Council Seeks Comment on Proposed Changes in Member Affinity Groups

Since at least 2005 the SAA Council periodically has discussed the value of affinity groups (i.e., sections and roundtables) to the organization as well as their structure, functioning, and support needs. Several appointed groups in 2013 and 2014 analyzed the issues and recommended changes. A proposal fielded for member comment in July 2015 met with significant concern during and after the August 22 Annual Membership Meeting. The Council now seeks member comments on a revised set of recommendations for changes to the structure and requirements for SAA sections and roundtables.

Read the full proposal—including background, guiding principles, and suggested changes—here. Provide your comments on any aspect of the proposed changes below or at saahq@archivists.org by Wednesday, July 6. The Council will take action based on member feedback at its August 1 meeting in Atlanta.

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17 Comment(s) to the "Council Seeks Comment on Proposed Changes in Member Affinity Groups"
mathe says:
Excellent work

I support these changes and commend the time taken to address some of the issues generated by them. Conflating Sections and Roundtables makes sense.  I do agree that the term "group" is too generic and see no reason why all groups can't be considered and called "sections" whether large or small.

Accommodating non-members through limited access to three email lists is an excellent solution to being more inclusive across geographical boundaries and could actually increase membership in certain instances; yet it does address maintaining the value of being an SAA member. Incidentally, and addressed by some other comments, is the important issue of members signing onto what I am calling the "section" lists. The fact that members default to no-mail is, in my opinion, a serious communication problem; one that, I hope, might be addressed by automatically signing members to lists when they join a section upon renewing their membership.  An auto-signature that includes links to either unsubscribing or going to a digest format could be added to all messages, allowing each member to manage their inbox, at will, at any time.  A survey two years ago showed that there was a great discrepancy between the numbers of members of the Museum Archives Section and those who were on the list serv and I think that is because of the time needed to sign up every year upon renewing membership. I really think this is an important issue.

Finally, the plan for the special interest lists beyond the formal "sections" is an excellent one and will allow for more virtual communication.  I can see how this would be very useful to the still nascent Natural History Archives "Association" which encompasses a very small number of individuals, many of whom are unable to attend the annual meeting on a regular basis. This is also an issue for our compatriots in Libraries and Museums, who also have other annual meetings to attend and limited budgets. Having SAA support for these list would allow for increased communication among those with shared issues.

My other suggestion is that it would be helpful to allow for these virtual "special interest groups" (as opposed to "sections"--I leave the final nomenclature to your wisdom) to meet informally on an occasional ad hoc basis at the annual meeting.  But this is more a programming, not an administrative issue per se.  

The Natural History Archives Association has a room scheduled for this year but there are not enough of us to use it. For the Society to host a list and then offer the possibiliy of a meeting place if desired, would be most excellent, using the same March 1 deadline for sections as stipulated in the recommendations. These occasional meetings could be for informal conversations among those addressing similar issues and may or...may not...grow to larger more formal sections, but could lead to communications with the more formal sections within the Society.

Also want to say that standardizing the administrative aspects of managing "sections" is also a great idea. 

thanks for all your good work on this.

sbennett says:
Thank you, mostly agree

I really appreciate all the work and thoughtfulness that has gone into this proposal. When requests for comment were solicited previously, I chimed in loudly, particularly regarding nonmember participation and numerical thresholds for an entity's creation/continuation. This document has found reasonable compromises for those, and I appreciate it.

I agree with others that "group" is not a highly useful name. ALA uses the designations "sections," below which sit committees, and "interest groups." Perhaps we may find those useful. Given that sections/roundtables do not directly feed into SAA operations (to my knowledge, anyway), interest group may be more accurate.

geofhuth says:
Affinity Group Changes

The changes presented by Council simplify processes, which is good governance in action. I have only one issue to address:

I would counsel against the term "group," which has a few inherent problems:

1. SAA already uses it as the larger term that includes all affinity groups, Council-appointed groups, affiliated groups, inter-organizational groups, and SAA Council itself.

