The Challenges and Opportunities of Being Socially Responsible


The SAA Statement of Core Values and Code of Ethics includes eleven core values.  Among them is Social Responsibility.  In fulfilling its charge to investigate and recommend changes to SAA’s annual meeting, the Social Responsibility Subgroup has been looking into ways in which the annual meeting can help us to be better local, national and global citizens. We've been focusing mainly on three areas:

Fair labor practices

A labor dispute at the Hyatt Regency during SAA's 2011 meeting in Chicago served, in part, as the catalyst for including social responsibility in the Annual Meeting Task Force’s substantial reconsideration of the annual meeting. We have been looking at ways in which SAA can support fair labor practices at our conference facilities, and have discussed a variety of methods we may use including adding language to hotel contracts that would allow SAA the ability to change venues in the event of a labor dispute.  In addition, we've also discussed whether SAA might need to rethink the frequency with which it holds its annual meeting in Chicago, given the city's history of ongoing labor disputes in the hospitality industry.

Environmental sustainability

As we began to think about ways in which the annual meeting can be more socially responsible, the idea of environmental sustainability has also come up. We've thought about ways to reduce the amount of waste the annual meeting produces and reducing its carbon footprint. These might include actions like reducing the amount of signage, eliminating some of the printed material from the welcome packet, and explicitly considering public transportation when selecting conference venues.

Service project

At the most recent annual meeting in San Diego, the Archivists of Religious Collections Section sponsored a very successful service project. This was an idea we'd talked about in the subgroup, and would like to continue.  SAA frequently meets in certain cities, so it may be possible for these projects to support both the short and long term needs of local archives and service organizations.

In our discussions, the subgroup has often acknowledged that having a more socially responsible annual meeting can be costly and inconvenient, both for us as individuals as well as an organization. It can be difficult to balance the many competing priorities and needs of an event as complex as SAA's annual meeting.  Issues of environmental responsibility, fair labor and service are challenging and often compete with compelling logistical and financial demands. Despite such complications, we feel these issues deserve to be explicitly addressed in the context of the annual meeting.  If we - individually and organizationally - fail to address these issues because they seem too overwhelming or too hypothetical we are, by failing to act, making a statement about the importance of these issues to us.  In that vein, we're also drafting language for a general statement of social responsibility in regards to its annual meeting, for Council’s consideration.

We invite your input on these issues.  Specifically, we ask that you think about the issues that we have raised and offer your feedback. 

  • Do you feel that SAA should negotiate hotel contracts with fair labor language?  
  • Are you willing to pay a premium for a hotel that provides that escape clause?  
  • Do you have other avenues to recommend making sure that the Society is able to follow its core value of social responsibility?  
  • Do you feel that that the Society should have a separate statement of social responsibility?  
  • What should we be doing about sustainability?  
  • Are you interested in service projects?  

Please contact any of the members of our sub-group or leave a comment on this blog post.

Rachel Vagts, Sub-group chair
Hillel Arnold
Lynda DeLoach
Jodi Koste
Alan Lefever


terryx says:
Lots of good comments here.

Lots of good comments here. In many ways this is the old bombs are bad argument. Who's on record as opposing fair labor practices, sustainability and service projects? The question is how to make them work.

Fair labor practices: the idea of an opt out clause is really at the heart of making this work, as long as we retain the current model of doing things. There is not way of predicting individual labor issues three-four years out. We coudl certianly have a list of repeat/frequent offenders, but being able to opt out of a situation like the one in Chicago is key. What cost is acceptable? Would people pay $10 more? Sure. $25 more? probably. $100 more? heh. Having a number to hang this hat on would be really useful. I'd also say that I'm only marginally confortable with prioritizing labor issues over other social justice issues. I understand the need to identify key issues, but Jeremy Floyd's comment on a more comprehensive social responsibility platform makes sense to me. The Adam's Mark issue in SAA Denver was not a labor issue. Questions about locating a conference in Prop 8 country was also discussed by SAA (even though I love Portland, I'd locate a conference in Seattle if it gave pdx a kick in the ass to do the right thing). So there are a range of issues related to social responsiblity and conference location.

