In preparation for next week’s annual SAA meeting, it’s time for me to take a look back at Nancy McGovern’s address delivered at the annual meeting in Portland, Oregon, in 2017.  McGovern has served on the senior staff of the Center for Electronic Records at the U.S. National Archives (1986-96), as electronic records manager at the Open Society Archives in Budapest, Hungary (1996-1998) and at Audata, a digital services consulting firm in the United Kingdom (1998-2001), as director of Research and Assessment Services and digital preservation officer at Cornell University Library (2001-6), and as the research assistant professor and digital preservation officer at the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (2006-11); she is currently the Director of Digital Preservation at MIT Libraries.  Her speech was published in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of the American Archivist.

McGovern introduced three topics as context for her address:

  • Technology.  She incorporated numerous definitions of technology, arguing that the “people part” of technology — “sociotechnical system involving the ‘manufacture and use of objects involving people and other objects in combination'” is the hardest part (10).  Rather than bemoaning the difficulties that accompany technological change, McGovern encouraged archivists to focus on the opportunities for advancement and improvement that technology can bring to our profession.
  • History.  McGovern drew a simple line between technology and history: “History helps us to understand where specific technologies came from so we can better understand how to use and evolve them; to understand the evolution of our archival principles and practice; and to know ourselves” (11).
  • Archives.  McGovern used the American Archivist as a window onto archival theory and practice over time and challenged archivists to investigate more fully both this journal and”” the SAA Archives as sources of our history.

Doing a deep dive into the American Archivist enabled McGovern to discover the first uses of a number of technological terms, including machine readable (1963), digital records (1982), electronic record (1984), digital preservation (1992), and born digital (2002).  But all of this was merely a preface to connecting to the theme for the 2017 annual meeting and discussing the archival community.  She used the stages of the organization maturity model to evaluate SAA overall as moving from Stage 3 to Stage 4 (15):

  1. “Acknowledge: understanding that this is a local concern
  2. “Act: initiating projects
  3. “Consolidate: segueing from projects to programs
  4. “Institutionalize: incorporating larger environment; rationalizing programs
  5. “Externalize: embracing inter-institutional collaboration and dependency”

For digital practice in particular, which she defined as “continually working to bring content and lessons from the past to benefit the present on behalf of the future” (16), McGovern pegged SAA as shifting from Stage 2 to Stage 3.  The same is true for SAA’s emphasis on diversity and inclusion.  She argued one of the most important elements for developing diversity and inclusion is discomfort, which promotes awareness.  Where these two priorities overlap, McGovern pointed out there is a lack of diversity both among and within the institutions that engage in digital practice.  She suggested collaboration across professions — with libraries, data scientists, digital preservationists, software developers, records managers, and museums — should help develop these priorities and move SAA towards the goal of Stage 5.

McGovern laid out her vision for the next 20 years of SAA/archives/archivists (19-20):

  • We’ll collaborate with affiliated professions.
  • Our “members, policies, practice, collections, repositories” will all be inclusive.
  • We’ll practice “diverse diversity,” meaning “the need to ensure that diversity discussions address all forms of potential exclusion.”
  • We’ll work to use technologies in such a way that “outcomes are integrated from idea to creation to discovery and use.”
  • We’ll be responsive to social, cultural, legal, and technological change.
  • “We advance by pushing ourselves, playing to our strengths, and working together.”

McGovern concluded by suggesting next steps — for herself, but clearly with the implication she’d like to have others join her on this journey (20):

  • “I will—engage in any discussion however challenging that SAA needs or wants to have.
  • “I will—continue to contribute my expertise to help meet SAA’s objectives.
  • “We should—seek ways to collaborate with domains that share our goals and interests.
  • “We should—work to build a critical mass of members who are actively engaged in our priority areas.
  • “Don’t forget—that our practice is only limited by our own decisions in establishing policies and our familiarity with the development of practice, our own creativity and adaptability.”