2014 LACCHA Roundtable Annual Meeting Impressions

By: Sam Winn

I attended the LACCHA Roundtable meeting in order to hear more about the experiences of archivists outside of the U.S. Groups like LACCHA, the International Archival Affairs Roundtable, and others help to bridge the gap between U.S. archivists and our peers abroad, but all of us should share the responsibility. I am very grateful to LACCHA for honoring the diversity within our global profession while making the presentations accessible for non-Spanish speakers.

I was one of several guests who attended the roundtable. After a brief business meeting, we welcomed a panel of government archivists from Honduras. The guest speakers were really phenomenal. They discussed several challenges that they had confronted, including shockingly inadequate material and human resources, chronically neglected records (some of which dated back to the colonial era), complex political legacies, and devastating natural disasters. We heard about their efforts to create standards, develop training programs, and build a culture of documentary history for new generations.

Distinguished panel of government archivists from Honduras
Distinguished panel of government archivists from Honduras

Initially, we experimented with a system called “whisper translation.” A number of LACCHA members volunteered to serve as Spanish-to-English translators stationed around the room to provide simultaneous translations. These were supported by packets of English language slides prepared in advance. Later, we shifted into a more standard translation approach where one person translated for the room.

I had never experienced whisper translation. The standard translation made the content more accessible to a general audience, but the whisper translations allowed me to immerse myself in the presentation (even if I missed some of the nuances.) As I listened to the presentations, I wondered how many amazing archives conferences English-only speakers miss because they are unwilling to immerse themselves in another language.

I believe that international collaboration among archives professionals will enrich our individual lives and our collective practice. The presentations demonstrated two principles that underline this need. First, archivists everywhere experience common challenges to varying degrees. While the panelists’ experiences were unique in scale and severity, I was reminded of barriers I had seen or faced. Lone arrangers in the U.S. may have identified even more strongly.

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“I believe that international collaboration among archives professionals will enrich our individual lives and our collective practice.”

Second, archivists in “established” professional communities should actively learn from “emerging” professional communities; these exchanges strengthen the global profession by challenging long-held assumptions about our collections, our practices, and the communities we serve. In the broader corpus of archival practice, the U.S. profession emerged pretty recently. We developed unique approaches for our own documentary culture and grew by exchanging information with our predecessors. In the same way, we will inevitably benefit from ongoing exchanges with professional communities that emerged before or after us.

I hope that more SAA members take the time to attend future LACCHA meetings. The 2014 Annual Meeting roundtable session was inspiring, invigorating, and thought provoking. I particularly appreciated the opportunity to consider archival theory and practice in a new context. Overall, this session was one the highlights of the 2014 Annual Meeting.

Sam Winn is an emerging archives professional, researcher, and technical writer with an interest in digital libraries, international archival affairs, open access repositories, humanitarian GIS, and open source content management systems.

Sam currently works as the Collections Archivist for the University Libraries at Virginia Tech where she serves as department lead for the International Archives of Women in Architecture and contributes to documenting the “minority experience” in the Special Collections.