Task Force on Diversity Final Report

Final Report to SAA Council
February 1999

I. Background

During the 1997 annual meeting the Council of the Society of American Archivists voted to establish a Task Force on Diversity and developed the following charge:

The task force will investigate issues relating to diversity currently being addressed by the Society. The task force will examine:

  • What aspects of diversity are important to SAA?
  • The mechanisms in SAA structure through which diversity issues are already addressed;
  • The mechanisms in SAA structure through which diversity issues might be addressed;
  • Tradeoffs between costs and benefits of SAA addressing different diversity issues.
  • The Task Force is composed of the following members of the Society: Anne P. Diffendal, John Fleckner, Karen Jefferson (Council), Deborah M. King, Joan D. Krizack, Kathleen Roe, Susan Fox, Executive Director (ex-officio), and Brenda S. Banks, chair. A complete list of names and organizational affiliations can be found in Appendix B.

II. Diversity: What does it mean to SAA and why is it important?

The membership of the Society of American Archivists should reflect the demographic range of the archival profession and the American public. The diversity of those populations results from personal and cultural background, socioeconomic status, and physical limitations. These may include diversity as it relates to individual members such as gender, race, ethnicity, geographical location, age, or physical abilities. Diversity may also reflect characteristics more specific to the archival profession such as areas of archival interest or repository type. In the spirit of inclusiveness, SAA should be committed to increasing the participation of individuals from groups currently under-represented in the Society and the profession.

SAA values the participation of diverse individuals and groups, because of the strength it brings to the work of the Society itself, and the importance of professional diversity in ensuring our stewardship of an inclusive historical record. SAA can encourage diversity in the broader archival profession through its leadership by identifying and raising issues and by helping to establish guidelines, policies, and practices relating both to the diversity of our profession and the historical record.

III. SAA structures, governance, and activities that support or limit efforts toward becoming a more diverse organization

Structures, governance, and activities that support SAA's efforts to become more diverse:

SAA is a volunteer association with an organizational culture that is open to and supportive of addressing issues of diversity. To prosper as a membership organization SAA must heed the expressed needs of its new members and the expectations of potential members, thus creating an opportunity for minority populations to present their views. The Society currently benefits from the involvement of a number of key opinion leaders who offer real strengths in addressing diversity issues. SAA already has in place a number of programs and structures that support and promote diversity. For at least a quarter of a century its bylaws and guidelines have incorporated mandates that the appointed and elected leadership represent diversity based upon demographics, geography, and repository type. In addition, some of the Society's existing units are formed around a minority population or issue. Some examples include the roundtables on Lesbian and Gay Archives, Archivists and Archives of Color, Women's Collections, as well as the Committee on the Status of Women. Other activities, such as the Mentoring Program and the Minority Student Scholarship, also promote diversity.

Structures, governance, and activities that may limit SAA's efforts to become more diverse:

Many aspects of the archival profession limit diversity and minority participation. The poor visibility of archivists in society at large contributes to a lack of awareness of the profession on the part of minority groups. In addition, there are few minority archivists and little tradition of pursuing archives as a profession among minority communities. Low pay also puts the archival profession at a disadvantage in competition with other professions for minority recruits. Furthermore, the existence of relatively few programs offering graduate education limits opportunities for minorities, and minorities often do not relate to collecting traditions of mainstream repositories. Finally, archivists are often employed in large institutions which are difficult to diversify by virtue of their size.

Certain characteristics of the Society of American Archivists limit participation by diverse populations. Members need to take initiative to participate in the Society, and the opportunities for participation may not always be readily apparent to members of minority groups or to new members of the Society. There are also significant costs to joining and participating in SAA, especially in attending the annual meeting. In addition, some portion of the SAA membership may be wary of diversity issues and may fear that discussion of these issues will further divide the profession. Finally, archivists tend to be driven by practical issues that can be easily solved; diversity issues are not among this type.

IV. Recommendations

The following recommendations represent the generation and discussion of ideas by the members of the task force and are presented in no particular priority.

1. Development of an organizational position statement

The Task Force felt strongly that SAA should have a position statement on diversity that might appear on the website, in selected publications, and elsewhere as appropriate. The following position statement conveys the sentiment that we feel such a statement should convey.

Position Statement on Diversity

 The Society of American Archivists is committed to integrating diversity concerns and perspectives into all aspects of its activities and into the fabric of the profession as a whole. SAA also is committed to the goal of a Society membership that reflects the broad diversity of American society. SAA believes that these commitments are essential to the effective pursuit of the archival mission "to ensure the identification, preservation, and use of the nation's historical record."


SAA's intensified commitment to diversity is a response to developments in the wider society, especially in the past several decades. These include dramatic changes in population demographics, national public policies in support of civil rights, and the organized demands of peoples once excluded from full participation in American society. These developments challenge archivists to reconsider what we mean by a useful and representative historical record and what we can contribute to broader national goals of social justice, equality, and well being.

