Proposal to Form an SAA Accessioning Section
Thanks to all who signed our petition.
SAA Council is currently considering our proposal.
Hopefully we will have news soon!
The reality of archival accessioning is not accurately or entirely captured by its traditional definition: taking physical, legal, and intellectual custody of newly acquired collection materials. In contemporary practice, accessioning is a rich and varied hybrid of many discrete duties encompassing a wide spectrum of pre- and post-custodial work. The impact of effective accessioning within the archival lifecycle is a necessary step towards transparent stewardship practices that are both extensible and holistic and yet, there are no profession-wide best practices for accessioning, nor is there a formal community of practice within SAA. Even though accessioning is a collection of integral and foundational archival functions, individuals performing this work often find themselves isolated, under-resourced, and in a position of constantly justifying the necessity and complexity of their duties.
SAA’s Core Values include Access and Use, Accountability, and Responsible Custody, which are all values inherent in accessioning work. Accessioning plays a critical role in collection stewardship–it facilitates quicker access to materials, creates thorough pre- and post-custodial documentation, and helps ensure that collection material is ethically and efficiently treated within an archival organization.
To support the needs of individuals performing and managing archival accessioning work, we propose that an SAA Accessioning Section should be established.
Purpose and Goals
The purpose of a dedicated Accessioning Section would be to provide a forum for discussing issues and interests pertaining to all aspects of archival accessioning including pre-custodial assessment, maintenance of donor and vendor relationships, transportation logistics, custody documentation, intra-organizational relationships with acquisitions and access services, collection stabilization and rehousing, baseline/initial iteration of arrangement and description, and collection/space management, among many other issues.
The primary goal for this section would be rooted in creating a space where individuals performing accessioning work can find support–a community focused on making accessioning work more effective, more visible, and more understood. In the absence of profession-wide standards, accessioning workflows are often either ingeniously cobbled together or painstakingly built from the ground up. Archivists performing accessioning often find themselves isolated, doing the job for the first time, and–beyond meeting colleagues via happenstance–without a structured way to become proficient in these complex archival functions, nor clear avenues to collaborate with a wider community of skilled individuals already performing accessioning. A section would help individuals find each other, share/build skills, and work towards creating more resources for doing accessioning well.
Another important thing to note: archival accessioning is frequently performed by under-resourced and/or precariously-employed individuals. Though essential, this work is sometimes seen as “less professional” than other archival functions, due not only to its complexity but also to its lack of representation within professional standards and scholarship. Increased visibility for accessioning and support from our national organization highlights the diversity of practitioners and labor practices within our field, while also providing formal recognition of the value of this work.
Need for Separate Section
While many SAA sections focus on particular archival elements that overlap and intersect with accessioning, no section focuses on the unique confluence of diverse workflows required by effective and comprehensive accessioning work. Individuals whose primary roles or archival interests relate to accessioning often struggle to find a place in SAA sections whose membership and discourse only address a few facets of their work. Lack of an organized accessioning network results in a huge expenditure of energy trying to scavenge for appropriate resources, connections, and community.
For example, while the Acquisitions & Appraisal, Collection Management Tools, Preservation, Archives Management, and Description sections are all vibrantly active groups, they only sometimes engage with issues directly related to accessioning–no single one of these sections can account for the full complement of varied work duties often performed by an Accessioning Archivist. There is tremendous value in these separate sections but for many of us performing accessioning, they’re effectively serving as a piecemeal substitute in the absence of a group focused on our specific needs.
Within the last several years, more institutions have started to create positions focused solely on Accessioning. In the near future, SAA will be publishing a volume of texts, edited by Audra Eagle Yun, devoted to accessioning. There is a tangible, growing need for community that SAA can help address. This is our chance to create a group where accessioning archivists can learn from each other, develop best practices both individually and programmatically, and be strengthened by communal connections. The section would encourage systemic improvement, individual reflection, and direct engagement for those doing accessioning and for all engaging with collection stewardship.
In order to consider the creation of a new section, SAA requires a petition with at least 100 SAA member signatures. 119 SAA members + 12 non-members signed our petition and shared testimonials about how a dedicated Accessioning Section could have an impact on their work. We submitted our completed proposal + list of signatures in August 2020 and we await next steps.
Thanks to all for your support!