Council Seeks Comment on Proposed Changes in Member Affinity Groups

UPDATE AS OF SEPTEMBER 16, 2015--Thanks to the more than 50 individuals and component groups that responded to the call for comments! The call for comments on this draft is now closed. Council members will consider all feedback at their November 2015 meeting and will issue a second draft for comment.

UPDATE AS OF AUGUST 26, 2015--In light of significant comment at ARCHIVES 2015, the Council has extended the deadline for member comments on this proposal until Tuesday, September 15, 2015.

August 13, 2015—Working from a set of recommendations submitted by the Council-appointed Task Force on Member Affinity Groups in November 2014, an internal working group of Council members was charged to, “…explore options for simplifying component group structure while preserving the advantages and services provided by existing Sections and Roundtables. The internal working group will assess the impact of a flatter organizational structure, provisions for sun-setting component groups that become inactive, and support for virtual groups as an alternative way of organizing within SAA.”

Working group members Mark Duffy, Lisa Mangiafico, and James Roth noted in their May 2015 proposal to the Council that, “SAA Council has stated its preference for flexible, agile governance structures that are responsive to members’ needs. All levels in a membership association should strive for accountability and transparency, and these values are best achieved by uncomplicated structures that encourage communication to flow in ways that are appropriate to the members’ organizational needs. Time-consuming administrative controls that inhibit program development, create overhead for volunteers and staff, and become a resource drain on governance budgets warrant periodic review for improvement.”

The SAA Council agreed to seek member comment on the proposed changes in member affinity groups before proceeding with any changes.

Briefly, the revised structure would support two types of member affinity groups:

SAA Affinity Groups

  • All existing Sections and Roundtables would maintain their identity within SAA Affinity Groups and the current distinction between Sections and Roundtables would disappear. They would keep their current names, have access to space at the annual meeting, and receive technology support for microsites, listserv hosting, elections, and AV at the annual meeting.
  • Bylaws, annual reports, and elections would be normalized for Affinity Groups.
  • These groups would continue to have direct access to the Council through their liaison assignments and all groups would be able to petition the Council (with equal footing) for project or initiative funding.
  • SAA members would be able to associate with an unlimited number of Affinity Groups. SAA membership would be required for membership in an Affinity Group. The current inclusion of nonmembers as Roundtable “participants” would be discontinued.
  • Affinity Groups would be required to have as members at least 4% of the total membership of SAA (currently 6,201) and would have two years to reach that threshold if they are shy of it now. The Council would refine this threshold membership level as needed in the future. Affinity groups that cannot meet the threshold would be permitted to continue as Virtual Community Groups.

Virtual Community Groups

Virtual Community Groups would be created as a means of lowering the barriers to participation and involvement in networks of shared professional interest.

  • Virtual Community Groups could be started with as few as 50 SAA members.
  • An annual renewal request and compliance with general SAA policies on member conduct would be the only requirements to operate as a Virtual Community Group.
  • No bylaws or annual reports would be required, although some monitoring would be necessary as part of an annual renewal assessment to ensure ongoing usefulness.
  • The groups would be supported by SAA with listserv, microsite, and, where possible, social media technology support. They would not be assigned a Council liaison.
  • Virtual Community Groups would not be eligible for space at the annual meeting.
  • The groups would be managed by one or more coordinators who must be SAA members.
  • Nonmembers would be permitted to participate in Virtual Community Groups.

According to the working group, “The proposal aims to find the sweet spot of maximizing dues-paying members’ privileges while controlling the costs of administering and resourcing (space and technology) our diverse bodies. A threshold membership number will guide the Council in its decision to initiate or retire affinity groups. A two-year grace period would be given to all current groups to allow the Council to fine-tune the membership threshold. Virtual Community Groups would merely have to show purposeful activity and make an annual renewal request to keep their active status.”

The Council seeks member comment on the proposed changes in Member Affinity Groups. Read the complete proposal here. Provide your comments on any aspect of the proposed changes at by September 1, 2015.

UPDATE AS OF AUGUST 26, 2015--In light of significant comment at ARCHIVES 2015, the Council has extended the deadline for member comments on this proposal until Tuesday, September 15, 2015.

UPDATE AS OF SEPTEMBER 16, 2015--Thanks to the more than 50 individuals and component groups that responded to the call for comments! The call for comments on this draft is now closed. Council members will consider all feedback at their November 2015 meeting and will issue a second draft for comment.

37 Comment(s) to the "Council Seeks Comment on Proposed Changes in Member Affinity Groups"
rbizonet says:
Let's Keep Looking

I share the concerns of many commenters regarding the value of these changes and their possible unintended negative effects. In particular, what might be lost if non-members are excluded from the affinity group listservs? As we as a profession, and an organization, are trying to become more engaged with the rest of society, and to diversify our ranks, this move seems like a step backwards, and it risks, as others have mentioned, limiting participation from donors groups, affiliated professional or community organizations, the international community, and so on. (I would also like to see current breakdowns of group composition as to members/nonmembers, as Bill Landis and others have mentioned.)

Simple numbers don’t seem like an effective way to measure group “worthiness.” I would rather see some other way to determine this; for example, activity or the “productivity” that Frank Boles invokes. Moreover, the removal on the limit of affinity groups one can join does not make for more engagement. There are only so many things one can realistically follow, much less participate in. If I’m joining a group mainly to do them a favor to keep their numbers up, how meaningful is that?