A more diverse SAA, comprised of archivists who are highly attuned to diversity issues, will assure that the profession remains vigorous in the next millennium. In order to be effective the archival profession needs to position itself to lead in documenting the experiences of the diverse American peoples and in connecting those peoples with the historical record. These actions will ensure that our profession and our archival institutions remain relevant to the concerns of all populations in the years ahead. The profession we will become will draw on talented and committed individuals from the entire spectrum of the American peoples who will enjoy full participation in the educational and governance activities of the SAA.

For more than a quarter century SAA has directly addressed a wide range of issues related to diversity. In 1972 SAA adopted the report of its Committee for the 1970s. Included among the Committee recommendations was a positive injunction to the nominating committee to make the Council more representative of and responsible to the diverse interests of the SAA by considering "archival interest, age, sex, geography, nationality, ethnicity, and race in the selection of a slate of candidates." The report also urged that "no person should be nominated as a candidate for an SAA office who, in her or his job, flagrantly espouses or practices discrimination in regard to race, sex, nationality, or political or religious ideology." In a section on social relevance, the Committee urged that "SAA should be actively committed to the social goals of racial justice, equal employment, and reasonable access to research materials" and "that the Society appoint a standing committee on minority groups to press for the rights and advancement of minorities in the archival profession."

In 1972 the SAA Council also created an Ad Hoc Committee on the Status of Women (COSW) and about the same time women organized a Women's Caucus to press SAA on gender issues. Over the past quarter-century, SAA has achieved outstanding results in opening its membership, program participation, awards recognition, and appointed and elected leadership to women. Within the profession, however, more remains to be done to overcome barriers to full participation by women at all levels, and SAA should do all that it can to encourage this process. The goals pursued by COSW should continue to receive full attention and efforts should be made to ensure that the activities are carried out through the most appropriate vehicle within the Society's organizational structure.

Since 1972, the Society has created organizational groups to represent the interests of gay and lesbian archivists and archivists of color, encouraged broader participation in annual meeting programs and educational activities, supported the development of Native American archives, and otherwise addressed social concerns. Yet much remains to be done to meet our goal of an organization that reflects the diversity American society.

The Society's renewed commitment to diversity builds on the concerns and activities of archivists over the past quarter-century but differs from these efforts in significant ways. From today's perspective, issues of diversity are more complex and far reaching than once imagined. Even though the "majority" in the United States of the next century will be comprised of many "minorities," widespread inequities persist. The new realities demand creative thinking and institutional and personal change all around. We view the achievement of diversity not only as a making right of past wrongs but also as a means to improve our capability to pursue our missions, including our roles in facilitating the widespread use of the historical record and encouraging its preservation. We see our efforts in the context of global migrations of peoples and worldwide struggles to achieve tolerance and social harmony across cultural differences.

In stating our commitment to diversity, the Society of American Archivists makes common cause with many allied professional organizations and with the larger institutions and organizations that employ most of our members. The American Council on Education, representing 1,800 higher education institutions and endorsed by forty-eight other educational associations and organizations, wrote in a recent open letter: "The diversity we seek and the future of the nation...require that colleges and universities continue to be able to reach out and make a conscious effort to build healthy and diverse learning environments appropriate for their missions. The success of higher education and the strength of our democracy depend on it." The American Association of State and Local History includes the following statement of social responsibility in its code of ethics: "All members...shall ensure actively that the variety of American cultural experience in all programmatic and operational activities is represented accurately. The Association expects its members to assist the field in becoming more representative of our diverse society...." The American Library Association's $1.3 million Spectrum Initiative is intended to "give our profession the face of the future and help us to better represent and serve our nation's increasingly diverse population."

2. Incorporation of diversity into SAA strategic planning process

In pursuing our commitment to diversity, SAA should utilize its strategic planning process as a tool for integrating diversity concerns into the Society's operations. In revising the strategic plan, the Council should incorporate the broad objectives of a more diverse SAA membership including more participation by diverse members in SAA matters and greater attention to the diversity of the historical record and access to it by a wider range of users.

The Task Force discussed a variety of ways in which diversity issues might be incorporated into the strategic plan. The following ideas reflect the range of that discussion and are offered as recommendations for incorporation into the strategic plan:

Suggestions for incorporating diversity initiatives into the strategic planning process:

  • Identify diversity as an overarching value or theme that informs our thinking and action in all goals and objectives.
  • Incorporate diversity as a distinct goal of the Society.
    • Revise Goal 1 to incorporate diversity as "significant archival issue."
    • Revise Goal 2 to identify and articulate the educational dimensions of diversity. Add an objective that targets diverse populations for educational opportunities.
    • Initiate a national study to identify underdocumented topics/areas and to address these documentary shortcomings.
    • Incorporate an objective that supports the creation of an SAA committee on diversity/social responsibility.
    • Target predominantly minority archival institutions for SAA membership recruitment.

3. Reinforce and expand existing activities that support diversity

The membership should acknowledge and celebrate SAA's prior and continuing programs and activities that promote diversity and, in so doing, renew and expand its commitment to diversity. With regard to specific existing activities, the Task Force makes the following recommendations:

Mentoring Program:

  • Focus on mentoring efforts for underrepresented groups.
  • Membership Committee:   Charge the Membership Committee to work with the Mentoring Program focus on underrepresented groups.
  • Review general introductory membership materials and revise them, as necessary, to target appeals to specific underrepresented groups.
  • Initiate recruitment in communities where underrepresented groups are found.

