A few notes from the most recent issue (Vol. 13, Nos. 2-3) of Archival Science. (These are just the first two articles to catch my eye. If you get a chance, I suggest you read them, and all the other articles, for yourself. They’re quite good.)
I Thought I was Doing It For The Love, But It Turns Out I’m Just a Child of My Time.
Terry Cook, in his article “Memory, Identity and Community: Four Shifting Archival Paradigms” (pp. 95-102) writes “over the past 150 years have gone through four phases: from juridical legacy to cultural memory to society engagement to community archiving.”
A new paradigm, a new mindset, for archivists is currently emerging. This new paradigm urges archivists to “transform themselves from elite experts behind institutional walls to becoming mentors, facilitators, coaches, who work in the community to encourage archiving as a participatory process shared with many in society, rather than necessarily acquiring all the archival products in our established archives” (114, his emphasis).
Cook readily admits paradigms are hard things to pin down, and most of his observations stem from emerging trends in archival writing and published calls for actions. Still, his observations seem correct to me. When I first set out to detail the trials and tribulations of starting and maintaining community archives, I didn’t realize how many similar projects existed. So many, in fact, that much of the time devoted to this blog is spent finding folks to interview.
There must be something in the air. Or maybe people who become archivists these days are more comfortable with the idea that our skills can be merged with communities with whom we want to work (and promote). Whatever it is, it’s nice to know there are plenty of people to learn from.
Archivists Who are Activists Tend To … That’s Right, Actively Archive
Way in the back of the issue, S. Yaco and B.B. Hardy (pp. 253-272) examine “how activism by historians and archivists relate to and affects their work and how their work affects their activism”.
While it is important to have articles discussing what we mean when we say things like “community archives” and “collective memory”, it’s also rather tedious. That’s why it’s often refreshing to find an article that simply asks people working in the field what they do and why they do it.
Reporting on a survey of historians and archivists who consider themselves activists (“someone who takes part in activities that are intended to achieve social or political change, especially someone who is a member of an organization”), Yaco and Hardy relay that the “among the 76 archivists who responded to this question, the most common form of activity is to encourage activists and activists organization to preserve and retain their records (80%), followed by encouraging the deposit of records in an archival repository (66%a)” (p. 259).
It’s a heart warming thought: small armies of activist archivists running around saving records for the future. It’s also nice to be reminded that those of us doing this are not alone. There are many like-minded archivists out there. Some of whom we may meet in the process of our work, some of whom we’ll never know about. But the future is better off for our work, whoever the hell we are.