Is change possible within SAA? Or, why I want to kill Archival Outlook

I am currently serving on SAA’s Nominating Committee, which means I am part of the group that selects who will run for elected office in SAA next year. Part of this process involves talking with potential candidates about the role they will play and, in many cases, encouraging them to run. Yesterday one potential candidate made this request:

 I’d like to talk generally about your experience on Council, things you think are issues, “improvement opportunities”, and the overall direction of SAA.  It’s not worth it to me to go through running for [office] if it doesn’t mean some potential for change and improvement as a result.

It will not shock regular readers of this blog to learn that I think change is needed within SAA. What kind of change and how that occurs is a different issue, but for now I want to focus on the potential candidate’s question about potential for change. And I’ll use as an example one thing I know I want to change: getting rid of SAA’s newsletter, Archival Outlook, which is printed and mailed to members six times a year.

But first, let’s talk a little bit about SAA’s budget–a topic which again merits much lengthier discussion. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the vast majority of SAA’s income comes directly from archivists, archives, and archival education programs–through member dues, fees for continuing education classes, purchasing of books, subscriptions to the journal, advertising of jobs in the career center, and registrations at the annual meeting.  Therefore in the current economic climate, I think it’s safe to say that it will be very challenging for SAA to significantly increase revenues (short of finding entirely new products or revenue streams).  In FY2012, according to the Treasurer’s Report:

For the fiscal year ending June 30, SAA posted an operational net gain of $14,812.44 . . . . The SAA Operations net gain exceeded last year by $51,754.44 and budget by $1,974.02. Given that Operations revenues fell short of budget by more than $44,000 , achieving the net gain was due to expense reductions, most notably in Advocacy.

I’m not a numbers person. But having sat through several Council meetings in which the budget was discussed my general impression, which I think is supported by the Treasurer’s report, is that things are running pretty close to the wire right now. What that translates into for the purposes of this discussion (again, reminder, my personal opinion, not a policy statement of SAA Council or anybody else) is that the organization can’t do anything that might disturb its current sources of income and also that it can’t undertake any new initiatives that incur expenses (which has meant deferring many advocacy activities). Unless, of course, current expenses are cut.

Which brings me to Archival Outlook. It’s a fine product and the recent redesign has made it much more visually appealing than it used to be. I’m sure that many members love receiving it in hardcopy via the postal service six times a year. However, producing it incurs about $140,000 of expenses, offset by about $27,000 of revenue. Let’s just round it off and say the net costs are around $100,000. What do we get for that investment? Great content, but content that is locked up in a format that can’t be easily shared on the Web. The electronic form of Archival Outlook is a PDF file of the entire issue. It’s very large and you can’t share or link to individual articles. Therefore, it’s impossible for the content to be posted and shared using tools like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Delicious, Google+, blogs, or even email. Imagine if the content inside  Archival Outlook was published on an ongoing basis in electronic form so that people could link to it and share it. This would allow it to be shared with people other than the current archivist subscribers, which in my opinion would greatly add to the value of SAA’s activities for advocacy and outreach. I’m not saying any article would go viral, but I think the article about the Tupac Shakur archives might have gotten a bit of attention.

So currently we are investing $100,000 in production of a product that can’t be shared in the ways people currently share information and which goes primarily to SAA members. Let’s say (arbitrarily) that $50,000 of that is staff time and the rest are expenses for design, printing and posting. (My apologies for not actually going back to the budget documents and calculating these actual expenses. I may be way off on my numbers, but I think for the purposes of a thought experiment this is an acceptable guess.) If we killed the print version of Archival Outlook and used that staff time to produce content to be posted freely on the Web, as I’ve described, what would that achieve? We would free up $50,000 to spend on other priorities and we would have a better chance of promoting the activities of archives to a wider audience. And we could probably even find a way to sell some advertising to accompany this resource too.

What would we give up if we discontinued the printed Archival Outlook? Right now it’s a membership benefit, and although I don’t really value it, I’m sure some people do. Some members probably have collections of back issues, arranged in order on their shelves, dating back to when they first joined SAA. If they stopped receiving it, I’m sure some people would be upset. How many would drop their membership over it? Who can say, but I don’t think very many would. If you asked people if they wanted it to be changed, I’m sure the majority of people would say they like things just fine the way they are. (And the recent Membership Survey would probably support that.)

So, to return to the question, is change possible within SAA? I think what I’ve described above is a very reasonable proposal for change. It moves SAA forward into being a more 21st century organization, increases opportunities for advocacy and promotion of the profession, and frees up financial resources to invest in other strategic priorities. On the other hand, it will certainly upset some members, as any change will. (Note that currently SAA has a Communications Task Force whose scope includes examining Archival Outlook.  I look forward to seeing their recommendations.)

