Time for new leadership…at the SAA

Email I received on March 2nd from the Society of American Archivists

Originally published on LinkedIn on March 5, 2020.

A couple days ago, I got an email from the Society of American Archivists (SAA) about voting in the upcoming election, which will change leadership of this professional organization representing archivists across the U.S. As the SAA describes it, 15 candidates are “vying for three different offices,” with the candidate elected Vice President serving a one-year term beginning in August 2020, becoming the SAA’s 77th President in 2021–2022. Additionally, there are three available seats on the SAA council, with those elected serving three-year terms “beginning in August and running through the 2023 Annual Meeting” while the three candidates elected to the 2021 Nominating Committee will “serve one-year terms beginning immediately.” While I am new to the profession, I wanted to vote for change to move the organization in a more positive direction. In this post, I’ll review all the candidates in each category and share my thoughts.

Let’s start with the three candidates for Vice President/President-Elect: Courtney Chartier, Joyce Gabiola, and Kris Kiesling. All have strong experience, professional or not.

Chartier is currently the head of research services for the Rose Library at Emory University and has been part of the SAA since 2011, while also being the co-founder of the Atlanta Black Archives Alliance. She argues that while the current “Core Values” statement of the SAA is strong because it is something that can bind archivists together, showing that all in the profession value “accountability, access…and right on down the line to social responsibility,” it is not a perfect match for what is happening now. She further argues that there need to be more pathways for “talented and passionate people” to reach the SAA leadership, more of a need to “truly and authentically understand each other.” Basically, she wants to solve existing communication problems. The kicker was at the end of her statement, where she said that existing conversations within the SAA are not “critically engaging the breadth of archivists with how our world is changing the profession.” She declared that this can change, with the necessity for a dialogue to change how people see the profession and the core values. The latter, as she puts it, changes “just like we do.”

I was inspired by this and started to lean toward her until I read about Gabiola. She is an unaffiliated archivist who has worked with the LGBTQ+ community, especially as a queer Filipinx American archivist and researcher, who has been a co-chair of the SAA’s Program Committee from 2018 to 2019, applying “antiracist/anti-oppressive lens to create a conference environment that reduces incidents of harm for historically marginalized attendees,” among much more that can’t be summarized in one simple sentence. It’s all outlined in her biography which I linked to earlier. She also has been a member of the Association for Asian American Studies, Los Angeles Archives Collective, and Archivists of the Houston Area. She is colleagues with people such as Michelle Caswell, who are at the forefront of critical archivists with progressive viewpoints, challenging existing structures and institutions while promoting community archives. Her goals for her presidency follow what she is already doing. She sees anti-racist and anti-oppressive action, tied with de-centering whiteness, as a way to ensure ethical access to records and preservation within archives. She also believes that White supremacy has to be addressed in order to uphold the core values of the SAA and address various concerns (those about diversity, labor equity, technology, and so on) without disregarding or erasing current (or past) atrocities. This also means having “more difficult conversations/actions toward change,” with diversity only happening when whiteness is de-centered, coupled with anti-racist/anti-oppressive action. This also involves addressing changing concerns and supporting endeavors.

Personally, I don’t know as much about the anti-racist and anti-oppressive action she mentions as I should. When you look up “de-centering whiteness” you find articles noting that this “requires dismantling a system that has become the status quo,” and saying that at the present “white American cultural values occupy the central position in US society, and white culture governs access to power and resources” which they feel is unfair because “no single racial group should have exclusive hold on the central values of society.” The solution is to replace this with multiracial values so that “no single racial group controls access to power and resources exclusively.” Additionally, while it is named de-centering whiteness, it is more specifically called “decentering whiteness and building multiracial community.” Of course, this will inevitably lead some White people to become uncomfortable and may be why Gabiola won’t be elected. But, if she is, it will be a monumental achievement, showing the progressiveness of the SAA despite its past failings. In any case, I believe that Gabiola will bring fresh ideas and a new approach to the SAA, even more than Chartier, although a victory by her would be positive.