  • I'd love to see a statement of social responsibility that included some way of ranking locations: ie preference points for this; negative points for that; deal-killers; etc. And some way of making the process more member-inclusive; 
  • Make the process more transparent (ie locations reviewed, selection criteria, ranking, etc.) In NWA we vote on meeting lcoations based on a committee recommendation;
  • Maybe think about the effect of a personal responsibility model. One commenter noted that social responsibility means different things to different people. A model that lets people select their own accomodations puts that onus on the person attending. This would still require socially responsible contracts with convention centers, though;
  • There are other annual meeting vendors. It might be better to have a general set of contracting rules (even beyond the annual meeting). It would be disingenuous to jump on hotels for labor issues and then buy sweatshop swag (not saying we do, just that it's possible).

Sustainability is a tricky issue. I would fully support simple things like less-paper conferences, less signage, and public transit friendly locations. But bigger picture things (like flying, which offsets almost all other savings combined) are hard to address given the current conference model. I'd suggest a two tiered approach here. Pick off the easy stuff right away. At the same time, begin researching larger scale reductions and how they could occur, especially in a different model for meetings. One possibility would be reducing the number of annual meetings and increasing things like superregionals and joing meetings at the local level. Without a sense of what the actual costs are and what would have to change to lower them, this will probably be more feel good than anything else.

Serive projects are awesome. I'd have loved to participate in San Diego, but a) heard about it too late and b) was hard-scheduled against it. Maybe having a several local options that would be simple to manage and easy to sign up for (maybe at registration?) would work. Either way, keep doing them. It looks like a great way to have fun and make friends.












D'Ent2918 says:
Yes, with Caveats/Questions

I agree with many of the points made in "Can we get more information?" posted below.

To me, the most important issue is the fair labor practices one.  I would have a very hard time crossing a picket line just to attend an SAA meeting.  I would like SAA to investigate putting a clause in the contract and how enforceable such a clause is.  The biggest concern is what would SAA's backup plan be in a case where there is a labor problem that begins shortly before the meeting.  How would we deal with this?  I think another commenters idea to keep in touch with the unions well ahead of time is a good one.

I feel hypocritical saying "yes, I would pay more for this sort of contract" since usually the only way I am able to (infrequently) attend SAA conferences now is by staying with friends or in a cheap B&B.  If you're talking less than $10, then I think most people would be OK with it.  If you're talking $50, then that becomes a problem.

The environmental issues related to the conference are not big to me.  As someone else pointed out, the minimal problem of a few hundred pieces of paper is nothing compared to the natural resources that are spent getting people to the conference.  One thing I would say is DON'T REDUCE SIGNAGE.  With all the events I am involved in planning, the biggest complaint/compliment we get, other than food-related issues, is signage.  If you don't have enough, people get really annoyed and grumpy.  When signage makes things easy to find, they arrive on time and relaxed.

Another thing to remember is that cell/wireless is often spotty in these big confrence buildings that are filled with concrete and metal.  If you are going to reduce handouts, you will want to scatter more printouts on signs, bulletin boards, etc. around the meeting area.  Also, believe it or not, many of us low-paid archivists do not have smart phones or tablets.  Maybe that is not the demographic that comes to SAA, but it is certainly true of the regional organizations.  If you're trying to shake the "elitist" label, maybe assuming everyone has a 4G smart phone is not the best way to do it.

I like the idea of service projects, especially those focused on libraries/archives/museums.  ALA does this, and I think it does a lot to build camaraderie and loyalty to the professional organization as well as doing good.



helrond says:
Comment deadline

A few people have asked what the deadline is for sending in comments. I can't speak for the subgroup, but I know we're planning on discussing comments and suggestions early next week on December 10th, so sooner is better! However, speaking for myself, I'm always happy to receive feedback up until the time our recommendations go to SAA Council, so please get in touch if you have comments, suggestions, ideas or questions down the line.

And thanks for all the great comments already!

-Hillel Arnold

eiratansey says:
Can we get more information?

I feel like I have more questions than constructive suggestions right now. This is a position I normally don't enjoy being in, since I prefer to be on the helpful end of things, but I'd appreciate hearing how the AMTF has approached some of these issues in further detail.
• Do you feel that SAA should negotiate hotel contracts with fair labor language? 

I am generally in favor of this, but I have a number of questions regarding how this might play out. Can we get examples of what this actually means? Does it mean that SAA would put in language to the effect of “we reserve the right to pull out of this contract if XYZ conditions ensue”…? How much teeth would it have, or would it be more aspirational? Do we know how much these contract clauses can be enforced in the case of a dispute? Does SAA have legal counsel at hand to work with us on this should we need it? Is SAA prepared to implement a Plan B at the last minute if say, a walkout occurs 3 days before our meeting is scheduled to begin?