This is just an example of the kind of hard decision making necessary to bring about change in SAA. You can’t have new activities without finding more income or making significant changes to the way the organization does business. And neither one of those options will be universally popular. The only way I think change is possible is if there are enough people advocating for it and supporting it.

So what will I say to the potential candidate? I think the potential for change is there but that it will be a struggle. Change means risk and I’m not sure how comfortable SAA as an organization is with risk right now (perhaps justifiably, considering how even small decreases in revenue can affect the budget). But what choice is there? If we keep moving along as we have always done our current situation will be safe but we won’t be moving forward or able to adapt to the way the world around the organization has changed. It’s the responsibility of SAA’s leaders to set a strategic direction and make those hard decisions that will enable the organization to grow and evolve. Change is possible if enough people are committed to it and work for it. I hope the potential candidate wants to be one of those people.

 

Be Sociable, Share!
This entry was posted in Advocacy, Organizational change, Society of American Archivists (SAA). Bookmark the permalink.

44 Responses to Is change possible within SAA? Or, why I want to kill Archival Outlook

  1. Kate Theimer says:

    In reality, the course of action SAA would probably choose to pursue is incremental change (or baby steps). Some of the articles from AO could be liberated from the PDF format and released into the wilds of the Web. The printed newsletter could be reduced from six issues a year to four. Or if the printed newsletter were eliminated, a means could be found to “curate” selected articles from the online replacement and compile them into a document that could be emailed (or even, if necessary, mailed) to people who still preferred a compilation on a regular basis. Incremental change is possible, and given SAA’s risk averse culture, probably more likely. It decreases the speed with which other improvements can be made, so that’s not my preference. But hopefully this blog post will at least make people more aware of some the issues involved. If you want more resources devoted to something, you had better be ready to identify where they will be coming from.

  2. Deb Schiff says:

    I’m with you, Kate. Electronic version only, unless folks demand a paper copy — then, they they should pay extra for it. Best of luck with the candidates.

  3. If they want a paper copy, a link to a downloadable PDF should suffice; otherwise, newsletters should be electronic.

    I would also say that in the past ads in the newsletter have really bothered me. Especially those for educational programs, for which we have little statistics or review. Better just to do away with the thing, and move to an adless internet presence.

  4. t says:

    Super post, Kate. It highlights two important things — change almost always involves choice. We can’t have it all, so we have to be clear about what we want, listen to what others want, work to make what we want happen, and accept that we won’t love all changes.

    And second it says get in the mix. If you want change, get off your ass and make it happen. You won’t always get what you want, but you sure as hell won’t get anything by sitting around waiting for your desires to fall in your lap. So to speak.

  5. Courtney says:

    I agree on many points here, including the savings to SAA and how nice it would be to link.

    From a 100% selfish perspective: I wrote the piece on the Tupac Shakur Collection in an ongoing program of promoting the collection, and hip hop archives in general. Many of the faculty and students who use the collection (or who we are targeting for use of the collection) ask about copies of the article, or I offer them copies to pique their interest. Until the PDF version became accessible to non-members, I would scan the hard copy to email it to them. Now I can link to the issue, but the entire issue, as opposed to the article. It’s a pain from a promotion perspective.

    We also use the piece in a recruiting program for undergraduate students who might be interested in a career in libraries/archives. Again, difficult to distribute to a non-archivist audience, who arguably would benefit from it just as much as people in the profession.

    And since Advocacy efforts are those that have lost out in the budget…wouldn’t it be nice to divert funds by axing the print version AND up our advocacy efforts by making an e-publication that can be attractive to non-members and non-archivists? Rather than an inward looking newsletter, it could be an outward looking news and information source. Take a second to look at the “Advocacy and Professional Issues” page on the SAA site. It’s enough to break my rabble-rousing heart.

  6. SAA also needs to consider that printing a newsletter is not a green initiative. SAA needs to be a sustainable organization both physically and intellectually. We, as a profession, need to always look at the big picture and our future.

  7. Kate Theimer says:

    Courtney–Thanks for sharing your perspective as an author and as someone who wants to use the articles for promotion and outreach. This is exactly what I have in mind. A lot of the content is appropriate to use for promoting the value of archives, archivists, and just maybe SAA membership, but it has to be in a format that makes it easy to access and share. And some of it is really is only targeted inwardly at SAA members. So why not deliver the internal messages through one channel and the outward ones through another?

    Why are we hiding our light under a bushel? Free the content!

