SAA’13 was the my first SAA, and it did not disappoint. A few of the highlights from the conference are below.
The forum entitled Memory and Power: How Diversifying the Archives Can Help Us Welcome the Future was well-attended and the audience engaged in truly thoughtful discussion during the Q:A period. My biggest takeaways were:
New archives must reflect the histories of all community members, otherwise future majorities will not find the archives relevant to their histories and will not prioritize the continued preservation of said archives.
There is still a pervasive feeling of “us” vs. “them” and an unanswered question: Who owns the archives? The community or the corporate entities that maintain the archives?
What we can do:
Find and support the people who are already preserving the history of their own communities.
Disappointingly, Disability: Uncovering Our Hidden History (session 310), was sparsely attended. Because I agree that it is imperative for archives to collect the histories of all community members, this seemed like a great followup to the Diversity forum, and I had expected to see a lot of familiar faces in the room. From my notes:
“Disability as a cultural concept is recent – historically, disabled people largely lived behind closed doors (parents were ashamed of their disabled children and hid them). Few places made an effort to document the lives of persons with a disability, so the historical narrative doesn’t include these stories.”
Finally, a speaker at the Intellectual Property Update (session 602) caught my attention when he remarked on the fact that no archives has yet been sued for copyright infringement. His follow up question was, are we being too cautious?
I think we are. From my notes:
“Libraries and Archives are interpreting law that was designed for things like Disney films, not cultural heritage. Because there is no litigation covering the types of activities that we do, we simply don’t know what the courts might say about what we do (or what we want to do but haven’t done because we’re not sure what is allowed under the law). Question that was raised during the Q:A session: Can we measure how progress in arts & sciences has been hampered out of nervousness about the law?”
My takeaway from this session was summed up by one of the speakers:
“Asking permission to share cultural resources may be an immoral act.”