Category Archives: Uncategorized

Who is an archivist? Letter to the Editor of USA Today

Yesterday an article in the USA Today online edition referred to a man who collected child pornography as an “archivist”.  http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/02/11/child-exploitation-dark-web-prisoner/22100993/ (note: content is challenging to read).
Dean DeBolt posted information on this to the Archives and Archivists listserv, and several members urged a response from SAA.  After quickly seeking advice on this, I prepared a brief letter to the editor focusing on what an archivist is and appropriate use of the term.   It was an opportunity to point out (in less than 180 words) what defines an archivist–and that is much more than being a “collector” of anything however laudable or objectionable.

 

I’ve submitted the letter, and am not sanguine about whether it will be published.  I also posted it in the “comments” section on the article, and it is showing up on Facebook comments.  For the future, perhaps having something on this order that has been discussed and developed with more time and attention would be a good thing to have in our “toolkit”.   Meanwhile, if you have other comments or thoughts, let me know.   Here is the brief statement I submitted:

Continue reading

Why I am an archivist

The fourth challenge in the “Year of Living Dangerously for Archives” brings the focus to each of you: Why are you an archivist?

In past months, the calls to action for the “Year of Living Dangerously for Archives” have focused on the value that others find in archives. Now it’s time to talk about the value WE see in what we do. Whether you came into this profession intentionally, by way of a related profession, or by some unforeseen path, there’s a reason why you’ve decided to stay or to pursue a degree. Please take a few minutes (now!) to think about why you’re an archivist–and share that with us. http://www2.archivists.org/living-dangerously/why-i-am-an-archivist

I firmly believe in not asking people to do something I would not be willing to do myself, so let me start this conversation by telling you why I am an archivist. Mine is just one perspective, one answer for one person. I look forward to hearing your stories. Continue reading

Archives and Art: A Story from Detroit

The story of Detroit’s bankruptcy and the accompanying challenges has been in the news regularly for some time. My French-Canadian ancestors came across “détroit” (the straits) in the 1790s and generations of my family have been proud to call that city home—and when asked where I’m from, I still claim Detroit. I was fortunate to pursue my archival education at Wayne State University in the archival studies program led by Dr. Philip P. Mason. One of the great gifts for students at Wayne is the nearness of the Detroit Institute of Art, where we often would head on weekends or between classes to wander through the galleries. So I regularly read the articles about the bankruptcy, which included discussions of potentially selling off some or all of the astonishing collections of the DIA. Continue reading

A Seasonal Toast to Archives: Challenge #3

As we approach the holiday season – replete with wishes of good cheer and year-end toasts, let’s take an opportunity to share the thoughts we all encounter that remind us of the value of archives.

Why do archives matter?  This month’s challenge is simple:  Think about the “quotable” statements you’ve heard or read – perhaps in a professional presentation, an archives class or workshop, a newspaper, magazine, or journal article, a novel or play. The statement may have been made by someone with international recognition, a local “everyday” person, one of your professors, or a friend.  Whatever she or he wrote or said, it made you think, “Yes, that’s why archives are important, that’s why what I do matters….” Continue reading

#AskAnArchivist Day: A Tweet Success

Peter Gottlieb, Chair, SAA Committee on Public Awareness    Peter_Gottlieb_2008bw (1)

This year, SAA President Kathleen Roe dared SAA members to take on a “Year of Living Dangerously for Archives”—to do something to take action to raise awareness of archives. On October 30, at the tail end of American Archives Month, the Committee on Public Awareness challenged members to do just that: We asked archivists to take to Twitter to respond to questions from the public that included the hashtag #AskAnArchivist. Continue reading

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. 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!

Take Action for Archives!

For all of you who’ve made the commitment to participate in the “The Year of Living Dangerously for Archives” and for those who are still wondering just what this is all about (see the 9/3/2104 blogpost here), the first challenge opportunity is now live on the SAA website:  http://www2.archivists.org/living-dangerously/value-of-archives

You’ll find suggestions for concrete actions to take in the next days/weeks to further our efforts to raise awareness of the importance and value of archives and archivists. Check out the suggestions, put your own spin on them, try them out and then tell us the results of your efforts.

Challenges will be issued periodically in the future focusing on different issues, times, approaches, or for particular groups within SAA whether Student Chapters, Fellows, or any of our roundtables and sections. Do one, do many—every action is another step forward in raising awareness.

It is an absolute joy and privilege to be part of a profession that can change lives, alter the path of policy, affect the economy, capture the minds of students, promote insight and understanding, and provide the information infrastructure for democracy. It’s time we let others know that this is what archives and archivists do. Join us in taking action for archives!

A recent opportunity to raise awareness of archives

Earlier this week, the New York Times published an op-ed piece, “The New History Wars,” by American Historical Association Executive Director Jim Grossman. (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/02/opinion/the-new-history-wars.html?_r=0)   Because Jim’s piece teed up an opportunity to note the essential role of archival records in education, Dennis Meissner, Nancy Beaumont, and I pulled together and submitted the “letter to the editor” below.

If the world stays calm, no movie stars get married, and no natural disasters occur, there is a very modest chance this might get printed. But despite the odds, it seemed worth a try. Because I have, and will continue, to challenge our members to get involved in raising awareness of archives, it seemed appropriate to let you know that I’m trying to do the same—to find positive and productive opportunities to draw attention to the many ways in which archival records and archivists contribute to the educational, social, and political conduct of our society. I’ll continue to look for chances to raise a voice on the value and importance of archives, and hope you’ll join me in speaking up about archives whenever we can!

Here’s the letter as submitted (with painful deletions to get it down to the required 175 words): Continue reading