  8. Scott says:

    The Association of Canadian Archivists has had an opt-in for its Bulletin (equivalent of Archival Outlook) for at least three years. If you want a hard-copy you have to opt-in (at no extra cost) on your membership. If not, you get it on-line through a notification. Very few have opted-in. Mind you the Bulletin is nowhere near as professional in style as Archival Outlook. What SAA needs, and I think you understand this, is a strategy that clearly articulates that the savings from cutting Archival Outlook are being invested in services elsewhere and thus a net-neutral change for members (and then visibly follow through with implementing the new services). I think all of us are rightly suspicious of the “spin” behind many changes.

  9. Ashley Cox says:

    “If you asked people if they wanted it to be changed, I’m sure the majority of people would say they like things just fine the way they are.”

    This statement is really the root of the issues in SAA.
    The Info Sci field is rapidly changing… how we interact with each other and our patrons… what our patrons what/need/expect… why are we not changing with it?

    Even not taking into account cost saving measures and ‘green’ sensibilities… How can we tout open access for patrons when our communication newsletter is inaccessible to people in our community?

  10. Alex says:

    SAA could post AO articles free online.
    SAA could OA American Archivist.
    SAA could put its workshops/sessions online, either free or members only.
    Or, SAA could dither about upsetting its members’ delicate sensibilities and operate as if it’s still 1980.

    The fact that we know which of these will happen speaks volumes about SAA, and more broadly, the profession.

  11. Sara Beckman says:

    Kate I love this idea! An online news portal would not only be great for advocacy and outreach, but I think moving the newsletter online would also encourage more archivists and maybe be even library/ archive students to submit material.

    As a student, I’m always looking for deliverables to add to my portfolio. However, a members only, printed newsletter is hard to share with potential employers and linking to the whole newsletter in a pdf is a bit sloppy. An online news source that is tied to a trusted organization like SAA is a great place for young professionals and students to write small news articles about projects, collections, outreach, etc that they have been involved in and want to share with the archival community. It helps us get involved with the larger professional community, adds to our portfolios, and gets us excited about SAA (aka wanting to join and pay membership dues).

  12. Sasha says:

    Just to play devil’s advocate, a thought I had on Twitter was whether or not this would adversely affect archivists looking for or needing publishing credits. AO, while a newsletter, has a high quality and can be seen as a higher caliber publication in relation to other organizational newsletters. Publishing opportunities (at 6 issues a year) are much more tangible for those who want or need to explore writing for the profession, including those whose jobs are faculty-level archivist positions. Eliminating these opportunities may create additional strain on the profession by limiting the professional outlet in which writers can engage. Additionally, by maintaining AO in an electronic format only, does that diminish its credibility, value, and/or accessibility?

    Having said that, I think it is important that AO be published electronically for the reasons mentioned above; mainly for sharing information the way people prefer to share information. I agree that AO seems to be an issue (pun intended) and it’s been a good discussion among your followers/subscribers. Hard decision making, indeed.

  13. Nick Krabbenhoeft says:

    Coming from the perspective of a student SAA chapter, opening up the content is essential.

    As an organization we have to advocate for our members, and one of the most effective ways we can do that is telling the rest of the world what our members our doing. this summer we had members write blogs about their internships to host on our website (http://saa.cms.si.umich.edu/). Whenever a new article went up, we link to it on our twitter feed and our facebook page. This is not just for our student group to read, but for other archivists to discover, for our school administrators to see, and for friends and family to share.

    The proverb I keep turning to is, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear, does it make a sound?” If a member organization is publicizing the accomplishments of its members, it isn’t serving them well.

    About the money, SAA had to get an outside grant of ~$6000 to fund a trip to represent archival concerns at the latest World Intellectual Property Organization meeting in Geneva. To me, funding that kind of advocacy is why a national organization collects dues.

  14. Nadia Dixson says:

    One of the valuable aspects of SAA is that it acts as a venue for professional conversations. However, as archivists relying on public institutions, donors, and our host organizations support our work we help ourselves by making some of our conversations accessible to other communities. Print is an expensive medium, and it does not do the double duty of facilitating our communication with each other and with the communities who can support us. Giving readers outside our profession to access to our efforts will help us to be recognized in the wider world. Shifting our resources from inefficient internally directed communications to publications that double as professionally advocacy is a wise decision.

  15. Lori Birrell says:

    I agree with all that’s been said. I believe members and the greater archives community should have access to the content in AO and it should be easy to share content. As so as one who is a bit fearful of submitting an article to American Archivist, I take comfort in the less scholarly, but still relevent AO. (I’m actually in the process of submitting an article to AO and have been pleased so far with the editors’ support). That being said, unless told otherwise, I plan to post my article on my website so those not a part of SAA can read it and offer their thoughts.