The person who represents the old guard is Kiesling, currently the Elmer L. Andersen Director of Archives and Special Collections at the University of Minnesota and has been part of the SSA since 1994. You know what type of person she is, when she has hosted nearly 100 workshops on EAD/stylesheets from 1996 to 2012. How boring could that be! I know its important, but seriously! Come on. Even worse is the fact that she thinks that the SAA’s Core Values are an “excellent platform” to help address member concerns. Yes, she acknowledges the limits of the organization and mentions labor equity, technology, and climate change. But she seems hesitant for action, saying that “any action taken has consequences…[and] trade-offs.” She does talk about workplace inequities and calls for more suggestions from members. Pretty weak when compared to Gabiola and Chartier.

That brings us to those nominated for the SAA Council: Janet Carleton, Adriana P. Cuervo, Stephen R. Curley, Derek T. Mosley, Rachel E. Winston, and Katherine M. Wisser.

Starting with Carleton, she has extensive experience as an archivist since the late 1990s, part of the SAA since 1999, often focusing on social media and its connection with archives. She makes a good point about diversifying the field, re-evaluating what value and relevancy can offer, empowering those newer to the profession, and saying that people need to be connected further together, while calling for efficiencies and fiscal responsibility. While some of what she said made sense, the part about fiscal responsibility and efficiency seemed like business speak which should have no place in the profession. Wisser, who is currently Associate Professor and Director at Simmons University and has been in the archival field (and the SAA) since 2003 has similar ideas. She says that the needs and interests of the SAA’s “diverse membership body” (which is actually mostly white if you extrapolate from the last A*Census in 2006 which measured the diversity of the archives field) needs to be weighed and grumbles about limited resources and difficult choices. She says that decision-making should be transparent and Council members need to represent the membership in terms of how it divides “a mix of academics, professionals, and policy makers.” Of course, there are no mentions of community archivists/archives, anti-racism, inclusivity, or social action, showing her limited perspective.


The profession, as it currently stands, as noted by the same census, is much more dominated by women that it was in the past, while the percentage of men within the profession has declined. Additionally, at the time the census was conducted, the profession was middle-aged to older, with not as many under age 29.

We move onto Cuervo. She is currently Head of Archival Collections and Services at the John Cotton Dana Library at Rutgers University–Newark and has been in the archival field since 2005. She has been part of the SAA since 2010 and focuses on saving musical records. That sounds great, except when you get to description of what she would do: trying to keep the finances of the SAA healthy while “investing in professional support for ALL our members,” with open communication, collaboration, and an “unwavering commitment to inclusiveness to this governing body.” The latter involves trying to be a broker between “different constituencies within the profession” with different views on the future of the SAA, saying that the “SAA should be the organization where ALL who work in archives turn for sustaining professional excellence.” Seems sensible, but others listed here have the same ideas and say more than she does.

Then we get to Curley. He is currently the Director of Digital Archives for the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition and has been involved in archives for indigenous people since 2015. That same year he joined the SAA and has been a member of the organization’s Native American Archives Section. He calls for navigating and balancing membership needs of the archival community “with the financial needs of the organization, proactive dialogue and an ethic of purposeful listening must be embodied and exemplified by SAA leadership.” He also, interestingly, calls for the SAA to reach out and align the organization with other groups that have similar values in order to “cultivate opportunities for solidarity and meaningful interdisciplinary dialogue.” This implies groups like records managers, historians, and librarians to name a few off the top of my head. He argues it is vital for the SAA to “encourage meaningful disruption within status quo power differentials and bureaucracies in order to tap into unspoken, underrepresented strengths.” He also promises to have a decision-making process which will “incorporate a diversity of perspectives” while the SAA will interface more “with its membership, regional archival associations, and other spheres of influence.” This is something laudable, meaning that Curley is a great choice to be one of SAA’s newest Councilors.

