The Congressional Papers Section (CPS) met during the Society of American Archivists (SAA) annual conference in Washington, D.C. on August 15. The venue in the nation’s capital provided session organizers a chance to bring in congressional staffers and gave the opportunity for archivists to visit with their congressional delegations. The most prominent theme of the day was “advocacy”—advocacy for the history of undocumented groups, advocacy for saving important data, and advocacy for congressional offices to keep and donate their records—and the various ways this can be achieved.
The first session, sponsored by the CPS Diversity Task Force, was based on “archival silences” or the “empty spaces in…archival records and/or practices.” Panel contributors were from a public research library (Andrea Copeland), a history/memory preservation project (Adrena Ifill), a public and civic programs foundation (Scott St. Louis), and the Congressman Charles Rangel Archive Project (Kimberly Peach). Talks were on the following: the records of the Indianapolis AME Bethel Church (founded in 1836) and how Copeland persuaded their custodians to donate them to her institution; how Ifill helps African-American members of Congress to place their records in archives and draws documents from a variety of sources to tell their stories; how Peach uses the Rangel collection to illustrate local history; and how public policy foundations and archives can further civic education and illuminate previously under-studied areas. Copeland’s “lessons learned” included the need to diversify the profession (to better work with minority communities and access otherwise forgotten collections), getting participation from heritage groups and third party organizations, and being open to working with living donors. She introduced the idea of “participatory” heritage, a new and more activist way of thinking about archives as “service to the community.”
The CPS Electronic Records Committee (ERC), in partnership with the CPS Constituent Services System (CSS) Task Force, put together the second session on preserving and accessing CSS data, which can contain important topical, administrative, and demographic information. The session’s aim was to “demystify” CSS data and argue for its inclusion in a collection. Along with a summary of the Task Force’s recent report and a Senate Historical Office survey of current CSS use, the session introduced West Virginia University’s promising new tool to make CSS data accessible to researchers. The tool has now been granted a Lyrasis Catalyst Grant for further research and development, and both the ERC and the Task Force plan to follow its progress. Then the group got an opportunity to talk with a Senate systems administrator (Vik Kulkarni) and a House office legislative correspondent (Lucy Shaw). Questions were on duplication between CSS and shared drives, who uses CSS, the differences between the House and Senate vendor contracts and downloads, and when to start the conversation about getting CSS data (Vik joked you should ask before the Member is elected!). Vik urged archivists to be thorough in discussions about the CSS with offices, such as finding out the context of the data, getting internal codes defined, technical facts, and any system migration information. Lucy pointed out that she sometimes finds her CSS clunky and glitchy, and that archivists should be aware of past problems and the presence of “junk data.”
The final panel, moderated by Nathan Gerth of the Advocacy Task Force, focused on the idea and practice of advocacy, on which CPS has a new brief “CPS Advocacy Day 2018”. The session featured “insider perspectives” from several Senate staffers from offices in various stages of archiving, along with the experiences of a repository archivist, Leigh McWhite of the University of Mississippi. It was an open and often frank discussion, which ranged from how we as archivists can advise offices better, getting the attention of the Member, useful communications strategies, why the word “archivist” still scares staffers(!) and what to do about it, to the challenges of finding the best and most suitable repository–even whether a repository will even want the collection. To the last issue, which McWhite joked was a “dirty secret,” there may be institutions which have internal collecting policies that place limitations on what they can take and that there may be bureaucratic barriers on their end that prevent more active outreach.
Hopefully, attendees left motivated about new ways they can share and showcase their collections, work with legislators and their staffers, and why saving the CSS data (which can contain those communications and interactions with underrepresented groups!) may be worth it.
 The WVU CSS tool can be downloaded at https://github.com/wvulibraries/rockefeller-css. They have used Senate and House office data sets, one using the “Archival” download (limited number of fields) and the more robust “SDIFF” Interchange. More information about the tool can be found in the CSS Task Force report.
 Should be available on the CPS website.