Observe and Experience: SAA Annual Meeting, Archives2015

Posted: September 26, 2015 by saacua in Sharing
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Guest Post by: Lindsey Bright

In late August I had the opportunity to attend the annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists. This year’s meeting took place in Cleveland, Ohio, and I attended both as someone interested and involved in the field, and as a representative of the student chapter at CUA. Over the course of three days at the conference, I was able to attend panel discussions, lightning talks, and networking events – all of which there were almost too many to choose from.  Upon receiving a schedule for the week of activities and presentations, I decided to narrow my list of sessions to attend by focusing on a current area of interest of mine.

Archives 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio

Archives 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio

The sessions I chose all focused on cross-cultural, culturally sensitive, or non-traditional collections. It was a pleasant surprise for me that I was able to find five sessions with at least one panel or presentation of this type. Of the sessions I attended, two of the most interesting to me were “Mind Your Own Fucking Business: Documenting Communities that Don’t Want to Be Documented and the Diversity of the American Record” and “The Role of Archives and Archivists in the Search for Truth and Reconciliation”. These two panel sessions touched on very similar points of conversation, while covering some wildly different topics.

Archives 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio

Archives 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio

“Mind Your Own Fucking Business” was a series of short presentations on projects and repositories with one commonality – the records they were collecting were not necessarily records that anyone wanted to save, and the communities supplying the records weren’t always on board with saving them. From polygamist fundamentalist Mormons in Arizona, to graffiti ‘writers’ in Texas, to former members of domestic terrorist groups, the archivists on this panel described how they got started in building their collections, and the obstacles they faced or are facing in the process. For some panelists, the most difficult part was finding ways to describe something like a graffiti tag, an anonymous, temporary work. How much of the description is guesswork, how much of the metadata should be concerned with how the work was documented, and what metadata fields even apply, were some questions that needed answering. On the other hand, a panelist working with local native American tribal artifacts and cultural records had a much different challenge. It wasn’t what they knew about an item, it was what they could share. The sensitive nature of cultural materials, and the protocols associated with the particular tribal band and their spiritual practices meant that much information could be recorded for preservation, but could not be made publicly available at the behest of the tribe.

Archives 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio

Archives 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio

Archives 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio

Archives 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio

On the other hand, “Truth and Reconciliation” was a presentation by a group working on a single project. This was very unique and interesting to me in that the project came about because of a long-running and ground-breaking court case in Canada, in which native and first-nations Canadians sued the Canadian government over the operation and oversight of residential schools. As part of the fallout of this case, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Canada was established, to handle the collection, management, and dispersion of records related to residential schools. This presentation looked at how differently this archives was established and organized, and how the typical archival structure was affected by the things that the court decision mandated. It was very interesting in not only learning how the court decision came about, but the sheer amount of records being processed. The archivists also indicated that they were looking to add more, including oral histories and testimonies, in the future depending on how the established archives is handled after it meets its goals under the TRC mandate.

These, as well as the other sessions I attended, helped to broaden my understanding of the different shapes that archives and archiving can take, and the ways that I can serve different communities of people through archives and preservation. With the increasing variety of materials being added to archival collections, and the way we are able to use technology to bridge gaps between users, institutions, and materials, Archives2015 gave me a lot of inspiration for non-traditional avenues to explore in my career. Having the opportunity to attend these and other sessions, including someone from the DC Punk Archive, a collaboration between archivists in the US and Japan concerning medical testing after the atomic bombs, and an address by a company that records oral histories – I have a much better practical understanding of the forms that archives can take, and the roles that I can play in archives of many different scales.

Archives 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio

Archives 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio

Archives 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio

Archives 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio

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