Tag Archives: SAA09

My First SAA Conference: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Since we were in hot and steamy Texas for the SAA conference, I thought I would have a Western theme to this post. Enjoy!

The Good: “Bringing it Together” Part of my excitement in attending the conference was to see if I could make connections from my time as a student to a professional. Some of the sessions did not disappoint. My favorite session, for this reason, was session 104 on archives and web 2.0 (see the SAA facebook page for videos of session 104 and more, nice job SAA!). Even though this really was not the most applicable session to my professional position, it was great in that it addressed how the profession can handle a topic that I was first introduced to in grad-school. Every professor I had, at one point or another, stated that archives had to do a better job being transparent. If I may go all postmodern on you for a second, transparency was identified as a way to address the notion that all human endeavor is biased in some way or another. If we cannot remove bias, we can at least be transparent in our decisions so future generations know where we were coming from. The first presenter in session 104, Angela McClendon Ossar, identified web 2.0 technology as a way to bring transparency to archival appraisal and processing. By blogging and tweeting, the archive can shed light on the black box. I thought this was a wonderful practical solution to a theoretical problem posed in the classroom. Awesome job!

There was also a surprising amount of good archive talk at the social activities I attended. While I guess it could be considered shoptalk, it was great to hear from working archivists. Whether it was a discussion of the meaning of records with some classmates fellow alums over $2 Lone Stars, or discussing how to appraise records based on documentation strategy over a sassy pinot grigio, I saw that every time a group of archivists gather it is another opportunity to learn something about the field. Note: all booze was consumed after the workday and not in excess, in case any people who could fire me, hire me, or are married to me, are reading this post.

Overall, I was very impressed how generous archivists are with their time and how willing they are to discuss things with someone new to the field. I am very excited to be in a profession where people are so clearly passionate about what they do and willing to lend a helping hand to others.

The Bad: “Why Are We Not Past This Yet?” While some of the sessions were great and really taught me a lot, some of them made me wonder why we were still talking about certain things as a profession. My example for this is session 501, whose official title was “More Product, Less Process Revisited: Choosing the Right Processing Strategy for Your Repository and Collections.” That sounds interesting, right? Well, in my opinion, the actual content of this session probably did little to help people choose a processing strategy, but rather “revisited” the type of debate that must have occurred when Greene and Meissner first published their article in 2005. Two members of the panel stated concerns regarding MPLP, including fears that widespread misuse of minimal processing will lead to the alienation our users, will make archivists irrelevant, and cause the McDonald’s-ization (yes, I just made up that word) of the profession. Update: OK, so apparently I did not make up McDonaldization. I guess I will have to Google words that I think I made up before I publicly claim that I made them up. HT to Angela McClendon Ossar.

You are not removing staples? Nooooooo!!!!

You are not removing staples? Nooooooooooo!!!!!!!

Image courtesy of Flickr member sparktography / CC-BY-NC

Now, this type of misuse of minimal process would be very disconcerting if it were not for the fact that, as far as I could tell, the evidence of misuse lies in anecdotal stories related during conferences and that SAA offers a workshop on MPLP. Um… really? It seems to me that we should have moved past a debate discussing the theoretical (and not to mention false) choice between “complete processing” and “minimal processing.” Is it not the reality that most archivists are adapting several different types of processing to accommodate the wide ranging and wonderful diversity among our archival institutions? I am not saying that there is not a place for a reasoned and rational debate on MPLP, or any archival issue for that matter. I am saying we should have that debate with facts in hand, and be a bit more aware of what is going on in the archival-streets (yes, I just made up that phrase).

In addition to MPLP, I feel there are other topics that we need to move beyond the acceptance phase. These topics range from user involvement, digital record management, and digital preservation. These are no longer new or radical concepts, and we should be talking about how to harness them, not engage in unhelpful hyperbolic claims that they are scary, unwanted, or cataclysmic to the profession.

Update: There seems to be a very interesting and relevant discussion brewing on the A&A, started by Kate Cruikshank of Indiana University, focusing on examples of how archivists are implementing minimal processing in their institutions, and a very informative post on ArchivesNext by Kate Theimer and Dan Santamaria. Nice work! There will also be a section dealing with MPLP in an upcoming issue of American Archivist, let’s hope this adds to the discussion.

The Ugly: “I am Freakin’ Tired” Archives is a second profession for me, my former profession being in the culinary field. I would come home from being in a kitchen all day bone-tired. While at the end of the day at SAA I did not smell of burnt grease, I was as tired as I was in any day in the kitchen. Not that I thought it would be all giggles and cupcakes (yep, made that one up too), but since I was out of my cubicle and pretty much on my own, I thought there would be a certain relaxation factor. Yeah, not so much. It is hard being “on” for that long of a time. I think my condition at the end of the week was similar to the condition of my name badge at the end of the week: worn out, misshapen, and mildly inappropriate…

Last longer... get it?

Last longer... get it?

