In a field that preserves the events of the past for the future, it is important for archivists to keep up with the latest trends in our field. Each summer we attend a series of meetings with our colleagues to share, to learn and to grow as stewards of our nation’s history. And caring for congressional collections is a particularly unique task. To that end, each May we attend the annual meeting of the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress (ACSC).
On May 14-16, 2014, Bill Hair, Ben Rogers, and I traveled to Columbia, South Carolina for the the 11th annual meeting of ACSC. The meeting was hosted by the South Carolina Political Collections. We were joined by 50 of our colleagues representing 38 member institutions, including two former Members of Congress.
The keynote address was delivered by Donald L. Fowler, Professor of Political Science at USC and Chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1995-1997. Professor Fowler discussed the political climate “then and now” and stressed the importance of the work performed by archivists in institutions represented by those at this meeting.
The meeting was full of informative and yes, even entertaining sessions. We heard from our colleagues in the field, congressional staffers, and two former Members of Congress. Honestly, every session was terrific! The breakout star of the meeting was Craig Metz, former chief of staff to the late Congressman Floyd Spence, who shared colorful stories of some of South Carolina’s political giants. An interesting session on the workings of congressional campaigns was another fan favorite. Both the Chiefs of Staff panel and the Congressional Campaigns panel put into perspective the team nature of a congressional office. There is most certainly a leader in the member himself or herself, but capturing the work of staff is essential in seeking an accurate historical picture.
It is also a treat to hear from formers members. This session was moderated by Richard Hunt, Center for Legislative Archives, NARA and featured two former Members of Congress: Glen Browder (D) AL, 1989-1997 and Martin Lancaster (D) NC, 1987-1995. The two men shared perspectives on changes in Congress and lessons learned from the handling of their personal papers, reflecting on the importance of congressional papers to future historians. They also shared the importance of connecting with a member’s staff early to help with the logistics of a collection transfer over time.
Another session focused on the users of congressional collections. It was moderated by Kate Cruikshank (IU) and featured the following speakers: Jack Roper, biographer of the late Congressman Bryan Dorn of SC; Frank Mackaman of The Dirksen Congressional Center, who is writing a memoir with Ray LaHood about LaHood’s service in Congress and in President Obama’s Cabinet; and Irene Herold, University Librarian at the University of Hawaii, who discussed a Japanese-made “documentary” film in the early 1960s on the life of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye. The scholarly research from congressional collections is both fascinating and important as it underscores the importance of our work. It is also helpful to hear from researchers on how we can improve access and facilitate research opportunities.
Also, this meeting was an opportunity for me to flex my presentation and moderating skills. I had the opportunity to present with my colleague, Sarah D’Antonio, archivist at Dole Institute of Politics, about innovate outreach initiatives. It was also an honor to moderate a panel with three “heavy weights” in the congressional papers world-Rebecca Johnson Melvin, University of Delaware; Betsy Pittman, University of Connecticut; and Sheryl Vogt, University of Georgia- on “bridge collections.” The focus on this panel included building bridges to supplemental materials and bridge building between various constituencies outside an institution to collections.
The last day featured a panel of the the future of congressional archives. Panelists tackled issues such as archival education, the on-going evolution of technology and archives, and the “soft skills” necessary to build relationships with donors and collection users. Panel members were: Jennifer Marshall, Assistant Professor, School of Library and Information Science, USC; Danielle Emerling, Univ. of DE; Adriane Hanson, Univ. of Georgia; and Laura Litwer, Texas A&M-Commerce.
All in all, the meeting was wonderful! Ben, Bill and I came back to Baylor re-energized! And on a personal note, it was fantastic to be back at the University of South Carolina, where I attended graduate school. On deck for our summer meeting schedule is the Society of Southwest Archivists (SSA) and the Society of American Archivists (SAA). In fact, our colleague Mary, is enroute to SSA in New Orleans right now! Stayed tuned for more updates of our summer travels!