2020 will be known as the year COVID-19 sent everyone to their computers. As the planet battles the pandemic, we must all shelter-in-place in our homes, viewing the world through electronic screens. Seemingly everything is affected by the virus and informational conferences are no exception.
As I was knee-deep into my second semester in the MLIS program, I had been intently looking forward to attending my very first conference. The Society of American Archivists’ (SAA) annual meeting was supposed to take place in the Windy City. I couldn’t wait to book my hotel room, make connections and plans with my fellow SJSU MLIS and MARA students, and learn all I could about Chicago- a city I had never visited.
However, as the conference date drew nearer and the pandemic caused by the Coronavirus rapidly spread across the globe, the world seemingly came to a halt and the SAA annual conference was no exception. When August rolled around, I was not hopping a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago but instead hopping around my house, hair in a bun, comfy p.j.’s on, and settling in for the ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2020: The Virtual Joint Annual Meeting of CoSA and SAA live from the comfort of my living room.
The motto for this year’s conference was “Creating Our Future” and honestly a better motto could not be had. Between inequalities made inarguable because of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests spawned by the murder of George Floyd, we needed to look at ourselves and our communities to reevaluate the status quo and what we were going to do about it. These events begged the question: How will the archival world and archivists incorporate the topics of safety, diversity, and inclusivity?
There were a few sessions tackling these topics under the theme of Creating Our Future. One in particular that I found interesting was A Profession for Us: Creating and Sustaining an Equitable, Inclusive, and Diverse Archives Field. The session featured various speakers discussing topics ranging from how to build a more inclusive work environment, decolonizing university space, and how to spearhead a travel fund for archivists of color.
Heather Lanctot is the Archives and Record Center Coordinator for Yolo County Archives and Record Center and she gave a talk called “Books and More Club: A Vehicle for Internal Engagement with Inclusion and Diversity”. I found this one particularly interesting and useful because Lanctot discussed how to increase inclusion and engagement in the workplace with the Books & More Club.
The Books & More Club originally began as a book club which then morphed into much more, such as poetry discussions and listening to various Ted Talks. Lanctot stated, “The club was started to cultivate a more informed and culturally competent staff.” It is one thing to discuss the need for such training and education but another thing entirely to give the tools to make it happen. Not only did they give the tools, all staff were allowed to participate during paid time. This helps make sure all staff are able to overcome any barriers preventing participation.
While I will say that I would have loved to see these sessions in person and meet more of my peers and network, being able to watch and participate in this conference during a pandemic is an amazing thing. I definitely believe that it was worthwhile and I learned so much that I can take with me into a future career in archives. The SAA and CoSA were able to include many topics on inclusion and diversity which is so incredibly important. Hopefully next year I will be able to attend in person at the 2021 annual meeting in Anaheim, California. If not, at least I now know that watching the conference at home still allows one to learn, participate, and network. It just looks a little different.
*Missed the conference? You can still register to gain access here.