Archivists Unite at SAA 2017

photo of a Portland, Oregon sign
Published: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 by Kate M. Spaulding

With conference season approaching, I thought it would be interesting to speak with some of the organizers. Many professional associations hold conferences annually, and I wanted to hear their arguments for why students should find the time, money, and energy to attend. Several were kind enough to reply to my emails! I’ve already written about AIIP, SCIP, and SLA.

Today, I present Terry Baxter, the 2017 Program Committee Chair for the Society of American Archivists (SAA). “That means I work with the program committee (and a couple special committees for this year's Liberated Archives Forum) and SAA staff to develop educational programming for this conference.”

SAA’s annual meeting is in Portland this year, July 23-29. Student rates are quite reasonable, and I have only heard good things about visiting Portland. SAA’s website even has pages of Portland inducements to help convince you to attend! They’ve pulled together resources for new members, first-timers, and students, and it looks like a lot of useful stuff.

Terry is really enthusiastic about attending! I’m not an archivist, but he’s making me want to attend. He reminds us, “The conference experience should be rewarding, fun, and connective.” Be sure to check out Conferencing 101: All the Tips before you go!

Take it away, Terry!

Conference costs can add up pretty quickly when you consider travel, lodging, restaurants, and the conference fees. Would any particular group of students benefit especially from attending SAA 2017?  What do you see as the greatest benefits?

I think that SAA's annual conference benefits all students. Between SAA and the regional associations, students can really augment both the curricular learning from school and the flow of ideas among classmates.

This conference includes traditional elements, but it also includes a one-day Liberated Archive Forum. Students will be defining the nature of archives work in the future, so this will be a great venue for them both to gauge where the profession is going now and to begin to develop and advocate for the future they would like to see for the profession. 

For me, the greatest benefit of the SAA annual meeting is the chance to meet and learn from people doing things on the ground, in their organizations. I think that is a great benefit to students as well. [editorial side note: AKA, networking! This is something every one of these interviewees agrees on.]

Can you tell me a little bit about what to expect? I've heard that ALA is huge and overwhelming - is SAA's smaller? Maybe a gentler introduction into conferencing? What positives or negatives about that do you see? 

SAA is much smaller than ALA. Most of our conferences have between 1,700 and 2,000 attendees. Conferencing is fun, but I’ve found a few basics that work for me.

  • First, find a section or two that interest you. Section meetings are a great place to meet like-minded archivists. They often have some sort of programming, and they are a great place to learn how to get involved in the organization, if that's an interest.
  • Education sessions can be daunting. I usually choose my schedule early, star one or two can't miss sessions, and then remain flexible as the days progress. You might want to duck out of one to chat with new friends or to rest up if you get tired.
  • Take advantage of social times –  the student mixers, the exhibit hall, receptions, various group parties, hanging out between meetings – I have found my most rewarding moments are making connections with friends and colleagues.
  • Even if you are introverted by nature, take the time to meet new people and make a few new friends. If there is someone you want to meet, find them and introduce yourself. I have found archivists to be friendly by nature.
  • Pace yourself and listen to your own particular needs for rest, food, downtime, etc. You'll be tired by the end of the week; you don't want to be tired right from the start!

Are there any programs, panels, or opportunities that focus on or benefit students in particular?

I would say that the Students and New Professionals (SNAP) section has been consistently student-friendly. Most of the grad schools have mixers and are good places to see friends and meet new folks. There is a new member orientation breakfast. For programs, I would say that the student presentation session and the student poster presentations are great ways to see what other students are doing.

I'm a fan of the business meeting. You can learn a lot about how SAA works and what it is doing from that meeting. Having been on a tight budget at SAA, I know there are a number of opportunities to eat (new member breakfast, authors breakfast, exhibit hall breaks, student mixers, etc). Take advantage of any and all!

I would reiterate that taking the opportunity to meet new people and build connections with your colleagues is the most beneficial thing you can do in a long view of your career.

Finally, what are you most looking forward to this year?

I look forward to this meeting every year. It is often the only time in the year I see a lot of friends in-person, and there is never enough time to spend with all of them. Second, I am really excited about showing off my hometown to all of my friends and colleagues. As warty as it can be, I love Portland and Oregon and wouldn't live anywhere else. And finally, I am hoping that the Liberated Archive Forum successfully engages the community here as well as visiting archivists and begins a conversation about where our profession is headed in the next decade or two.


Thank you, Terry! His advice sounds practical, useful, and like it comes from experience. I like it. He ended his thoughts with this invitation and intriguing bit of mystery: “I'm always happy to meet new folks and chat. If you need a friendly face, feel free to grab me (or anyone really; archivists are a small, tight community and always friendly and helpful). And you might want to keep Friday evening open. Something might be going on.”

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