The Gift of Archives

Reflection is part of the holiday season for many. It’s a time to think about life, family, friends, community. So first, let me thank all of you for the gift of a year to spend working with you and serving our profession in ways both planned and unexpected. Thanks also for the ideas, thoughts, concerns, frustrations, plans and aspirations shared by many of you. Connecting “live” is a great gift for me—social media is great, but a real voice has timbre and tone that is hard to replace. However you have communicated, though, I appreciate the gift of your voice. I hope you will continue and others will join the conversation in the coming calendar year.

As I drive into work, I pass the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where for several years a sign was displayed from an overpass walkway that said “Why not change the world?” That sign has been replaced of late by one that now says “One word changes everything.” While I am rather certain those engineering types are referring to a different change agent, as the old saying goes, “It’s the thought that counts.” For me, it is a regular affirmation that archives is one word that indeed changes everything. Every time one of our users comes in contact with archives, something changes. It may be a big public policy change, it may be a modest personal change…but the information, the context, and the archival record make that happen.

One of my favorite examples was shared by Barbara Franco, then Director of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission during a Congressional hearing: During a 2002 accident at the Quecreek Mine in Pennsylvania, nine miners were seen heading toward some old tunnels in the search for refuge during the event. The mine company only had maps of the current tunnels—a serious impediment to rescue efforts. However, historic maps created by Pennsylvania mine inspectors were used to identify the closed tunnels where in fact, the miners had harbored. Those archival maps led to the rescue of the nine miners—so literally archives not only can change lives, but can save them.

Certainly not all changes are that dramatic—but they are changes nonetheless. So when or if you have time to reflect and contemplate things archival this holiday season, please think about the “gifts” that come from archives. If you have an example, please share it. Thanks to all of you for making the gift of archives possible for the people in our families, our communities, and our nation. And in this holiday season, Peace be with you.


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