Interested in working to develop new policies and approaches for future SAA Annual Meetings?

First, let me direct your attention to the disclaimer on the sidebar at right. If you can’t see that sidebar, it says, in part: “Please note that in all posts on this blog, replies to comments, tweets, FB status updates, and in any other communication, all the views represented are strictly my own and nothing I say should be interpreted in any way as representing the views of SAA or the SAA Council unless I explicitly state that it is.” As usual, this post is a personal statement and does not represent SAA in any way.

Right, now that we’ve got that out of the way, as the minutes will reflect when they are made available, at the SAA Council meeting in May during the “Other Discussion Items” part of the agenda, I shared with Council my intention to draft and submit as an Action Item at the August meeting a proposal to form a new task force charged with looking into several aspects of the way SAA conducts its annual meetings. As I discussed at the Council meeting, I think the task force should consider the following issues:

  • “Social responsibility”-such as possible approaches to considering hotel relationships with unions before signing contracts, inclusion of “out clauses” if union issues or other issues of concern arise after a contract is signed
  • Existing meeting model, which limits our choice of conference venues, as well as the meeting activities, structure, and schedule
  • Possibilities for meeting in smaller cities, achieving more diversity in conference sites
  • Rising cost of the meeting, both for members and to SAA
  • Need to make meeting content more accessible to those who can’t attend
  • The extent of SAA’s dependence on the annual meeting for budget revenue

The purpose of such a group would be to come up with recommendations, based on research and consultation with the membership (as well as with non-members), that would be provided to the membership and Council for deliberation and action.

A concern that was voiced, and which you may share, is that this is too broad a charge for one group to carry out. I understand that concern. I’ll say here what I said in the meeting–I think all of these things need to be considered, they need to be considered in the near term, and they are inter-related, so considering them separately doesn’t make sense. It might be possible, and this was suggested, to break out the “social responsibility” piece and deliver separate recommendations on that. But I think it’s very likely there would be a financial impact for some of those choices and think those financial impacts need to be considered along with other possible financial impacts. How should those considerations factor in the decision about which city or hotel to choose for a meeting?I could go on about this, believe me, but I’m trying to keep this post relatively short.

(Aside: One strategy I’m thinking about is having a task force with several subgroups, each of which focuses on one specific area. That might make it a lot easier for most people, since they would be focusing in on only one topic. And then the leads of the subgroups would form the task force itself, which would integrate all the separate reports. I think that might work.)

I’m publishing this here for three reasons. First, to let you know that something is happening. I know a lot of people have concerns about many of the items on that list, so I want to let you know that I’m trying to promote SAA action on them. Second, I want to get your feedback on the list of topics. Is there anything else that should be there? Third, I want you to start thinking about volunteering. As I said, this isn’t an official SAA channel, and I’m not the person who is in charge of appointments, so this isn’t a call for volunteers.  But clearly this group will need people who care about these issues and who have the time and energy to commit to doing a lot of work. So please, consider whether you think you could be one of those people. And also let me know if you think this is the right list of issues for the new group to tackle and if you have any other concerns that would be helpful to know about as the lovely and dynamic Terry Baxter and I are working on a formal proposal.


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33 thoughts on “Interested in working to develop new policies and approaches for future SAA Annual Meetings?”

  1. Thank You very much for posting this, Kate. I can tell you that it’s really, really reassuring to see this – to know that a member of Council is moving this forward. I’m also of the strong opinion that SAA must move forward in these directions in regards to the annual meeting. First, to ensure that labor relations at possible hotel venues are stable and secure before signing a contract. Second, to consider smaller or more ‘out of the way’ cities as viable conference locations – as a Midwesterner, I’d love more Midwestern cities to be possibilities (though of course I love Chicago) – so many of our cities have conference hotels that would easily accommodate a SAA conference.

    I’d also like to be the first to volunteer to help work toward these goals – please let me know if and how I can assist. Further, as Co-Chair of the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable, these are directions that I’d like to have the Roundtable itself go – now, I say that as you speak here, Kate – of my own volition, without putting that forward to my Co-Chair or the Steering Committee, etc. – but I think these are key issues.

    So: Thank You Kate – this is refreshing and heartening news, and I stand with you in this.

  2. Kate,

    Thank you for putting these ideas forward at council. It is about time that 1) we re-think the ways things are done with the annual meeting 2) tackling social responsibility as part of organization

    The current anguish for us that live and breath social responsibility in our work and life is the fact that we don’t have a clear answer of what to do when current labor dispute has a direct impact on our decision to attend SAA, to stay or not in the hotel, etc… We need to plan for the future so we know what to do if it happens again. Most action and less reaction.

