice that your grandmother is talking to the new in-law family, pointing at you and saying something that results in a look of alarm on their faces. (They’re from a family of accountants.)   Your sister hurries over to tell you that grandma is claiming that you’re an anarchist, and asks that you please introduce yourself to her in-laws and tell them what you REALLY do.  You sidle up to Minnie and Joe and say, “Hi, I’m Jean’s sister/brother and I know that Grandma has been telling you about me, but is a little confused.  I’m an archivist and….”  Provide the rest of your explanation:

  3. You’ve been asked to make a presentation to your historical society’s board of directors about new acquisitions to the archival collection.   During your presentation some board members nod enthusiastically, others smile, and you’re feeling like you’ve been a hit.  Then one very influential board member looks up slowly from the handouts you’ve provided and, squinting over his half glasses, says in stentorian tones, “Now tell me, just what IS an archives anyway?”  You respond:  

  4. You’ve been invited to Career Day at your former middle school (this is not a “Seinfeld” episode!) and asked to speak to the 7th grade social studies classes about the archives profession.  The teacher introduces you: “Class, this is _______.   She/he works with cool things like the Declaration of Independence.  Please tell us more about how you do that!”   And you say:

Call to Action #9: #Archivesin5words

We all know the importance of an elevator speech, of being able to deliver an attention-grabbing summary of what archives are or what archivists do in the amount of time it takes to get from the ground floor to your destination. Let’s take this one step further (or get off a couple floors earlier) and pare down our statements even more. In five words or less, how would you pique someone’s interest so that he or she will listen to your full elevator speech or engage in a discussion about archives and archivists? Be sure to credit any taglines already used by an archivist or institution. Otherwise let your words flow—but briefly! Share your statements via Twitter using #archivesin5words or submit them to saahq@archivists.org


Stories that Demonstrate the Value of Archives

We’re developing a catalog of stories that we can share with each other (and with the public!) to illustrate how archives change lives.  Following are some examples of the impact of archives in “real life.”   To share your archives story, click here.


Connecting Families…. 

As a young unmarried woman in the 1960s, Carol King Eckersley had given birth to a son she gave up for adoption.  Although she knew his adoptive name, Kenneth Bissett, she never sought out her son in deference to the man she later married.  After her husband’s death, she Googled Ken’s name – finding him immediately on Syracuse University’s website but then, devastatingly, on the list of student victims in the University Archives’ Pan Am Flight 103 Remembrance Collection.  Carol decided to attend the upcoming anniversary memorial event.  When she revealed to the Archives staff her connection to the tragedy, they brought out the photo album donated by his family that chronicled Ken’s life from adoption to death.  Carol spent hours with the album, finally able to connect to her biological son’s life.  When Ken’s family members arrived later that day and were introduced by the Archives staff, they immediately adopted Carol into their family and invited her to attend the services with them, beginning a connection that continues to this day.  More than one life was changed that day—and it was because of archives and archivists. 

The Wisconsin Child Care Center was a state orphanage.  Perhaps the most striking example of the impact created when people use these records is the case of two brothers placed at the Center in the 1930s and then “indentured” to families in different parts of the state. One brother came to see the records and through them not only learned of the family situation that led to the placement, but also was able to locate and be reunited with his brother.

Through a Google search, a man from Colorado learned that we have an oral history interview with his grandfather, whom he had never met.  The caller identified himself as a pilot, and the interview concerns the grandfather’s barnstorming career in the LaCrosse area.  He ordered a copy of the interview on CD to share at his family’s Christmas gathering.


Establishing the Rights of Citizens….

An elderly woman living in federally subsidized housing faced eviction if she was unable to comply with new federal rules requiring an official certificate of her birth date.  Her family turned to the Idaho State Archives, which provided a certified copy of the Idaho Census to fulfill this requirement.

The Archives responds routinely to requests from individuals who need information from school records, court case files, and naturalization volumes in order to secure social security, get a passport, or prove citizenship.  We received an inquiry from a recently widowed elderly woman now living in Oregon.  She was naturalized under her maiden name in Dane County (Wisconsin) in the 1940s and needed to document her citizenship to receive certain Medicare benefits.  We were able to provide a certified copy of her naturalization in the Circuit Court for Dane County.