2. The word is destined to be confused with "working group," which is already in place with a specific meaning.

3. The word is too generic to mean anything in particular even though we need it to mean something in particular.

I suggest any of these four choices as a better option, but I present them in order of my preference, with the highest preference first:

1. section (which has long-standing use in SAA)

2. special interest group (which is used by many associations and is often abbreviated as SIG)

3. interest group (for those who want to avoid the abbreviation SIG)

4. affinity group (which we have often used in exactly the way we mean it to in this instance)

I prefer "section" for many reasons, including the fact that it is the term least likely to cause a member (or non-member) to conflate it with another type of group--since it is the only term without "group" within it. Also, section connotes some status within SAA: a section of SAA is literally and figuratively a part of SAA, rather than a separate and separable body.

Geof Huth

annayev says:
I agree

These changes look very reasonable, I like them.

melissa.a.torres says:
These all seem like

These all seem like reasonable changes to me. I know that a roundtable that is as specialized and small (such as our own Lone Arrangers) may need to change the way it solicits participation from its membership and steering committee to attend to these new changes, but I think the group would be ready to make that happen if the Council decides to go forward with this.

marqu897 says:
I like it

I've read the (blessedly succinct - thank you!) summary report from Council on member affinity groups.  The recommendations make a good deal of sense to me.  They reflect and codify the current reality of SAA constituent groups.  

Just one observation:  at a recent ALA meeting I found myself in a very large room where member groups were each given one round table to hold their meetings.  It was cacaphonous and confusing and turned into not much more than lunch table-type discussions with people within earshot.  I hope we never get so big that we have to resort to such a solution!  I applaud Council and the SAA staff for seeking to find meaningful ways that members can meet with other professionals with similar interests - and even contribute to the development of their profession.

Kathy Marquis

cwaggone says:
comment on changes

These changes seem clear and logical. I have no comment

karichka says:
Feedback on Member Affinity Groups

I am in agreement with removing the distinctions between Sections and Roundtables in favor of Affinity Groups.  As noted in the SAA Governance Manual, the groups are "organized to advance professional practice within areas of common archival interest and affiliation."  I belive that this is an important factor that needs to be addressed by all affinity groups, that is, how does the group intend to advance professional practice?  This addresses also the requirement 5-e that a group be responsive to SAA Council with "assistance in conducting research, drafting expert comments, or undertaking other activity related to the group’s area of special interest."

I agree with Point 7 and believe that there needs to be in place a mechanism to appraise for Disposition the listserv and other records of the group once inactve.  I recommend that this would be a requirement for the Chair of any group. 

I think that point 8 is also good, with the same caveat as my comments to point 7 above. 

If the distinction of Section or Roundtable is removed, then I think all such groups should be under an umbrella of Affinity Groups and be left to decide what they call themselves, rather than having a specific label of "group".

I disagree with the use of the term Forum.  To me a Forum is a particular meeting of people and not the group of the people.  It would make sense to call the SAA annual meeting group time "Forum" of the X group.

Kari Smith (no need to be anonymous)

lgbarber says:
A good compromise, but some details still needed

I support the tenor of these proposed changes.  They reflect new realities of SAA that sections and roundtables were increasingly similar in nature and the division of the two types of groups is probably no longer necessary.  I agree with those who find the label "groups" for the new "affinity groups" rather generic but think that once affinity groups are named and constituted under this structure, it will sound less meaningless.  I think most of the other details are sensible from the number of people necessary to create a new group, the responsibilities of existing groups, the balancing of member/non-member needs, and the deadline for requesting meeting time.  Groups will need to step up some responsibilities, but most of them already meet these standards and the new norms are stated and explicit.

There are still some details to work out about how much time each program committee will set aside for meetings of "groups" and how to avoid schedule conflicts for SAA attendees. Will there still be five times set aside for "groups" to meet as there are this year in Atlanta?  If SAA can't make that commitment, who is going to decide: the program committee each year, staff, Council? 

I hope those questions can be answered in Atlanta, but overall I want to thank the staff and members of Council who worked on this. 

mwiget says:
Others have made some good

Others have made some good points about how group meeting proposals will be handled and whether or not that will become a competitve process, as well as how scheduling will be handled for the groups at future annual meetings.  I'm also curious if SAA staff are comfortable with providing more discussion lists and if the technology infrastructure is there (I remember the A&A listserv debacle from a few years ago--times have changed since then, but I still find logging into and using the discussion list application frustrating just as a user).  

Overall I think this is a good proposal; I appreciate that with this proposal members would be able to join more sections and that nonmembers would be able to participate in section discussions lists, due to flattening the already-flattened distinctions between sections and roundtables.

raggmopp_2000 says:
Good Proposal

Assuming all 'groups' or forums can get space to meet at the annual meeting, I endorse this plan.