    A lot of food for thought on this,

  3. This is awesome, Kate. I’ve been an SAA member for about 12 years now, and since then, we’ve met only once in the Southeast that I can recall. And even then it was Alabama, which is quite a journey from the coastal South!

    There are many cities that are relatively cheap, both in terms of travel to and lodging there (Charlotte, Atlanta, Raleigh – not really “small” or “out of the way,” but apparently lacking a venue that meets SAA’s current requirements). I’d be interested in helping however I can in looking at SAA’s requirements for hotel space and working to make the meeting more inclusive and affordable.

  4. Kate,

    This is really great. SAA seems to be one of the few organizations that does not offer financial assistance to attend the conferences. We also need to consider cities that are not as expensive as Chicago, DC, San Diego, San Francisco, etc. I know that some national organizations hold the meetings in a conference center and then reserve at several hotels. The Hilton and Marriott chains are very expensive.

    I would like to see SAA participate in local charity activities during the conference like ALA does.

    I am on the Program Committee for 2012. While not the charge of the Program Committee, I will make sure that I bring these issues to the table. We should all work towards improving SAA and the annual meeting!

  5. Kate,

    Thank you for doing this! I agree with you on all points. SAA is also one of the few organizaitons that does not offer some kind of finiancial assistance to people to attend the annual meeting. We only seem to offer it for students. I would also like to see us meet in less expensive cities. Austin was a good choice. I know there are many factors that go into this decision but the “cost of living” in a city should be considered. Also, the Hilton and Marriott chains are very expensive to stay in. I would suggest that we have a meeting at a conference center with several hotel choices as options.

    I would love to volunteer to be a part of this movement to improve SAA and the annual meeting. I am on the Program Committee for 2012. I will see if there is anything we can do for that meeting even though it is not our exact charge.

    Thanks again!!!

  6. Nancy’s article does give some insight (it’s nice to see things like “18,000 square feet”-very specific), but it doesn’t explain why some cities are cut out. Atlanta, for instance, is listed as having 2 hotels, but no reason why they were not considered. Weather is mentioned as a factor, but since we are going back to NO within the next 2 years, you can’t tell me that it was the deciding factor for the SE’n cities. Nothing is more sweltering than the Quarter in August.

    I get bothered by this “cultural” factor too. How elitist. We can’t go to Orlando because some feel it doesn’t offer enough to archivists? Number 1, who are these folks who have tons of free time during SAA? And 2, there’s tons of great and historic stuff in Orlando and environs; you just have to not be lazy and find it.

    Weather and culture are not convincing to me when the bill for the conference hotel is $200 a night. I can handle a little less culture and a little more heat if it came with a smaller price tag. I’m glad that cost will factor into the proposal.

  7. This is terrific stuff, Kate. Thanks for putting it out there. Meetings, I think, are one of the primary functions of SAA because, in addition to serving as professional development opportunities, they should facilitate networking. I wonder how you envision the “history and the web” conference idea relating to (or not) the effort to move forward with some of these proposed changes to SAA meetings? Thanks!

  8. Thanks, Tiffany and Courtney, and these are exactly the kinds of issues I hope this new group will delve into. As I think Nancy described very well, lots of factors come into play into selecting a site. It’s a complicated process. And clearly different people are going to have different priorities. I hope part of the work of the task force will be opening up a conversation and gathering information from members about what they consider most important.

  9. Hi Paige,

    Thanks for your comment. Well, certainly having a certain “unconference” element to the conference could be something that’s considered, if people want it. I think on his blog Terry had talked about a couple of different meeting models that might work with a History & the Web like component. I kind of think they’re separate ideas, but no reason why some of what we were thinking about doing with the new conference couldn’t also be considered for the “old” one.

    A lot will depend on who is on the group and what kind of input they get from the members–that’s my guess.

  10. Kate,

    Thanks for starting this conversation. I think you’re right about forming a group to think through these issues and to gather feedback from SAA members as well as those who aren’t members but might be or could otherwise be interested in attending and engaging with archivists.

    I’d love to see some live-streaming of sessions, perhaps virtual attendance at a reduced rate (to help cover costs of recording and streaming) that would allow for engagement from people who cannot attend in person. (I’d also love to see free access to at least audio, if not video, after the fact.) This would be a huge boon, I think, especially if there were a way to submit questions (via chat box or otherwise) in real time. I know it can be complicated, but it’s also quite possible.

