Friday, September 12, 2008

Making a Better Society - Part I

As most of you know, this blog is syndicated on ArchivesBlogs and I do actually post on archival issues now and again. There is an issue that has come up in my national professional organization, the Society of American Archivists regarding voting representation. Most of my friends know this is an issue that I have been working on for several years. A good friend who covers archival issues much more than I "broke" the story on her blog regarding a possible dues increase and the issue of voter representation and she urged me to comment on her blog. I have chosen to do so here.

For my non-archivist readers, here's a little background for you so you can see where I'm going with this. The Society is currently comprised of more than 5,000 archivists and information professionals around the world, though primarily in the United States. The Society holds an Annual Meeting and just recently closed one of its most successful meetings in San Francisco, California. At the Annual Meeting last year, the Society voted a dues increase for membership. Membership dues for SAA have always been on a sliding scale, based on one's salary. As a result, long term archivists and those in government jobs have paid the highest dues. As it stands, votes on dues increase and other matters are held at the Annual Meeting, so only those members who attend get a voice. I think this is wrong.

However, the main question raised was whether members of the Society should have the right to vote if they cannot be present at the Annual Meeting. Given the available technology, there is no reason that electronic voting could not be instituted for issues of importance to the Society. I wholeheartedly endorse any plan that would extend voting representation to any member in good standing of the Society regardless of attendance at the Annual Meeting. There are a number of solutions that would make this feasible. I will grant that votes on dues increases are a special matter in and of themselves. For this reason, they should be voted on by the entire membership and not only voted on at the Annual Meeting. We are sure to lose members that way.

I should point out that the initial comment about in-person voting was raised by a former President of the Society, a man that I respect and think very highly of. The extensive reaction that came as a result of his comment changed his mind and he has even suggested language to revise the Constitution of the Society regarding votes on dues increases. He does also advocate for a routine cost of living increase in dues, which I don't think is necessary but that is a matter for my next post on financial matters.

Voting representation is one of our most basic fundamental issues. It has been noted that the Society gets a very low rate of return on its mail ballots in candidate elections. Although, this rate is low, by restricting the right to vote on issues such as dues increases to those in attendance at the Annual Meeting will only serve to further disenfranchise the members. There is certainly more to this issue but we need to start somewhere. Making the Society a more democratic organization is a good way to start.


Lana Gramlich said...

There are too many groups out there w/disenfranchised members as it is. Unfortunately I'm one of them in at least one or two cases. These kinds of things almost seem to be on the increase these days, but I'm a social cynic, too...

Anonymous said...

I think we still have a lot of old baggage to deal with. SAA, like many organizations, continues to operate (for much of their business) under a model that was more appropriate in the mid-20th century. I work for an organization that has, over the past ten years, been making its own efforts to change (and improve) itself, moving beyond its 20th century ways of doing things. These things do take time and have to be done in a careful and measured way, to be sure, but I think, so long as those of us committed to change continue to work at it, we can make the organizations with which we are associated better. Persistence and patience - may they both be with us throughout.