Final Verdict: I will see you at SAA 2010, baby!!

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Postcard from Austin: Rainbows and Research

I will give a full recap of the conference when I return, but I wanted to give our loyal readers (yes, all three of you) some of my initial impressions.

I flew to Austin from Michigan on Sunday afternoon. I do not love flying, something about being packed in a metal tube with strangers thousands of feet in the air rubs me the wrong way. Added to that was the fact that is was like, 136 degrees in Austin. I was a touch grumpy upon arrival. But after I settled in, I saw this from my hotel window:

Rainbow Over Austin

Rainbow Over Austin

My grumpiness mellowed and my excitement returned as I hoped this was a portent to my week.

Research I have been pretty busy the first three days of the conference, sitting in on the Research Skills workshop on Monday and helping with logistics (which included frowning very hard at the hotel A-V dude) for the Research Forum on Tuesday. I liked the presentations from the Forum. It was a good mix of academic researchers and what I guess you would call “working practitioners.” I really like the attitude from some of the presenters that saw a problem, researched and developed a solution, all without the need for a grant or years of testing and development.

I also enjoyed meeting the people I had been communicating with via email over the past couple of months for the Forum. I was busy enough that I did not get to meet all of them, but I had some very good conversations nonetheless. It was great to meet people not from SI at Michigan (no offense, SI) that are working in different places and specializations. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am not good at the networking thing and my previous correspondence with these folks gave me a great opportunity to approach and talk to them. Although I still have not collected any business cards…

Austin is Twitter-tastic I have been on Twitter for about five months now, and @TheNewArchivist has been on only a couple of weeks. I came to be a serious follower of people in the archives world during the last A&A listserv meltdown (if you don’t know what I am talking about, see the great post at Beaver Archivist). However, I did not realize that Twitter has such a robust archive community until this week. People have been great about helping others (like me who wondered where the Hell I was going to eat dinner) and give surprisingly rich details coming from the sessions and events I have not been able to attend. Not to mention, made us NewArchivists feel very welcome (a special shout out to @archivesnext for that).

Biggest Surprise So Far: I was so looking forward to the conference, that I was almost looking at it as a kind of getaway. Nope. All this fancy learnin’ is hard and I am beat at the end of the day.

More to come next week…

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Austin, Here I Come

Next week will be my first SAA conference. Actually, it will be my first professional conference of any kind. I wish I could say something cool and cynical like “You know, I am just going for the beef brisket,” but I can’t. Truth is, I am really looking forward to it. In fact, on a scale of 1 to 10, my excitement level goes to 11.

Here are some reasons why:

1) Archivists, archivists, archivists I cannot wait to be immersed in a large group comprised almost solely of professional archivists and records managers. This is partly because I think it will give me a feeling of “I am now truly an archivist.” My wife put this into words the best when she said I am excited for the conference because I “will be around people who use the same terms and know the same acronyms, and will get your nerdy jokes.”

2) The continuing education of Lance I am looking forward to continuing my education outside of the formal school setting. My MSI program gave me some great tools, but I now want to see what professionals in the field have to say about the topics we learned in school. For me, digital preservation and web 2.0 technologies hold a special interest and I will be attending several sessions on those topics. Will they reinforce what I learned in school, or is the view different from the “trenches?”

3) Professional Engagement I will also be doing stuff at the conference that will provide me with several opportunities for shameless self-promotion to engage with other professionals. I have been providing some logistical support for the Research Forum, which will take place on Tuesday the 11th. This will feature posters and presentations highlighting research in the field. I have had a chance to see the proposals and the presentation look very interesting, I am sure I will get a lot out of it. Also, I will be presenting at the student poster sessions on a disaster planning internship I had last summer at ICPSR. I think these activities will help me meet more people, as I am absolutely terrible at networking. My awkward attempts at handing out my business cards are always good for a laugh or two.

Will not leave Texas without eating something resembling this!

Image courtesy of Flickr member athomson / CC-BY-SA

4) Austin I have only been to Texas once and it was a while ago with the family. I am really looking forward to exploring the city and seeing how Texas does a college town. I joked earlier about going just for the brisket, but I do plan on seeing what all the fuss is about, as well as checking out as much as I can of Austin (excepting the bats, not cool). The extras like going to a baseball game and attending the gathering for Michigan alumni will round out the social aspects of the trip [apparently there will be no Michigan reception, booooo ~ ed.]. By the way, for those also going to the conference, I have found the Austin Is for Archivists blog very helpful.

5) #saa09 I plan on going nuts with the web 2.0 at the conference. Hopefully, I will have time for some short posts here. I will definitely make time for numerous tweets from both my Twitter and TheNewArchivist Twitter as well.

There you have it. Like I said, I hope to add some more from the conference, but even if I don’t get a chance, I will write a post-conference-post and tell you if it lived up to my exciting expectations. Oh yeah, I will also give my review of Texas BBQed beef brisket.

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