Interview with SAA Vice-President/President-Elect Courtney Chartier

Earlier this year, Georgia’s own Courtney Chartier, Head of Research Services at the Rose Library at Emory University, was elected Vice-President/President-Elect of the Society of Georgia Archivists. She will takeover as the 76th SAA President in 2021-2022.

SGA Communications reached out to Courtney to ask her about her goals as SAA President and how her earlier experiences with SGA helped prepare her for the role.

What motivated you to accept the nomination to run for VP/President-elect of SAA?

It felt like a natural progression. Over the years I’ve held a lot of positions in our volunteer organizations. I was on the SGA Board for years before serving as President; I worked a lot of SAA groups before serving as a Council member (I was also on the Board of Regents of ACA for, before an unsuccessful run for President).

I first got involved with SAA as a student; I was Vice-President of our student chapter at the iSchool at the University of Texas. The whole Board worked together really closely and carpooled to attend the annual meeting in New Orleans. We slept about 5 to a room and went to every event with free food. It was so much fun and I met so many “fancy” archivists (people
well-known in the field) and it really impressed me that at SAA a student could walk right up to the editor of American Archivist or a scholar whose works I read in class and start a conversation. It made me want to get more involved and cultivate that same accessibility for others throughout my career.

There are two people who really encouraged me to get involved and stay involved throughout my career: David Gracy and Brenda Banks. David was my professor in graduate school and Brenda was my first boss in Atlanta. It’s not a coincidence that they were both SGA Presidents and SAA Presidents. I explicitly wanted to follow in their footsteps.

What do you hope to accomplish during your tenure as SAA President?

I did not run with a specific platform, mainly because there are too many important issues in the profession. What became clear to me from my years on Council (it’s a three-year term) is that SAA is not maximizing its potential, and that’s what I want to confront. Going on to Council, I knew I’d be in a position to make change (and I was involved in some work that I am really proud of), but I was surprised at how remote I felt. Very few members take advantage of the open-door policy to contact their Councilors or the President; very few people vote in elections or comment on new standards and other documents. Conversations may happen on social
media, but there would be a certain faction in power that thinks those are not “real” conversations.

This is all to say that it was hard to understand what is truly valuable to members. But that should be a priority for Council and the President: to actively keep the pulse and respond to it. I 100% see that as a social justice issue for the organization. Are we not hearing because we aren’t taking all voices seriously, or not seeking them out? The conversations on social media are serious ones, about race, about gender, about fair labor and bad, abusive management, and those topics need to be surfaced and engaged by SAA in a serious way.

How did your experiences with SGA prepare you to take on this national leadership role?

Being on the SGA Board prepared me for SAA tremendously! It’s so essential to understand how Committees work (or don’t work), and what governance really is. Some of it is incredibly dull and process oriented, but you learn how important it is.

Another major lesson that I learned is how to read a budget. The SGA budget is a bit smaller than SAA’s, and the training was essential. I was lucky enough to be on the Board with a very strong Treasurer (Michael Nagy, from the Salvation Army Archives), and I learned so much from
him and realize the value of a member who has strong budgeting and financial skills.

What advice do you have for SGA members who might be interested in taking on leadership roles in professional organizations locally, regionally, or nationally?

One piece of advice is to look at all the different groups in the organization and find something that you are really interested in to get started. That way as you are leaning how the organization works, you are doing it while being engaged with your own passion. SAA has over 50 specialized sections now, as well as Committees and Task Forces. Most sections can’t find candidates to run very year for their leadership, so there are lots of opportunities to get
involved.

A good way to get started is to find someone you know who is already involved (or has been) and pick their brain. Find out what are the issues people/groups are already working on and how groups work. Consider how you want to contribute and ask about how that fits in to the organization. If you don’t know anyone, then I am a big fan of cold calling. Anyone in SGA is
always free to email me (anyone in any organization is free to email me, but I won’t pretend like Georgians and Longhorns don’t get special treatment!).

Most importantly: your opinion is valid. Sharing your thoughts is the best way to show your interest, meet others who are working on the same issues, and lead you to get involved with making changes. Speak up when you don’t like something, but also, and I can’t stress this enough, speak up when you do like something. Folx are always more inclined to complain than compliment, and while complaints are important for growth and change, these organizations also need to know when they are on the right track and serving members well.

About Courtney Chartier:

Courtney Chartier is the Head of Research Services at the Rose Library at Emory University. Prior to her position at Emory, Courtney worked at the Archives Research Center of the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library. Courtney was the 2014 President of the Society of Georgia Archivists (SGA), and is currently the 2020-2022 Vice-President/President-Elect for the Society of American Archivists Council, an Instructor in Archives at Georgia State University, and co-founder of the Atlanta Black Archives Alliance. She has served as Scholarship Chair
and Outreach Manager for SGA, Regent for Outreach for the Academy of Certified Archivists (2012-2014), and as a Council member (2016-2019), and the Chair of the Archivists and Archives of Color Roundtable (2010-2012) of SAA. Courtney attended the University of Texas (BA, American Studies; MS, Information Studies) and the University of Mississippi (MA, Southern Studies).

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