• Are you willing to pay a premium for a hotel that provides that escape clause? 

Part of me says "Of course!" but I also want to know "how much?" The only reason I was able to afford the hotel this year was generous funding from my institution (primarily because I chaired a session/gave a paper) and splitting the costs with a fantastic conference-roommate. This was the first year I stayed at the conference hotel, and I'm really glad I did because it felt much more... productive (constantly bumping into people, the ability to recharge my batteries with a 10-minute downtime escape to my hotel room). In previous years when I haven't had as much funding, I've had to stay with family in the area or at hostels. How much would this premium add on to the costs for people who already find it difficult to afford the hotel? This is not an insignificant factor to consider. Would the premium make it so expensive that SAA would have difficult meeting its block of rooms quota? I think pitting our social responsibility values against affordability is a false choice and I don't want to see the conversation go that way. So, how can we find solutions to this issue that do not involve raising costs for the people already having difficulty affording the meeting in the first place...?

• Do you feel that that the Society should have a separate statement of social responsibility? 

I don't see what the benefit to this is (unless it is to issue guidelines for the issues currently under discussion), given that social responsibility is already a core value of SAA. Also, is this a separate statement of SR in regards to the annual meeting, or just for the organization as a whole? If it's the latter, is that within the scope of the AMTF?

• What should we be doing about sustainability? 

A mobile app for the annual meeting including the schedule. I support the opt-in to paper method mentioned by the other commenters.

• Are you interested in service projects? 

Although I support the inclusion of service projects in the meeting, I'm not sure it's something I personally would be involved in due to limitations of time I typically have at the annual meeting. I would suggest that service projects be coordinated with suggestions from the local host committee, who may have good ideas on involvement with local projects.

astankra says:
SAA and Social Responsibility - I Vote Yes!

I heartily 'endorse' the recommendations and thoughts put forward here by the SAA Social Responsibility Subgroup.

I also echo many of the previous posters' thoughts and assertions.

As one person has noted, I fully believe that it's (frankly) hypocritical for us to engage in conversations about how we deserve and should fight for higher salaries, benefits, etc. within our profession if we're not to see that workers in other sectors face the very same issues in many ways. And arguably, those who work in service positions like the hotel industry largely don't have as much agency as we do. We should, I believe, see ourselves as a collective - rather than box ourselves up as separate (and maybe then, more 'special' than) from other workers in other professions.

I was one of the folks who talked at length with a few of the union leaders who were leading strike agitation for the 2010 annual meeting,
- I fully advocate SAA developing a relationship/having conversations with the unions that are represented in the location-of-the-year's hotel. And I think that it's critical to do so early in the planning stages - and have that connection sustained through the planning process.

I am willing to pay a bit more for accomodations if need be, yes.

And I think having a statement of social responsibility is most likely wise - but if that's decided against, I'd not be up-in-arms.

I also echo previous posters' comments on SAA making our annual meetings more environmentally sustainable. I really appreciated the opportunity each day of this past year's annual meeting to *recycle* the waste that I came into contact with. And electronic options for much of our informational content for the meeting is super, for sure.

I'm also pleased about the idea of having SAA do a service project. ALA has done one for years - and I think this is a wonderful opportunity for our professional organization to connect with the community in which we are the year in question, do good, and also to promote our organization.

Thank You SO Much for providing this platform - and for putting these opportunities forward!

With Enthusiasm,

Alison Stankrauff
Archivist and Associate Librarian
Franklin D. Schurz Library
Indiana University South Bend
P.O. Box 7111
South Bend, Indiana 46634
(574) 520-4392
grifsa01 says:
Yes! On all of it!
I think that SAA should consider fair labor clauses in regards to their hotel contracts, and if that required a bump in the fee of the hotel/facilities, then I would be okay with that.

So many of us are faced with advocating for our own jobs on a regular basis, explaining the archives profession, and justifying the cost of our own graduate educations by proving how worthwhile we are to society and our cultural history.  I think it is hypocritical for us to pump our tiny passionate fists in the air, and then turn around, close our eyes, and dismiss similar employee plights in other industries.  Furthermore, many of us advocate for our collections with the argument that we are documenting the history and supporting the culture of traditionally underrepresented or disenfranchised groups.  By making fair labor a make-or-break issue with our own contracts, we are backing up our words with present action. 

