As most Society of American Archivists (SAA) members know, we have just been invited to vote for a dues increase, to be phased in over three years.
It is no exaggeration to say that the proposal is controversial. Not only is the US economy hobbling along, but member salaries seem flat. Many of us struggle to make ends meet, working in positions that pay but a fraction of the value we provide to society. And student members worry about the future, understandably so.
So why increase dues now? And why vote yes?
Here is why I did vote yes, and with enthusiasm!
First, whatever your income level, SAA membership is a incredible value.
Personally, I have benefitted many times over from my membership dues. Entering the profession in 1999, I found an instant home: a place to discuss substantive issues, a place to shape professional discourse, a place to grow in my knowledge and understanding, and a place to commiserate with my peers. In Democracy in America, Alexis De Tocqueville argued that “[t]he health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.” And in America, the way that private citizens best express ourselves is through associations like SAA. Associations give as a place to talk to each other, to systematize our knowledge, and to advocate for change.
Without SAA, archivists would lack the means to speak with a common (but not necessarily unitary) voice on issues of vital importance to the future of our country and world.
Second, SAA provides us these opportunities on a shoestring budget. It may sound trite to say that members are the organization, but it is true! SAA’s talented and hardworking staff play a critical enabling role. But without adequate income from dues, meeting attendance, publication sales, and education, the members simply cannot exist as a positive force; that is to say, as a national association. Dues are a critical pillar in the foundation that supports SAA, and they provide us the opportunity to extend our effectiveness far beyond what we can achieve alone. Even more to the point, they heighten the value our work provides in our individual institutions, our communities, and our other professional associations. Each of these groups has a complementary role, but they can’t duplicate or replace that of SAA.
Third, SAA is a responsive organization. In short, SAA works! Members objected (in quite productive and collegial terms) to the intial dues increase proposal. Council carefully considered the objections, reshaped the proposal, and provided a very rational and effective response, one which holds the line on dues at the lower income levels, while introducing modest increases elsewhere and moving us toward a more progressive structure. This is a process and result that put SAA’s best attributes on vivid display!
And finally, the proposed dues increase represents the minimum amount that is necessary to support core functions of the Society–functions like education, publishing, and technology. Each of these functions is critical to the long-term health of our profession, not just our professional association, even while they enable related activities that are critically important to the health of SAA — like information exchange, best practice development, and standards creation/maintenance.
At different times in my career, I’ve been a student, a member of the lowest membership tier, the middle tiers, and now the highest one. But whatever my status, I have received much much more from my SAA membership than whatever the monetary cost I incurred each year.
I’ve learned to be a better archivist. I’ve been mentored by people who are much wiser than I’ll ever be. I’ve expanded my knowledge through top-notch meetings, books, workshops, and courses. And most of all, I’ve made and continue to make many friends.
And that is the type of value we can all take the bank!
[updated 8:26 PM CST, Wed Nov. 18, 2015 and 1:20 CST Friday Nov 20]