Looking Forward to the Archival Fundamentals Series III

Posted by Christopher J. Prom, SAA Publications Editor  Chris Prom

During the fifteen years in which I’ve been a member of the Society of American Archivists, I’ve come to believe that the most important thing SAA does is to connect people and ideas to each other. We may not often think about where those connections lead us, but one of their most tangible fruits is the literature we publish. Many of us have used that literature to lay the foundations of our professional understanding, growth, and development.

For this reason, it gives me great pleasure to announce that SAA will be producing the Archival Fundamental Series III, which will provide the core knowledge needed by archivists to work effectively with records/archives and papers/manuscripts—both analog and digital—in the twenty-first century.

Continue reading

The Year of Living Dangerously for Archives Challenge #2: Archives and the Human Face of War

We’re in the midst of American Archives Month, and I hope many of you are involved in activities that you’ll share with us so we can keep track of your efforts to raise awareness of the importance of archival records. (check out Challenge #1 and the submission forms at http://www2.archivists.org/living-dangerously/value-of-archives.) While that’s underway, it’s time to plan for Challenge #2, focusing on ways to connect to the commemorations of Veterans Day on November 11th and Pearl Harbor Day on December 7th.

The experience of war has a compelling interest for many people in the United States.  In fact, the Library of Congress Subject Headings categorize American history largely based on war (as opposed to the British, who use the reigns of monarchs!).  Our elected officials often draw attention to their war service, and their detractors point to those who did not serve.   Film, television, videogames, literature and history are only a few ways our society follows the many perspectives on war.  From the Revolutionary War through the Civil War, two World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, and the most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of us have collections that reflect the stories and experiences of soldiers, nurses, and those “at home.”  These letters, diaries, photographs, songs, and oral histories provide very real connections and insights for many people.

These events provide us with another opportunity to raise awareness of our holdings and the value of archives.  So check out our next challenge: http://www2.archivists.org/living-dangerously/human-face-of-war. Please be sure to let us know what steps you have taken and what went well or what challenges were involved. We look forward to hearing from you!

Bits, Bytes, and Buzz: Electronic Records Day, 10-10-14

Let the cheering begin for the Council of State Archivists and its Electronic Records Day campaign on October 10, 2014 (10-10-14), and congratulations to all those who did their part in supporting this wonderful event. CoSA initiated this effort as part of American Archives Month four years ago, on the appropriately dated 10-10-10.  SAA and other professional organizations have joined CoSA in the effort, and this year Electronic Records Day has really shown what archivists can do to raise awareness.

Electronic records are challenging in so many ways—they don’t have the warmth of a document or photograph and they involve many technical complexities, so making an awareness campaign “user friendly” is a real challenge.  Still, virtually every state and territorial archives did something, as did many university archives, library special collections, and many other organizations. Check out a few of the “not archives” groups who got involved in promoting Electronic Records Day: the National Association of Secretaries of State; the National Association of State Chief Information Officers; the UN Archives and Records Management Section, the National Genealogical Society, the Marshall County Public Library, the Princeton Seminary Library, Iron Mountain and Laser Fiche.

That’s an impressive range demonstrating the energy that can be created around archives and archival issues. Huge applause to everyone who was involved—The wonderful distribution of information and the number and ways people and organizations got involved is clear evidence that “Yes we can” generate interest and energy around archival records.  It takes time, it takes tenacity, it takes creativity, but it can be done!

There’s plenty of time left in American Archives Month to join in and raise awareness of the importance and value of archives. Visit the SAA website for ideas, and let us know what you’ve done:   http://www2.archivists.org/living-dangerously/value-of-archives We look forward to hearing from you!

Interested in more about what went on?  On twitter, do a search on #ERecsDay and you’ll see quite a range of links to blogs, Instagram, websites and more. Here are some links to a very random sample of the range of information and activities that took place 10-10-14:
For the core information on eRecords Day check out the CoSA website:

http://www.statearchivists.org/seri/ElectronicRecordsDay.htm

For a sample of blogposts (including some video and humor along the way):

http://ncarchives.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/1010-electronic-records-day/

https://blogs.princeton.edu/mudd/2014/10/the-university-archives-and-its-focus-on-fixity/

https://www.tsl.texas.gov/slrm/blog/?p=6839

http://isuspecialcollections.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/happy-electronic-records-day/

https://cbaileymsls.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/electronic-records-day/

An archivist’s neighborhood….

It’s the first day of American Archives Month, and a time to celebrate both archivists and the archival record that exists in so many archives, libraries, museums, corporations, historical societies and organizations around the country. There are many things I value about being an archivist—yes, I chose this profession intentionally, yes it has both challenges and amazing moments, and yes, after 30+ years, I still find things to astound, inspire, perplex and energize me.