Suggestions made in previous comments to look at other ways to solve the meeting space and Council liaison problems -- and these are problems; I sympathize there! --  strike a chord with me as well, as do some of the proposed solutions. Having groups petition for meeting space; sharing meeting space or even collaborating, at least in part, during meetings; not to mention more efficient, effective use of Council liaisons are all reasonable ideas to look at fleshing out into alternative solutions.

I appreciate much of the intent of the proposal, but in its current form, it is not something I would like to see put into practice. 

jderidder says:
starter groups, non-members, group liaisons

While this proposal addresses how to identify which groups to disband, it fails to address how a new group could form and gain 4% of the population.  And what happens when an active "virtual community group" grows to include a decent percentage of the population, and its focus becomes critical to archives? How does that transition to an affinity group, and what becomes of the non-member participants?

Closing access to the affinity groups is a good way to lose a lot of interest and potential members, as well as to lose the cross-pollination from which great ideas and solutions emerge.  I agree with others that this is a mistake.  Limiting access to affinity groups to non-members (can only join 2, and of course cannot be on a steering committee) might be a potential solution.

This proposal fails to address the issue in the recommendations about there being so much overlap between existing affinity groups.  I think it would be helpful for the council to create liaisons between similar groups to help them address how to coordinate and collaborate: or how to delineate between the two groups.  We have a lot of duplication of effort here, and competition where we need to be on the same page as we have the same mission and concerns.

Also, I agree that such an impactful change as what is being proposed should be voted on by the full membership -- electronic voting, not the limited voting that can occur at an annual meeting.

I applaud the suggested support at annual meetings and the equalization and flattening of the hierarchical structure!

Thank you for asking for feedback, and for hearing our concerns. 

sbennett says:
Cautiously optimistic

I think the proposed changes make sense in seeking a more flexible community structure, given previous observations about and criticisms of roundtables and sections in the past (confusion, overlap, lack of activity). This will provide some clarity around how the groups work, which would allow people to join and participate in AGs with greater ease. 

First, I think it's acceptable to try this experiment, knowing that in the future another iteration of Council may revise it. Since the current system is a bit of an albatross, trying out a revised structure makes sense.

Second, I hope SAA would encourage and provide ways for the AGs and VCGs to overlap and provide means of discussion and knowledge-sharing with non-SAA members, including our international colleagues, without the AG having to duplicate content. at a minimum, keeping AG listservs open to nonmembers enriches all archivists' work. I appreciate the desire to demonstrate SAA's value, but for some, an SAA membership will remain out of reach no matter how attractive we make it.

I also agree that activity and engagement with its members are an important aspect of AGs. An annual report would not be overly burdensome and would provide transparency into the work of each AG, which in turn might pique peoples' interest in a group and increase its membership. 

eiratansey says:
Agreement on measuring year-round activity

I agree with Bill Landis, Frank Boles, and Brad Houston re: making determinations for support of groups based not on member numbers, but on between-meeting activity.

I believe that currently, there are groups that are well above the 4% threshold that are virtually dead except for putting together an annual meeting agenda and slate of candidates. On the other hand, there are groups that may not consistently have 4% of members, but which are very active year-round.

I completely support requiring affinity groups to file reports with their council liaison on a periodic basis showing what activities they are undertaking to engage their members. Failure to do this consistently for 2 years could result in decertification of a group. I think this would meet SAA's goals of ensuring that resources are not being expanded on inactive groups, while also allowing small and lively groups to flourish.

acschi says:

I concur with Eira's concurrence on the importance of including the evaluation of affinity group reports as part of the evaluation. We would want both numbers and examples to evaluate the need for and effectiveness of groups. I presume that if the proposal had not included the 4% as a baseline number that members would be asking for such a number. ;)

Am I the only one who recalls lamentations only a few years ago about what poor value folks felt their SAA membership was? This proposal is to me the beginning of a move to make it clearer what my membership benefits are including active, organized affinity groups. Yet it is also offering a home (away from Facebook and other online communities that have come & gone) for online discussions, announcements, etc. around specific topics of mutual interest to archivists. I don't want to sift through the detritus of the A&A or other general listservs for the nuggets of gold and so virtual communities are a development I would welcome.

levittma says:


With such a requirement and the specificity of some of the groups, some may not be able to reach the necessary threshold. This may result in one of two scenarios:

1. The group will become virtual and lose some of the great benefits of in-person meetings (and may just find a place to meet on their own at the meeting anyhow).

2. Somewhat related groups may merge to meet the number of members required, thus watering down their mission/vision as they incorporate a more disparate set of interests.

I'm not sure either of these are desirable, but understand the limited space available at our meeting venues.


swoodland says:
Sections and Roundtables

I was pulled into 2 remarkable communities in the first few years after joining SAA as I began to attend the conference every year. Without the Women's Collection Roundtable and the Visual Materials Secrion I would have been lost in the hugeness of SAA. Now SAA is much, much larger and confusing, and it is more important than ever to have a group of real live colleagues with similar interests to reconnect with every year. The virtual connection during the year is  good, but it doesn't replace a physical meeting.

it is important to me that there not be a size limitation on a group in order to have this physical meeting. Especially for members who feel their SAA connection mostly via these groups, and who belong to groups with fewer members.