I'm not sure that a separate statement of social responsibility is needed.  I think that the paragraph in the Core Values / Code of Ethics is sufficient.  But, I'm not against having one put together, if others feel it's necessary.

Re: sustainability, I echo the other comments made about moving towards paperless.  Specifically, Google Calendars or Apps could be hugely beneficial and could greatly cut down on the amount of paper that is distributed at the meetings.  (Of course, this might be contingent on having internet connectivity, which might not be available.)  Additionally, having readily accessible recycling bins at the facilities and cutting down on bottled/canned drinks at catered events would help with this initiative.  I really enjoyed the water dispensers in San Diego, as it made filling up my water bottle very convenient and encouraged me to drink water as opposed to purchasing other beverages.

With service projects, it would also be nice to have an option to donate money to a cause, rather than just time.  The annual meeting week is busy for so many people that there isn't always the possibility of donating time towards a project.  But, sponsoring a drive or fundraiser for a cause could also be a way for others to participate.  Perhaps this already exists and I'm unaware of it?

-Sasha Griffin
CraigSavino says:
in re: Fair Labor PracticesI

in re: Fair Labor Practices
I think the suggestions here are great and the very least SAA should be doing in this regard. An opt-out availability would be essential since the contract (and potential monetary loss to SAA) seemed the main excuse standing in the way of supporting a legitimate labor struggle vs. putting Archivists at odds with basic standards and decency of employment and labor in attending the meeting. I would say this is essential even at the cost of a premium, though in terms of *earnestly* fighting for fair labor that's nearly a concession too far (basically: Workers on all fronts, in all professions, have conceded far too much already).
I also think the suggestion in regards to reconsidering having the meeting as often in Chicago is a good one. At risk of getting political I would say it seems as long as Rahm Emmanuel or a Daly or really any NeoLiberal zealot is running that town workers will be getting the short shrift in disputes, strikes, and actions. The recent teachers' strike and Emmanuel's clear and absolute disdain for their concerns should be evidence enough. To argue it in "practical" (but frankly abhorrent and vulgar) terms, SAA has higher potential of putting itself in an awkward position like before every time the meeting is held in Chicago.

in re: Environmental Stability
This seems to me the weakest portion of this Statement though I do not blame the Task Force/sub-group for that being the case since it seems the most difficult to address. This is typical. It is perhaps the most drastic issue we face and yet it is met with the most tepid responses everywhere in policy and politics, not just in our Profession. "Reducing carbon footprint" sounds nice until you consider how many people had to fly and drive to get there anyway so... Would there ever be possibility of live-streaming seminars/conferences? This seems like a possible avenue not only for those facing economic hurdles in getting some of the information coming out of the conference but also in greatly reducing the carbon footprint. Explicitly considering public transport is another factor that addresses both economic and environmental concerns, so that is a good one.

in re: Service Project
This seems like a good idea though I think, as one commenter suggested, best left up to individual discretion. If the Society could act as contact for Service Projects though and help attendees to become a part of these at their discretion, I think this could be fruitful.

And finally: Yes, the Society should consider having a seperate statment of social responsibility. Without that sort of quite explicit and devoted connection to larger community why are we even here?

MyNameIs says:
Mission creep and caveats

While social responsibility as an ethical principle is fine, when trying to apply it to specifics of what is largely a logisitical endevor I think we are getting far afield from the point of our annual gathering and the hierarchy of things to consider when improving it.  In archivist speak, some of this material is out-of-scope.  Social responsibility to you may mean one thing and to me very much another, and it probably does.  I would agree to getting an out-clause based on labor disputes, but mainly for the potential service interruption, not because I have some special insight as an archivist or SAA member into whatever the dispute is, or that as a group we feel compelled to force our members to take sides in it.

If, in the case of paper and printing, social responsibility as defined here can intersect with economic benefits - such as costs to the member - then great.  Go for it.  If we are suggesting to further bind those that we have charged with planning the event based on venues - banning states or cities, hotel brands, or signing up for additional charges for not receiving specific services - then no this should not be done. 

I am interested to know what the committee's definition of fair labor practices is beyond that of the federal, state, and local regulations.  And futher, what special knowledge and authority do archivists have on this topic than the voters, elected officials, and appointed regulators of any state or city we choose to have a meeting in.

