September 4, 2012: Orientation, blog writing and reading. 4 1/4 hours
Today was my first official day at the Burke. I made sure that all of my passwords worked for the computer and then I was set to work writing a blog entry for the Burke Archives Blog (the link is down at the bottom of the page in the Blogroll). If you want to take a look at what I wrote here it is: “Internship for the Uninitiated Archivist.” Some of it will seem familiar from previous journal entries here, but there is some new stuff. That took up most of my time AND Brigette assigned a bunch of reading for me to go over before I’m allowed to touch a collection to process. So I have some homework.
I started out reading “The Power of Archives: Archivist Values and Value in the Post-Modern Age” [pdf] by Mark Greene, which was his Society of American Archivist (SAA) August 2008 presidential address. This is an incredible speech that is applicable not only to archivists, but librarians in general. I think all of us need to advocate more for our positions so that the public, managers, principals, government officials, etc… don’t forget how valuable we are to them and the communities we serve. He outlined 10 values that all archivist should adapt if they want to disabuse the notion that archivist are just “quiet professionals carrying out an admired but practically frivolous activity…”
The 10 Values every Archivist (or Librarian) must possess according to Mark Greene
- Professionalism–we participate in a job that is based on “specialized knowledge.”
- Collectivity–we need to collect in order to build collections that inter-relate and learn to work in collaboration with other institutions that have similar missions.
- Activism–we are active in shaping the historical record and we must advocate on archival issues.
- Selection–we are not just custodians of material, but active agents in creating historical record.
- Preservation–use should almost always trump preservation for some use is better than no use at all.
- Democracy–we are the public watchdog in support of access and government accountability.
- Service–it is the lynchpin between access and use.
- Diversity–we need to reflect it in our collections, as well as in the people we hire.
- Use & Access–use is the end of all archival effort to facilitate that we need to make our collections useful without requiring perfect answers to long term preservation.
- History–we are the repositories of primary source documents. “Our collections are first, most important, chief, key, principal, major, crucial – all synonyms for primary.”
In the end our “elevator speech” as archivists should go something like this: “Archivists are professionals who shoulder the power of defining and providing access to the primary sources of history, primary sources that protect rights, educate students, inform the public and support a primal human desire to understand our past.”
Good stuff! I want to use this speech as part of my research paper. I have 10 more articles to read (I’ll do that next time). Those articles include the processing guides by both Columbia University Libraries (CUL) and the Burke. I have not read any of the articles she has given me before, so I’m looking forward to finding out what is in them.
September 7, 2012: Reading, reading and more reading. 3 3/4 hours
I just wanted to begin by saying Happy 40th Birthday to me! I guess I’m an adult now.
I got to spend my time today reading the remainder of the articles. Amazingly enough I was able to finish, but I feel like I need to spend a little more time on the Processing Guides developed by the Burke and CUL. I will spend a bit more time next week on that, but I am anxious to begin the collection.
I read the preface and the statement of principles to Describing Archives: A Content Standard better known as DACS, which was developed as a replacement for the “skeletal” rules in AACR2. The biggest thing I got out of this reading was “respect des fonds“…in English it means provenance and original order. These two things are the backbone of archival arrangement. Basically materials must be kept together and not mixed or combined with records of another individual (respecting the provenance) and in their original order if it existed or has been maintained. Additionally the collection must be organized in hierarchical groupings like collection, record group, series, file and item. Description of the materials reflects the arrangement and the rules of description apply to all archival materials regardless of form or medium. The descriptive system must be able to represent and maintain the relationships among the various parts of the hierarchy, with the user being able to navigate between higher and lower levels of description.
I was also assigned Chapter 4 “The Practice of Arrangement and Description” from the book Arranging and Describing Archives and Manuscripts by Kathleen Roe. This is a great resource to have handy when in the process of going through a collection, especially for someone like me who doesn’t have much experience. There were plenty of tables with examples and concise instructions. I took notes and made additional notations on the handout Brigette gave me, hopefully I’ll be able to apply what was in this reading. Respect des fonds and context were two of the overarching themes of the chapter. When forming context we should rely on information gathered from the collection that are REGULAR, PREDOMINANT, PROMINENT, COMMON, or MAJOR EVENTS. To underline the necessity of respect des fonds the chapter comes with many examples of forms and suggestions for arrangement.
In Chapter 5 “Arrangement and Description” in Keeping Archives by Ann Pederson again the two things that stood out to me were CONTEXT and respect des fonds. The book was full of case studies which were extremely helpful in illustrating the process. I liked her suggestion that the archivist learn about all the various types of photo-mechanical reproductions…pictures show up a lot in archives, they all have different issues so it would be nice to know a little bit about them. Also she posed some questions that archivist should ask themselves as they are going through a collection to get them thinking about arrangement and context. Who created the records? Who maintained them? What type of records are here? What do they record? What are the range of dates? What are the actual dates of the records themselves? What is the arrangement and is there is basis for that arrangement? If the records are kept in volumes are they used for all the same things? Diaries or account ledgers? I thought these were great things to keep in mind.
I also reviewed “Conservation Guidelines: Transfer of Library Materials to the Harvard Depository” [pdf] which gave ideas on how to take care of a number of items you’d find in an archive. As well as a couple of “Processing Cheat Sheets” and an archiving assignment that Brigette was given while she was in school to illustrate the arrangement and description process.
Whew! That was a lot of reading! But good for the uninitiated archivist! I wish more of these had been included in the Management of Archives and Special Collections class at Pratt that I attended.
- Archivists, Society of American. Describing Archives: A Content Standard. Society of American Archivists, 2007. Print.
- Greene, Mark. “The Power of Archives: Archivists’ Values and Value in the Postmodern Age (with an Introduction by Dennis Meissner).” American Archivist 72.1 (2009): 13–41. Print.
- Pederson, Ann, ed. Keeping Archives. First ed. Australian Society of Archivist Incorporated, 1987. Print.
- Roe, Kathleen. Arranging and Describing Archives and Manuscripts. Society of American Archivists, 2005. Print.
FOOTNOTE: Mark Greene talked about the importance of archivists, especially on their ability to shape history, as well as allow access to new materials. An article in the New York Times for today proves this point. A new novel of the Harlem Renaissance was discovered in the archives at Columbia by a student and an archivist. How cool is that! If you’d like to read more here is a link to the story.
Another story came up about archives in the NYT. This one is not so uplifting as the one above, but it speaks to Greene’s idea that we are the champions of access. If archivists or archives are shut down, that access is gone and so is public accountability. Every one loses. If you’d like to read more on the cut backs at the Georgia Archives click here.
I wish I had gotten pictures of the Frick’s archive, they could rival the Burke in the manner in which the documents are taking over the space reserved for people to work in. Maybe someday instead of an archivist office looking like a new breed of horror film where the primary documents take over the world we can have the data storage described in this article instead. [Link]
Another article that talks about why it is so important to archive, even if it’s social media. We can’t ignore the fact that history is being made using social media…we should try to preserve it…is there a real way to do that, that is the question!
News article [link]
Academic paper on the loss of social media links on important events [pdf]