As SAA continues to grow it becomes increasingly difficult to navigate; the conference changes from year to year with experiments in session formats and different venues. Something needs to remain constant and manageably small. Please don't eliminate in person meetings of sections/Roundtablesi/affinity groups. (The name isn't important to me, but the underlying concept is).

walstr says:
Proposed Changes

I agree with many of my colleagues below that the proposed changes are unwise.

1. As many have already stated, precluding non-members from joining Affinity Groups is unnecessary and will shut out the very important voices of records creators, members of allied professions, international archivists, and archivists who are unable to afford SAA dues. This move toward insularity seems deeply at odds with SAA's focus on professional advocacy and the notions of early appraisal or lifecycle management of records, and would be a step in a profoundly wrong direction for the organization.

2. Meeting space at the annual conference is crucial for small sub-communities within SAA. Only allowing larger, established groups to meet in person at the annual conference is likely to nullify an important member benefit for many SAA members and stifle the creation of new groups within the SAA umbrella. Similarly, while I understand the motivation for creating virtual community groups, I question the necessity of having SAA sponsor these. Any group passionate enough about a topic to communicate online about it regularly is likely to do so whether or not the conversation is SAA-sponsored (see ProjectARCC and various digital preservation communities), particularly if SAA is not offering the group additional perks like meeting space at the annual conference.

I agree that a change this dramatic should be voted on by the SAA membership.

Given the number of different issues that have come up in this conversation, I would also suggest that SAA gather feedback on a more granular level through the use of a survey or voting mechanism that evaluates the membership's response to each component of the proposed changes (e.g. changing all Sections and Roundtables to Affinity Groups, excluding non-members from Affinity Groups, instituting membership requirements for Affinity Groups, creating a new category of Virtual Community Groups, and so on).

Perro2053 says:
affinity groups

I am concerned about removing the distinction between Sections and Roundtables. The roundtables are valuable as more informal, smaller groups, which are less intimidating for new members. Joining a Roundtable is an easy way to get involved when you are new to the profession. They are also importing networking tools that bring together archivists from across the country with similar interests. Sections are much larger, more formal, and less targeted to particular interests.

hadleyn says:
Non-member participation is valuable

Restricting Affinity Group participation to SAA members will lessen the group's value to me as a member, instead of enhancing it. One of the important functions of SAA groups is to provide a space where non-members in related fields, or in other countries, or in positions that do not receive employer support, to interact with the core archival community. I want to see our views and influence as professional archivists be spread through a wider community, in a dialog with others--not just an insular conversation only with ourselves. I'm a member of the Architectural Records Roundtable. Part of its value is bringing together the whole spectrum of people who deal with architectural records: experienced archivists from major repositories, archivists who are new to this type of record, people responsible for the drawings of their organization's facilities, and archivists/records managers in architectural firms. As archivists, we need to hear what people who are closer in the chain to the creators and users of these records have to say. And non-members who want the archivist's perspective about these records need a place to engage with archival experts.

Reading over other comments, I see that my roundtable isn't the only one that values its non-member participation. There are many ways in which non-member voices are important for what we do. Groups who talk with their international colleagues about standards development is another excellent example of the importance of non-member dialog.

The current proposal says that if our group wants to hear these other voices, we must give up support from SAA (become a Virtual Community instead of an Affinity Group). I believe that SAA should be trying to encourage, not prohibit, dialog between member archivists and the larger community.

I understand that SAA is concerned about the value it offers us for our membership. I've been an SAA member for more than two decades, and have participated in a variety of sections and roundtables as my employment changed. They're an important part of my SAA membership. But I've never felt that I was cheated of value because others could participate in a group without paying SAA dues. I don't believe that any non-member I've met whose sole engagement was with a roundtable or section would suddenly run out and pay SAA dues if they're cut off from participation. They'll just stop talking with archivists because there's no longer a place to make that connection.

If SAA is concerned about costs of supporting its groups, or is worried that people who really should be paying members are getting all the benefits for free, there are ways to address these concerns while still allowing non-member participation. As others have suggested, perhaps there's a nominal fee for non-members to belong to an Affinity Group. Perhaps there's a cap on the percentage of group members who are not SAA members. Perhaps non-members may join only one Affinity Group. I'm sure there are many possibilities.

Advocacy and interaction with the broader community is one of the values I receive from AIA membership. I want to continue to receive that value within my Affinity Group, by continuing to allow non-members to interact with me and my colleages in SAA groups.

Nancy Hadley, CA, DAS, Senior Manager, Archives & Records, The American Institute of Architects

ginnydaley says:
Why narrow participation?

This proposal would mean a huge disconnect for me.  I’ve been an archivist for over 30 years and now am working part time and cannot afford SAA membership.  Because I work as an archivist in an non-traditional setting, my employer is not supportive of membership fees or conference attendance.  I have to maintain my archival connections on my own time and via my own unsupported initiatives. 


If passed, this new proposal would knock me out of Affinity Group participation.  And it seems like my Roundtable (Architectural Records Roundtable) might not even make Affinity Group status.  If relegated to a Virtual Community Group, with no support from SAA, that means further fragmentation for our specialty field.  Yet the ARR members are taking the lead in developing preservation standards for records in complicated digital formats (CAD/BIM) - something the architectural profession or construction industry is not even looking at.


I hate to sound so negative, but this small-minded, closed-door thinking makes me not want to be an SAA member even if I could get the funding. The only one putting the chill on my passion for architectural records is the very agency that you would expect to encourage folks to care more about historical records.  What a shame.

