SAA: Remember the ‘small people’

I did my graduate work at a large university, whose information school is proud to include five archivists as faculty members. Those five, along with numerous archivists on campus and elsewhere, continue to have a great influence on my career. It was through their encouragement that I attended my first SAA meeting in 2006. I paid the student registration price, drove down to DC (only a few hours from my summer internship), and stayed with a friend who lived walking distance from the hotel. For me the conference was affordable, informative, and overall a great pep rally before my friends and I returned to campus for our final two semesters.

Four years later, I was finally able to return to SAA. I consider myself fortunate that my employer paid half of my registration fee. Transportation costs to and from the District were negligible since I tacked the conference on to the end of a vacation. I stayed with my brother and took Metro to the hotel each day. Again it was affordable and informative, and a great reunion this time, too.

The difference for me was that I am no longer a student at a large university with fabulous resources. I am now a project archivist at a historical society. Don’t get me wrong, I love working at the historical society. We are housed in a 1920s mansion with beautiful grounds, have manuscripts dating to the late 17th century, and my bicycle commute is less than two miles each way (if you question the relevance of that last statement, take another look at the title of this blog). However, to put it quite simply, we are a small shop. Our issues are just different enough, and the tasks we work on are on such a smaller scale, that I found myself leaving most sessions thinking something to the effect of, “Well, that was great, but…”

More than once during the conference I thought of BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg at a press conference following a meeting with President Obama. He kept saying that the “small people” matter to BP. Do the small people matter to SAA? I choose to believe the answer is yes, even though the vast majority of presenters at the conference (I haven’t checked the statistics, so please correct me if I’m wrong) were from government agencies and colleges/universities and sessions on cloud computing or large-scale electronic records are about as relevant to my historical society’s work as underwater basket weaving.

Without the small people, though, membership costs would be even higher, fewer people would be involved in the conversations, etc. So I repeat the calls to make the conference more accessible. There must be many ways this could be accomplished with available technology. I envision something along the lines of an archivist on the east coast, presenting via videoconferencing, answering questions from someone on the west coast. Both work for small organizations and neither has the budget to travel to Chicago.

With more voices from small organizations involved in the conversations, there would be more of a market for sessions that relate to our issues. “If you build it, they will come.”

I’m sure I could come up with something to discuss if the #SAA11 program committee needs a guinea pig. Can anyone collaborate with How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Anonymous Farmer’s Account Book?