    On Kate’s larger point, I too think about the possibility of change within SAA. Starting with something simple and fairly straight forward that has a cost benefit, like ditching the print of AO sounds like a great place to start. I think SNAP will also have a positive effect on removing some of the mysteries of SAA- especially its organizational structure and how decisions get made.

  16. Switching to an electronic version of Archival Outlook would also facilitate the integration of more varied forms of media into the newsletter. Imagine a reoccuring podcast interview of one or more archivists, a video tour of an archives or an image gallery/slideshow of interesting material or an informative presentation. These types of media could support an article or, if they are enriching enough, stand on their own.

    The production costs may be a bit higher, but this type of media and especially audiovisual are now ubiquitous as advertising and advocacy tools on all kinds of social networks and blogs. I also believe they could more immediately “grab” a wider audience when linked and shared than text articles alone, and could draw a user in to explore the articles/newsletter, spark an interest and maybe even join the conversation.

  17. Rebecca Potance says:

    I agree with the rest of the commenters here that making AO electronic unless otherwise requested would be a step in the right direction. In addition to the cost savings and environmental benefit it would also be more efficient for those of us new archivists who have to move every year to keep getting the information in a timely manner.

    In fact, I would go a step further: why not make all SAA publications electronic? Students across the country are not buying textbooks because they can’t afford them. In my case, I had to give away several because I simply did not have the room for them in my cramped living space. IF publishing electronically reduces costs to the point where books can be sold for less and still be profitable then it should be considered.

  18. Marisol Ramos says:

    Great post Kate. Now, this is a good time to see what other organizations have done (even ones that are not archival). SALALM (Seminar on the Acquisiton of Latin American Library Materials), http://salalm.org/ just recently stopped publish its newsletter, who just like SAA, has been publishing a newsletter in print for decades. But the cost of publishing and little revenue coming in made them decided to drop not only the print version but the pdf version and embrace a more open and free approach to their newsletter content. They decided to use Drupal to create not only their new website but also incorporate the newsletter as part and parcel of the website. Old sections in the newsletter became part of the website and all members that created an account in the website can contribute with articles.

    I don’t think it is a perfect world since we lost the newsletter with its editorial and periodical identification so now it is really hard to claim we contribute an article to the newsletter. I am not sure how effective it is in reaching all members. I used to read my newsletter copy, cover to cover, but now I have to remind myself that they are new articles. It would be nice to experiment with such a formula now that we do have Drupal in the SAA website. I recommend people to visit the SALALM site, http://salalm.org/ and explore the “Categories” that is the old newsletter sections, and see if this is something people will like to see in SAA.

    But, if the cost to publish the newsletter is that high seem to me that it is time to really re-think the whole thing and make the hard choices. But who is going to take the initiative and propose this to SAA council? or since you are a council member, Kate, can we share with you that I will like this idea (finding an alternative way to offer Archival Outlook) to be explore at council? I personally don’t want to look AO, I think it is one of the nicest professional newsletter I have ever read and I don’t mind reading it online but if there is a better way than using PDF that will be good.

    Hope this help,
    Marisol

  19. Carole Prietto says:

    Agreed 100% with publishing AO entirely online. I’m all for the cost savings and, thanks to the non-service of my neighborhood post office, I rarely even receive the paper copies of AO any more – they go down a black hole somewhere. I have the same problem with American Archivist, my ALA publications, pretty much every mailing from every organization I belong to. Sometimes I get them, sometimes I don’t. I wonder how many others have the same issue. Electronic delivery would be cheaper, faster, and probably more reliable, IMO. I for one would be in favor of an all-electronic American Archivist, too.

  20. Peter says:

    Couple of questions
    Does SAA have a strategic plan? if no, why not?
    If yes what are the goals set forth in it?

    The AO idea is a good one, but it is a tactical one. would converting to an electronic information portal be a reduction in costs? or just a lateral shifting the funds from a ODT version to a virtual one?

    without a strategic plan in place it is hard to transform the organization

  21. Marisol Ramos says:

    I meant to say “I don’t’ want to lose Archival Outlook” sorry for any other typo, bad grammar, etc… my English start diminishing when the sun goes down. :-)

  22. Heavens to Murgatroyd says:

    “Right now it’s a membership benefit, and although I don’t really value it, I’m sure some people do.”
    Wow, I’m finally lost on this one. Particularly as I look across at the bookshelf of AO’s and AA’s with all the stickys and flags and dogears. Yeah, really. If this is “killed” or significantly diminished why would we not expect a massive dues reduction. I would be very upset if longstanding, core benefits are taken away without a reduction in dues. If any of you folks advocating this is successful in getting AO downsized, digitized, or cancelled, I am calling for REFUNDS, not plowing the profit into other scheme.