100559 says:

Although I had not heard of the notion prior to this meeting, I assume that council members may feel that this has already been properly explored.  Many people obtain valuable leadership experience and a feeling of identity in SAA through sections and roundtables.  The longer discussion document makes clear that there are financial drivers and meeting support issues of interest to council, where a hoped-for outcome is fewer bitlife sections and roundtables, even though this renaming exercise theoretically doesn't change anything. I'm not sure why the leadership expects that.  SAA is now more hospitable to new professionals and students thanks to initiatives like SNAP.  

leventha says:
SAA should continue supporting niche communities

This proposal seems like a slippery slope for membership benefits and niche community voices. SAA's mission statement does not indicate that certain topics deserve greater investment of time and resources, but rather that it is an organization to support the diverse archival community. The opportunity to meet in person, once a year, is a critical service that roundtables rely upon to have important conversations. 

A shift this large deserves a vote by the membership. 

Cross58 says:
Proposed changes

I agree with those who dislike the proposed changes. I also agree that this proposal needs to be voted on by the membership. Finally, I agree with those who point out that this will not necessarily solve the problems that seem to be driving this issue--meeting space and Council liaising. The former will probably take a bit of creative scheduling, prioritizing, and incentivizing for some groups to meet offsite. As for council liaisons, it is terrribly inefficient for them (and the OCLC folks as well) to be traipsing from one group to another to give the same spiel and it is painful to those who have to listen to that spiel over and over again. The liaisons should be a conduit for information flows going in both directions for issues germain to that specific group, not for general announcements.

kwmorse says:
another solution?

Like so many of the others who've already posted, I find these suggested changes concerning on a number of different levels, especially since I'm part of a number of groups that would be negatively impacted by these changes.

It seems to me that it might be better to keep things as they are now (or, fine, call all the sections and RTs affinity groups), but remove that promise of meeting space and council liaison, since those seem to be the expenses SAA is trying to reduce by these proposed changes.  Groups could petition for meeting space as needed and maybe a new committee for affinity groups could bridge the gap to council.  Members of that new committee could be assigned as liaisons to the individual affinity groups and there could be one super liaison between the committe and council.  That person could be a member of council appointed to the position, who would serve as an ex officio member of the committee.  Alternatively, someone from the commitee could be an ex officio, non-voting member of council.

khering says:
Yes, let's keep affinity groups open to non-members

I agree with what many other colleagues have already stated here – sections and roundtables can be called affinity groups, but there shouldn’t be a membership requirement to join the groups and listservs, and there shouldn’t be a 4% or indeed any other threshold. As others have written, the membership requirement discriminates against archivists who can’t afford to pay the membership fees, and hinders international cooperation initiated by roundtables, including work on international standards. I am not convinced by the concept of virtual groups -- they could end up duplicating efforts and could be hard to administer.

There are so many archivists who are active, care about the profession, and have fantastic ideas – so, as others have suggested, I am sure we can collectively find ways to save $ during annual meetings and/or raise funds – joint meetings (we have had a successful one between the IAART and LACCHA at the last meeting), pop-up sessions in various locations that don’t charge anything, other ideas.

I also agree that the proposal should be put up for a vote – it will be probably best to break it up into its various parts to allow for a more nuanced vote.


stevenmg says:
Non-inclusion of non-members is a non-starter

I am extremely concerned about the proposed exclusion of non-members in the affinity groups. The EAD community, for example, is a multinational community where much of the work is done by non-members to advance a global professional effort. If the SAA intends to make itself irrelevant as a global player in defining international archival standards, excluding those non-U.S. participants simply because they are not SAA members is a good first step. This portion of the proposal is short-sighted, has terrible unintended consequences, and would serve to curtail critical and essential dialogue between the SAA and its aligned professional colleagues within and beyond the United States border. I strongly oppose this portion of the proposed changes to the member affinity groups.

I´m with you ... that´s true

It's absolutely true what you say, Could be great to know who is the genius behind this exclusive proposal....promotes just division, excludes the interdisciplinarity

weissel says:
Afinity Groups Proposal

I would like to add my voice to what the majority of the comments seem to be saying:

1. This proposal needs to be voted on by the SAA membership.

2. The 4% minimum for number of members for an Affinity Group will hamper existing and new groups that could never reach that number.

The larger sections and roundtables don't really lend themselves well to networking or addressing problems their members might be encountering, for the same reason SAA as a whole cannot.  It becomes a matter of the top few controlling the discussion for the many. 

Has anyone given thought to a tiered level of Affinity Group membership?  Allowing larger groups to break into subgroups at their will and still having only the larger group liasion with Council? 

3. Meeting space at Annual Conferences: this is one of the few times people can actually meet face to face.  Either allow multiple groups to share large ballroom space, allow multiple half days for Affinity Group meetings, or cut the time of the meetings down, so more groups can rotate through the same space.

4. Non-members should be allowed to join Affinity Groups.  Perhaps a nominal fee could be charged, somehting like a non-voting member type of category.  It allows them to join Affinity Groups but not vote on membership issues.  Could Affinity Groups on their own charge a nominal fee to non-members?

5. Virtual Affitiniy Groups: I think the support offered for these is great but it should be offered to all Affinity Groups.  Virtual groups can work well for smaller "branches" of larger Affinity Groups, perhaps.

Just my two cents!

jsteytler says:
I would like to have the

I would like to have the proposal allow for non-members to participate in affinity groups.

