Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Every Institution Should Have an Archive

Every institution should have an archive.

In case you are not an archivist or do not regularly use archives, let me start with an explanation. There are two kinds of archives. (Some of us use "archives" some of us use "archive." I tend toward archives, but use the other when it sounds better.)

1. One type collects historical records that relate to events and people beyond themselves. For example, historical societies collect information about the whole town - not just the historical society. This type of archives is called "Special Collections." It goes by other names too, but Special Collections is what you'll often see as an organizations official name. Example - The Milne Special Collections and Archives at the University of New Hampshire. 

2. "Archives" refers to the records an institution collects that relates to its parent organization, whether that parent organization is itself or a larger body. For example, while "Special Collections" describes records that UNH collects that do not directly pertain to UNH activities, "Archives" refers to the records that are generated by the institution that reveal the history of the institution. "Archives" is often used as an umbrella term to refer to both archives AND special collections, but if you want to get technical about it, archives refer to the institutional records. And now that I've been long-winded about it and I hope that you understand the distinction, particularly if you didn't before, I am going to talk about "archives" with respect to its specific definition.

I'll reiterate...Every institution should have an archives BECAUSE archives give you a sense of identity. They make your sense of place and purpose more permanent and tangible. They give you a status that your institution cannot possibly meet without them. They help you gain a sense of pride. They help you market your institution. They help you define who you are. They help you plan who you want to be in the future - how you will grow and change. They help you convey all of this to people who may be interested. They help you convey this to a larger outside organization so that you can be better embraced by a larger community.

I have begun an archives in the school where I will be employed this September. I began with  photos of new carpet installation in the library. It marks the beginning of my employment and a significant "facelift" within the school. Our efforts to develop a school archives will include a documentation strategy so we know what materials will best tell our story.

I have also taken photos of a summer event and plan to take many photos of events so that we can remember them. I was told that the yearbook editor will raid my photos. That's fine in most cases. That's part of the purpose of the archives, but a set of yearbooks does not make an archive. Many schools seem to think of their yearbooks as their historical collection, but yearbooks are mass-produced. Photos are culled for the purpose of picking the ones that highlight certain things. A school archives includes many photos of events, documents pertaining to events, and media including oral histories, videos, and more. Yearbooks do not tell the whole story. They summarize it.

I hope to eventually do oral history projects with students. We can interview students, teachers and community members about their connections to and memories of the school. I hope to create web sites that we can archive and refer back to as our digital presence develops. We will keep administrative materials. I found many in my office - policies and procedures that have already been superseded - that shouldn't be taking up space on my office shelves. I am sure that other members of our community have materials that belongs in archive and not filing cabinets and office spaces. I will seek older school materials throughout the community -- including old images, reports, attendance books and more -- that tell the story of a past we might otherwise forget as those who experienced that past are gone.

Beyond the school, this work will involve collaboration with the public library, historical society, other schools, and town citizens. One hoped for outcome is to make school ties to the town in general more visible. Such projects boost pride, sense of place, and sense of community. Any institution can strive for this and all will have different reasons for doing so. Whether to boost school spirit or to increase a shop's presence in town to increase sales, keeping an archives will help you better define yourself and your purpose.

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