Working outside the walls: from gatekeeper to keymaster


Published on

Slides presented at the Association of Canadian Archivists' annual conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba, June 2013.

Published in: Education, Technology
  • Be the first to comment

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide
  • This was the last slide of the presentation I gave at ACA in Kingston in 2007. I was arguing then that our role as professionals is changing from a custodial to more of an enabling one.
  • This is another one of those 2007 slides – pointing out that we’re becoming increasingly invisible.
  • Back in 2007, I argued that it DIDN’T MATTER that we were invisible. I find that in 2013 I vehemently disagree with this point of view and in this presentation I’ll explain why.
  • A lot of changes have taken place in that time. My own personal circumstances have changed enormously from having a full-time job to being self-employed with a much more variable income. And professionally, we’ve seen big changes in Canada with the loss of funding to archives through NADP and the changes taking place at Library and Archives Canada. In 2012 we had the unusual sight of archivists protesting on the streets of Ottawa.
  • I think it’s safe to say that even those of us in full-time permanent jobs feel a little more vulnerable than we used to.
  • Consequently, the invisibility of archivists is not something we can afford to indulge in any more. Sitting in a back room, churning out descriptions of materials and quietly putting them on the shelf is no longer an option.
  • So, what can we do? The archival literature over the past two decades has been clear about the need for archivists to step out from the anonymity and security of their repositories and to plant themselves firmly in the centre of contemporary life. South Africa's Verne Harris has demonstrated the fundamentally political nature of archive work and we've all come to understand that archivists' role in appraising, arranging and describing records is far from neutral and impartial.In a talk presented at the University of Dundee last year and subsequently published in Archival Science, Terry Cook phrased his own call in the following way:"…professional archivists need to transform themselves from elite experts behind institutional walls to becoming mentors, facilitators, coaches, who work in the community"This certainly resonated with me in terms of the work I've been doing for the Archives Association of Ontario. I'd like to share some of those stories of community involvement with you here and underline how important I think this is.Cook, Terry, 'Evidence, memory, identity, and community: four shifting archival paradigms' Archival Science, 2012
  • One of the most important things that the provincial and territorial archives councils have done is to provide support to those who are looking after their own records but who might not have any archival training or any funding to employ professional help. This group are members of the Lithuanian community in Canada who were looking to get information about their archives onto Archeion, the Ontario provincial network. We came up with a simplified RAD template for the group to use and had a day of concentrated archival description in September last year, combining their expertise on the community, its language and its records, with my arrangement and description knowledge. It was a great success.
  • This photo was taken at a similar event aimed at archivists of Alcoholics Anonymous Area 83 in June 2011. These were a dedicated group of individuals who were well aware of the importance of documenting their history and who were looking for some professional guidance on how best to do that.Loss of support for the provincial councils via NADP makes this sort of activity more difficult for the councils to maintain, and yet this is just the type of work which will help to ensure the preservation of specialist community collections into the future. The type of thing that the Pan Canadian Heritage Network promised but as yet has failed to deliver. Fingers crossed that the rumours about the return of NADP funding turn out to be true.
  • To be as inclusive as possible, it might be that we need to look again at membership requirements for our provincial and territorial councils and the criteria for including archives of all shapes and sizes in our online networks. In Ontario for example, organisations have to be full institutional members of the Archives Association of Ontario to be represented in Archeion, and I'm concerned that this might be too expensive for some small groups who might otherwise want to share information about their holdings.I'm also personally frustrated by the complex nature of Canada's descriptive standard and wholeheartedly endorse Richard Dancy's call for reform of RAD, while recognising that it's going to be difficult to achieve in the current funding climate.
  • This is the second prong of Terry's proposed community involvement – on the one hand we should be helping community recordkeepers and on the other we need to be actively engaging user communities. I've been trying to do this on a small scale in my part-time job at Deseronto Archives, and wanted to share some of those stories here.
  • In terms of community interactivity, the key thing is to get the archives and the archivist into as many people's consciousnesses as you can.It's important to go where there are people. This is me sweltering at the Deseronto Waterfront Festival in 2011. It was a great way to meet people who would never come into the Archives.
  • This is an entry into a competition the Archives organised in 2010 on family heritage.
  • I met this child's mother at a social event last year and she was keen to tell me how important this exercise had been for him in determining his identity. Initially he had been frustrated with the prospect of drawing up a family tree when he knew nothing about his biological parents. He won first prize in the competition that year and he entered it again in 2011 and won first prize that year, too. I was quite relieved that he'd left the school in 2012 so that another child could have a chance!
  • My point here is that our work can be a real force for good in our communities: and you never know who you will touch and how. NEVER say no if someone suggests getting involved in something.
  • Online locations such as Facebook, Flickr and Pinterest have huge audiences. You simply have to get your public domain content into them, ideally with permissive licences. People love sharing our materials – give them permission to do that and they're doing your marketing for you.This works offline as well as on – this lady is a regular user of the archives. She gets copies of our images and then takes them around town, showing them to other people. A walking outreach program!
  • I believe that all archivists working in publicly-funded repositories should write online (and off) about their day-to-day work to explain what it is they do; why it matters and why it's worth paying for. It's a long way from that backroom, neutral role we once had. But if you accept that archivists are not impartial information providers, you might as well embrace your role and be explicit about it.I found this scribbled note on my desk last week. It's a reminder to myself to mention these things in a talk I gave in Dundee in April. This the way I see archival posts on blogs and Facebook. Except of course it should be 'uploading', really.This is all about demystifying our profession and opening up what we do to the public's scrutiny.
  • Sharing online gives another forum for conversations with users of our material. Every year I pepper my annual report for the archives with comments taken from the Deseronto Archives blog. If I'm having a difficult day I go and read through these to cheer myself up.
  • I wrote a blog post about the NADP cuts when they happened last year and it sparked off an interesting discussion on the Archives' Facebook page. This was a chance for me to explain what was going on, and why it was important.
  • In the coming year, the Town of Deseronto is going to be employing consultants to undertake a Service Delivery Review, to decide which of its current services are core and which aren't. You can bet that I'll be calling on all the networks I've established to demonstrate that the Archives plays a significant role in town life.
  • You are intelligent, literate people. Your archives contain amazing stories.YOU HAVE TO SHARE THEM.
  • Two final quotations from, the first from Hugh Taylor Taylor wrote of the stagnant backwater of irrelevancewhile Bowie sang of the stream of warm impermanence.WE DON'T WANT TO BE IN EITHER OF THOSE BODIES OF WATER.Instead I think we should be aiming to be the water tower:A RELIABLE, ESSENTIAL AND, MOST IMPORTANTLY, UTTERLY NOTICEABLE AND OUTSTANDING part of whichever communities we serve.
  • Working outside the walls: from gatekeeper to keymaster

