History of SFA

By: Burt Altman and the State Archives of Florida

In 1982, a survey conducted for the Southeast Archives and Records Conference (formerly, South Atlantic Archives and Records Conference) identified the need for an "independent organization of persons associated with archives and manuscript repositories in Florida." Although Florida was included among the regions served by SARC, a number of the surveyed professionals stated they and their institutions would benefit from the creation of a state organization. As a result of the survey, a group of archival professionals convened to begin planning for the creation of the new organization. The planning committee, which met in Tallahassee and consisted of individuals from the state and university archives, drafted a provisional constitution and scheduled the first meeting, to be held in conjunction with the Florida Confederation of Historical Societies the following year. 
On May 5, 1983, twenty-one people attended the first official Society of Florida Archivists meeting in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The First Decade: 1983-1993

A survey, conducted in 1983 as one of SFA's first activities, identified the needs of Florida's archival professionals. Survey results were used to establish the annual meeting format, identify educational workshop topics, and determine newsletter content. Over the next ten years, SFA accomplished the following organizational efforts:

  • Early 1990s: The Special Assistance Committee was established to "assist Florida's archival programs in solving programs related to the management, preservation, and use of historical records." The committee initiated, created and maintained a record of members willing to provide repositories free consultations. 
  • Mid 1990s: SFA launched an email listserv and website to further improve communications and more easily disseminate information between members.
  • Late 1990s: The Society received a Florida Humanities Council grant, which supported publication of the Guide to Florida Archives and Manuscripts Repositories.
In 1993, the State of Florida officially recognized the nascent organization's efforts by designating April 6-11 as Archives Awareness Week.  The week, which coincided with SFA's 10th Anniversary, was established to "emphasize and increase public awareness of the significance of archives and to enhance the archival profession." 

Organizational Goals

Participants of the first SFA meeting approved the constitution, elected officers, set membership dues, and established organizational goals.

The Society was founded with three specific goals:

  • to promote cooperation among individuals and institutions interested in the preservation and use of archival and manuscript materials;
  • to disseminate information about these materials and about archival methodology;
  • and, to provide a forum for the discussion of state and national archives concerns.

Throughout its history, SFA has continuously worked towards these initial goals. SFA's strong focus on meetings and workshops, publications, and education have served to meet goals in these areas.

Promoting Cooperation

SFA has always maintained a strong relationship with other professional associations at the state and national levels. On multiple occasions the Society of American Archivists (SAA) and SFA have worked together towards common goals related to the profession. In 1986, for example, SAA asked the Society to "review and submit comments on the proposal for a program of certifying archivists."  SAA also has assisted the Society with its educational goals by sponsoring pre­-conference workshops prior to the annual SFA meetings. Several members have served as liaisons to SAA, attending national meetings and exchanging information. In addition to its involvement with SAA, the Society has worked closely with the Southeast Archives and Records Conference and the Florida Historical Society, among other organizations.

From its earliest days, the Society has been active in archival issues at the local, state, and national levels. In its first year of existence, SFA supplied Secretary of State George Firestone in his effort to have the "East Florida Papers" (documenting Florida's second Spanish Occupation) returned to Florida by the Library of Congress. SFA also petitioned the Florida Congressional Delegation to support the creation of an independent National Archives and Records Administration. In 1990 the Society's Executive Board, along with the Florida State Historical Records Advisory Board (FSHRAB), issued a paper regarding issues of discussion for the Florida Governor's Conference on Library and Information Services that took place in December of that year. FSHRAB "was created to help implement the goals of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to assure the preservation of the nation's documentary heritage through state collaborative efforts [and to] achieve progress in the preservation and use of original source material." Four SFA members, Esperanza de Varona (University of Miami), Chang Lee (University of Central Florida), Susan McDonald (Emory University) and Deborah Walk (Rollins College), attended the Conference, serving in various capacities

Disseminating Information

Published continually since the founding of SFA, Society of Florida Archivists' Newsletter adopted its current title, The Florida Archivist: The Newsletter of the Society of Florida Archivists, in 1990. In addition to articles on a wide variety of topics, newsletters have included information about annual meetings, status updates regarding the Society's finances and membership, and job opportunities.  Each issue typically has featured institutional and member announcements regarding projects, grants, events, and other activities of archives and cultural heritage repositories in Florida.

Throughout its history, one of the primary aims of the Society has been the ongoing dissemination of information about archival collections, as well as information about archival theory and methodology. In addition to annual meetings and workshops, the best conduit for such information has been The Florida Archivist: The Newsletter of the Society of Florida Archivists. The Society also has disseminated information to its members regarding state and national legislation pertaining to archival issues, frequently encouraging members to write letters to legislators or sign petitions. 

Providing Forums for State and National Archival Concerns

The Society's Annual Meeting has always served members in their exchange of information and ideas with other professionals and as an opportunity for them to attend workshops and sessions that enhance their archival education. The first Society meetings were held to coincide with the Florida Historical Confederation and the Florida Historical Society. In 1988, the Society began hosting separate meetings.

The workshops held in conjunction with the meetings often reflected the needs of the membership, and many of the first workshops were offered in direct response to needs expressed by members. The workshop at the 1985 meeting, for example, was on conservation and included three sessions: Paper Conservation and Repair, Storage Facilities and Environmental Control, and a Paper Conservation Practicum. In 1987, in conjunction with the Southeastern Archives and Records Conference, SFA hosted a two-day Records Management Seminar, which provided "detailed information on Florida's public records law, scheduling and disposition of public records, microfilming, and files management." Other early educational workshops covered topics such as grants writing, preservation, disaster preparedness,  and arrangement and description. In 1993, SFA sponsored a special workshop on the "Archives, Personal Papers, and Manuscripts" (APPM) standard, presented by its author, Steven Hensen. Also in 1993, in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, the Society held workshops on emergency management planning and disaster preparedness.

The Next 25 Years: 1993 - present

Past Presidents: The Society has been fortunate to have a group of individuals who have served in leadership capacities with the utmost professionalism and a desire to not only sustain SFA but to push the organization to flourish.

Award of Excellence: Annually the Society of Florida Archivists recognizes outstanding "contributors to the preservation of the documentary heritage in Florida." Established in 1988, the first Award of Excellence was presented in 1989. The award is presented to individuals, institutions or organizations who are recognized for the "promotion of the identification and preservation of Florida's archival and manuscript heritage; implementation of noteworthy management, innovations, conservation, or collection development programs; promotion of professional education; and exemplary public programming efforts." Award recipients are nominated by members of the Society and then voted upon by the Awards Committee. Each year the award is presented at SFA's Annual Meeting.

The Society of Florida Archivists has flourished and developed into an organization that continually meets and exceeds the goals that established for the organization. The first SFA meeting was attended by 21 participants; today the Society claims a total of roughly 200 individual and institutional members. The Society comprises "everything from major universities to community historical societies to archival corporations.  We [the society are fortunate to] have an expertise to draw on the archives field, which is limitless - and a membership willing to share that expertise!"
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