Program Committee:

  • Assure that the Annual Meeting program includes both participants and session topics representing diverse communities.
  • Include sessions designed to help archivists understand issues related to diversity in the workplace as well as in the Society.
  • Highlight diversity sessions with a graphic in the printed program.

Appointments Committee:

  • Include at least one new or lesser-known member on each committee and task force as an intern to increase participation by newcomers.

4. Identify and establish new initiatives to promote diversity

The Society would benefit by a number of new initiatives to promote diversity. The Task Force recommends the following: 

Executive Office:   

SAA Website:

  • Enhance the Website to attract both potential archivists and members of underdocumented communities or groups.
  • Develop links for archivists to connect with under-represented communities.
  • Promote links on sites frequented by underrepresented groups to items of interest on the SAA Website.
  • Develop Spanish, French, and Chinese language materials on the site.

Annual Meeting:

  • Add a diversity fair.

Educational Programming:

  • Develop educational products for archivists on communicating and working with diverse communities
  • Develop educational products for nonarchivists from underrepresented groups to train them in documenting their own communities and in preserving their heritage.


  • Promote certification as an educational entry point to increase diversity within the profession and within SAA.

Financial Aid:

  • Increase scholarship aid to attend SAA meetings and workshops and graduate archival education.
  • Promote planned giving by members to support scholarships for underrepresented communities.

College and University Archives Section:

  • Develop programs for C&U archivists to promote archival materials to minority studies programs. Such programs would encourage interest in research projects as well as introduce students to the profession.

Archival Educators Roundtable:

  • Recruit minorities to graduate programs.
  • Include diversity issues in the MAS guidelines.
  • Include documentation of diverse groups as a topic in appropriate courses.
  • Encourage practicing minority archivists to consider entering the archival education field to change the face of current archival education programs.

Public Information Committee:

  • Conduct public relations on behalf of the profession to college/preemployment population.
  • Conduct public relations to underdocumented ethnic and racial groups to raise interest in the profession and in the need for documenting their group.

Membership Committee:

  • Collect benchmark data and develop a census profile of diversity within SAA.


  • Establish mechanisms to monitor the Society's progress on the diversity initiative through existing organizational units, reporting systems, and Council committees.

Un-named Actor:

  • Encourage internships in archives for high school and college students and for community representatives from underrepresented groups.

Plans for Opening a Dialog with the Membership of SAA

The Task Force on Diversity firmly believes that the current membership of SAA must be engaged in discussions on diversity issues. The opportunity for members to provide their thoughts, concerns, and suggestions is a critical component in ensuring that the Task Force's report and recommendations take into consideration the diversity of opinion present in the Society. A range of opportunities and techniques should be employed to provide ample opportunity for the membership to consider and respond to the Task Force's report. To meet this need, the Task Force proposes the following:

1. Disseminate information on the Task Force and its report to SAA leadership.

Leadership listserv. A copy of the Task Force interim report should be distributed through the SAA leadership listserv in July 1998. Leadership should be strongly encouraged to review the report and consider its relationship to, and impact on, the group they currently represent.

2. Disseminate summary information on the Task Force and its Report.

  • Article in Archival Outlook. The July issue of the Society's newsletter should carry an article describing the work and report of the Task Force. Information on obtaining a full copy of the report will be provided in the article.
  • Archives Listserv. A brief announcement summarizing the work of the Task Force and the availability of its report should be posted on the Archives listserv.

3. Disseminate the Task Force Report and Recommendations.

  • SAA website. A full copy of the Task Force interim report should be made available on the SAA website in July following Council review and approval; the interim report should remain on the website until the final report is completed and the strategic plan has been revised.
  • SAA office. For members who cannot access the website, hard copy of the report should be made available through the Chicago office beginning in July 1998 when the Archival Outlook article is published

4. Discussion sessions at the Annual Conference in Orlando.

  • Open Forum. The Task Force will hold an Open Forum during the Annual Conference to summarize its report and recommendations and to obtain input from members of the Society.
  • Task Force Office Hours. Members of the Task Force will be available during a specified time slot in the Exhibits area to discuss the report and recommendations with interested members.
  • Discussions with key groups. The leadership will be asked whether their committee, round table, or section would like a member of the Task Force to provide a briefing on and discuss the report with their group at their meeting during the Annual Conference.

VI. Follow-up Activities

  1. Submit article on the work of the task force for publication in Archival Outlook.
  2. Publish the interim report in Archival Outlook, on the SAA website, on leadership listserv, and announce the availability of the report on the Archives listserv.
  3. Hold discussions with membership at annual meeting, on leadership listserv, and other opportunities.
  4. Gather, review and analyze feedback from membership, SAA leadership and Council.
  5. Revise interim report based on feedback from the membership and Council.
  6. Prepare and submit a program proposal for the 1999 annual meeting that highlights diversity initiatives within the profession.
  7. Prepare final report for submission in May 1999.


Rev. 6/16/98