2013 Remarks of Incoming SAA President Danna Bell-Russel

August 17, 2013

2013 SAA Annual Membership Meeting
August 17, 2013

Remarks of Incoming SAA President Danna Bell-Russel

This past year has been pretty incredible. It’s been filled with the highs of working with an amazing Council and SAA staff.  However it has had some intense lows as well. Recently I was telling a friend about the events of the previous week.  I told her that during that week I received copies of my dad’s death certificate, put in the paperwork to file for divorce and, while on Facebook, saw a mouse in the kitchen of my apartment.  She thought that it was interesting that two of the events I described were documented with paper. As I listened to her, a phrase from a previous presidential address crossed my mind, “but a thin veil of paper…”[1]

So many events are marked by a sheet of paper. But behind those pages are lives well lived, events well documented, changes well preserved. Yes, I used the analogy of a piece of paper but there are many other ways that we document our memories. More importantly, behind the preservation of these memories are archivists.  Not only do we collect, organize, and preserve memories and the media that hold them but we make them accessible.

I will admit that though I know it is vitally important to acquire collections and arrange, describe, and preserve them, as a reference archivist I feel that providing access to these documents is the most important thing we do.  If users can’t access these memories, they can be forgotten and fade away – lost to the ages.

The theme for the 2014 Joint Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, is Archives*Records: Ensuring Access.  During this year I do plan to focus on access for users, especially users within the K-12 community. I believe this group is key to ensuring that archives and archivists receive the support they need to protect and preserve the collections in their care.  With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards in the majority of the United States, teachers are now required to use more informational texts with students. These include primary source documents such as letters, diaries, and accounting ledgers…all the kinds of materials found in our repositories.  We need to work with the education community to encourage teachers to make use of archival collections in their communities to engage students, encourage critical thinking, and expand knowledge.

However, I also want to look at access in another way.  I want to make sure that archivists can access the training and the resources they need so that they can do their jobs well.  This includes ensuring that we get information to members in a format they can use.  It includes making sure that archivists get the training they need when they need it and that training and information are available on a variety of different platforms.

The SAA Council and staff have finished the first round of work on the strategic plan. We think that it is a strong plan that encourages SAA to think broadly and to be a more flexible and active Society.  We believe this is a natural progression from our previous plan. Know that even if diversity, technology, and advocacy are not mentioned by name, they are the warp in the fabric of this plan. They are integral to the mission and philosophy of SAA and cannot be ignored.

I hope that members will be happy, as I am, to know that a number of the recommendations from the report of the Annual Meeting Task Force have already been implemented. Also the Council has established a Task Force on Member Affinity Groups to study whether the Society should consider supplementing sections and roundtables with other methods to facilitate members’ interactions and networking.  This task force should be reporting back this time next year and I am excited to see their recommendations.

The Society will work to be more nimble and flexible and we want to hear your suggestions, your concerns, and your compliments when we get it right.  We are willing to explore ideas and we need you to help. Yes, it is easy to complain; but I’m going to suggest we try something different.  A friend’s favorite saying is, “Turn a complaint into a plan for action.” So if you have a question, an idea, or a concern, offer suggestions on how to solve the problem, how to implement a solution, or how to make something wrong become right.  We’ll be even more effective if you volunteer to help implement the suggestions!

As I wrote the previous paragraph I found myself thinking about the appointments process. It was downright painful not to find a way to appoint everyone who applied. I hope that those of you who were not appointed will make use of your talents as presenters, workshop developers, section and roundtable leaders, writers, reviewers, or boots on the ground for advocacy issues.

My final thoughts for this speech come back to the incredible people who make up this Society.  As you might have guessed from the start of this speech, I’ve had a pretty insane summer. But as I went through it I was reminded of all the wonderful people inside and outside of SAA who care for and about me. There are far too many to name and thank personally during this brief speech, but please know that I am grateful beyond words for your support.

I do want to take a moment to acknowledge and thank the SAA staff.  A couple of them have been on board since my first days as a member. I also know there is one SAA staff angel supporting me from on high.  I must send special thanks and lots of love to Nancy Beaumont who, as I sat at my dad’s beside just before he died, texted, “I am holding your hand.” And when I texted back that he had passed, she alerted the Council and then the people she knows are my closest friends in SAA so they could send their support. I think Nancy and the SAA staff are wonderful and I’m beyond grateful for their support and help.

I am honored to serve as your president. And I am excited to work with you and to support you. Thank you.

[1] The title of Frank Boles’s 2009 SAA Presidential Address, available at http://www2.archivists.org/sites/all/files/Boles-PresidentialAddress-Aug2009.pdf.