2020 Museum Archives Section Business Meeting Minutes

Minutes of the Museum Archives Section Business Meeting
Tuesday, July 28, 2020
via Zoom

  1. Welcome
  2. Announcement of election results and recognition of outgoing officers
  3. Officer reports
    1. Secretary Tara Laver
    2. Working Group Co-Chair Megan Schwenke
    3. Newsletter Editor Cate Peebles
    4. Web Liaison Shannon Morelli
  4. MAS Survey Findings V. Attendees Open Forum: What are you doing in response to COVID 19?
  5. Council Liaison Announcements (Melissa Gonzales)
  6. Adjournment

Attendance: 132

I. Chair Katrina O’Brien opened the meeting and welcomed attendees. She reviewed procedures for communicating during the meeting via Zoom. As a preface to the election results announcement, she noted many potential candidates contacted felt they could not take on additional activities because of COVID, so some current officers agreed to continue.

II. Vice-chair/Incoming Chair thanked those who ran for office and announced the results of the election: Vice-chair/Chair-elect Katrina O’Brien, Secretary Tara Laver, and Web Liaison Shannon Morelli. He also shared some comments submitted during the election: 1) a desire for greater racial diversity on the slate, 2) wish more people had volunteered, 3) possibility of expanding to include a member of large. He noted that participation is the key, and it is often difficult to find people to run, so he encouraged members to nominate themselves and emphasized the roles are not onerous.

He also commented that the coming year would be a different one for the profession because of COVID and hoped that within the section we would be able to support each other and resolve issues we are encountering in this unusual and challenging time.

III. Officers Reports

  1. Secretary Tara Laver had sent out the 2019 minutes earlier for review and linked to them in the chat. Asked for any questions or corrections and received none. Opted not to have vote given the online meeting format and consider them the final minutes.
  2. Standards and Best Practices Working Group Co-Chair Megan Schwenke reported on the group’s project for the year to update the Museum Archives Guidelines, which were previously approved in 2003, now 17 years ago. They and the 2004 book Museum Archives are the only SAA-endorsed protocols related specifically to our work. In 2018, the Working Group started updating the content and structure to reflect the many changes and advances in the profession in the last 17 years. That year the group evaluated content and structure in small groups and polled the section about what was missing. This year the group worked in pairs to write new content and peer review each other’s content, then coordinated with standards committee to ensure revisions would be in a stronger position for approval. The pandemic slowed progress. The group will be sharing the revised guidelines over the next year to SAA membership for comment and review and to allied groups including the American Alliance of Museums. They were unable to program a symposium this year because of lack of presenters, largely attributable to COVID.
  3. Newsletter Editor Cate Peebles shared highlights from 2020 issues and mentioned the kind of articles that she looks for, including but not limited to collections being worked on, special projects, professional news, and notes about institution and publications. She also noted that given everything happening currently, there is probably a lot members are doing and could write about. Next submission period will be in November for Winter 2021 issue. Finally, Peebles mentioned 2020/2021 would be her last year as editor and encouraged others to consider running next year.
  4. Web Liaison Shannon Morelli reviewed what is available on the website including the guidelines and Working Group Standards and Best Practices Resources (sample policies and procedures), the archive of section newsletters, election information and section leadership information. The results of the 2020 section survey will be posted there when concluded.

IV. Katrina O’Brien discussed the MAS Survey, which will be open for response through the summer. The full results will be distributed via list-serv and on the section website, but she shared some highlights from responses submitted so far:

  1. 92% rated the Standards and Best Practices Resources as extremely important or somewhat important. She invited members to send in updated polices and procedures for the site.
  2. Newsletter and symposium also rated as very important.
  3. Top priorities identified as the symposium and offering online educational opportunities. Leadership will flesh out the latter more in terms of topics, how to do it logistically, and who would be interested in presenting.
  4. Members who have responded so far are concentrated on the coast, especially Northeast, East coast, and New England.
  5. Majority were seasoned professionals, in 4-15 year range and that’s reflected in the salary ranges.
  6. Most have department budgets, less so from grants, endowments, etc.
  7. Budgets – relatively neutral but slight decrease in budget and for staff, probably because of COVID and those cuts are likely to grow.
  8. Majority care for both institutional and donated collections.
  9. Many reported their job priorities during COVID had changed to focus on what can be done remotely, including a lot of metadata work, digitization, building online resources, and conducting outreach activities in a different way.
  10. Majority are working from home and report planning to open in the school year or are uncertain.

