Why be an Archivist?

Archival work has a long tradition of preserving historical documents for future generations to use and appreciate.  The importance of archival practices is exemplified by those historical documents that helped shape our world today, the U.S. constitution and the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Regardless of individual beliefs, these and other documents exist and are preserved for future use because of the efforts by archivists.

In maintaining and growing specific archival collections, Archivists have the opportunity to become more acquainted with the content of these materials from merely doing their job.  In this way, Archivists become experts from the knowledge they gain from acquiring, processing, and maintaining the materials in their collections. By doing so, they add their perspective to historical events through how they decide to organize and describe different collections, which determines its accessibility to future users and researchers.

Archivist can be seen as the gatekeepers to the wisdom stored within historical documents.  They make available information from the past that may not be well known, snapshots of an aspect of society possibly forgotten.  In this way, there is the potential for the rediscovery or the change of our historical perspective.  That is truly exciting!

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Archival Issues: Driven by Change

Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives, siarchives.si.edu

The Archival profession is a dynamic and exciting profession with real issues.  Like many other professions, the archival profession is plagued by technological changes, user needs, and finite resources.  The greatest issues facing archives today are those related to how archival collections are created and how an archive decides to make those collections available to its users and other researchers.

Once items are identified as being archival materials thru the appraisal process, they are brought to the archives to be processed and eventually made accessible to archival users.  The process by which these materials are made available and accessible to users is unique to each archive.  However, depending on the material, backlogs of different materials to be processed can be created when certain aspects of the process are not considered.  Additionally, the advancement of technology has once again created new ways for archival materials to be created and accessed.

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Touring an Archival Collection With the University Archivist

Courtesy of Manuscripts Archives & Special Collections @ WSU Libraries, http://www.wsulibs.wsu.edu/masc/

This past semester I took a tour of the archives where I work, Manuscripts Archives & Special Collections at Washington State University Libraries in Pullman, WA.  The actual date of the tour was February 2, 2012.

Touring the university archives was a fun and informative experience.  I cannot think of a better way to start to understand the archiving profession than to tour an archival collection with the actual archivist.  Our guide for our tour was Mark O’English, the University Archivist for Washington State University.

The take-aways from this visit are the following:

60,000 rare additions, some dating back to the 16th century

it takes approximately ten hours to process one linear foot of recently acquired materials

Archives audience: scholars nation-wide, scholars in the Pacific Northwest, and university constituents

It serves the “collective memory of the institution

Acquisition of materials is primarily through individual donations and private purchases

Materials collected include manuscripts, photographs, audio and video tapes, films, printed and published materials (books, maps, broadsides, etc.)

MASC’s total collection holds approximately 17,000 linear feet of primary source material and 38,000 printed items, or roughly 5,000 linear feet of printed material

If you’d like to read about my entire experience please read on.

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The Driving Force Behind the Archival Profession

Courtesy of Penn Law – Biddle Law Library Archives,law.upenn.edu

One of the discussions we had in my archives and manuscripts course this past spring semester was what we see as the driving force behind the archival profession, why even bother, why it’s important, and what keeps it going.

There is an inherent value in the activities undertaken by human beings, no matter what the source of those activities may be.  The results of these activities are usually represented by some type of documentation, such as written works, pictures, or sound or visual recordings.  Archiving the documents representing human activities is how society eventually “remembers” and ultimately this material provides additional value (secondary value) to future researchers and others.

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Understanding the Process: Archival Finding Aid Sample

courtesy of wjnieuwstad.wordpress.com

One of my archives and manuscripts course assignments was to develop a finding aid for a collection of papers given to me by my instructor. The materials were in PDF format and there were over 70 files, many had multiple pages, which made the arrangement and subsequent description of the materials interesting, fun, and time consuming.

So much goes into creating a finding aid. An archivist’s job here is to describe and list the materials in a manner that will assist researchers in the most effective way while also making the material accessible to researchers from, in this case, the archive’s Web site. This is done by the use of keywords and searchable terms from the archive’s search functions.

Another factor in the creation process is an archivist’s time. They cannot devote a great deal of time to creating finding aids, since this is not their only job duty. However, archivists are responsible for creating a finding aid for every aspect of their archival collection. Most archival collections have not accomplished this, making it that much more important and also drawing attention to the amount of time it takes to create them and the daunting task faced by archivists.

What follows is the finding aid I created for these materials, including an inventory list.

Let me know your thoughts regarding this finding aid.

Also what experiences have you had with using finding aids?

Thanks for reading!

The finding aid is below.
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Libraries & Google+: Yet Another Platform to Reach Users

Courtesy of venturebeat.com

So if you represented a nonprofit organization that provided services to individuals and were looking to grow your organization’s sphere of influence, increase user interaction and engagement, and at the same time gather demographic information about your users by using a new tool, would you present it to your boss/supervisor/managers?  What if it didn’t cost you anything to implement, besides time to plan and maintain your organizational message?  What if you knew you could recruit others in your organization to help you with the workload, as mentioned, whereby the additional work would be negligible?  You would do it right??!!!  OF COURSE YOU WOULD!

This is exactly what is happening with libraries throughout the United States.  A great number of libraries are creating organizational accounts on Google+, since Google only recently made its social networking platform available for this.  David Rapp of the Digital Shift blog describes the use of this new service for libraries in his post Libraries on Google+.  Accordingly, since the inception of Google+ in June of 2010, over six months ago, there are now 40 million individual using it, and libraries are now signing up in the same fashion and at a comparable rate to create their own organizational accounts.
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Proactivity as a Skill

Who are librarians?  Are they generally all the people employed by the library?  I had a patron at a public library refer to me as a librarian when I was working at the circulation desk.  I had a similar experience at an academic library.  Most patrons are not aware of the difference between a clerk and librarian, because they do not have an appreciation of the differences in the skill sets of each.  Librarians are diabolically aware of the skills required to provide user service and the skill sets needed to continue to effectively serve users and patrons in the future are greatly affected by many issues.

One issue affecting the future competencies of librarians is what references services will look like.  With a current emphasis on learning, implementing, and using technology to offer more traditional services, librarians will need to be more proactive in their approach to the services they offer.  This is for the simple reason that information can be found and obtained from other sources besides the library and users are well aware of this.
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