    I’d also support questioning the decision to hold SAA meetings in DC and Chicago every fourth year. (I can see why it’s desired in DC with so many federal archivists in the area but it’s not clear to me why Chicago warrants the same treatment.) I’d love to see the meeting move around more, to more varied and cheaper cities. Rebecca’s suggestion about polling potential attendees on their priorities is a great one.

    The labor issues are important as well and signing a contract allowing SAA to withdraw in such circumstances would likely sit better with many SAA members.

    Lots more to think about, indeed!

  11. it’s good that the technology aspects of making meeting content available to a wider audience is already in SAA’s strategic goals, and perhaps this task force can look at the projected steps and outcomes to see if anything has been overlooked or missed, and whether the timeline for implementation can happen sooner than what council expects.

  12. Very few blog posts make me want to leap up and shout Hurrah!; this is one of them. (Yes, it’s possible I need to get out more.) I am very supportive of this direction and the prime considerations you suggest. I also appreciate Nancy’s effort in making the current process more transparent, but also believe that it’s time to make some potentially big changes.

  13. Kate, thanks so much for raising these issues–all so very important! I would also like to see input from the SAA membership–I know SAA can’t please everyone, but more voices need to be heard. I am definitely willing to help!

  14. Thank you very much for introducing this idea. I think I speak for many SAA Members who would be very interested in attending these meetings but are unable to do so because of financial reasons. BRAVO!!!!

  15. Thank you, Kate, for this post. I am delighted that you and Terry are taking this on, and I would be happy to help. Your list covers all of my concerns about the annual meeting. I also really like the suggestion put forth by Tiffany that SAA engage in some kind of local charitable activity like ALA does. Let’s make this annual meeting sustainable!

  16. Kate, I have two reasons I want to thank you for posting this and following through with it as a council member:

    (1) I think it’s time for SAA to re-examine its conference model. This summer will be my sixth SAA conference. Every year I hear/participate in similar discussions among attendees about frustrations with various elements of the conference that you’ve touched on here (technology, cost, location choices, meeting structure, etc.) and it’s past due that we actively address these issues. Nancy B’s article that you linked to above shed some needed light onto why things are the way they are, but understanding why the system works the way it works doesn’t change whether or not the conference as it is currently structured meets or even acknowledges the needs and desires of SAA members, attendees and potential attendees. Put me down as a volunteer to work on this in whatever way would be helpful.

    (2) I’m so glad to see that although you’re on council, you’re still able to engage with the people who elected you in the medium that works for you and us. Your continued blogging and public solicitation of input to pending decisions (even though you have to repeatedly state it’s not in an official capacity) should serve as a model for how SAA can build relationships with its membership. I want SAA to be a vital organization that remains relevant in the decades to come, but for that to happen, I think that your approach to openness and engagement will need to become the norm, not the exception.

  17. Kate: I think you know how I feel about the expense and structure of SAA. I really think it’s elitist and SAA comes off like some sort of private club that not everyone can get into. The expense definitely excludes people working at smaller institutions with limited funding such as lone arrangers, those working at historical societies, those whose institutions don’t/can’t afford to fund travel. I also see elitism in who is “running things” so to speak – ALL members deserve to have input and a voice.

  18. I’m torn on the location thing. It’s significantly cheaper for me to fly to major cities, but do we always have to meet in downtown hotels? That’s what drives up the price. I managed to get my airfare for $400 by buying it 9 months in advance this year (Austin was well over $600) but my hotel is running $1200 and I’m paying less than the conference rates at another site.

    Other considerations: Weds is often a lost day for me if attending a pre-conf and if I’m not in a leadership position. This year I have a preconference Tues (which means yet another night in a hotel Monday) and so Weds is effectively a leave day from work for me. Given the percentage of people in leadership positions and the reduced likelihood of conflict with those interested in continuing education opportunities, perhaps consider offering workshops that day too? The tours are nice, but really, I can’t expect my workplace to pay me to take a tour.

    Cost out what it would take to hold it at universities or colleges–okay, so dorms are non-drinking, which is apparently a consideration for some of our colleagues, and not always the best of accommodations, but are frequently much cheaper, the facilities are usually wired to the hilt and at no extra cost (unlike the $500+ it takes per day to pay a hotel to let you have internet in a single meeting room). It might require meeting in early to mid August, but for academic archivists, that would be something of an improvement. Many of our contracts insist we attend opening week festivities at our own colleges–and too often SAA is scheduled that very week.

    If that’s not doable, at least consider working with a local college or two to provide cheap alternative housing (on a mass transit system) for those of us who find $200 a night more than a bit obscene? I’m not at a one person shop, I’m not at an institution that is necessarily hurting for money, but we don’t have much of a travel budget and I’m lucky most years to get my airfare & registration covered. The rest is on me.