Realizing Dreams….

In 1950 Mary Jean Price, salutatorian of her high school class, attempted to enroll at her hometown college to become a teacher but was turned away because she was an African-American.  She didn’t go to college, but helped her aging parents, got married and had children, and worked as a janitor.  Many years later, her son, who had heard the story of her attempt to enroll, visited the university’s archives and unearthed evidence that his mother was denied entrance specifically because of her race.  As a result of his sharing of that information, in 2010 his mother was awarded an honorary degree from Missouri State University. 


Saving Lives….

Nine miners were trapped underground following a serious accident at the Quecreek Mine in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, in July 2002.  No accurate maps of the current and closed tunnels existed in the mine records, posing disastrous problems for rescue plans.  But the family of a former Department of Environmental Protection mine inspector who had worked in the region had donated his maps – including maps of Quecreek – to the neighboring Windber Area Museum.  The repository provided access to the maps, which were used to locate the miners and make a plan for their rescue.  The miners quite literally owe their lives to the archives.


Renewing Our Lands....

The American chestnut tree populated the landscape around the country two centuries ago, but an Asian fungus nearly wiped out these trees in the 1930s.  The American Chestnut Foundation, which has developed a blight-resistant tree, sought information about where the trees had previously flourished so that it could test reforestation. Biologists from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources turned to the Georgia Archives for historic survey maps that showed the locations of Georgia chestnut trees in the past, including “hot spots” such as Atlanta and Lamar, Upson, Monroe, and Crawford counties.  Combined with information about elevation, direction of slope, and soil types for these areas, researchers were able to identify conditions under which the trees are most likely to flourish and determine possible locations for replanting the American chestnut.


To share your archives story, click here.

Share Your Story of How Archives Change Lives

Do you have a story from your own repository that demonstrates how important archives and archivists are? Please share it with us below! 

(Be sure that if you cite the names of people or organizations, they’re okay with it.)

See some examples of stories

The repository featured in your story.

What makes a good story? Tell a compelling story that people can relate to. Add enough details that the reader can picture the person or event you’re describing. Describe results, transformation, or how the person’s life is different now.

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Tips on Pitching an Article Idea Within Your Organization

Approach your institution’s website or newsletter editor or public relations department with an idea for an article that draws attention to your archives and records.

Link your article idea to an organizational milestone or a “cool” item:

Link your article idea to a nationally celebrated day, week, or month that is related to your holdings:

Hold an open house or tour of the archives for staff.

Engage staff throughout your organization by inviting them to participate in a trivia contest on your internal website.  Make sure they have to consult the archives for the correct answers! Publish the results on the website.

Your newsletter or website editor or public relations person will be interested in what’s fun, unusual, or timely about your article idea.  The following qualities may make your idea more newsworthy:

Ideas for Hosting a Repository Tour

Invite your local media representatives on a tour of your repository.  American Archives Month, an anniversary, or a special exhibit provides an opportunity to begin a relationship that can last throughout the year.


Sponsor a lecture by a researcher who has used your collection.  Invite your local paper’s culture or business reporter to view the collection used by the researcher in advance, to attend the lecture, and to have access to the author before or after the lecture.


Organize a workshop or other program and advertise it via a community calendar.  Design your workshop to be of interest to your primary audience.  Workshops for the public might cover researching your family history on the web, digitizing family photographs, or learning the history or your house or neighborhood.


Organize a walking tour of a neighborhood documented by your repository.


Volunteer your organization as a resource for students preparing for National History Day projects.  SAA endorses this year-long effort whose objectives include providing students with the opportunity to work with and analyze historical documents and other primary source material.  Many state archives participate in National History Day.  (www.nationalhistoryday.com)

Share Your Advocacy/Awareness Actions

What action have you taken recently to advocate for or raise awareness about archives and archivists? 

Possible actions include, but are not limited to, issuing a press release, contacting your legislator, or sponsoring a public event.

Not all actions deliver immediate results, but if yours did, let us know!

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