Behind the Scenes of an NEA Program Committee

Abigail Cramer is the Librarian/Archivist at Historic New England, a member of the REPS steering committee, and a member of a handful of NEA Program Committees. Abby received her MLIS from Simmons College in 2012 and has a B.A. in English.

A little over a year ago, I was looking for ways to get more involved with NEA. I mentioned this to NEA Secretary Silvia Mejia (with whom I was working at the time), she mentioned me to the NEA Board, and I was given a spot on the Fall 2013 Program Committee. The committee was lucky to have co-chair Colin Lukens, who was enthusiastic and full of creative ideas for the meeting, including revamping the format to make it more lively and engaging. This was the first fall meeting in NEA’s two-year trial period of reworking the meeting structure (from two roughly equivalent meetings in fall and spring to one big meeting in the spring and one small meeting in the fall), and we had pretty free reign to do whatever we wanted with the format.

At our first committee meeting, we discussed hopes and goals for the NEA meeting, agreed on a format, and charted the trajectory of our work over the following months. As the year progressed, we met periodically and conducted a lot of our work virtually, including the crafting of a call for proposals, solicitations to potential keynote speakers, and review of presentation proposals. The workload fluctuated during the course of the year, but it was fun and exciting to see the program take shape.

One great part of the process was the feeling of having the proverbial curtain drawn back; I will forever see NEA meetings in a different light. No longer do they seem institutional and bigger than me; they are crafted by a handful of individuals whose strengths, biases, and personal goals get folded into the planning and execution of the event. The presenters are my peers, not experts that are somehow more qualified than I am. The meeting itself has purpose and intention, whether it was well-executed or not.

Another positive element of being involved in this particular program committee was the feeling that we were really doing something to change the NEA status quo. In the past, I’d repeatedly heard complaints about NEA meetings being uninspiring, and it seemed to me that many people really attended them for the networking and social aspects rather than the sessions themselves. Being on the committee that established a new and interesting meeting format made me feel as if my efforts really counted for more than just the one meeting.

The best part of this experience has been discovering how awesome so many of my peers and colleagues are. It’s the engaged, enthusiastic archivists who will shape this profession in the long run, and the Program Committee got to showcase that potential at the Symposium. We were uniquely poised to do something different with this meeting, and we took that opportunity to invigorate the meeting structure while also emphasizing bright, big ideas in the field. The overwhelmingly positive feedback from the Symposium tells me we succeeded, and I can now see how my personal effort is impacting both NEA and the profession.

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