    I’m a huge fan of the in-person meetings. I don’t think there’s a good virtual surrogate to replace all of the face-to-face interaction that happens at these things, like when you meet up with a colleague in the elevator and start discussing something of relevance to the two of you. But the costs MUST be reduced.

  19. The reason for meeting in Chicago is that SAA is headquartered there. There are likely some cost savings for SAA in that they do not have pay travel costs for the staff running the meeting and that they do not have to pay (as much) to “ship” the conference materials and other supplies to the host hotel.

  20. Hi – I want to celebrate Kate and Terry’s initiative and thank them for leading on this issue. I could wax on about past SAA meetings and such (2011 will be my 22nd in a row) but I think this is an important moment to think broadly about the future. I need to identify myself as co-chair (with Petrina Jackson of Virginia) for the 2012 San Diego Program Committee and to welcome your imaginative ideas for next year. While we have crafted the theme text and Call for Proposals, and included lightning talks as a new (?) session format that will enable broader participation, we have *some* flexibility in the structure for the San Diego program (honest I’m not sure how much). I realize much of this initiative is focused on site selection and costs, but we are interested in creative ideas for the 2012 program! Going forward, what if we had a second smaller winter conference, maybe co-hosted with a regional, for less cost in smaller cities?

  21. Another possibility is establishing alternative blocks of housing for participants who cannot afford to stay in a pricey hotel room, or who do not wish to for whatever reason. Perhaps arranging for a local university to host student/low-income members in unoccupied dormitories or signing an additional agreement with less expensive hotel chains would be two viable options that would guarantee access without much financial outlay.

    SAA is, by far, the priciest conference I have ever attended. Another organization to which I belong charges $500/individual for everything (lodging, conference fees) because our conferences are held exclusively at colleges in large towns and small cities. From a social justice standpoint, these municipalities are often hurting badly and we contribute a little to the local economy.

  22. The more I think about this, the more I think that the issues you raised, Kate, fall into two categories that would be better served by uncoupling: the “social responsibility” issues (your first bullet point) and the more structural/programmatical issues surrounding the annual meeting (bullets 2-5). For better or worse, the first requires a political discussion that is likely to alienate a segment of the SAA membership, while the second does not. I can see reasons for tackling both issues in one charge, but I think that separating them would allow for more attention to be paid to the actual issues at stake in each case.

  23. I agree with Christie that the social responsibility issue might be considered a separate one. This might apply to many aspects of how SAA does business- everything from where they get the program and the journal printed to the conference hotels, etc.

    As far as the “flying to bigger cities is cheaper” notion, I just did a random check of 7 cities both larger and smaller. From where I live on the East Coast (a rather small airport with very little non-stop service unless you are flying to Chicago or NYC) and got the following:

    San Diego- $300 (yes, it’s cheaper for me to fly to the West Coast than to Chicago which is a 90 minute flight)
    Chicago- $360
    Atlanta- $440
    St. Louis- $205
    Denver- $350
    Birmingham- $200
    D.C.- $309

    Sorry for the list but I’m just trying to prove that the flying cost issue is very relative. It’s going to depend a lot of if you fly from a big airport (aka live in a big city), what airlines you have, etc. Personally, I don’t find that a convincing reason to not have it in smaller cities. YMMV

  24. Kate: thanks for your post about the idea of an SAA task force on the annual meeting. The TF could address several issues that SAA has been discussing for quite a few years and that need a thorough review and good recommendations. Like others who have commented, I would urge that the TF look at fewer issues than you include in your list. Bullets 2-5 seem to me like the most closely related and likely to keep the TF’s work focused. I agree that the social responsibility and revenues issues are related to the others on your list and could be included on that basis. But of course everything is related, and if the TF’s scope of work gets too large, its chances of success diminish.

    Would surveying the SAA membership on annual meeting issues contribute to the TF’s work? I’ve seen many comments and opinions about annual meeting locations, costs, content access, etc. but I’m not sure if we have more systematic information about what members are thinking. Your idea of including non-members in the TF’s study is excellent, and a membership survey would not exclude non-members’ role.

    I think the success of a TF like this depends to a significant extent on details like how many people are appointed, the specific charge SAA gives to the TF, the length of time it has to do its work, and well defined measures of success. Getting members and non-members to discuss the annual meeting issues and the TF before you introduce your action item to the SAA Council can help shape these details. Thanks for getting the discussion started!

  25. Thanks, everyone, including past SAA President Peter Gottlieb and 2012 Program Co-Chair Rob Spindler, for your thoughtful and encouraging comments.

