This is the latest post in our series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of archivists in society. In this installment, COPA member Claudia Willett interviews four members of SAA’s newest committee, the Committee on Research, Data and Assessment (CORDA), who provide an update on the Committee and one of its newest initiatives, the Facts+Figures website. Jennifer King and Erin Passehl Stoddart are co-chairs of CORDA and Dennis Meissner and Chris Marino serve on the Facts+Figures team that led the redesign of the website.
What is CORDA?
The mission of the Committee on Research, Data and Assessment (CORDA) is to elevate awareness of archives by making central the role that research, data and assessment play in our ability as archivists to tell the story and show the impact of archives. There are many ways to increase awareness of archives – and one of the most powerful ways is to reveal trends and increase awareness through understanding data. How does CORDA elevate the importance of research and innovation, you might ask? CORDA provides access to significant and useful data and research about SAA, American archives, and their users that evidence the value of archives for society and help us improve our services to SAA members and to our consumers. The Committee supports research and creates, gathers, and preserves data by directing and engaging in these areas of activity:
● Providing SAA members with standardized tools for gathering and analyzing data;
● Providing a repository or portal for data and other research outputs;
● Providing training on gathering, analyzing, interpreting, and using data; and
● Providing up-to-date and reliable basic facts and figures about archives and archivists
Rounding out our charge is the task of asserting a research agenda to help guide research, assessment and data going forward.
Since establishment in 2019, CORDA has established and manages the SAA Dataverse; the SAA Facts and Figures website; training for archivists to conduct research; and an inclusively developed research and innovation roadmap to frame the profession’s work going forward. Accomplishing the above in a fairly short period of time has been made possible through the exceptional work of our committee.
Tell us about the Facts+Figures [F+F] microsite.
Facts+Figures (F&F) is designed to provide users with quick and simple access to information resources important to archivists or their constituencies. The resources on the site share the common quality of being derived from data – data compiled or created by archivists as a result of their research, data about archivists and archives from external agencies, and tools to enhance archival practice resulting from research data.
The newly redesigned F+F site is divided into three content channels: SAA Data Repository (SAA Dataverse), Evaluation + Assessment, and Tools + Resources. The Data Repository supports the deposit and reuse of datasets for purposes of fostering knowledge, insights, and a deeper understanding of archives and archivists. The page contains a search bar that enables users to search across the Dataverse and learn about the submission procedures and collection development policy. The Evaluation + Assessment channel may include at-a-glance dashboards, charts, graphs, reports, fact sheets and quick guides that support advocacy, explain archives and archivists to external entities, and provide insight into the functions of archivists and their repositories. The Tools + Resources channel may include software recommendations to perform tasks, how-to instructions and guidelines, checklists, best-practice guides, and self-assessment tools to employ data in support of advocacy efforts and in assessing archival impact.
Unlike the Facts and Figures page that preceded it, the reimagined F+F will be actively curated by CORDA and is a dynamic resource that will be augmented with new content items on a continuing basis. It will be a resource for archivists to turn to for quick information to aid them in advocacy efforts, to help them benchmark their performance against peers, and to adopt or adapt tools to make their work easier or conform better to best practices.
Do you see a role for data as an archival advocacy and awareness tool?
Yes! It is hard to imagine a more powerful storytelling tool than data. In fact, it is that desire that drove the creation of CORDA. In his SAA presidential address, “Bare Necessities,” Dennis Meissner argued that SAA must “concentrate on gathering, evaluating, and presenting the real quantitative and qualitative evidence that supports all the compelling narratives and theoretical arguments about the value of archives. We need this evidence because we have struggled for many years with the challenge of demonstrating the ‘value’ of archives via anything resembling objective measures.” He proposed that SAA form a Committee on Research and Evaluation (CORE), with a goal “to provide access to compelling data about American archives and their users that speak to the value of archives for society and that also help us improve our services to our consumers.”
In addition to archivists, who might benefit from these resources?
Funding, policies, and cultural heritage priorities are better informed when decision-makers have access to regular and reliable research, data and assessment. Future-thinking, forecasting and change initiatives grounded in facts and figures will best ensure that society values archives, and plans for the ongoing protections required to promote archival stewardship.
Research, data and assessment is also critical for auditing our efforts as repositories. Efforts like A*CENSUS I and II, and RepoData are more meaningful when data is gathered regularly and enables longitudinal analysis. Social reform is often made possible when decision-makers are confronted with incontrovertible data. As archivists, collections and records serve an evidentiary role and can impact decision making and analysis.
Management of archival resources requires short-term and long-range planning, and both always benefit from access to data. The need for data to underpin short-term and long-range planning is intensified during times of political instability, climate change, and interrogation of the racialization of memory work. Archivists, along with other professions in the cultural heritage fields, need centralized infrastructure for their assessment, data and research efforts, as well as an idea of how those efforts might be complementary efforts in a broader research framework. CORDA hopes that archivists will be inspired to see resources aggregated into a more coherent whole and inspired to help address gaps and all demand factual accounting of archival efforts.
What are the next steps for F+F?
Continue to build out and organize content for quick and simple access! Every archivist has their “go-to” resources that aid them in explaining their value, promoting themselves and their missions, and understanding their impacts and potential. We want to harness that knowledge and share it with the wider community. To contribute content to F+F, visit our microsite and click “suggest new content.”
Dennis Meissner and Chris Marino, “CORDA’s New Facts+Figures Microsite Shares Data and Resources with Archivists” Society of American Archivists website
Erin Passehl Stoddart, Emily Lapworth, Maggie Hughes, Jane Fiegel, “Share, Preserve, and Reuse: The SAA Dataverse Invites Data about Archives” Archival Outlook Society of American Archivists, March/April 2022, p. 12.
 CORDA committee members, past and present: Nancy Beaumont (SAA Executive Director) Mary Biddle, Sarah Buchanan, Paul Conway (Chair), Julia Corrin (Education Committee Liaison), Courtney Dean, Jasmine Jones (Council Liaison), Jennifer King (Chair), Amanda Hawk, Cristina Horak, Gwendolyn Higgins, Carli Lowe, Chris Marino, Sarah Pratt Martin, Dennis Meissner, Nance McGovern (Ex Officio), Jacqualine Price Osafo (SAA Executive Director), Ricky Punzalan (Council Liaison), Erin Passehl Stoddart (Chair), Jennifer Wachtel (Education Committee Liaison).