If space is a concern for the annual meeting, one option might be to use the larger ballroom spaces and allow for the groups to meet at the same time... although it might get cacouphanous, and not so great if you are attending multiple groups.

I do like the idea of allowing for more group interaction within the membership during meeting times, as we spend so much of the conference sitting and listening. I'd like the chance to talk on topics with people also within that group. So says the Kinesthetic Learner.

jordon says:
I didn't realize that in the

I didn't realize that in the current proposal non-members would not be able to join the listservs of affinity groups. I disagree with this provision for reasons that have been presented below.

cburns says:
Affinity Groups

While I appreciate the work of Council to address some concerns about affinity groups, I do have reservations that this proposal will not sucessfully address what it is intending to address. Much of what I would say has been posted already, so I'll keep my comments fairly brief.

- The minimum membership threshold may cut out worthy groups with a smaller natural constituency.

- The ability to sign up for as many affinity groups as one wants could actually lead to more affinity groups, in part in reaction to the danger of the first scenario occurring.

- I don't support the piece of the proposal that excludes non-members. I don't see access to affinity group microsites, listserves, etc. as a key membership benefit. As a dues-paying member, I would actually prefer to have these groups include the voices of non-members where possible. I see it as enriching my membership.

If space at meetings and council liaision responsiblities are at the core of this proposal, perhaps there are other alternatives.

- Do all groups need to meet at SAA every year? Do the group meetings need to last as long as they do, or could they be shorter and more focused? Do Council liaisons, OCLC, and other groups need to give the same update at every group meeting or can we find another way of delivering this important information? Can some of the business aspects of the meeting be shortened? Do we need program-like content at every group meeting? As another commenter noted, there could be a proposal process for these group meetings, especially if they want a larger meeting room. Have we collectively thought through what the best use of these meeting times is?

- Could we rethink the way Council interacts with these groups so it is more efficient, continues to provide access to leadership and resources, and maybe even improves their relationship to Council and with each other? Could some current liaison resposnibilities be handled by SAA staff or an appointed position? Could Council cluster some of their work with these groups, meeting with group leaders as a whole at SAA and in virtual meetings during the year? Could we improve communication between groups and encourage collaboration?

michelle says:
non-member participation

Being able to join as many groups as possible is great, but I am concerned about how this will effect listserv members who are not SAA members. There are a number of roundtables that have considerable non-SAA membership, their participation is often greatly appreciated on both sides. It's also a way for non-members to decide if membership is worth the cost. 

I am concerned that the new system will alienate a lot of current users. The open nature of the lists is a big attraction for me. 

Ruwel263 says:
Member Affinity Groups

I support the return to affinity groups, but I am definitely against the 4% membership requirement.  Having been involved with setting up the Museum Archives Roundtable  (when we only had about a dozen people at the start) and the Military Archives Roundtable (who had 28 when they decided to try for a Roundtable), the two year grace period is helpful, but not sufficient.  The advantage of Roundtables is that they allow members to network and see each other face to face at meetings.  The smaller groups encourage people to talk to each other.  The virtual groups would not have space at annual meetings and would effectively eliminate the personal interaction. 

The groups also have interesting, specialized presentations.  The Preservation Section seems to have attracted fewer attendeess this year, but the speakers giving examples of specialized boxes was most helpful.  Size is not always a positive.  Some sections are so large that their meeting is just like a regular program session and I do not attend.  

If Council is looking for "flexible, agile governance structures that are responsive to members’ needs" I think the smaller groups are much more likely to provide them.  I understand the administrative and financial considerations, but the proposed changes are not a good solution. 

sapullen says:
Changes to Affinity Groups

I have been a member of SAA for somewhere around 17 years, less the lapses when my employer's payment procedures did not keep up with due dates.  I have attended a few days of one meeting in that time.  The most useful membership benefits for me have been the website, the listserv, the discounted prices at the bookstore, and the Section and Round Table listservs.  I am also a member of ACA. 

This debate seems to me to be mainly an economic one that fails to recognize some points of reality.  Virtual Community Groups with no representation to council and no space at annual meetings are just Google Groups or Facebook pages with another name. 

Most importantly, this is not the kind of thing that makes SAA seem to me to be headed toward irrelevancy.  My interest is not in what happens to affinity groups, but in what happens to a professional association that falils to advocate in any tangible way for the profession it represents.  The only new project started in recent years has been the Digital Archives Specialist Certificate Program.  To be perfectly blunt - SAA does not provide a very good return on the dues paid to it.  In the United States, there is only one degree program, and that is an online one, specifically for archives.  It is all very well to post recommendations for a graduate program in archives on the website, but how long can a profession be considered as such when its members come from diverse educational backgrounds and their ranks are frequently joined by amateurs who assume the title based on a few workshops?

I will retire in a few years and as a civil servant I have not been subject to the pressures of academia and tenure or the deadlines of the corporate world, so feel free to discount my opinion.  I think though that we are missing the forest while counting the trees.

khering says:
Yes, please extend deadline for submitting comments


I wholeheartedly agree with Lucy Barber's suggestion to extend the deadline for submitting comments -- I have also not heard about this proposal before the meeting, and we need to take the proposal back to our roundtables for discussion and the September 1st deadline doesn't leave us sufficient time. Thanks, Katja (IAART)

belovari says:
Affinity Groups



1. I agree with previous comments, that this proposed change to affinity groups should/needs to be voted on by members, being a major change.

