Reflections of a Third-Timer: SAA 2013

Sofia Becerra-Licha is Berklee College of Music’s first archivist. She is also active in professional organizations as a member of the REPS steering committee and a regular blogger for SNAP.

The recent meeting of the Society of American Archivists was my third so far, but my first as a professional archivist. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect this time around, but I think this was one of my better conference experiences. Upon further reflection, I’ve come to realize that while some of what made this a fulfilling conference was happenstance, a lot of it had to do with pushing myself to participate in new ways and reaping some of the benefits of my earlier professional development efforts.

In some ways, navigating the 2013 annual meeting was slightly easier by virtue of having made the transition from student to new professional. What really made a difference, however, was actively pursuing new challenges and experiences which forced me to participate more actively in the proceedings. I gave a platform presentation as part of the 2013 Research Forum, I helped represent REPS at the SNAP networking event, and I even served as a last-minute replacement discussion leader for another panel.

This was my first time attending the research forum, let alone presenting at SAA, and I’d highly recommend both. The Research Forum is an intense day filled with myriad diverse presentations on innovative research and initiatives featuring practitioners and academics alike. Overall, attendance throughout the day was greater than I would’ve expected for a pre-conference event. I won’t pretend the presentation experience wasn’t slightly nerve-wracking, but I was pleasantly surprised at how friendly and interested people seemed to be in following up with questions.

As for the rest of the conference, most of the sessions I attended centered on getting materials to users as effectively as possible. Given my position as the first and lone arranger at my institution, one of my favorite take-aways from the “Accessions Confessions” panel was the assertion that “it’s not about doing more with less, but doing the right things with what you have.” Words to live by when you’re a new repository with limited resources!

Similarly, the Lone Arrangers Roundtable’s lightning session on advocacy really stuck with me. The key points were that advocacy comprises our core work as archivists, not something extra, and must be viewed as preventative maintenance. Furthermore, advocacy can be woven into a variety of activities, such as reference interviews. More words to live by, and something I hope to incorporate more consciously into my everyday interactions with patrons and co-workers alike.

Clearly, I got a lot out of my SAA experience this year. Which is to say that getting involved — particularly at the local level — pays. As REPS’ own co-founder wisely put it, “participation is everything at conferences,” which I would expand to include library school, NEA, and other related networks. As a master’s student, I began attending professional conferences and became involved with my school’s SCOSAA chapter. Upon relocating to Boston, I joined REPS. Cumulatively, these experiences made for a richer 2013 SAA annual meeting experience, and I’m already looking forward to seeing more increasingly familiar faces at NEA’s fall symposium.

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