SAA Reflections

This post was written by SCRC Student Assistant Vilma Chicas Garcia.

This past Society of American Archivists (SAA) conference was my first ever. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting going in. However, I came out with much more than I ever thought I would. Initially, I thought perhaps speakers would discuss ways to make the job easier or more efficient, and while there were some of those discussions, what I quickly came to realize was that many of the panelists focused on what it meant to be an archivist. Focus was placed on what this role means for the archivists, the materials their archives hold, and their role within their community.

One of the first sessions I attended, titled She Wasn’t Difficult, She Was Grieving: Emotional Intelligence in Archival Interactions, focused on how grief and pain can affect those who work with archival materials, including donors, researchers, students, and the archivists themselves. As a student and being so new to the field, I, fortunately, haven’t worked with anything that has negatively impacted me, and honestly, I wouldn’t be sure if I would have known if I was. These panelists emphasized how it can be rather difficult to come to terms with how your work may be impacting your mental health and how to know when you need to take time away from a project. They also spoke about the process that many may go through when archival materials cause one to experience (or re-experience) trauma. It was beneficial information to have in mind.

Many other sessions I attended focused on inclusivity and reparative description work that archivists are implementing. One session I attended was titled Raising Their Voices, which presented a project with Iron Mountain Entertainment Services and the Military Women’s Memorial in which they digitized over 500 tapes that contained hours of storytelling in hopes of making the experiences of military women more accessible to the public. The project was done extremely well, in my opinion, and it was wonderful witnessing how much importance and value these archivists placed in the stories of active and retired military women.

Similarly, two more sessions focused on uplifting commonly silenced voices. The first was titled Leveraging Collections to Tell the Complete D.C. History and Engage Community, which placed its focus on African Americans, Latines, women, the LGBTQ+ community, and other groups that influence D.C. culture and life. The next was titled Indigenize SNAC: Informing Discovery and Access of Indigenous Materials, which highlighted current projects that work to connect indigenous communities with materials held in different institutions, including the SNAC project, the Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center, and the Indigenous Description Group. Both sessions highlighted their actions to update outdated, harmful archival descriptions and replace them with accurate ones.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised that these archivists didn’t shy away from hard conversations. Many took accountability for their own mistakes and the mistakes of past archivists and presented ideas to better the field as a whole. Guests had the opportunity to ask questions and share their thoughts after each session, and it was nice to witness how welcoming and open an environment SAA created. I would absolutely love to go again.

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