In my past comments I stressed that "the good of the archival profession" and maximizing participation by members are the goals. Maximum inclusiveness is crucial to the first (letting non-members participate) and NOT limiting the opportunities for groups/forums  to meet at the annual meeting serves the second. Limiting possibilities to meet on the basis of there not being enough money or space would seem very mysterious considering the monetary hardship the annual meeting is for many.

Peter Gunther

susan rishworth says:
Member Affinity Groups

I appreciate unifying roundtables and sections as groups and continuing to allow us to join as many as we like. Most importantly I appreciate continuing to open the groups to non-members. I see this as a mission of  SAA to continue to educate the public about the field of archives. I frequently tell people who are just getting their feet wet in the field that they can join an SAA group and observe the conversations and greatly increase their learning. 

jordon says:
Looks good; one thing

Will meting proposals be evaluated and approved, or basically if a group states it wants to meet by the deadline a spot is guaranteed?

eiratansey says:
I heartily endorse this

I heartily endorse this measure, especially to make the best use of SAA staff and council time and resources. I very much favor the requirements outlined in Section 5 for ongoing group participation, and think these are very reasonable steps that can still be met by smaller active component groups.

My only question is will there be any criteria for the discussion lists (as outlined in #8) to be dissolved? For example, if there is no posting activity for 12-18 months, this seems like sufficient criteria to save the old posts and discontinue the active list.

JessicaScott says:
Comments

In general I think the proposed changes are good ones. I agree with removing the distinctions between roundtables and sections, as I was always disappointed that I could only join two sections when in reality I was interested in participating in more than two. In terms of what I get out of both roundtables and sections, it's about the same - I mainly follow the discussion groups so how the two differed was always a little vague to me. 

I also agree with the previous commenter's idea of using a different word other than "group" that is mentioned in the proposal, as I don't find it a particularly strong word - I like the suggestion of using "forum" instead.

dw.noonan says:
Comments/Suggestions/Questions

I think that the proposed is an admirable attempt at compromise.

I would suggest the use of the word “group” (Point #2) is bland an uninformative. An alternative term could be “Forum” which encompasses many meanings related to what Sections and Roundtables do: opportunity, environment, setting, meeting discussion, debate, conference, assembly, council and roundtable.

Point #4 is a good compromise for allowing non-member participation. It will be interesting to see how that is implemented and monitored.

Point #5.b. Is there a presumption all Groups/Forums would get a space on the Agenda simply based upon submission, or if the number of Groups/Forums became voluminous it would become competitive like sessions proposals? What attempts will be made to accommodate scheduling of Groups/Forums to not compete with one another (currently Sections & Roundtables are scheduled separately and Sections/Roundtables that have certain affinity/overlap are attempted to not be scheduled at the same time).

Does Point #6 presume that all current groups are grandfathered? What happens if you form a new group, having the requisite 100 signatures, but then consistently fall below 100 in actual membership?

MyNameIs says:
What difference, at this point, does it make

Preface - I agree with 3-8 - unlimited joining, open to non-members, rules for activity, discussion groups over virtual groups, etc.  However, what difference does it make if the membership gets to comment or even votes on the words "section" and "roundtable" when SAA has effectively taken away the distinction already.  The only difference is size.  Sections used to matter because they had influence on the annual meeting program - they could sponsor and get approved sessions.  They had space, and speakers, bylaws, reports, et al.  Used to be that the other committees and task forces would have equitable representation of the sections - which meant that they represented the membership.  Sections were the bellcow of representation.  This is not so anymore.  And conversely, then roundtables got meeting space, bylaws, A/V, listservs, etc. too.  So what is the difference at this point since there is no hierarchy.  It is just a name now.  Secondarily, replacing section and roundtable with "group" is vanilla, its milksop.  At least the other words implied some sort of action.  Group is just a bunch of people with some commonality.  It does not imply volition or action.  If the power of the sections is gone and the numbers will be equalized, why don't you just make them all "roundtables"?  At least it implies discussion and perhaps coming to decisons about things that matter less than policies, positions, or standards.  Whoa be it to the roundtable that tried to jump that fence.  The best way to clear the decks of dead wood (groups) and hangers-on (people) would be to charge an extra $5 for every "group" one wants to be in.  Given the recent dues increase, this is probably not the best time for such an idea.