  23. Rachel Grove Rohrbaugh says:

    I always read and enjoy the copies of AO that show up in my mailbox, but unlike AA they pretty much immediately hit the recycle bin when I’m done with that first read through. As a newsletter, it’s perfectly suited to an online format–this really seems like a no-brainer. As others have said, if some members really want a print copy they can make the electronic version an opt-out option on the membership renewal form.

    And as for “Murgatroyd’s” comment…
    “If any of you folks advocating this is successful in getting AO downsized, digitized, or cancelled, I am calling for REFUNDS, not plowing the profit into other scheme.”

    I don’t see the redirecting of the money as a “scheme.” The long term survival of our profession is dependent on advocacy and is unquestionably more important than the convenience of a hard copy newsletter. If printing costs are draining the advocacy fund, this absolutely needs to be addressed.

  24. Erin says:

    Personally, I don’t know the last time I read Archival Outlook in paper form. I usually look through the PDF when the link is distributed. I also find that some of the information tends to be a bit dated by the time the paper copy makes it to me. So, I would not cry to see it go.

    I think much of the information is valuable, however. Perhaps a different distribution model for the information, though, would push it out in a more efficient manner. A digital publication (not just a PDF that’s meant to be printed, but a true digital publication) would allow for multi-format usage (video, audio, etc.), allow for linking directly to certain pieces, and would allow for quicker publication. In an ideal work, there wouldn’t even need to be a set publication schedule for AO as a whole, but articles could be published on an as-received or as-needed basis. This would also allow for more timely distribution, which is key for certain articles. Others, like Nancy’s column, could continue to be published on a set schedule.

    Of course, this is coming from someone who moves frequently and doesn’t really care to have all of my AOs and AAs lined up on a shelf. I actually don’t keep print copies of either past my initial reading/skimming. But I realize others aren’t quite as minimalist about it. :-)

    While this might not work for AO, I would like to see print copies of American Archivist offered as an add-on to your membership fee to help SAA recoup some of the cost. I would happily welcome a discount in my membership fees to not have a print copy of American Archivist. And SAA wouldn’t have to spend money distributing issues to those who don’t need/care for them.

  25. Kate Theimer says:

    Dear Heavens,

    (I like the sound of that!)

    I’m glad to hear from someone who doesn’t agree. I took a deliberately extreme stance (albeit, one I personally would be happy with) to illustrate the point about decision making and change. As I said in the first comment I posted, and as others have said above, the most appropriate approach is probably to move to primarily electronic delivery with an “opt-in” option for paper delivery. Both the Northwest Archivists and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference have taken this approach and realized significant cost savings. This would allow those who still prefer paper to receive it. (And, as I said on Twitter, personally I would still like to receive American Archivist in paper too. I also have stickys and and flags and dogears.)

    However, I would not support making that change without also providing more flexible and open delivery of the content online. Having an embargoed PDF version or any PDF version as the exclusive form of electronic delivery is not acceptable to me, and as others have discussed above, is a disservice to SAA’s larger goals. Do you consider getting exclusive access to AO content for six months a membership benefit that you value? If the same content is made available immediately (that is to say, before you get it in your regular print copy), would you have a problem with that? Or is it just the convenience and longevity of the print version that you value?

    And as for “plowing the profit into other schemes” … you make it sound as if SAA is going to go build a swimming pool in the backyard or buy swamp land in Florida! The savings realized by reducing printing and mailing costs would be invested in initiatives that benefit the membership and the profession. Let me take a concrete example, if some of that money were invested in supporting the recording and distribution of all annual meeting sessions, so that every member would have access to that content, would you consider that a worthwhile investment of that money? Or being able to fund representation at the World Intellectual Property Organization to advocate for the needs of archives in international copyright reform? Or translating DACS into Spanish? Or being able to provide a free online workshop for any archivist in how to effectively advocate for your organization? Part of point of doing is that is so that SAA can expand its efforts in advocacy and begin to develop new services for members. Without additional money, that is just not possible. Don’t you think that is worth investing in?

    I think you may in agreement with what Scott said earlier, that what is needed is:

    “is a strategy that clearly articulates that the savings from cutting Archival Outlook are being invested in services elsewhere and thus a net-neutral change for members (and then visibly follow through with implementing the new services). I think all of us are rightly suspicious of the “spin” behind many changes.”