2. I personally am against this change:

  • with a required membership of 4% of all SAA Members, new groups will be very difficult to set up (think of the future versions of the Archivists & Archives of Color Roundtable, the Architecture Roundtable, Lesbian and Gay Archives Roundtable etc). I doubt that any of them either initially had and/or ever achieved such a large membership.
  • international round tables have members of the RT who are not SAA members, and this might also be true for other RT. These members are essential to the work of the groups and that kind of membership carries weight in the countries of the respective RT members
  • a virtual community is no solution to needed personal interaction, to the lack of space to meet e.g. for 30 people, etc. All of us who have been involved in organizing and running organizations and committees know that virtual meeting spaces do not work (or barely).

Even if unintended, these changes will have political consequences.

3. SAA should accept the current reality of our section/RT structure and figure out how to solve the issue involved.

  • If the sole reason for this change is a financial one, i.e. that meetings rooms are expensive, then SAA can encourage joint meetings, raise the conference fee by for instance $5 (e.g. 1,800 participants = $9,000) which might be enough to fund the meeting rooms.


jordon says:
If the main "costs" to SAA

If the main "costs" to SAA for having an infinite number of affinity groups come when allocating a finite amount of meeting space, I wonder if instead of the proposal on the table, SAA could forego guaranteeing that every group have meeting space at the annual meeting and instead adopt an evaluation process where each year groups request meeting space and priority is given to the best proposals. In this scenario, a "major" group would be competing with a "minor" group purely on the merits of the type of meeting they wish to have. Put another way, every group would be a virtual community group and would materialize as a real live group each SAA only if they have a good meeting proposal.

One benefit to this arrangement is that it would shelve the idea of different statuses; every group, at a minimum, would have a listserv and a web presence, but depending on the strength of the proposal a given year, all groups would not be guaranteed meeting space. One drawback is that these proposals would need to be reviewed, which would take time, and there's the Council liaison implication (although truth be told I'm not sure Council liaisons to groups add a ton of value anyway).

I support the idea of doing away with the roundtable/section distinction.

blandis says:
Why Council might be considering this

Responding to Lucy's speculations, as someone who was on Council recently but did not participate in drafting the current proposal under comment I'll toss in my $0.02 about why I think something is necessary along these lines. In my 3 years on Council we approved 4 new RTs (there hasn't been a new Section in a decade or so, I think since Electronic Records in the 1990s). The last member affinity group that I recall disappearing of its own accord was the MicroMARC RT (there may've been others, but it doesn't happen very often). Increasing numbers of RTs (because as Lucy points out, they're the easy groups to propose in terms of #s needed), with the current guarantee of face-to-face meeting space at the annual meeting and a liaison relationship to Council, is frankly unsustainable in an organization of our size, so I think kudos to Council for proposing something and getting this conversation started.

Lucy's post suggests that these proposed changes will somehow stifle new groups, but I don't see that at all. The new Virtual Community Groups plan seems to me to give archivists (not just members) the opportunity to come together around many facets of what we do, but without face-to-face meeting space and a Council liaison, and without necessarily having to formalize a governance structure and a program of action (i.e., doing something constructive and productive, and reporting to Council and the membership annually about it). There is absolutely nothing wrong, in my mind, with raising the bar a bit for doling out meeting space and liaisons. We have several moribund (in the "lacking vigor and vitality" sense) current groups that do little to nothing for their members except hold elections and a meeting at the annual meeting each year, but we don't have an easy process to end them without making Council do it, which is an insane thing to ask our elected governing body to spend its time on IMHO. We need to raise the standard for these groups and encourage them to engage in the types of advocacy and education activities that SAA members seem to want more of from their professional organization.

I don't think this proposal is perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I do completely agree that the status quo is unsustainable and that Council would be irresponsible to let it continue. So let's be creative about improving the transition plan for existing Sections and RTs, and not just assume that they all need to continue in existence. I'd encourage Lucy and others who don't like some or all of the current proposal to suggest alternatives that 1) give SAA members a more flexible way to come together to get important (to them) things discussed and done, 2) don't rely solely on substance-less "body count" metrics, 3) are nimble enough to change over time as our profession inevitably changes, 4) doesn't create a need to support an open-ended number of formal group meetings at the already ridiculously over-scheduled annual meeting, and 5) doesn't give members of Council a set of liaison responsibilities that they can't--as unpaid, elected volunteers--reasonably fulfill. I'll be eager to see some counter-proposals in this discussion.

lgbarber says:
Need more time for consideration

I suspect that council members may feel like this has been discussed thoroughly already, but I had not heard of the idea until this meeting.  Sections and roundtables are the way that many people gain a sense of indentity in SAA and get valuable leadership experience.  Though this renaming exercise in theory doesn't change that, the longer discussion paper makes clear that there are financial drivers and meeting support issues of concern to council where a hoped for outcome is less sections and roundtables. I don't know why leadership hopes for that.  New groups such as SNAP have made SAA more welcoming to students and new professionals.  We may need new groups focused on particular professional skills in the future such as social media archivists or instruction archivists. Do we collectively think this would be bad for the Society?  I know I want more information, more time to consider.  I also echo comments that this consideration of this change should go the vote of the members but not until more information is available.

ktheimer says:
Virtual Community Groups as "affiliates" of Affinity Groups

To mitigate the issue of non-members not being allowed to participate in affinity groups, I see nothing in the proposal that would prevent the creation of vitual community groups that are affiliated with affinity groups. So, for example, SNAP has an affinity group for members, and then just shares its information with its associated virtual community group to support the needs of non-members. Would this be against the rules? I would see this as a easy mitigation strategy for a group like SNAP and others which want to contnue to reach out to and serve non-members. 