That brings me to Mosley. He is the Archives Division Management for the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History in the Fulton County Library. He has been in leadership positions of archival institutions since 2011. He has also been a member of the SAA since 2013 and the American Library Association’s Black Caucus. Despite these roles, which would give him a unique perspective, he only talks about the organization being “more strategic” in its activities, having allied professional groups and collaborative projects. He also calls for more transparency of internal operations since many members are “unaware of how SAA operates and the financial operations and obligations that are ongoing,” saying that there will be “more published data so that all dues paying members can make sure the organization is moving.” He also says that the SAA must continue to “fight for adequate funding at all levels of government.” Similar to Curley, I feel that Mosley is a wonderful choice to be one of SAA’s newest Councilors.

There is one other I’d like to focus on here: Winston. She is currently a Black Diaspora Archivist at The University of Texas at Austin who has been part of the SAA since 2016. Her previous publications have focused on stories from records of enslaved (and formerly enslaved) people in Texas in the 19th century, while she has presented on “Cultural Preservation and Storytelling” and the importance of “Using Archival Instruction as a Tool for Engagement,” among other topics. Her description is long, but worth summarizing here. She first says that the SAA’s core values and strategic priorities need to be upheld, but that the Council must “embrace making difficult decisions that impact all aspects of our organization,” with necessary compromise and communication. Furthermore, she calls on building deeper relationships across the SAA while “working to facilitate individual and collective success,” and says that needs of the SAA membership need to be taken seriously, while solutions come at a cost. She also says she will be a “steadfast advocate for our professional development” and calls for further advancing “inclusivity efforts.” Due to her experience and ideas, I’d feel that she is a good fit to be one of the newest Councilors of the SAA. Although she talks about solutions coming at a cost, it is nothing like Carleton who sounds like a tired business executive.

That brings me to the final category, the Nominating Committee. Michael Barera, Itza A. Carbajal, Raquel Flores-Clemons, Valencia L. Johnson, Helen Kim, and Karen J. Trivette are all candidates for this SAA organ. Sadly, I couldn’t consider Flores-Clemons because no biographical information was listed.

Let’s begin with Barera. He is the University and Labor Archivist at The University of Texas at Arlington and is currently a member of the Academy of Certified Archivists. He thinks that archivists should involve themselves in Wikipedia, a site where most of the editors are men (even as shown by data shared by the Wikimedia Foundation), specifically White Men on English-language pages, leading to internalized sexism in the site itself, which the former executive of executive of the Wikimedia Foundation Sue Gardner acknowledged. I know there has been a big push to edit Wikipedia by some archivists (including those in NARA) and I edited the page on archival appraisal for a class project. And yes, I’m a Wikipedian myself, but is this the best way to use our time as archivists? I’m not sure or convinced at this current time. So, that was a bit of a turnoff. Apart from that, his statement where he calls for more diversity, appreciating viewpoints of archivists with “experience in different institutional backgrounds, a variety of archival roles, and in different regions of the country” and saying that archivists with these perspectives and skills have a “tremendous amount that they can share with the profession” seemed positive. He also stated that some early-career professionals have a “lot of talent and extremely high career development potential” who should be paired with “SAA volunteer opportunities that fit their interests and skills.” That would sound great, except, why does it have to be volunteer opportunities? Why can’t they be paid? Having unpaid internships, which should be illegal under all circumstances, exist is bad enough, but now you think volunteering will help people? A clearly tone-deaf position. That is why I would never support him to be a member of the Nominating Committee.

Moving onto Carbajal, currently the Latin American Metadata Librarian at the LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Special Collections, located at the The University of Texas at Austin. She is the chair of the Human Rights Archives section of the SAA, and a founding member of the Archivists Against History Repeating Itself archivists collective which is an informal collective of archivists and archival studies scholars which are seeking to “enact structural change and to use traces of the past to the interrupt cycles of oppression” in the present. They have activities on various topics, whether war, colonialism, abelism, capitalism, the prison-industrial-complex, and much more. She has written about decolonization, donor relations, saving online data, and community archives, along with much more. Her response incorporates much of what Barera said, and expands upon it. She wants the SAA’s leadership to reflect the current and future nature of the archives field, advocating for and helping others get involved in the field. She hopes to use her status, privileges, and connections to connect with the field in new ways. She also says she has, due to her perspective as “a woman of color from multiple historically underrepresented cultural backgrounds and identities,” an ability and sensitivity to identify who “continues to be left out, who needs to be brought in, and how to balance competing interests and visions within a diverse group.” That makes her vital to improving the field going forward, so she should be one of next members of the SAA’s Nominating Committee.

