SAA2014 Recap


Archivists invade the Library of Congress at the Friday night reception. August 2014.

Last week, I attended “Ensuring Access,” the 2014 joint conference of the Society of American Archivists (SAA), Council of State Archivists (CoSA), and the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA), held in Washington, DC. I wasn’t able to go to any of the excellent pre-conference workshops because of activities on my school’s campus, but was glad that I was able to go to the main conference. I was able to reconnect with many friends and colleagues from all over the country.

The only problem with conferences like these is that there are too many choices to pick from in the list. Often there was one or more sessions at the same time, so I had to pick the one that I thought would be most useful to me and my workload. Most of the sessions I chose to go to were discussing audiovisual collections or born-digital records. Here’s what I attended each day:

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Thursday, August 14, 2014

  • “The Latest Words” Breakfast Forum. This was an informal breakfast with SAA’s Dictionary Working Group on the new Dictionary of Archives Terminology. You can sign up to receive a “Word of the Week” here:
  • Plenary 1: The State of Access: A Conversation with Miriam Nisbet and David Cuilier. Professionals were honored through CoSA and SAA Fellows were named, and then we listened to Society of Professional Journalists president and Arizona State University assistant professor David Cuillier and Miriam Nisbet, director of NARA’s Office of Government Information Services, explore the new face of government “openness” and evolving opportunities for all archivists and records managers.
  • #s101: Getting Things Done with Born-Digital Collections. As with any institution these days, the born-digital records seem to be overtaking the paper records. Just looking at our shared public folders with faculty and staff, and then taking stock of the online student and school produced publications, this was a must-go-to session for me. “This panel assembled archivists from diverse institutions who discussed the factors and issues they considered in implementing or extending their programs for handling born digital collections.”
  • #s210: Do You Hear What I Hear: Introducing High Performance Sound Technologies for Access and Scholarship (HiPSTAS). This was by far my favorite session, for introducing me to the idea of searching for sound using sound. I am looking forward to learning more about the technical nature of sound recordings. “Funded by a National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Humanities grant, the objectives of the High Performance Sound Technologies for Access and Scholarship (HiPSTAS) project are to identify needs within academic, presidential, and tribal community libraries for developing systems that facilitate large-scale computational analysis and visualization. Panelists describe identified needs and four speakers discuss how scholars and archivists are using the project to facilitate description, access, and scholarship with sound collections.”

Friday, August 15, 2014

  • Write Away! Breakfast. An informal breakfast with The American Archivist Editor Greg Hunter and Reviews Editor Amy Cooper Cary, Publications Editor Chris Prom, and SAA staff members Teresa Brinati and Anne Hartman on how we can contribute to the professional literature. 
  • Plenary 2: Discovering the Past to be the Future: Inspiring the Next Generation of Engaged Citizens. SAA President Danna Bell welcomed National History Day Executive Director Cathy Gorn to discuss NHD programs and how archivists can help. The session also featured presentation of SAA’s 2014 Student Scholarships and Travel Awards, ARL/SAA Mosaic Program Fellows, and Jameson Archival Advocacy Awards.
  • #s302: Accessing the Audiovisual: Challenges, Solutions, and Funding Possibilities. I enjoyed this session and took copious notes, but it was not recorded. This would be a good one to ask for the presentations and papers of the speakers. “A grants officer and representatives from several institutions that have been awarded grant monies for audiovisual projects discussed the challenges of and innovative solutions to funding, selection, description, and rights issues.”
  • #s410: Beyond the Floppy Disk: Rescuing Electronic Records from Complex Systems. I took even more notes in this session, and was glad I came early to grab a seat. The room capacity was quickly reached, and some attendees could not get in. I was specifically thinking about how to manage (for the long-term) student information systems and the school’s business records for this session. “Electronic records created and stored in relational databases, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and proprietary and homegrown systems present many unique challenges to ensuring long-term access. Often these complex systems come to the attention of archivists only as they are being decommissioned, sometimes long after system creators have left the organization. The panelists discuss these unique challenges, what tools and techniques are available to address them, and what tools the archival community needs to create.”
  • #s508: Copyright Risk Management in Recorded Sound Archives. This was an excellent one for me to attend, as we have constantly had questions asked of our Performing Arts recordings–the plays, the musicals, and the dance recitals, as well as the orchestra and band recordings. “Copyright is the toughest barrier preventing open access to digitized and preserved recorded sound archives. Recordings often involve multiple rights holders (composers, performers, recording companies), and missing or incomplete documentation can easily turn recordings into orphan works. Confronting so many unknowns can paralyze archivists. The presenters propose some innovative strategies to help manage copyright risk for audio collections, overcome paralysis, and allow reuse of these important cultural heritage resources.”

Saturday, August 16, 2014

  • #s602: Metadata and Digital Preservation: How Much Do We Really Need? This was a more technical presentation, and easier to understand the more you delve into the world of metadata and descriptions. Very rich in content, and I plan to contact the speakers for their presentations so that I can study the subject more. “Digital objects include both files and accompanying metadata, but how much and which metadata are actually necessary to preserve and provide long-term access? Panelists examine tradeoffs related to what metadata to include in the Archival Information Package. The challenges of applying different schemas to metadata from a variety of sources, deciding which PREMIS metadata are essential, and merging file/folder-based descriptions with item-level systems also are explored.”
  • #s707: Audiovisual Alacrity: Timely Access to AV Collections. This is very timely for me, as I have hundreds of recordings in various AV formats. It’s a rich section of the school’s archives collection that no one can access yet on a regular basis, so I went to learn about other programs that I might be able to emulate and implement. “In 2007, Sound Directions stated that we had 15-20 years to preserve audiovisual collections. The Library of Congress wrote the National Recording Preservation Plan in 2012, producing recommendations for audiovisual collections. Many academic institutions have taken the lead in preserving and making audiovisual collections accessible because they have resources and flexibility. This session features three academic institutions that have developed successful and sustainable programs for audiovisual description, preservation, and digitization, making better access to collections possible.”

Couldn’t get to the conference?

  • Look up the hashtag #saa14 on Twitter, or use the conference program and look up tweets from specific sessions. For example, from Thursday to Saturday, you will see “Session ___” and a number. Use the hashtag #s101 (insert number of the session you are interested in after the #s). Tweets from during the session will appear in your feed.
  • Purchase the mp3 recordings from SAA. This has come a long way from the cassette tapes being created after conferences (remember those?). Once you purchase the recordings, you will receive an email of where you can download them. Most of the sessions were recorded, but not all. I actually chose this option so that I can listen to the sessions I wanted to attend, but couldn’t, because I was attending another session at the same time.
  • Poster Presentations: I took several photos of posters throughout the conference hall. These posters described very interesting projects going on at varying institutions. If you go through the conference program, you will see links to these projects, and if you click on the description, you will find contact information for the person who created the poster. You can then contact that person directly to find out more about the project.
  • Contact the speaker directly. I often will go through the session listings and email the speaker for his or her presentation, even if I have attended the session, because the information was so useful I wanted to have it handy. I have found that people are more than willing to share their paper, presentation, or research, and love to talk with interested parties about the subject.

SAA 2015: Cleveland, Ohio (August 16-22, 2015)

SAA is trying out something new by having the 2015 conference in a smaller city (by comparison), and will be held in a convention center instead of a hotel. It should be very interesting. Watch the site as the time gets closer for more details about local tours, pre-conference workshops, and sessions. There were many references to “Cleveland Rocks!” throughout the past week. 


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