Those of you with good memories will recall that a few weeks ago I challenged you to share your visions of a radically re-imagined SAA. And many of you answered the challenge, although some of your visions were not that radical. So, those of you with long attention spans may be asking, where’s my vision?
Here’s why this post doesn’t have that bright shiny vision.
1) I can’t follow my own directions. In issuing the challenge, I wrote: “For the purposes of this exercise, let’s say you don’t have to worry about the budget and sources of revenue (which, as we all know, any real-world implementations of these ideas would have to take into account). You have a blank canvas.” I’m too aware of the constraints of budget. I find myself unable to imagine a blank canvas. The real world is interfering with my creative process.
2) I have kicked around a couple of different scenarios and I’m quite sure the one I like best will be least popular. The starting point of my thinking is that we’ve reached a point when SAA needs to stop trying to be everything to everyone. If there are to be new initiatives or activities, some of the existing ones have to be discontinued. Or dues need to rise dramatically to provide additional staffing and resources. Let me guess which one of those options you like better. So in order to decide which activities to stop providing and which new activities to initiate, key questions need to be addressed, such as what are the organization’s priorities and whom does it most want to serve? There are a wide range of possible answers to those questions, and they would result in very different kinds of radically re-imagined organizations. And answering those questions in a way that would be personally satisfying to me would result in an organization that would probably not be very popular with a lot of the membership.
So, that’s why I’m dragging my feet. But, just to reward you for reading all the way to the end of the post, here are some teasers. These questions should give an indication of my thought process:
- SAA is our national professional organization. We also have many professional organizations at the regional, state, and local level. What kinds of activities and services are most appropriate for a national organization rather than the smaller ones? What is SAA uniquely positioned to deliver?
- A lot of people seem to think that SAA should be a welcoming organization in which everyone feels “comfortable.” Some people think it is too cliquey and has an “old boy/girl” feel about it. Is the purpose of SAA to serve a social function or a professional one or both? In an organization of almost 6,000 members, how should people’s needs to make personal connections best be met? Or is this an unrealistic expectation?
- Given that SAA’s sections and roundtables are where many members derive much of their satisfaction, feel they are able to make contributions, and make many of their personal connections, I’ve heard it suggested that SAA should shift resources to provide more support for them and generally increase the role they play in the organization. Is the profession becoming so diverse (in many ways) that increasing the prominence of these smaller internal groups makes sense to better serve the membership?
- Should an organization such as SAA which has a limited budget and resources focus primarily on what it can do best and will meet the needs of most of its members even if this means admitting that some important longer-term goals need to be shelved?
- To shift gears and talk about money, for now and for the foreseeable future, it appears to me as if the overwhelming majority of SAA’s revenue comes and will come from archivists and archives (through dues, annual meeting revenue, publications, fees for educational programs, and online job advertising). (See page 7 of the 2011 Annual Report if you’re not familiar with how the budget breaks down.) Given that individual archivists and archives are unlikely to see increases in their budgets in the near future, where does this leave SAA? Think about this in conjunction with some of the issues raised above.
That’s not very satisfying, I know. Believe me, I’m not satisfied with it either. But there you are, an honest rambling post is better than a non-post, I think in this case.