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Call for Case Studies in Archival Ethics

  • 1.  Call for Case Studies in Archival Ethics

    Posted Aug 09, 2022 04:23 PM
    The SAA Committee on Ethics and Professional Conduct (CEPC) seeks case studies engaging with the principles set forth in the current SAA Core Values and Code of Ethics, which was recently revised by the CEPC and approved by the SAA Council in August 2020. The goal is to develop a series of writings that address archival ethics in actionable, approachable language so that the resulting case studies can be used both as pedagogical tools and as practical resources in the workplace.

    Suggested length for case studies is 1,500 to 5,000 words. All submissions will be reviewed by two members of CEPC and evaluated according to the Publications Board's Case Studies Rubric. Accepted submissions will be electronically distributed through the SAA website under a Creative Commons license, with copyright retained by the authors.

    CEPC enthusiastically invites individuals to submit case studies drawn directly from real life experiences. Case studies should address one or more of the areas covered by the SAA Core Values and Code of Ethics and should:

    • be rooted in actual situations whenever possible
    • reflect the humanity, thought, and labor of all involved
    • detail specific actions taken in a clear and direct manner
    • highlight all positive, negative, and unintended outcomes
    • clearly define the resources required from start to finish
    • acknowledge complications, successes, and failures 
    • note the type of maintenance required in the future
    • share lessons learned

    CEPC also encourages case studies that address emerging ethical issues in which current societal, legal, judicial, and/or technological developments are involved. Archivists are increasingly confronted with challenges regarding extractive archival processes that harm underrepresented communities, recruitment and retention of a diverse and thriving professional membership, long-term preservation of born digital materials and electronic records, environmental sustainability, and ethically collecting documentation of activist movements, to name just a few examples. As archival practices continue to shift and evolve, case studies are potentially helpful tools to deal with the wide range of changes experienced by both seasoned veterans and new professionals.

    Case writers may present examples of ethical problems drawn from their direct experience or as a result of indirect knowledge. Alternatively, they may choose to write about an ethical issue in the news and make connections between their personal experiences and local archival practices.  In any instance, case studies should be grounded in thorough background research, which may include interviews with key players in the situation being discussed. Successful case studies present problems in ways that explore and analyze a situation but without pointing the reader in the direction of a particular solution or set of solutions--they can provide clear and practically helpful evidence of workflows, ideas, relationships, and possibilities without being prescriptive. 

    Elements of a Case Study on Archival Ethics

    • Introduction and Institutional Context: Identify the key ethical issue or issues presented, the reason for the case, and key challenges involved. Set the stage by providing institutional context such as the ethical environment and/or general milieu of the organization. As appropriate, refer to previous publications or resources that may shed light on this topic.
    • Narrative: Present the story of the case. Describe what happened and how the events created a problem or dilemma. This should be written in the third person and in the past tense, generally using full names of the individuals involved. If the case needs to be anonymized, this should be stated explicitly in the introduction. Direct quotations may be used to enhance the flow of the narrative and to develop different perspectives.  There are many ways to write the body of a case study. In one example, the narrative leads to a decision point and ends with a series of questions, potentially used for discussion, that crystallize those points of decision. In another, the story may be presented completely-from start to finish-with the aftermath of the events forming the conclusion. In this type of case, the analysis involves an examination of the various event elements.
    • Conclusions: Tell how the case ended. Explain what happened. Was there resolution or are there continuing issues? Did policy at the organization change? How did the organization and/or major players in the case react?
    • Discussion: Raise a set of questions useful for group discussion or self-reflection. Another option is to  analyze the case in narrative fashion. The nature of the ethical issues and how they are presented dictate the best format for the discussion section.  
    • Keywords: A list of optional keywords to describe the themes of a study are offered in the submission form. If applied, these will, in part, provide ease in searching among multiple published Case Studies in Archival Ethics.

    Developing an Idea

    If you have an idea for a case study and would like feedback prior to writing it, feel free to contact CEPC Case Studies subcommittee member Celeste Brewer at It is not necessary, nor does it guarantee publication, to contact us prior to writing a case study. Rather, it is an option if you would like to discuss an idea and receive informal input before you begin writing. 

    Submitting a Case Study

    To submit a case study, please use the SUBMISSION FORM. Include all of the required information-such as institutional identity, authorship, and case summary-in the order that it is requested. Suggested case study length is 1,500 to 5,000 words. Authors are responsible for understanding and following the principles that govern the fair use of quotations and illustrations and for obtaining written permission to publish, where necessary. Accuracy in citations is also the author's responsibility.

    Review Process

    All submissions will be reviewed by two members of CEPC and evaluated according to the Publications Board's Case Studies Rubric. The reviewers will return the case study and completed rubric within three weeks of receipt to the Chair of CEPC, who will then review the feedback and make a publication recommendation to SAA's Publications Editor. Within five weeks after submission, the case study author will be notified of the publication decision.

    A submission will not be considered if it is being reviewed by another publishing outlet at the same time, nor if it has been published previously in a similar form.

    Publication Process 

    Once accepted, case studies will be submitted to the SAA Publications Editor and Director of Publishing for light copyediting. If major changes are needed, a version tracking those changes will be sent to the author for confirmation. After the author signs off on a final version, SAA will format the case study and post it to the website as a PDF.

    Copyright of the case study will remain with the author, and SAA will acknowledge this in the copyright line that appears with the case study. Authors will consent, grant, and assign to SAA the non-exclusive right to publish and/or distribute all or any part of the case study throughout the world in electronic or any other medium. In return, SAA agrees to publish the work under a Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives license.

    Case Study Examples

    Previous Case Studies in Archival Ethics can be found on the CEPC's microsite. Prospective authors are also encouraged to review the case studies published by other SAA component groups

    Thanks to past CEPC members Rosemary K. J. Davis and Tywanna Whorley for their work developing this project!

    Celeste Brewer
    Processing Archivist
    Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University