We move onto Johnson. She is currently the Project Archivist for Student Life at Princeton University, where she has worked since 2017. She was part of Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia’s Anti-Racist Description Working Group which wrote the wonderful “Anti-Racist Description Guidelines,” and helped put together an “Archiving Student Activism Toolkit” when working at Project STAND. Those are already positives. Her statement was short, but powerful. She said that an “ecosystem of ideas and innovation” can be fostered by sharing power with those peoples who are “critically and ethically questioning” the procedures and silences of the SAA. For the latter, she notes how marginalized archivists experience a lack of support, being misunderstood and othered, leading them to create or seek out support networks. She would try to bring those people back in, connecting with them and those archivists who have a vision of how to improve the SAA and the profession as a whole. She hopes as a member of the committee, she can amplify their voices. With such a resounding statement and the importance of diversifying the profession based on what I said earlier, it is vital to support someone like Johnson. As a result, she clearly deserves to be member of the Nominating Committee.

From there, let’s look at Kim. She is currently an Institutional Archivist at the Getty Research Institute. She has been part of the SAA since 2011. Her long response to the SAA’s questions shows her dedication to the subject. She notes that when children aren’t exposed to anyone in the archives profession they can’t imagine themselves as part of it, resulting in a lack of diversity in the field. She also talks about institutional hurdles in the field, whether through grant-funded positions, unpaid internships or a “reliance on professional activity to succeed in the profession.” What she is saying resonated with me, as I’ve had my share of unpaid internships (one at Public Citizen and another at NARA) and grant-funding (at the Maryland State Archives). She also notes how she has been a mentor to supervised interns of color, her professional hiatus because of pregnancy and parenting, saying the SAA should try to make “the profession a more equitable one for all, especially those people who are underrepresented.” She goes onto say that as a member of the Nominating Committee she will look beyond people’s CV, wanting to know people’s backgrounds and life experiences, asking how they will lift people up and include others to create a more inclusive and diverse environment. Most importantly, she says that diversity has to come from the top, adding that it has to be felt and seen in the organization’s leadership. This would send the signal to prospective archivists that the field is changing and welcoming, allowing the SAA to reflect the diversity of the U.S., helping it ensure that archivists are “collecting the voices that have every right to be represented in the records.” A strong and powerful message. With such a plea for change and betterment of the organization will benefit many people. As such, she should be a member of the SAA’s Nominating Committee without a doubt.

There is one final person: Trivette. She is the Associate Professor and Head of Special Collections & College Archives at the Fashion Institute of Technology–SUNY Library. She currently sits on the editorial board of The American Archivist, the SAA’s journal. In her response to the organization’s questions she first talks about her experience with past nominations, how she looked at her network of contacts and “associated communities,” using various communication networks, yielding a “diverse and robust slates of candidates.” She then boasts about her nearly 20 years in the profession and claims that she can be trusted completely to “carry out her responsibilities fully.” She pales in comparison to Kim, Johnson, and Carbajal. Like Wisser and Charleton, you could say she represents the old guard of archivists, whose ideas are becoming outmoded by a new generation of archivists who want to change the organization (and profession) for the better!

In closing, here’s my slate of those I think should be elected to the SAA’s leadership, with my reasons explained above:

  1. Joyce Gabiola for SAA Vice President/President-Elect
  2. Stephen R. Curley, Derek T. Mosley, and Rachel W. Winston for the SAA Council
  3. Itza A. Carbajal, Valencia L. Johnson, and Helen Kim, for the SAA Nominating Committee

That’s all. Once you get to the end of the voting, you’ll get a screen just like this:

Best of luck voting! Your comments on this post are welcome.


© 2020-2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

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