Acquisitions & Appraisal Annual Section Meeting – Archives*Records 2018

by Kathi Isham/A&A Section Intern

On August 17th around 200 people attended the joint meeting of the SAA Acquisitions & Appraisal Section and the Records Management Section. The meeting started with a lively round of Networking Bingo which inspired this tweet:

Rachel Donahue @sheepeeh

Networking bingo might be my fave icebreaker activity. (Acq/Appraisal & RM joint meeting) #saa18


After the icebreaker, the Acquisitions & Appraisal Section started their official business. Bethany Anderson from the Nominating Committee introduced new Steering Committee members: Christian Kelleher is the new vice chair/chair-elect and Katie Delancenserie and Krista Gray are new Steering Committee at-large members; then outgoing section chair Cliff Hight thanked current Steering Committee members for their service, announced the changes to the standing rules had passed, and gave a short recap of section activities, which concluded A&A Section official business. The Records Management Section then conducted their meeting and it was time for the speakers.

The panelists this year were Lauren Gaines, manager, corporate archivist, and historian for Thrivent Financial, a midwestern Fortune 500 not-for-profit financial services organization, and Nate Jones, director of the Freedom of Information Act Project for the National Security Archive in Washington, D. C. The topic was records openness and how appraisal and retention scheduling decisions of archivists and records managers can affect larger public interest transparency efforts.

Lauren Gaines was the first speaker. She discussed the origins of Thrivent, which was formed to offer Lutherans a chance to buy insurance without violating their religious beliefs, how the archives have moved around within the organization, and how she is working with business units to ensure compliance with records retention schedules. Thrivent is a private company and the archives are a closed repository where all requests for information are vetted by the legal department. Her efforts to increase transparency are internal: implementing a records retention schedule and collection policy within Thrivent and documenting her decisions for future archivists. The company holds personal identifying information and medical records, so one of the biggest challenges she is facing is figuring out how to comply with EU privacy rules when legacy records are stored on microfilm.

Nate Jones’ presentation “The “Indiana Jones Warehouse”: Records Appraisal, Purgatory, and Accession” was about the challenges of accessing federal records that have been shipped from the originating office to federal records centers but have not yet been accessioned by NARA. He discussed the confusion of trying to figure out who has custody of the records because of the varying lengths of time the records are held in records centers (often decades) and the difficulty of locating records, which requires a researcher to travel to the federal records center and search through file cabinets for hard copies of transfer records. Jones proposed the situation could be improved by increasing funding for NARA, posting records control schedules and transfer forms online, and adopting automatic declassification.

There were several comments on twitter during the presentation:

Marcella @rageyhistorian

Transparency and outreach withIN the organization: archives can tell staff Thrivent’s done this same project 20 years ago under a different name! #appraisethis #saa18

Cliff Hight @cliffhight1

In the @AppraisalSAA and #saarms meeting, Lauren noted challenges to changing organizational culture especially as regulations and statutes are passed and implemented. #saa18

Alex Toner @atoner7

Lauren Gaines discusses how implementation of records retention schedule and collection development policy is enhancing transparency and business processes at Thrivent Financial. #saa18 #saarms #AppraiseThis

Lagerwhat? @Lagerwhat

Hot tip for all you researchers: Submit your records requests to the Washington Records Center if your FOIA requests for records between the 70s and early 90s aren’t as fruitful as you thought it’d be.

Meg Phillips @meg_phillips7

NARA’s FOIA ombudsman office blogged an attempt to answer @NSANate‘s question about access to records in records centers #saa18…

Brad Houstons brain is closed, pls try again later @herodotusjr

Nate Jones, National Security Archive: “Not all records need to be kept forever.” See? SEE? EVEN HE THINKS SO. #saa18 #petpeeves 

tdraut @tdraut

@rageyhistorian Increase funding for RM in all agencies! My agency would love to be better about FOIA, etc but we literally have no money/people to do it. If we focus on release of records now, that’s at the expense of managing current records. I hate to say it, but it’s almost a zero sum game

Increase funding for RM in all agencies! My agency would love to be better about FOIA, etc but we literally have no money/people to do it. If we focus on release of records now, that’s at the expense of managing current records. I hate to say it, but it’s almost a zero sum game

The Q&A after the presentations was pretty spirited as well. Several government records managers explained how Jones’ perception of the chain of custody for federal records was incorrect – records centers are functioning exactly how they are supposed to. Meg Phillips from NARA followed up on this by saying even though federal records are being handled according to approved protocols, if researchers don’t understand how the system works and are unable to locate records, there is a problem that needs to be addressed by NARA outreach. When asked  how we can be more transparent with our appraisal decisions Gaines talked about case by case conversations within her organization while Jones asserted that the more secretive a federal agencies activities are, the more important it is to save their records.

If you would like to view Nate Jones’ slides he has made them available via Twitter:

NSA Nate @NSANate

Here are my slides for today’s presentation on “The Indiana Jones Warehouse: Appraisal, Purgatory, and Accession” for @archivists_org Conference today. Will pry jot em up into an article at some point. #saa18… Fun talk!


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