As far as the service project, I thought that was a great idea by the section and gave members a great volunteer opportunity and another choice of what to do with their time.  If this is expanded to an SAA-as-a-whole organized activity, perhaps with several options, then that should be applauded.

zimmer6000 says:
I also support these

I also support these responsibilities prioritized in the order presented above.  The first two are responsibilities that only SAA as an organization can and should tackle (immediately and directly), while service projects (similar to the the section project last year) might be best conceived as a mix of organizational and individual member or subgroup initiated events.  

To the labor and sustainability suggestions: yes, all of the above.  Maybe cultivate a closer relationship with unions (UNITE HERE, SEIU, etc.) involved in hotel/conference centers, not just the hotels/conference centers.  About sustainability: less paper and tell vendors to do the same.

SAA as an org could help explore opportunities for community service, partner with orgs, and help to coordinate events, but I would hate to see type of spontaneous kindness be completely institutionalized.  Even more passive forms of assistance should be explored as well.  For instance, partner with local restaurants, coffee shops to donate % of proceeds to local causes, orgs, etc.  This is the type of largescale power that SAA can wield.  Maybe a public service liaison position (or a group, committee, taskforce, etc.) could be formed; it could be part of local arrangements.  That person(s)/group could explore opportunities and be the hub for service opportunities in the conference city. 

A conference that has great opportunities for service in the community, but turns a blind eye to unfair practices going on under our noses at the conference, is not one that I will attend.

mattfrancis says:
social responsibility


  • Do you feel that SAA should negotiate hotel contracts with fair labor language?  
  • Are you willing to pay a premium for a hotel that provides that escape clause?  

The short answer is yes and yes.  More specifically during tough economic times when we our resource allocators to not take cheaper options when it comes to arhivists and archives, I think SAA needs to take steps to honor and respect the labor of those who make our meetings possible.  While I am already wary about the cost of our conferences and what that can mean to our attendance (both who is showing up as well as the total number), I think this is a case where the increased cost is 100% justifiable.


jjfloyd says:
I absolutely support these

I absolutely support these measures as a member of SAA. The manner in which we choose to spend our money, individually and as an organization, has social and political consequence. I would hate to be a part of an organization where we sacrifice our social and environmental values in favor of the cheapest option. If we choose not to pay these extra costs, they will be paid on the backs of exploitive labor relations and detrimental environmental impacts which will ultimately cost our society at large even more. We are a diverse membership, with numerous concerns but do not let this diversity be an excuse for inaction.

I would further encourage this task force to examine the guidelines set by the American Anthropological Association regarding their annual meeting location. Despite the diversity of its membership, from scientists to humanists, from academic institutions to nonprofits to corporate employers, AAA has committed to upholding human rights, environmental responsibility and labor fairness. If SAA is to be an organization which values social responsibility (in action as well as words) we should do no less.

- Jeremy Floyd


elawrimo says:

My opinions on labor practices are still being formed, but I wanted to comment on sustainability and service projects.

Sustainability -- yes, please. In lieu of major changes, why not simply give members the option to opt out of much of the printed materials provided at the annual meeting? I would prefer an app (or at least a Google calendar, depending on web availability on site) to a printed event program (on a similar, not annual meeting note,  I would prefer *not* to receive American Archivist in print). Perhaps those chosing that option might receive a slight discount in registration as incentive, but I doubt that an incentive would really be needed. This would help SAA at least gauge member interest in doing away with the paper.

Similarly, could be somehow incentivize the vendors to think about sustainability?

Access to public transportation isn't as important to me personally, but I can see it being key in certain cities (like San Diego) where there are limited alternative lodging options close to the conference hotel.

Service projects -- again, yes, please. But I would love to see more than one option for a service project. I know this would be a massive undertaking, but I think that a variety of service projects (different locations, different types of opportunities, and different scheduled times) would draw an even larger crowd of participants. Perhaps a Saturday afternoon/Sunday morning project for people who stay in town until Sunday evening? Maybe we can "flash" catalog a book collection at a local nonprofit?

helrond says:

I really like the idea of an opt-out of paper option, but how about taking it one step further and making paperless the default so people would have to explicitly opt-in if they wanted paper?

We'd have to see how this shakes out in terms of cost savings, but I like the idea of letting members decide for themselves, and using this as a gauge of our collective committment to social responsibility.

-Hillel Arnold