    So if this change were made, SAA should clearly articulate how the money saved would be used to further the organization’s strategic objectives. I hope that the reason you pay your dues is not just a simple quid pro quo of money for tangible products. Part of what you are getting is the work of an organization that helps the profession. If the organization can do more to benefit the profession (and members) without raising your dues, wouldn’t you consider that a good thing?

  26. Kate Theimer says:

    Peter,

    Yes, SAA has developed and uses a Strategic Priorities document (http://www2.archivists.org/governance/strategic-priorities).

    Among those priorities is: “SAA will make increasingly effective use of current and emerging technology in order to enhance communication with internal and external audiences and stimulate collaboration among its constituents.”

    In support of that effort, SAA has chartered a Communications Task Force which is charged with “advising the SAA Council on practical ways to enhance SAA’s communications with a focus on three areas: intended audiences, content/messages, and tools/channels.” An examination of products such as Archival Outlook is in this group’s scope.

    Yes, a significant portion of the total cost for AO is printing and postage. As I said in a comment above, both the Northwest Archivists and MARAC (regional archival associations) have switched to opt-in only for paper copies of their newsletters and have realized significant cost savings.

  27. Mary R. says:

    Okay so if the majority of us are in agreement about discontinuing the print version of AO then what’s next? Do we start passing around a petition that would be brought to the next council meeting? Do we collaborate on a framework for the electronic version? Where do we go from here if we want to change this?

  28. Matt Snyder says:

    From the day I’ve joined SAA in 2004 I’ve wondered why there was a paper newsletter. I think going electronic with the American Archivist should be on the table as well, with a print opt-in. SAA has the most expensive dues of all the professional associations that I’m a member of. It should really be looking for more cost savings like this.

  29. Rebecca B. says:

    There is some great discussion going on here on some topics that need to be addressed! I hope some change, including the points Kate mentions of conversion to electronic format, opening of at least some AO articles to the public, and continued if not increased funding commitment to advocacy, can happen, and not at a glacial pace. (And I say this as someone who oversaw a long and contentious decision to maintain both a paper and electronic version of an archives newsletter at the state level. Different approaches for different audiences and scales…)

    I do think it is important, as Marisol and some other commenters have mentioned, that some collocated format for each issue of newsletter be maintained. Otherwise, with only a web portal-type format, the links to articles and new items risk just getting lost in the sauce of all the other link-love that we’ve got going on.

    Something I would like to see is if there is a way SAA could better communicate what it’s current and proposed advocacy efforts are. Admittedly, we as individual members need to make an effort to stay up to date on these things. On the other hand, it still seems like SAA could be more vocal, pithily yet prominently, about what they’re doing out there, for us and on important issues. For example, I learned at SAA, through a colleague who attended a session on international copyright, about SAA’s pretty awesome efforts on that front, which I didn’t know about previously. The Advocacy Agenda on the webpage is from 2009-2010, and I don’t think hits all the points of what’s actually happening. If we as members know whatSAA is out there doing (as well as, of course, having some say in it), I think it will help foster change and the making of the sometimes hard choices that may need to be made to move forward and better serve our members and society as a whole.

    I meant this to be really short and to the point. Ack!

  30. Scott says:

    Since we are talking changes, I wonder if another Canadian initiative is worth looking into. Five years ago or so, ACA began offering an e-membership for students. All membership benefits are offered electronically and thus savings are made on delivery of Archivaria- Bulletin etc. Students who choose to be e-members get up to a three year term (current year plus two more so new student memberships in September 2012 expire in December 31 2014). Students can still choose to be regular student members and receive hard copies of journals but they now have the choice.

    Cost for e-student is $54 for the three year term. Cost for regular student is $54 annually. Currently about 80% of the students choose e-membership and this would be higher if the PH. D. students were filtered out.

    Though ACA has only offered students the option of electronic membership, SAA could certainly expand on this. When we explored this option, we did a cost-benefit analysis on how much hard copies cost- it was more than the annual student membership fee. The key point was that the students had to be offered a benefit to go electronic and the expanded term seems to have worked. Before taking this change to the AGM, ACA ran it past the student chapters (who did recommend changes) for support which was vital for its success. It seems to have been a win-win.

  31. Most publications are going through this paper vs. online debate. The question may pose be a false “either/or.” Stanford abandoned it’s paper “Campus Report” for all the reasons cited: expense, clunkiness, old fashioned, no article sharing … The online version is spiffy, facebook friendly, all that stuff I like. But to be honest, I don’t spend as much time reading the online version, whereas I (and I’m not the only one) read every word of the paper version even news that wasn’t jazzy. Traditional sorts of publications that don’t have interactive versions just fold: not good. I wonder if there is a model for a professional newsletter that is mainly interactive, online, but with a number of attractive paper copies that land on the nightstand and coffee table and draw the membership into more intensive reading even of news that is boringly important. Not either or but both and….just a thought….

