Guest post: Getting students and new archivists involved in SAA

Today we have a guest post from Rebecca Weintraub, Queens College library school student, SAA Queens College student chapter secretary, and excellent-first-name-haver. Follow her on Twitter @BeckAW and @SAAatQC. Want to write your own guest post? Comment here or contact us.

There I was – bright-eyed, bushy-tailed – totally ready for my first professional conference. I was going to hob-nob with archives all-stars, network successfully with hundreds of people, and run completely out of business cards because I was oh-so-popular.

Unfortunately, I can’t say that this was the case. As an M.L.I.S. candidate and total newbie to the profession, I didn’t anticipate how tough it would be to enmesh myself in the sea of never-ending archivists. I did, however, have high hopes that the “New Member / First-Timer Orientation” would at least point me in the right direction. Billed as a “casual conversation about how to make the most of your time at the conference,” I was expecting just that. Instead, the President made a quick speech and introduced representatives from the Membership Committee. After about 15 minutes or so, it was over. I distinctly remember the other girls at my table looking around and asking, “Was that it?”The reason I bring this up is because I think it illustrates how badly students (future archivists!) and new archivists alike need their own support system. It’s not enough to throw us in a room together, feed us (though that does have its appeal), and give us a short speech. Where’s the orientation? Where’s the “I know what you’re going through, here are the things you need to know about being here”? In short, I felt that their attempt to reach out to us wasn’t successful because there really wasn’t much effort to reach out to us at all.

This is where the New Archivists Roundtable would come in. It’s my hope that this body could assist events such as these and really make a student or new archivist feel not too horribly overwhelmed – inside and outside of the conference setting. We’re all in the same boat and we all can learn from each other as we embark on this new career path. Being a student, my most vested interest is in the student body of SAA. It would be great if this proposed roundtable could reach out to SAA Student Chapters (such as mine at Queens College – hi guys!) and start getting students involved from the get-go. Initiate student contacts at individual chapters. Make them a co-chair. Get them involved in leadership and committees early on. Create a newsletter and have students write for it. Make them feel like they actually have a place and purpose in this organization, besides a 1 ½ hour block presenting posters at the Graduate Student Poster Session. Make them feel included!These are all a start, but it can’t happen without a group like this – a group where students and new archivists don’t have to feel like small fish in a very big pond. This roundtable, in my opinion, can go a long way in keeping both future and new archivists interested and involved in the profession for years to come.

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About Rebecca
Archivist, librarian, webcomicker.

9 Responses to Guest post: Getting students and new archivists involved in SAA

  1. So, I went to one day of the ASIS&T conference yesterday, because it’s in my town, and these folks ***TOTALLY GET IT*** when it comes to welcoming newcomers. I paid just an on-site registration fee for a non-member, and tentatively asked if I could attend the first-timers brunch, since I didn’t know anyone in the organization. They were like, “OH MY GOD, OF COURSE!!! HERE’S YOUR INVITE!!!”

    So I wandered down the hallway towards the brunch, and was told what to expect when I got inside. Basically, each special interest group (SIG) had a table. You were encouraged to sit at any table that sounded interesting to you. Each table had a representative from the SIG whose job it was to chat up everyone. I ended up at the Education table after loading up my plate o’ food, and immediately felt very welcomed. Everyone was super-chatty, super-friendly. Then they had a raffle of books towards the end (we each got a ticket when arriving). A person prominent in ASIS&T introduced themselves and their book, and if you won a book, you had to go up, and give a brief introduction.

    I lucked out and won a book that’s very pertinent to my day job, but even better than that, I just felt really *welcomed*. It’s so cheesy, but people actually seemed really thrilled to have students and newbies there. I love SAA and have been to a number of conferences, but good heavens, I have never felt more welcomed in a conference than I did at ASIS&T yesterday. The entire atmosphere was very chatty and very friendly. Everyone saw my student and first-timer ribbons, and instantly introduced themselves. SAA could really use some of that friendliness and welcoming of new members.

  2. Shavonne says:

    I did not make it to the First-Timers/New Members Orientation that evening, but this year’s annual meeting was also my first time attending an SAA conference. I expected a much more open and friendly environment as well, but was shocked to realize that people pretty much kept to themselves or spoke to those that they know from within the profession. As a recent MSLIS grad, I really hoped that I would be able to network with established archivists to get a better understanding of different sub-fields and the steps I need to take obtain a position. Instead, I also felt like I was lost in a sea of people. I am not the best at making small talk, but I was willing to take the first leap if a moment presented itself. By the end of the day on the 25th, I began to feel like I had made a mistake by coming to the convention. I did get lucky on the 26th at the EXPO lunch when someone approached me and I looked forward to the opportunity to meet more people at the All-Attendee Reception that evening, but my trip was cut short due to the impending hurricane on the East Coast. I only wish that someone would have approached me on Thursday so I could have more time to talk about the field.

