How Many Archivists Can You Fit into Washington, D.C.?

Submitted by Leslie Cade on

Each year library and archives staff have the opportunity to attend professional conferences where we advance our learning, engage with colleagues from around the world, and in general recharge. I always return from these meetings invigorated with new ideas to apply to the museum archives. The Society of American Archivists (SAA) annual meeting is always a whirlwind of conference sessions, educational symposia, and visits to local libraries, museums, and archives. When the meeting is in Washington, D.C., SAA is joined by colleagues from the Council of State Archives and the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators. This year’s meeting was the largest ever, with nearly 2,000 archivists taking advantage of all that our nation’s capital has to offer. One highlight for this archivist was being approached by a colleague from Tokyo who recognized me from a Japanese television broadcast about museum director Sherman Lee and his activities as a Monuments Man following World War II. 

The week included a symposium focusing on the collaborations between museum archivists, who are responsible for preserving institutional memory, and records managers in curatorial, conservation, and collection management departments, who also care for permanent records including object files, scientific field books, specimens, and personal papers. The session highlighted the variety and uniqueness of museums whose focus range from the arts and humanities to technology and the sciences. The one common thread was the need to preserve and make accessible the unique contribution each makes to the human experience.

The opening plenary featured a keynote speech by Zeynep Tufekci, Professor in the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Known for her research on the social implications of emerging technologies, Ms. Tufekci gave a thought-provoking talk on the effects of algorithms used by social media companies in organizing and presenting information and disinformation. You can find her Ted talk on YouTube.

A trip to Washington always includes a visit to the National Archives where the crowds reverently studying the documents of freedom remind us of the importance of our work. Deciding which museums and monuments to visit in the short amount of free time we have is nearly impossible, but who can resist a trip to the National Air and Space Museum to learn all about (and touch!) astronaut space suits and all the products (including Velcro and adult protective undergarments) that are a part of our every-day lives thanks to NASA engineers?!

Museum archivist Leslie Cade and husband Ed enjoy the National Air and Space Museum