  32. Someone asked above whether “by maintaining AO in an electronic format only, does that diminish its credibility, value, and/or accessibility?” I can’t imagine any reason why this would be so. Many academic journals are shifting to an OA model and delivering content via the web (see for example this article in The Economist). Although an online-only publication might once have been perceived as somehow lesser quality, I don’t think that’s the case any longer. Assuming that an online-only edition retains the same quality control mechanisms as the print version, then nothing would change but the method of delivery.

    I also really like the idea of breaking it up into individual articles so it’s easier to share/link to them. Ditto American Archivist; that thing must cost a bundle to mail, it’s such a chunky publication. Having it online-only with the articles separately accessible would be fine by me.

  33. Martin Firestein says:

    For what it’s worth (and it might not be worth very much), I think SAA, and all archival organizations for that matter, should focus more on making jobs available for archivists. Convince organizations that they need archivists, maybe cut back on the number of archival students until the current crop can find gainful employment? Stuff like that. I’ve been looking for full time work in archives since 2001, and why I haven’t been successful, I have no idea. Without sounding too boastful (I hope), I think I’m a pretty damn good archivist, and yet …. nothing.

    My only assumption is that the field is so flooded with talent, and the number of jobs are so low, that a significant portion of the archivists looking for work end up SOL. And that’s a damn shame cuz I love this field and love working with historical documents, as I’m sure everyone who gets into the field does. Over the years, I’ve seen more and more frustration among newbies and veterans of the field at how difficult it is to find work, and I just can’t help thinking about the amount of talented people we might be losing to other fields that can offer faster (and perhaps more gainful) employment.

    It’s a total downer, TBH, and I wish TPTB at SAA would focus more on that.

    That’s just my .02 cents.

  34. Kate Theimer says:

    To answer Mary’s question, “Where do we go from here if we want to change this?”, here’s my understanding.

    There’s a Communications Task Force that just kicked off, and looking at issues like this one is in their charge. They will be gathering ideas and developing recommendations. The members of that task force are aware of this discussion, and I know they are finding the ideas raised here very valuable. I don’t think they’ve determined yet what the best way is for you to share your ideas directly with them, but once they do I’m sure that will be share via the usual SAA channels (and on this blog, of course). So the good news is, there is already a group charged to look this issue and they have a deadline for making recommendations.

    The other good news (although perhaps not everyone would call it that) is that I’m on Council. And so is Terry. And so are many other people who are comfortable questioning the current ways of doing business. SAA doesn’t turn on a time (nor should it), so making changes like this take time. But it’s critical to have members raising their concerns and making sure SAA leaders are aware that you want change. Doing so on this blog is great. (So please, keep participating here!) BUT, I also encourage everyone to post comments on the OFFICIAL SAA blog, Off the Record. In her first post, President Jackie Dooley asked what people wanted to discuss: http://offtherecord.archivists.org/2012/07/30/its-a-conversation-only-if-you-join-in/. So, if you want to engage in a dialogue with Jackie about what SAA could be doing better, let her know what’s on your mind.

    And, good for you, Mary, to ask the question. It’s always important to know what practical next steps you can take. Sorry I don’t have a more immediately actionable recommendation, but given my understanding of SAA’s processes, that’s the route to take.

  35. Jamie says:

    As to Scott’s suggestion about e-membership for students — correct me if I’m wrong, but I think as of a year or so ago, SAA changed the student membership to not getting print versions of American Archivist in the mail anymore. (I think I still received paper Outlooks though, but…everyone does, and there’s not the option currently.) When I had to switch to being a regular member, my print copies started arriving again. However, I think I’d like to be able to opt-out of getting print copies as a regular member too. (Can we do that? I forget.)

    Also — I’m absolutely for an online version of the Outlook, in full PDF form, but also in individual article chunks to download.

    Also — Martin, your concern about number of new archivists or students vs. number of jobs — there was a good session on that at this year’s annual meeting (#206), with a breakdown of an interesting survey about employment/quality of life/interviews/etc and some other thoughts with panelists including Rebecca Goldman, Shannon Lausch, and Arlene Schmuland (and someone else, I don’t have my book with me!). I think they’ll have their slides up from the session soon.