And I agree with the comments posted above (or below) about adding measurements of activity to the "body count" factor. 

acschi says:

I agree. This sounds like a completely reasonable set-up to me and what I expected several groups might do when I first read the proposal. I'm quite surprised by the number of comments here in opposition to establishing an associated virtual community group to an affinity group. 

Frankly, I'm only a "member" of most of my current affinity groups because I want to be on the listserv in case of related news or announcements. I frequently attend SAA, but I have no plans to ever attend a meeting of several of the groups that claim me as a member because it is not a group or topic that I have needed to prioritize in my professional activities. Further, I have a list of suggested current affinity groups that I would encourage the leadership to ask to transition from an affinity group to a virtual community group. I recall sitting in a RT meeting about 8 years ago and after listening to an officer read a 20 minute summary of news stories from the past year related to the RTs topic thinking I was wasting my membership dollars (and my time) in that meeting and group.  

Amy Schindler

MyNameIs says:
Legacy sections - what's in it for them?

I don't see how this setup is to the advantage of the legacy sections?  Roundtables were comparatively easy to establish and run.  Sections required a much more robust structure.  For this there was, at a time, a bit of independence in affliate non-SAA membership, operations outside of the annual meeting, guaranteed space at the meeting for business and education, and proposing educational sections for the annual meeting.  Where has the bit about guaranteed or heavily weighted approval of section proposals gone to anyway?  I would expect laying the legacy sections low in this way may not go over too well.  Could you be creating the next AMIA or NAGARA?

kcrowe says:
Kate Crowe

This was announced at the Performing Arts Roundtable, and a question came up that I think would be helpful for everyone to be able to see - will these proposed changes, once comment has been received and taken into account, be voted on by the SAA membership? This is an organizational change of significance, so I feel strongly that it should be not only commented on by the membership, but voted on by membership.

I also echo the concern that groups that may be focused on compositional diversity in the archival profession (the poster above mentioned LACCHA, which I think is a good example) may be in danger of being (or ending up) below this 4% threshold for the very reason that they represent groups that are underrepresented in SAA. Since this is such a huge issue, especially when looking at the A*CENSUS data, I would be hesitant to use the amount of people as a benchmark, and instead would suggest some level of activity beyond what happens at the annual meeting as a more appropriate measuring tool. It didn't look like it made its way into the final set of changes, but also determining who gets space and who doesn't at the annual meeting, should there "not be enough space" based on total "full" membership numbers for the affinity seems problematic for the same reason. There is a mention in the May 2015 document that provisions for "sunsetting" affinity and virtual groups should be consistent and based on participation and activity, so this idea is there in the recommendations.

I really liked the recommendations document's focus on incentivizing affinity groups to collaborate by providing additional resources to those who decided to have joint meetings and presentations at the annual meeting, and the notes about which sections and roundtables have similar charges and might consider mergers.

Also, I liked the recommendation of a New Leader Orientation - while I felt the forum was helpful, it didn't cover many of the specifics and "how-tos" that new chairs/co-chairs would find helpful - for example, examples of annual reports and how to structure them, considerations when updating your bylaws, how to plan out your tenure in either a leadership or a supporting/steering role, how to do succession planning to ensure continuity, etc. This doesn't have to be exhaustive, but even a half an hour overview would be super helpful. I also liked the May 2015 document's call for there to be more (or at least one) loosely structured opportunities (a coffee hour, etc.) for those in leadership roles (new and more seasoned) to get to know one another, as this would facilitate collaboration among and across affinity groups.

My two cents. Thanks for the request for feedback!

blandis says:
Member Affinity Group changes proposal

I agree with Frank Boles's great suggestion that Council consider productivity-based metrics in addition to body counts as a means of assessing whether newly monikered Affinity Groups should continue in existence. I don't know that this has to be in place right from the start, but Council should have a plan to introduce some productivity measures into the assessment of whether Affinity Groups should continue within the first year or two after Affinity Groups are officially introduced, be completely transparent about that plan, and involve some current Section/RT leadership in determining what some useful productivity-based metrics might be.

I'd also like to see all Affinity Groups, since they'll continue to hold annual elections, have on their ballots a check box asking Affinity Group members to reaffirm annually that they're satisfied with the Affinity Group each year. Groups that drop below some specified % of their membership reaffirming that group's continued existence could have a year or two for their leadershp and members to explore if/how that Affinity Group could continue in existence and better meet the needs of its members. Having this member reaffirmation in place, in addition to some productivity metrics, would help all SAA members because it would help to make more transparent what SAA members expect from their affinity groups on an on-going basis.

Finally, I have no idea how many current Roundtables have significant numbers of SAA non-members participating. Have those figures ever been produced, or do we have a sense of whether or not this would be an issue in no longer allowing SAA non-members to participate in Roundtables after they become Affinity Groups? Presumably, if there are such Roundtables, they could spin off an affiliated Virtual Community Group through which they could still engage with SAA non-members if that's considered important within the context of that Roundtable-turned-Affinity-Group?

