Archivists are an informal network of enthusiasts who share the same aim of preserving the Fellowship’s past and ensuring that fact prevails over fiction or myth. This network exists outside the formal service structure of the Fellowship but runs parallel to it.
Archivists are not:
- officers in the Fellowship’s structural sense, rather willing enthusiasts with a life-long desire to work in the name of, and be accountable to, their region or intergroup
- voting members of their respective assemblies and as such, are simply observers with no voting rights
- subject to the principles of rotation, since continuity at all levels has been shown, through experience, to be a vital aspect of archival work
Archivists areresponsible for the collection of documents and artefactual items. They takes care of the physical integrity of the collection and are instrumental in its further development. Archivists are also responsible for ensuring the protection of the anonymity of their members and the confidentiality of the AA records.
The function of archivists can be considered therefore to be twofold: primarily a custodial responsibility for assuring the physical integrity of the collection and its availability to persons with a valid reason for study; and also the parallel and critical role of data gatherers. It is in this latter capacity that service can be rendered to Bill W’s urging that archives are needed “so that myth doesn’t prevail over fact”. In a real sense then, AA archivists are “keepers of the past”.
Over the past few years there has been much talk throughout the Fellowship, about Archives, what we understand them to be and how we look after them. A number of recent ‘Archive Road-shows’, sparked a great interest and heightened awareness in AA’s history, throughout the Fellowship, causing flurries of activity around the country. One such event, held by the Wirral Intergroup, caught the imagination of our own Southdown Intergroup Archivist (Nick H). His vision was to create some form of vehicle to present the Southdown archives in an attractive, interesting and informative way. The enthusiasm gained from that road-show presentation was electric but help was needed, as it would have been an impossible task for one person.
The concept of producing a similar publication, as the Wirral one, for Southdown was received with trepidation by the Intergroup Assembly. However after much discussion the Archivist was given the authority to form a committee and assess the viability of such a publication.
As with any new project the early stages were slow and torturous. The first committee members were Nick H, Malcolm O and Maurice, who as a Steering Committee member came along to monitor and assist wherever possible, only to become a full team member. Unfortunately two early contenders for the committee had to drop out through illness and the project seemed to be on the verge of collapse when Malcolm also had to stand down through ill health. The situation became more positively charged when Harry W offered his services as editor, Martin W joined the team and then later on Juliet joined us to take on the tedious but necessary secretarial duties and minute taking.
The editorial committee met once a month to discuss, plan and formulate the type of magazine/journal it could produce and after one half hour session decided to call the journal, ‘The Southdown Legacy’. It was vital that the majority of the content should come from members of the Intergroup, the ‘grass roots’, particularly those with not only long-term sobriety but also good long memories. The importance of collecting this archive material was emphasized by Sailor Bill’s article, written just before he died. Unfortunately he never saw it published.
Historical content from the previous Archivists Ruth and Joyce provided the background on the forming of Southdown Intergroup and its subsequent dealings, while a Time Line was built up from member’s inputs by visiting various Conventions within the Intergroup. It was also important to find a spread of articles, from the individual Group histories and Conventions, to Share and individual experiences. But the prime aim throughout was to concentrate on historical information and service within the Intergroup. It would be impossible to cover this subject with one issue and a long-term approach is strongly advised. The articles were commissioned mainly by the Archivist and all were proofed prior to being passed to the editor. The only alterations were for spelling (and Tradition 12). All aspects of the journal, such as colour, size, content, style etc, were left to his discretion, however final proofing and approval was through the committee.
The one factor that stood in the way of a successful journal was that of finance and it is in this context that the backing of Intergroup was crucial. There was understandably a huge reluctance on the part of Intergroup to fund such a project and it was only after the second Assembly that Intergroup voted a sum of £500 to fund production, on the proviso that as much as possible had to be recovered through sales of the ‘Legacy’. The ways, types and costs of producing even a small magazine are expensive and this occupied much of the committee’s time. We also felt that most members would not wish to pay more than £1 per copy for what was not a mainstream AA magazine therefore keeping production costs below that figure was going to be a headache. There were no limitations with regard to design, layout, etc. however we were very much aware of the financial constraints involved. On the other hand, although we wanted to produce a quality edition the editor had to tighten all the design aspects to remain within budget.
The initial estimates were far too ambitious and came in around £3000 for 500 copies. By looking at a 32 page edition with a coloured cover and two colours only on the inside, a Litho based process would have cost around £1000 for a similar number of copies. In the end the committee decided on a process where the print costs were reduced to £360, but we had to assemble the journal ourselves, spending an evening of ‘convivial conversation and colourful imagination’ as the 500 copies were collated, folded and stapled together. Although very cost effective this was the most time consuming method but it meant that the sales price be no more than the £1 originally envisaged. For advertising/order forms we produced an A5 flyer in large quantities which came to £5. The Southdown Legacy was launched at the ‘Bohunt’ Convention and sales up to the middle of August have totalled 381 copies. A further 13 copies have been supplied free of charge to places such as the Southdown archives and GSO archives. All monies advanced by Intergroup have now been repaid in full To date sales of The Southdown Legacy have achieved 70% and this can be considered a gratifying figure for a first time project.
So what have we learned from our experiences? The launch time has to be just right and from our point of view the ‘Bohunt’ Convention (Southdown) closely followed by a full Intergroup Assembly and Founders Day Dinner provided excellent sales opportunities.
It is imperative to keep all costs as low as possible, printing being the most expensive and there are a variety of ways to produce a good quality publication keeping in mind the budget constraints existing at the time. It is quite possible that the design characteristics of the next issue may well change to meet these demands. It is worth noting that members should be encouraged to write an article at any time and if it does not appear in the current journal it will be held in a pool until the next issue. Maintaining a high profile and regularly reporting to Intergroup certainly helped to sustain interest in the project. Networking with other interested AA Archivists for their experiences not only boosted our own confidence but also provided a few ideas that would have otherwise been missed. Recruit the best editorial team possible, keep the committee small and co-opt as necessary.
In our experience The Southdown Legacy has proved to be an effective vehicle for informing, recording and passing on archival information. The journal should not be a ‘one-off’ it must be produced on a regular basis. It cannot cover the history of our groups,
the experience strength and hope of service and the wealth of other archival material in a single issue. It can now be seen that with careful controls future issues can be produced on a cost effective basis and be fully self supporting.
The majority of comments received, so far, have all been positive. Much interest has been shown from outside of Southdown Intergroup (once again setting the trend). Not only have GSO commented on the concept, but also the AA Literature Committee have commended the journal as a practical and informative method of presenting archive material.