Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Archival stewardship

One of the things I'm thinking about right now is how we're going to appraise and accession new materials for the archive. Based on the literature I'm reading right now, and the population we're serving, and the constraints on my time, it seems like the traditional archivist-driven models aren't going to work very well here. So instead I'm working on the idea of participatory/crowdsourcing archives, creating flexible delivery options, and providing a metric ton of education to help enable our community to create its own historical record. It's some of the most exciting work I've ever done in archives. Honestly, I'm so excited to get to work every day, because I know that I can build something here that I wouldn't be allowed to build in other places (due to local practice/tradition/inertia/what-have-you).
I was remarking to my boss that I've seen a lot of proposed projects (in the literature) that never got off the ground. In our case, though, it HAS to get off the ground, because there is no plan B. Plan A is the only plan--the old models of an archivist going around telling everyone what's historically useful is simply not going to work here, and won't give us the kind of the archives that I know we need. Since this university's archive will be for the community, and used by the community, we need to build something that comes from the community as well. We need to overlap groups, get the materials from places that information would not normally come from, and because of space considerations, we need the materials to be high-information sources. We cannot afford to take in just anything. Which, again, leads to a vital need for education--our potential donors need to know what the archives can use, and what it cannot use. And then they need to be able to tell us what they're giving us and why they believe it's important.
I know that this project, this idea, is a long-term goal, like 10 years or more in the building. But if we can create a community that has some stake in the success of the archives, and we can position the archivist and archives in a position of stewardship, rather than gatekeeping, I think that it would go a long way towards creating a really useful historical perspective on this place.

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"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.