Tonia Sutherland, Candidate for Council

Tonia Sutherland

Assistant Professor
In these [new] archivists, I see a desire to engage communities and collectives, a willingness to advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable and those who live in the margins of American society, and a fierce defense of memory work in all its forms. I believe the future of archives is bright . . .



Tonia Sutherland is assistant professor in the Library and Information Science Program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa where she leads the Archival Studies pathway and advises the SAA Student Chapter. Tonia, whose roots are in the Caribbean and whose heart resides in Pennsylvania, has been in the broad library and information field for 22 years. Tonia began her career in 1999 mending videotapes for the Oakland Public Library, later serving as university archivist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Tonia became active in SAA while earning her MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh (2005), serving for several years on the Preservation Section Steering Committee. Before beginning her doctorate in 2010 at the University of Pittsburgh, Tonia was the records management coordinator at Bucknell University where she launched the university’s first successful records management program. After completing her PhD in archival studies in 2014, Tonia joined the faculty of the College of Communication and Information Sciences at the University of Alabama where she also taught archival studies. Tonia’s research emphasizes critical and liberatory approaches to the study and practice of archivy and her recent work explores questions at the intersections of race, digital archives, descriptive practices, and archival permanence. In addition to her teaching and research, Tonia is active with the IMLS-funded Emerging Archival Scholars Program, which seeks to increase diversity among the next generation of archival educators and researchers.



Diversity, equity, and inclusion are terms that are increasingly deployed as one unit of thought—DEI initiatives. These initiatives often named as an ideal toward which an institution or organization is working, but rarely, in my experience, does substantive support for changing institutional and organizational cultures—a condition necessary for true diversity, equity, and inclusion—enter the conversation. Diversity does not only mean diversity of thought or diverse opinions; too frequently this approach to diversity is applauded by those who wish to divert attention from calls for diverse representation in terms of lived experience, ethnic background, cultural heritage, language, nationality and national origin, ability, gender expression, and sexual orientation. For these forms of diversity to be the goal of DEI initiatives, the equity and inclusion aspects must also be robustly realized. It has been my unfortunate experience that when people who meet institutional or organizational calls for diversity are invited to join that institution or organization, efforts at equity—equity in compensation, opportunities for advancement, expectations, demands—are minimal. This eventual lack of equity leads to a lack of true inclusion, and undergirds my call for shifting organizational and institutional cultures, which must include material as well as ideological support from leadership.

I identify as a queer Black woman who is the child of Caribbean immigrants and the first in my family to earn a college degree. From a personal standpoint, I have had to be an advocate for myself my entire life, often knowing I am not being heard or that my self-advocacy is insufficient to effect change. As a result, I always seek first to listen and to work in community so that I may best advocate on behalf of others. This is my approach in my teaching, in my mentorship, in my service, and also in my research. I believe in the power of community and in collective action. This is the perspective I bring to SAA. We all have implicit biases; to be able to examine one’s actions and thoughts and take corrective action when necessary is another form of advocacy. To be able to share a personal story of fundamentally changed beliefs is powerful and evocative and requires courage. I believe SAA’s membership has this courage and I would encourage these change narratives to emerge and inspire us all.



SAA has the following core organizational values: 

  • Being committed to advancing the public standing of archivists;
  • Ensuring the diversity of its membership and leaders, the profession, and the archival record;
  • Fostering an open and inclusive culture of creativity, collaboration, and experimentation across the association;
  • Providing excellent member service; and
  • Ensuring transparency, accountability, integrity, professionalism, and social responsibility in conducting its activities.

Select two of the core organizational values and describe how you will work with SAA groups and members to move them forward.


Since earning my MLIS in 2005, I have been engaged in the practice and study of archives and the role of archives and archivists in society. In my years of professional practice, I focused on the role of institutional records and the power of archival description. Later, while working on my PhD, I chose to focus on intangible records such as oral documents and performance, thinking about the ways that archives work to preserve and safeguard all aspects of cultural heritage. Archives and records have been at the center of every professional and academic inquiry I have made for the past fifteen years.

Today, I am thrilled to bring these conversations into the classroom and think alongside new archivists as they engage the many challenges of documenting contemporary society and considering new ways to describe and redescribe difficult histories. I believe that the archival profession is undergoing a sea change that is being led by those newest to the profession. In these archivists, I see a desire to engage communities and collectives, a willingness to advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable and those who live in the margins of American society, and a fierce defense of memory work in all its forms. I believe the future of archives is bright and that our present requires a different kind of engagement than our past. In this particular moment, our ability as a profession and as an organization to advocate for archives and records as tools of accountability are paramount to strong governance on all levels—from the institutional to the local to the national.

In my role as an SAA Council member, I would look forward to bringing these perspectives to the broader membership. I stand in support of both honoring our profession’s most closely held and time-tested traditions (archives as sites of evidence and accountability, for example) while challenging the sometimes harmful assumptions that undergird them. I would approach this work through a variety of avenues such as thinking alongside the Description Section to better understand existing redescription practices among members, engaging the Archival Educators Section in their work to nurture the future of the profession, and advocating for the inclusion of policies that advance SAA’s goals of ensuring social responsibility in conducting its activities. SAA has a long history of being central to the work of practicing archivists and I look forward to supporting that mission as both an educator and memory worker.


Slate of Candidates

The Nominating Committee has slated the following SAA members as candidates for office in the 2021 election:

Vice President/President-Elect



Nominating Committee