    I understand the points people are raising about breaking out social responsibility and addressing that separately, but I strongly believe that unless such a discussion includes analyzing how much people are willing to pay to implement policies, and how important those priorities are ranked against others, that it will just result in a well-meaning but not terribly meaningful document.

    For example, if holding the conference in a hotel that won’t include an “out clause” in the contract will result in a sleeping room rate of X and meeting room costs that mean meeting registration is Y, then how much more are people willing to pay to hold the meeting in a hotel that will include such a clause? X + $20? Y + $30? And if other priorities identified by meeting attendees are things like having free wifi in the meeting rooms, having more prominent plenary speakers, and having plenary addresses recorded and made available for free on the web, where do those additional costs rank in the list? If we can get all of the above for a cost of A but it means meeting in DC (again), but having them all in somewhere different (like Atlanta or Seattle) means the cost is A + $150, then how do people feel about that?

    I would not be at all surprised if the majority of members would support some kind of social responsibility policy but not if it results in greater out of pocket expenses for themselves–either in higher meeting expenses or higher membership dues. I could be wrong about that, but I wouldn’t bet against it. Or they would if the costs are not “substantial,” but what constitutes “substantial” costs and where does it rank as a priority for spending money?

    And, while we’re talking about money, if the membership wants changes like these but doesn’t want to increase meeting costs for members, then the meetings will generate less revenue for SAA and so the overall budget will take a hit. Is the membership willing to vote for a dues increase for all members to make changes to meeting services while keeping meeting costs down for those who attend? Is the purpose of the meeting to generate revenue or to provide a meeting experience that most benefits members? Ideally, it’s both, but what happens when those two goals start to conflict?

    Is it possible to have meetings that continue to generate an acceptable level of revenue for SAA while operating on whatever the membership thinks is a socially responsible basis, keeping attendance costs at the current rate or lower, and providing an improved meeting experience for those who attend and providing value to those who cannot attend? I think that’s what most people want, but if some of those goals conflict with the others, which are the most important?

    Sorry. That went a bit long. And maybe the findings of the group will show that we can actually have it all without raising costs. That would be great. But I’m not optimistic. I just don’t think it’s productive to ask people to identify what they want without also showing how much it might cost and asking how it ranks against other things that they want. And, yes, that may result in some uncomfortable conversations because the people who make up SAA’s membership may not all share the same set of values and priorities. I never said this was going to be an easy assignment.

  26. Kate,

    All of the points on your list are important and provocative. I am responding in particular to the cost of the meeting, as it is a huge issue for me. I graduated with my master’s a year ago, and like many of my classmates have a low-paying, no-benefits, no-travel stipend project archivist position. I was so excited that this year the conference is in Chicago, a mere 4 hour train ride away! I certainly do not have the funds for a trip to San Diego, NOLA, or DC when considering not only airfare but also the cost of those cities. So this was to be my first conference attendance, and probably my last for a few years. Then I checked the registration fews. My jaw dropped and my heart sank. That’s one paycheck.

    I know I am not alone in this, with many young archivists dealing with underemployment and unemployment. We are expected to network, to engage in professional development, participate and learn, and yet the fees are high enough to make this just about impossible! It infuriates me. In my former life I attended several political science association conferences (also in downtown Chicago) and never faced such hefty fees. They always had financial assistance for those not being funded, not to mention graduated fees for those who are unemployed or underemployed. Even as a young person just crawling into the field I felt welcome and wanted. SAA makes me feel outside of the field, isolated, and childlike. I want to play with the big kids, but they won’t let me into their clubhouse. How am I supposed to participate and become active in the organization if they keep pulling up the ladder?

    I was grateful when renewing my membership to see graduated fees. NINE different rates for different salary brackets, unemployed members and retired members. Obviously SAA is aware that some people make more than others. So why is there no graduated fee system for the conference? It would make the conference more accessible and fair for younger, underemployed, unemployed and retired archivists.

    This is something I would love to bring up at Session 105: Pay It Forward: Interns, Volunteers, and the Development of New Archivists and the Archives Profession.

    If I could afford to go.

  27. I know this has been brought up before, but the deadline for submitting a potential panel at SAA should be no farther than 5 months from the conference. Last year’s deadline was really strange.

  28. I agree with Christine’s statement re: tiered conference registration fees. Particularly since our membership fees are tiered, I wouldn’t think implementing that type of system would be too difficult.

  29. One of the things that has not been discussed is the revenue that the SAA generates from the annual meeting? How much is it? What does the SAA need to generate to meet current and future obligations to its membership? Would a tier registration fee system lower the amount collected or would additional registrations offset the difference?

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