  36. MK says:

    Don’t follow all the SAA issues as closely as I should. Actually assumed that looking at reducing costs associated with printing AO and making the type of content is has more accessible had been under discussion. Actually surprised to hear proposing this be done might be considered as novel. Don’t have a finger on the pulse of anyone but myself, however. Not sure there actually would be that much opposition to it among others. Certainly not from me.

  37. andrew says:

    I wonder how other professional organizations handle this. I know the American Historical Association has a nice newsletter that’s now available in print and on the web and the web version is individual articles in html, not just one big pdf. Some of their articles – often, but not only, the presidential columns – get a reasonably wide circulation within the historical community. Some articles seem to be embargoed to non-members for a while, but I think everything becomes open within a few months of publication.

  38. Pingback: “You mean skinny jeans aren’t business casual? Dang!” | NixoNARA

  39. Margaret Kidd says:

    Personally I am all for AO to be electronic with a hard copy opt in. That is the way most newsletters are circulated in the organizations I belong to. Even my church sends the monthly newsletter electronically and it will mail a hard copy to those who want it. It would be a costs savings and more sustainable. Don’t get me wrong I love having a hard copy. I even pay regular member rates (even though I could get a student rate currently) just so I can have a hard copy of AA instead of only the electronic version. I agree that it would benefit us as group to use the articles in the AO to promote our profession and projects. Being able to link to articles and share them is a great idea.

  40. Richard Pearce-Moses says:

    I don’t know that I see conversion of AO from print to electronic as necessarily a cost savings. If AO is going to be transformed into more timely content in various media, someone’s going to have to do that work.

    I know that SAA staff is swamped. If the costs savings could support a new staff position that would generate content for an online version and to place leads to articles — and other content in other sources, that new staffer might help pick up additional efforts so that staff could continue to serve the membership even more effectively. I see this as supporting the Society’s strategic priority of advocacy and public awareness. The right content in the right places can also support the strategic priority of diversity.

  41. Kate Theimer says:

    Richard,

    I don’t want to get too far into a detailed discussion of dollars and allocation of staff time, since that’s not the point of the post and it’s not possible to do that without more facts (and this is certainly not the forum for it). However, in my back-of-the-envelope calculations the number I cited as a possible savings was roughly the printing, mailing, etc. cots for the newsletter, not the allocated staff costs to produce the articles. Certainly greater allocation of staff resources, in whatever form, could support production of more content and getting it more broadly disseminated, as you describe. And I am in total agreement with you that those activities could directly support SAA’s strategic priorities.

  42. Susan says:

    I like all these suggestions, and the idea about having articles that could be forwarded, Facebooked, etc. Yet as I was reading, there was something niggling at the back of my mind that I couldn’t quite place – then Elena Danielson nailed it. It sounds like I’m not the only one that doesn’t read electronic publications as thoroughly as print. Many times I don’t even open my issue of the MARAC newsletter now that it is electronic, but I always flip through my print ones. Electronic publications sometimes feel like just one more blip in the flotsam and jetsam that cross my screen every day. I do settle down with my print professional newsletters while I eat lunch, wait for the bus, etc. This might be different if I had a smart phone or iPad, which I don’t, but I’m not sure. Sometimes my eyes just need a rest from the screen. So I would explore the suggestions Ms. Danielson has in her post.

    I think Richard Pearce-Moses raises a good point. Although we wouldn’t have to pay for printing and mailing, we would have to pay for more intense electronic management of the publication than we do now when it is just posted as a pdf.

    All of this is not to say I don’t agree with the premise of this post – I do! I do think we need to think about what the consequences might be and prepare for those.

  43. PeterK says:

    Rather than produce a pdf document take a look at what ARMA International does. They have several newsletters – InfoPro, Washington Policy Brief, Canadian Policy Brief, Global Policy Brief, Hot Topic, Newswire, etc. all are delivered via email with links embedded in the email.
    Accidentally delete the email ? they have them available online
    http://www.arma.org/Policy/policy/WashingtonPolicyBrief.aspx

    a pdf document is just a static electronic version of the ODT AO. not much advancement

    I agree with RPM that there may not be that much savings converting from paper to electronic

  44. Catherine Robinson says:

    Interesting topic. In Australia we went to an e-newsletter many years ago to save on the cost of printing (approx $17,000 per year) and producing a hardcopy bulletin which was out of date as soon as it was printed!

    Members of the Australian Society of Archivists get 2 emails each month which cover news (Archives Matters) and members information (Member Update) and these are all uploaded to the ASA website, see http://www.archivists.org.au/page/Learning_and_Publications/ASA_Publications/

    As an overseas member of SAA, I would love to get an email version of the Outlook or an SAA newsletter. By the time I get the posted copy of Outlook its very out of date.

    cheers

    Catherine

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>