Elizabeth W. Adkins delivered her presidential address at the 2007 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) held in Chicago.  She began as an archives specialist at Kraft Foods in 1986 and after one year became the archives manager (1987-1996).  She was the manager of archives services (1996-2001) and director of Global Information Management (2001-2009) for Ford Motor Company.  She transitioned to the same position at CSC (2009-2013) and then served as senior principal of Information Governance for one year (2013-2014).  Beginning in 2015, she has served as the director of Information Governance at Grant Thornton LLP.  An expanded version of her address was published in the Spring/Summer 2008 issue of the American Archivist.

Adkins was only the second corporate archivist to serve as president of SAA — the other being William Overman in 1957-1958.  She chose to focus her address on the topic of diversity — specifically:

  • how SAA defines diversity
  • how SAA measures up regarding diversity vs. how related professions have done
  • how SAA has encouraged diversity
  • how SAA can expand its commitment to diversity and act accordingly

For her definition, she turned to the 1999 report of SAA’s Task Force on Diversity, which incorporates “personal and cultural background, socioeconomic status, and physical limitations” as well as “gender, race, ethnicity, geographical location, age, or physical abilities” (24).  She looked at the 2004 census of the archival profession and compared it to 1956 and 1982 surveys to identify trends in membership in the archival profession.  Most notably, the number of women in the profession rose from 33% to 66% in this time period.  She also recognized that baby boom archivists were beginning to retire without the necessary influx of younger archivists to replace them.  Although there was some progress in the racial and ethnic diversity of the archival profession, it still lagged far behind the diversity of the American population at large.  Adkins found similar issues with diversity among the librarian, museum professional, and IT communities.  To clarify the importance of encouraging diversity, Adkins asserted:

“The archives profession cannot make its full contribution to society if many highly capable people view it as closed or irrelevant to them” (27).

In her history of SAA’s diversity efforts, Adkins highlighted the decade of the 1970s as the era when there began to be concerted efforts to address diversity within the membership and leadership ranks.  Coming out of the recommendations of the Committee for the 1970s were a Committee on the Status of Women and a Women’s Caucus.  In 1972, SAA adopted a resolution “eliminating discrimination within the Society on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, lifestyle, or political affiliation” (32).  Professional affinity groups — which have evolved into today’s sections and roundtables — began within SAA in the late 1970s to address the personal and professional interests of members.  The major detractor to the push for diversity was that government archivists left SAA in 1974 to form the National Association of State Archives and Records Administrators.  During the 1980s, there was a Task Force on Minorities, which made several recommendations that were adopted:

  • creation of a Membership Committee
  • new member orientation at annual meetings
  • single-day registration fee for annual meetings

But other recommendations, such as offering scholarships to minority archival students, did not garner action at the time.  In 1997, the SAA Council created a Task Force on Diversity.  In addition to defining diversity, as noted above, this task force presented numerous recommendations to the SAA council (34-35):

  • “develop an official SAA position statement on diversity”
  • “incorporate diversity into SAA’s strategic planning process”
  • “reinforce and expand existing activities that support diversity”
  • “identify and establish new initiatives to support diversity”

In May 2003, the SAA Council voted to create a Committee on Diversity.  Adkins identified several actions and decisions by SAA in the early 21st century regarding diversity (38):

  • “Diversity has been and will be incorporated into every Council agenda
    for the foreseeable future.
  • The Council, SAA staff, and all SAA units must report on diversity initiatives.
  • The president-elect and the Appointments Committee are required to report on the demographics of all committee appointments and on what was done to seek diversity in committee appointments.
  • The Program Committee and Host Committee must report on efforts to address diversity issues in the planning and scheduling of annual meeting programming.
  • The Diversity Committee has been asked to provide a report on the state of diversity at the annual business meeting each year.”

Adkins pointed to a practice initiated by her predecessor, Richard Pearce-Moses, that encouraged broader involvement in SAA leadership — that being allowing members to apply for appointments to SAA committees rather than relying on the acquaintance of the president.  She also pointed to the creation of student chapters — beginning in the 1990s — as a good way to grow more leaders for the profession.

Adkins acknowledged that while some progress had been made, much remained to be done for diversity within SAA.  She first listed the recommendations of the Task Force on Diversity that had received action:

  • a position statement on diversity was created, and diversity became an integral part of SAA’s strategic plan
  • more annual meeting sessions focused on diversity
  • open applications for appointments (although the Task Force recommended included an intern on each committee — a recommendation that has recently resurfaced)
  • profiling the diversity of SAA
  • developing educational opportunities for nonarchivists serving underrepresented groups
  • incorporating more diversity content into exhibits at annual meetings

Adkins also offered suggestions for how to address some of the other recommendations of the Task Force:

  • encourage university archivists to promote the use of archival materials in minority studies programs — both to increase usage of the archives and as a form of outreach to potential young professionals
  • redesign SAA’s website so that both its structure and content attract greater diversity (Part of this recommendation was to provide resources in multiple languages, but I can find no evidence of this outside of Spanish versions of two brochures regarding donating records to a repository.)
  • develop alternative entry points into the archival profession so that required educational criteria don’t create a barrier
  • increase financial aid for meeting and workshop attendance and for scholarships for graduate archival education
  • replicate successful initiatives in archival education that recruit minorities and document diverse groups
  • develop continuing education that focuses on serving diverse communities
  • create membership materials that better appeal to underrepresented groups
  • develop a mentoring program within SAA for underrepresented groups
  • conduct better public relations efforts, especially among the young and underrepresented ethnic and racial groups
  • create internships for high school and college students as well as community representatives from underrepresented groups

Adkins asserted that embracing diversity benefits all within SAA.  She suggested that it requires transparency and an ongoing commitment to inclusion.  She concluded with a simple call to action:

“Handshakes, smiles, compliments, and conversation—these things cost absolutely nothing and can be offered by every single SAA member at every meeting.  That welcoming, respectful attitude must be the foundation upon which we build our path to diversity.  With inclusion as our foundation, the actions I suggest here will be important steps along the way.  But the journey cannot stop; we must keep moving forward—not just with words, but with action” (49).