MARAC Plenary thoughts: We will keep getting hit over the head with advocacy until we do it

During the MARAC plenary today, Kathleen Roe of the New York State Archives gave a rousing call for more advocacy by archivists for their profession to those external stakeholders who don’t necessarily know what we do but upon whom we rely for funding. It was an inspiring speech that had a number of us fired up to go back to our home institutions and to do more to advocate (with fire being a theme throughout her speech).

But if you look back over the past couple of years, plenary speakers have been exhorting us to get involved with advocacy left and right. Rand Jimerson challenged MARAC to be advocates for ourselves, our collections, and the stories of the subaltern found in those collections just three years ago. The year after, MARAC had an entire conference dedicated to advocacy where Christy Coleman charged us again to advocate to politicians, stakeholders, board members, and beyond. The Council of State Archivists has published “The Importance of State Archives,” a document that gives examples and talking points that can be used by many kinds of archival repositories. A google search for archival advocacy gives you thousands of hits, and shows that this is not just a new topic, but it is one that has been talked about more and more in the past few years.

Roe and others during her plenary talked about archivists needing to ask for what they are worth in salary, benefits, and from their schools, and rightly so. At the same time, archival institutions should ask for what they deserve from funding sources, politicians, other government agencies, and beyond. Too often archives are willing to accept the status quo or accept what their funding sources are willing to give them because they don’t think that they would be able to affect any change. Then, when situations like what happened to the Georgia State Archives occur or when massive cuts are on the table, our advocacy furor is shaken up and we finally start taking action. But when a situation is that dire, it is too late for grassroots campaigns to do much of anything. So please, conference program committees: continue to beat us over the head with advocating for ourselves, our institutions, and are usefulness until we start to get it and start to take it to heart. We need it, and won’t get there unless you continue to push us.