V. Attendees Open Forum: What are you doing in response to COVID 19?

Cleveland Museum of Art: closed mid-March but three weeks ago were able to return under strict guidelines, and library and archives staff have largely returned. They work behind locked doors and feel quite safe. The museum reopened to the public June 30 using timed tickets, requiring masks, and safety protocols in place. The library and archives will open to students in the museum studies program. They have been doing reference, paging, and scanning for staff since the closure. They do not anticipate opening to the public until 2021.

Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, FL: The museum is located on a navy base so are abiding by their protocols, and they have had cases in the museum, which has pushed them back in terms of being able to offer modified services. The archives has been closed the whole time. The expectation is to open to government ID holders first but not to the public until 2021. With 30 volunteers and most in a high-risk category, they have not been in either but have been sending them work they can do remotely such as transcription from scans to keep them engaged. Have focused on the backlog. Working on a plan to of protocols for when they do re-open.

Museum of Danish America, Elk Horn, Iowa: The state never a formal stay at home order, but the museum closed to the public when public school did in March. About half of the staff is in at-risk demographic, so they have stayed home, but there are staff who have been on staff since the closure, including an intern. The museum reopened July 7 to the public but on a reduced schedule of three days a week and for fewer hours. They request use of masks by visitors and have enhanced cleaning protocols. Staff are required to wear masks but not much has changed in community where the museum is located, a remote location in town of about 500.

Smithsonian Library and Archives: Key retirements and reorganization occurred not long before the pandemic started. The system encompasses 22 branches in three distinct geographic areas: Washington DC Metro, New York City, and Panama so are dealing with different conditions and in different phases and unique to each unit – for example National Mall museums (inside, reliance on public transportation) vs. the National Zoo (outside). Most are doing enhanced telework like elsewhere, and there is a strong emphasis on safety.

World of Speed Motorsports Museum, Wilsonville, Oregon: Closed to the public in March and all staff worked from home for about a month. The next month they all went down to reduced hours but received Covid pay. As they were working out a plan to reopen and how to have volunteers continue to work, they received word the museum would permanently close. Now they are going through the dissolution process and trying to re-home the collections, which is complicated by COVID closures of potential recipient museums.

VI. Council Liaison Melissa Gonzales reported that Council took the following actions at its August 1 meeting:


On June 30 the council approved a Fiscal Year 2021 budget of $2,107,623 in revenues, $2,161,883 in expenses, and a net loss of $54,260.

Contributing to the projected net loss are anticipated declines in SAA membership and Annual Meeting revenues, due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most notable among the steps to contain costs are zeroing out of all travel expenses, a move to digital-only publication of American Archivist as of January 2021 and Archival Outlook by May 2021, suspension of the pilot project to fund Section initiatives, and a decision not to fill recently vacant staff positions in Education.

To paraphrase Meredith: It's not great to approve a deficit budget, but we understand the importance of maintaining our capacity to provide services and high levels of support to members while accounting for the ongoing impact of the pandemic and economic downturn on our profession.

SAA Treasurer Amy Fitch and Finance/Administration Director Peter Carlson led a conversation with members about SAA’s financial outlook on Friday, July 17. There is a recording of that meeting on the SAA site.

Black Lives and Archives

Following Council's statement on Black Lives and archives made on June 2, there have been two sessions on what this means for our work going forward. Over 900 folks joined the community reflection on June 11, and a follow-up listening and strategy session was held on July 24 with about 300 attendees. Thank you all who joined us in listening, reflecting, and strategizing on how we can create change within the society and begin repairing centuries of violence committed against Black people in our society and profession. Both sessions were recorded and are available on the SAA site.

August Council meeting

The next Council meeting will be on Monday, August 3. Agenda items of note are:

  • Approval of the charge and description of the Tragedy Response working group
  • A discussion (ongoing) on assessment and sustainability of SAA sections
  • Update on recruitment of the AA editor
  • Various other component group and staff reports

Archives*Records 2020

  • Over 1,000 folks currently registered for the virtual annual meeting.
  • Remember to use Sched to plan your schedule and pre-register for the events where necessary. When you RSVP to the session you will receive the Zoom links and other relevant info.

VII. Adjourned

Compiled by Secretary Tara Laver