All in all, especially if Council and current Section/RT leadership can rise to the occasion of exploring some productivity-based metrics for assessing Affinity Group performance from the perspective of those groups' members, I think this will be a beneficial and much-needed change for the membership of SAA.

Frank Boles says:
Member Affinity Groups

Although I think I understand why this  change is being proposed, to be honest I doubt it will accomplish the goals it hopes to achieve.  A four percent threshold, approximately 250 members, would seem to be a reasonable number.  However, small interest groups do have a place within SAA's structure and to simply make space at the annual meeting and council representation a question of size seems to rather miss the point.  The question is what do affinity groups contribute to the profession, not how many people will sign up as a member.

Indeed the "unlimited" number of affinity groups that members may sign up for suggests to me that with a little cajoling most existing small round tables will be able to find the 250 or so names they need.  Why put everyone through such an exercise?

I would suggest a metric for continuing existance based on output, not a body count.  What has a particular affinity group done, lately?  If groups grow inactive, disband them.  But groups that are regularly producing "product" (defined in some measurable way) should continue to exist. If a group truly just wants to chat, then a virtual community is a fine way to help them do so. But small, productive groups, should not be penalized at the annual meeting or by the lack of a council representative simply because they are small.

bhouston says:
Hmm. My initial response to

Hmm. My initial response to this is that it doesn't change much-- it replaces the current Section-Roundtable stratification with the Affinity Group/Virtual Community Group (both of which are mouthfuls!) stratification, with the change that the "New Roundtables" don't have rights to Annual Meeting space. But I'll bite-- here is a (partial) list of specific comments on this:

  • To the extent that Sections/Roundtables are being merged into one entity, it's a good move. There were a lot of arbitrary differences between the two affinity groups and simplifying the structure is going to make it easier for people to get involved in leadership.
  • I appreciate that the primary goal of this is to cut down on moribund/inactive affinity groups. I think that's a reasonable goal! By giving members the ability to choose from only *active* groups you increase the probability that they find groups they can actually get involved in, which helps them feel more connected to SAA as a whole. That said:
  • The 4% threshold seems arbitrary. Moreover, I have serious doubts that it will have any appreciable winnowing effect, especially since this proposal would remove the limit on number of affinity groups members can join. If members *can* join any number of affinity groups, why wouldn't they? Particularly if there's no commitment required on their part.
  • On the other side of that-- raw numbers don't seem like the best way to gauge a group's activity. For example, RMRT has over 1100 members officially listed as members of the group, but I would estimate MAYBE a fifth of that number are actively involved. (As it happens the RT's steering committee puts in a lot of effort to provide value to its members-- but on the raw threshold criteria, it wouldn't have to.) Conversely, a group like LACCHA might be extremely active, but its numbers might be naturally capped by its nature as a minority interest group, which would mean that it would fall below the 4% threshold and lose its right to meeting space. I think in a profession that already has problems with diversity, discouraging minority participation in SAA like this is a dangerous thing to do.
  • I think a better measure of Affinity Group activity would be between-meeting activities: What is their social media presence like? How many seminars have they facilitated? Do they have a blog or newsletter, and is it updated frequently? Basically, showing value-add for the group's members. This wouldn't be hard to monitor because groups should be including this kind of information in their annual report anyway. I do realize that this requires Council/SAA staff to make subjective evaluations vs. the cold hard numbers of the threshold model-- but I think decommissioning or downgrading affinity groups is something that SHOULD be done consciously. It shows that SAA is serious about cutting out chaff.
  • Why are non-member participants being excluded from the affinity groups? This seems like it will have major repercussions on the viability of a number of existing sections/roundtables, particularly SNAP and the "cross-professional" groups (RMRT, PLASC, Museum Archives, etc.). These groups benefit from having external perspectives added to their conversations, and excluding non-members from said conversations will make them more insular and subject to echo-chamber thinking. I realize that all of these groups can take their lists elsewhere if they need to continue conversations with non-members-- but why should they have to? (Moreover, I suspect that there are more than a few affinity groups without the technical expertise to set up fora elsewhere-- so if SAA went down this road I would hope they would provide advice for doing this.)
  • Eliminating Council Liaisons for VCGs seems short-sighted-- in many cases the council reports (and maaaaybe the plenary) are members' main connection to the goings-on of SAA leadership, and taking that away removes a key avenue for VCG members to communicate with Council. (Yes, members can email council members directly if needed-- but it's psychologically easier to do, I think, if those people are in specific roles to answer questions and receive feedback.) RMRT's Council Liaison(s) helped me a lot with questions of SAA policy and procedure during my time as chair of that roundtable, and I think depriving future group coordinators of that direct connection is unwise.
  • Would VCGs be subject to the same branding requirements on external sites as affinity groups are currently? If so, I think the final policy should be a lot clearer on what VCGs get from affiliation with SAA in addition to their responsibilities to represent themselves as under the SAA umbrella. Otherwise, I think you run the risk of VCG leaders saying "this isn't worth it" and either deaffiliating or not putting the work in to fully follow the policy, which further feeds the disconnect between VCG members and SAA the organization.

Overall, I respect what this proposal is trying to do (encourage more activity from affinity groups, weed out the inactive ones, give members more flexibility to join affinity groups of interest), but as it is I think the mechanism to do so paints with too broad a brush. I would be more than a little dismayed if these changes went into effect without significant changes to more accurately assess Affinity Group activity and delineate the rights and responsibilities of both AG and VCG members and leadership.