One of the things I’ve most enjoyed over the years is “getting to know” people whom I will never encounter in real life—not because they are on the Internet, a blog, or twitter, but because, well, they are no longer alive. They are the voices that come from the records with which I’ve worked. Those letters, census pages, photographs, wills, and even maps provide the glimpses of a life lived in my “neighborhood” (in this case the state of New York), and sometimes tell compelling stories that intrigue and engage me.

One of my archival neighbors of whom I think periodically is Genevieve Hankins-Hawke. I got to know Genevieve through the records of New York State’s World War II War Council. Genevieve was a 30-something African-American nurse, widow and mother during the war. She saw a job posting for a nursing position at a hospital in Salamanca (that’s in western NY). Continue reading

Archives, Archivists and Data gathering

Dennis MeissnerIn a recent OTR post Kathleen Roe emphasized the need to start gathering baseline data about ourselves, our repositories, and our collections.  Not for their own sake, but to buttress our advocacy arguments. I am especially interested in collecting such information, and I would like to devote some serious energy towards compiling and evaluating the data we need to define, value, and promote our work.

It’s been over more than ten years since the A*CENSUS snapshot and we are in serious need of a refresh of those data.  But at the same time I’m starting to wonder whether a repeat of that effort is the right way to proceed.  If we simply gather a compendium of data about ourselves, who’s going to care?  I’m concerned that a data set like that simply extends a self-referential conversation that has always gone on among ourselves and our closest allies.

But what if we were to turn the lens in another direction?  What if, instead, we were to start asking questions about our users and their needs; how they use archives and for what purposes; and what changes in our public service model would help them achieve success?  If we could make a data-informed case for public investment in archives based on expanding user success, then perhaps we will see people – funders, legislators, researchers, and employers — start to care.  Funders, legislators, researchers, and employers.

I’m thinking we need to marry the the information that’s purely about us, with a very large helping of information that which is about use and users. It is those data that will ultimately define our public value and, therefore, substantiate our advocacy arguments.

So how do we start to gather this other data set?  Who do we ask?  What do we ask? How do we ask it?  What existing data can we chew on?   I believe we need to head in this direction, but I’m unsure how we turn the ship.  I would greatly appreciate hearing your ideas.

Dennis Meissner, Vice-President/President Elect

Archives: the gift that keeps on giving

Sometimes it takes a long time for information in archives to become accessible for a range of reasons. It may simply not have been examined, in other cases, age and condition have prevented our ability to literally see or hear the information. A sparkling New York colleague, Jean Green from Binghamton University, recently posted a link on her Facebook page to the following article about work at Yale University to reveal text on a map that is believed to have been used by Columbus in exploration leading to what are now called the Americas: http://www.wired.com/2014/09/martellus-map/

And that reminded me of another set of revelations thanks to technology lending insight on a question that those of you in my generation struggled with, what triggered the Ohio National Guard to shoot at Kent State students (a subject still raw for many of us). In 2010 technology brought forward more information:

http://www.cleveland.com/science/index.ssf/2010/10/analysis_of_kent_state_audio_t.html

More information on both of these stories, and countless others, will emerge as technology and work by archivists and researchers continues. If you know of examples of information finally emerging as archival records are treated or used, feel free to share it here. A good reminder after a long week (for me at least) of why we do what we do!

Data about archives and archivists?

At various points through the year the issue arises of what we do and don’t know about the archives profession in terms of hard numbers. How many archives are there in the United States? What is the average size of an archival collection? What is the average size of collection by type–government, university, historical society, library, etc? What is the budget to support those collections? How many archivists are out there? Where do they work? What do they get paid? What degrees do they hold?

SAA collected a lot of data in the IMLS-sponsored Archival Census and Education Needs Survey in the United States (A*CENSUS) in 2004 and our colleagues in the Council of State Archivists and the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators have collected other data. There have been surveys and data gathered by Heritage Preservation, archives program students, and task forces, roundtables and sections, regional archival organizations, and others. But we don’t seem to have a list (let alone a comprehensive list) of what those data-gathering efforts have been, or where those data may now “reside.”

So here is a different challenge to all of you: If you’re aware of previous efforts to gather data- about archives or archivists, whether national or regional, current or past, would you please share that information with us? We’d like to get some idea of just what data may be out there and what it looks like.

You can respond to this blogpost, or if you have more than would fit in such a response, send the information by email to the amazing Amy Lazarus, my recent partner in the SAA Mentoring Program, who I learned over the course of the past year loves statistics, is super-smart, organized, and has agreed to help out with compiling this. Here’s her email: a.lynn.lazarus@gmail.com

Let us know what data you know about—and thanks for your help and ideas with yet another type of archival challenge!