Nicholas C. Burckel delivered his presidential address at the 1997 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) held in Chicago, Illinois.  An expanded version of the address was published in the Spring 1998 issue of the American Archivist.  (For some reason, the model of printing the presidential address in the next issue was not followed, and instead, his address was published in the January 1997 issue of Archival Outlook — though this footnote citation doesn’t make sense considering the 1997 annual meeting didn’t occur until August.  But I could not find this issue anyway, so I’m summarizing the expanded version.)

Burckel used snapshots from 1940, 1965, and 1990 to evaluate the development of SAA.  (He recommended Frank Cook’s presidential address for a more thorough analysis of SAA’s development.)  He identified 1940 as SAA’s childhood, 1965 as its youth, and 1990 as an age of maturity.  He examined five factors in these three eras:

  1. Membership.  Predictably, the membership of SAA increased from 1940 to 1990, growing at a similar rate in the first 25 years and the second 25 years of this time.  The membership also became more diverse according to gender and shifted geographically from a preponderance of members from DC in 1940 to representation from all states, Canada, and Europe by 1990.  Most early SAA members were affiliated with the National Archives, but by 1990, colleges and universities provided the largest group of SAA members, followed by manuscript repositories and then government.
  2. Leadership.  Reflecting the changes in membership, SAA leadership also became more diverse (i.e., including women and minorities).  The education of SAA leaders changed in that fewer had Ph.Ds but more held Masters degrees.  The average age of those in leadership positions dropped.  Also in keeping with the broader changes in membership, while SAA leaders predominated from the National Archives and state historical societies in the early years, colleges and universities surpassed them by 1990 as the employing institutions with the greatest number of SAA leaders.  Burckel concluded this section with a question:
    • “The challenge for us as a maturing organization is how to retain the zest that brought us into the profession as we face a period of little or no membership growth and increasing job pressure driven by ever growing user expectations.  How do we continue to serve without becoming servants?” (21-22)
  3. Research and publication.  Similarly, the board of the American Archivist expanded, became more diverse, and represented more kinds of institutions.  The publication itself became more robust and included more writing by women.  Perhaps the greatest changes came in content, which included extensive bibliographies in the early years but incorporated more case studies and international research by 1990.  Preservation along with arrangement and description saw the greatest increase throughout in articles.
  4. Annual meetings.  More of the same here — but with lots of illustrative graphs about registrants, sessions participants, and attendees by institution for each of the target years.  The most interesting changes came in the formats of presentations, which by 1990 included work-in-progress presentations, limited-enrollment sessions, special focus sessions, and pre-conference workshops.  The 1940 meeting focused on Southern themes, but the 1990 sessions showed concern with preservation, electronic records, and documentation.
  5. Financial profile.  SAA dues, fees for the annual meeting, and the annual budget increased from 1940 to 1990, though Burckel pointed out that with consideration for inflation, dues actually went down from 1940 to 1965, and costs to attend the annual meeting decreased from 1965 to 1990.  However, the budget grew throughout due to additional members.
  6. Presidential perspectives.  Burckel looked to Waldo Gifford Leland in 1940, W. Kaye Lamb in 1965, and John Fleckner in 1990.  He also sent a questionnaire to former presidents and incorporated their feedback.  Some of the common replies included:
    • the difficulty of accomplishing an agenda with only one year in office
    • the increasing importance of electronic records
    • the growth of professionalism

Burckel concluded this article by comparing SAA to national historical and library associations — the American Library Association (ALA), the American Historical Association, and the Organization of American Historians.  Of course, none of the other three organizations can hold a candle to the size of ALA, but SAA’s rate of growth did surpass all of the others.  He also acknowledged that SAA, compared to ALA, has a much smaller budget, endowment, and staff but still produced a scholarly publication and has a much higher proportion of members who attend annual meetings.  He used this evidence to underscore the importance of creating alliances with like-minded organizations.