Danna C. Bell delivered her presidential address at the 2014 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) held in Washington, D.C.  She worked as a reference librarian and coordinator of bibliographic instruction at Marymount University (1990-1993).  She worked as an archivist within the Washingtoniana Division of the District of Columbia Public Library (1993-1997) and the Henry Lee Moon Library at the NAACP.  She was the Curator of the National Equal Justice Library (1997-1998).  She joined the Library of Congress staff in 1998, first as a Learning Center Specialist, then as a member of the Digital Reference Team, and currently as an Educational Outreach Specialist.  Her address was published in the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of the American Archivist.

Bell began her speech with an ode to the power of the primary sources that call archives home.  She recalled seeing letters — written by Gene Roddenberry to Carl Sagan and by Martin Luther King to A. Philip Randolph — that made her “squeal with delight.”

“To me, these two letters were reminders that behind the signatures were real people; that they sent letters to colleagues; and there was more to them than their accomplishments.  These letters engaged me, excited me, and made me want to learn more” (10).

After describing a middle school class that learned about a map from the Battle of Princeton, Bell challenged archivists to “always remember that we are more than just preservers of information.  We are guardians of knowledge, of inspiration, and of our connections to one another.  We need to remind ourselves of the power we hold and the responsibility we accepted when we decided to become archivists” (10).

Bell described four touchstones on her archival roadmap:

  1. Context matters because it can help people establish connections.
  2. Effective communication is key — archivists should strive to be good storytellers.
  3. Archivists must collaborate with our champions and listen to our supporters.
  4. Bell identified those who have been models for her life — her mother, Maya Angelou, Leanita McClain, and Mary McLeod Bethune.

Drawing on the powerful example of Bethune’s last will and testament, Bell shared her wishes for SAA:

  • Archivists need to focus on the basic fundamentals of “appraisal, arrangement, description, and reference” (14).
  • SAA needs “to balance the needs of students and new professionals with the needs of those who are further along in our careers” (14).
  • SAA should review archival education programs.
  • SAA should develop a document to explain “the work and worth of archivists” (15).
  • Archivists should value working with the K-12 community.
  • SAA members should recognize “membership in a professional association with professional staff has substantial costs” (15).
  • SAA members should support each other rather than attacking each other, should embrace the possibility of change, and should listen to each other.
  • After thanking SAA staff, volunteers, and Council, Bell ended with a thought-provoking quote from Verne Harris:

“‘Archives are not the quiet retreat for professionals and scholars and craftspersons.  They are a crucible of human experience; a battleground for meaning and significance.  A Babel of stories.  A place and a space of complex and ever shifting power plays'” (16).

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