Talking — but mostly listening — about your archives

The ability to succinctly describe your archives cannot be overrated. The ability to reach out to other people — potential researchers, fellow archivists, community members — is often the only way to keep nascent collections going.

However important it is to talk about your archives — to distill months of work and hours of thoughts into a few short sentences — it is more important to be able to listen.

Listening about your archives involves hearing what researchers would like changed, what donors would like promised and  what colleagues think you might be doing wrong — all of this is hard, and all of this is important. Of all the traps that new collections can fall into, self-isolation is one of the worst.

To stave off this isolation, seek out other people who are working on new collections. Ask them what they are doing, how they are doing it and why they are doing it that way. Be prepared to answer the same questions about your archives. Often it is by listening to questions that we learn to talk about our own projects.

There is much to be said about deciding on a track — policies, procedures, etc. — and sticking to it, but there is always more to learn. The ultimate goal of starting an archives is not to do everything perfectly the first time, but to ensure the material safety and usability of material for future generations.

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