Saturday, February 9, 2013

What Should Archivists Stop Doing? [Response to question posed at ArchivesNext]

My colleague, Kate Theimer at ArchivesNext posed interesting questions earlier this week on her blog: "What should archives or archivists stop doing? What should we drop?" It's an interesting inquiry that takes a thoughtful response. It feeds into the heart of my own work as archivists and "information professionals." The following post includes most of the comment that I posted on the ArchivesNext blog and elaborates by using my work as an example.

Explaining the role of an archivist is a key to the success of our profession.
First, for those who are unclear about the role of the archivist, take a look at my 2011 post on "What is an Archivist?" from #AskArchivists day in June that year. To further clarify our role, I maintain a Pinterest board called "What does an archivist do?" that links to photos and articles that explain the diversity of archives.

...The best thing that an archivist can do for the profession is to get “archives fans.” I think that we all do a lot as archivists. I think that what we do is important. I think that we need to do a lot more and need more support to do it. We need to get buy-in from our communities. We need to show young people that what we do is awesome. We need to get young professionals to want to help us, either by becoming archivists or using their skills to help archivists. In addition to processing, digitization, etc. etc. we need to brush up on our public relations skills. We need to do more outreach and teaching. We can use others who specialize in these areas (people with MBAs etc.) to help us. We need to reach out to other professions that are similar to ours that may do a better job at certain things than we do. Cultural heritage professionals should help each other. Librarians, museum professionals, and archivists should share notes and expertise. While valuing our own skills is important and certification is lovely, I think we need to spend more time learning about the world beyond archives and adapting our work to collaborate with others to make our profession truly 21st century ready. What should archivists stop doing? I agree with most of the posts here. People want information to be accessible, easy to use and understandable. We should work harder to give them that and look beyond our own institutions to achieve that. Rather than closing up the profession and demanding certain skills, we should broaden our profession and appreciate skills that other professionals can bring to our work.

As a consultant, I have spent the past ten years trying to bring together archives, libraries and museums to share expertise. More recently, I have worked with individuals to show how the materials they have in their homes are important; to help them care for these materials; and to show them how to reach out to cultural heritage institutions to share resources. This September, I began working as a high school librarian / information specialist. To many, this shift may seem odd, but it really speaks directly to this question. In this capacity, I have introduced a school archives, I regularly exhibit displays about primary sources. I teach high school students and teachers how archives and published materials can be used to not only write a good research paper, but to get a better understanding of the world. When it comes right down to it, isn't that the main reason we keep archives? To better understand societies?

So what should we stop doing? I would rather reverse this and ask, what should we be doing? We should be doing everything that we already do and more. We should be reaching beyond our institutions' walls and beyond our profession to approach broader communities that can enhance our work and broaden our own perspectives. Only by being more open, approachable and interesting to the general population can we help people to realize just how important the work of an archivist is to everyone, in all societies. This will keep us relevant and will keep our work moving ahead. Caring for the overabundance of information in this age is beyond the work of the archivist. Collaboration is key.


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