    I too believe that a New Archivists Roundtable would take some of the fear and uncertainty out of attending the SAA conference. It would be great if the roundtable could have a get-together of some sort so recent grads, new professionals, and grad students could introduce themselves and perhaps meet new friends to attend sessions with. The ASIS&T conference that Eira describes sounds much more lively and friendly towards new members. It seems as though the SAA knows that it and the archival field are abandoning new members and grad students based on an article in the American Archivist summer edition stating that the field is losing prospective archivists due to scant job opportunities and indifference from older professionals. The question is what will be done about this.

    I recently joined the Special Libraries Association and I am hoping to have a great experience at their annual meeting next year. I already had a positive experience when I ran into a SLA member before my graduation during the Philadelphia conference in June. At the breakfast table, she was glad to tell me about the organization and urged me to find time to drop by the conference. I think her friendliness was what led to me joining the association. I was unable to attend that weekend, but I look forward to the opportunity next July.

  3. Gregor Trinkaus-Randall, SAA President 2011-2012 says:

    I am responding as the current President of SAA. I was at the new member orientation and had a wonderful conversation with the people at the table where I was sitting. However, reading the comments, that was obviously not the experience felt by all. I would like everyone on this blog and other new and young members to send my your suggestions as to how we can make SAA more inviting and welcoming to you. You are the future of the profession and we need to reach out to you and make you welcome. As you work towards your proposal for a New Members Roundtable, please keep this discussion in mind. So, please get back to me with your ideas. We may well not be able to incorporate all of them, but we will do what we can to make the conference much more welcoming to you.

    • Rebecca says:

      GTR, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I want to clarify that this roundtable is for new professionals, not new SAA members. (For example, an archivist with 15 years of experience who just joined SAA would not be part of the target audience for this group.) We hope that the RT will help address some of the issues archivists face as they enter the field.

  4. I had this experience at MARAC, but not at SAA. The difference was that I came prepared for good times to approach people. I know how daunting it is when everyone is already immersed in conversation, standing in tight knit circles. It’s impossible to approach people in that atmosphere without interrupting.

    However, I think having tips that can be shared with new archivists via the roundtable would really change that because it worked for me. Things like:

    1) Make a comment to someone as you are leaving a presentation (usually one about what you both just sat through works well). This is usually when people have a minute or two to chat between sessions and are really receptive to discussing what they just watched.

    2) Ask a question of a speaker after a presentation- usually a few people do stay behind to do this- though it can backfire if the speaker needs to get somewhere or others have the same idea. Worth a try though.

    3) Ask a question or make a comment during a session’s Q and A. I did this and had a few people approach ME about it on the way out of a session- which was really helpful.

    4) Target people in subfields- if you’re interested in academic archives and see a tag with a university name on it- say ‘I couldn’t help but notice you work at a University…” Somewhat cheesy- but it’s a good way to ask the right person questions.

    5) If people appear to always be rushing off- have a card handy and ask if you might be able to email after the conference with a few questions. Exchange information.

    These things helped me and I think if new archivists had some guidelines, we could all get more out of conferences.

  5. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the New Member/First-Timer orientation event, Rebecca. As chair of SAA’s Membership committee, I’m very interested to learn about ways that we can make the event better and the conference itself more approachable to new archivists and first-time attendees. I still remember my first SAA conference in DC. I had been in the field for 4 years, worked in 2 different regions and even knew a fair number of people from my grad program who were at the conference and it still totally overwhelmed me!

    I really like your idea, Eira, of having people sitting at the table. Perhaps we could have our leadership, committee members and Key Contacts who are available there before the event starts to be at each table.

    SAA is very interested in meeting the needs of ALL of its members, so please share more thoughts here or contact me directly.

  6. Tanya Zanish-Belcher says:

    All, another way to connect with a more experienced archivist at the SAA annual conference is through the Navigator Program. The goal is to match someone who has been to more than one SAA with someone who is brand new, to share tips and information about how to navigate the meeting. You can request a Navigator through a signup e-mail sent out with the annual meeting information.

    And, don’t forget the SAA Mentoring Program, which will match you up with an SAA member for a longer time period–it’s a good way to connect with someone in the profession. Finally, I will make a plug for the Roundtables–when I first started in SAA, that was the place where I met people. They are a little more informal and relaxed, and allow more time for conversations.

  7. Jessica says:

    There are so many wonderful tips here (that will go a long way towards making my next conference experience more enriching), and I’m so glad that there’s a group working on addressing the needs of those who are new to the profession.
    Like a few of you, my first experience at a professional conference (ALA 2010) was completely overwhelming and my visit to the NMRT didn’t do much to make the experience less opaque. That said, I survived (obviously).
    Keep up the good work!

  8. Pingback: How can we best make you feel welcome? | Off the Record

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