    1. 1. Working outside the walls:from gatekeeper to keymasterAmanda HillHillbraith Ltd.Archives Association of OntarioDeseronto Archives
    2. 2. GatekeeperKeymaster
    3. 3. Side effects…• In opening up resources online, archivists andother information professionals are becomingincreasingly invisible…• …whilst reaching a larger audience than ever
    4. 4. So…• If our users can find what they need and easilyunderstand it• If our paymasters understand and value what we do• It doesn’t matter if our professional public profile islow or non-existent…• …as long as the value and importance of our recordsand archives is understood
    5. 5.  Ch ch ch ch changes • Funding security– Personal– Professional
    6. 6. “Division of Classification and Cataloging, November 17, 1937.”U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 64-NA-193
    7. 7.  Turn and face the strange "…professional archivists need to transformthemselves from elite experts behindinstitutional walls to becomingmentors, facilitators, coaches, who work in thecommunity"Terry Cook, Evidence, memory, identity, and community: four shifting archivalparadigms Archival Science, June 2013
    8. 8. Support community recordkeepers
    9. 9. Do we need to lower our standards?• Inclusion• Description
    10. 10. "Archivists can also engage interested membersof the community in interactive dialogues withmainstream archives and their holdings.“Terry Cook, Evidence, memory, identity, and community: four shifting archivalparadigms Archival Science, June 2013
    11. 11. Community involvement• Go where there are people
    12. 12. Try not to say ‘no’
    13. 13. (Over)share obsessively• Get out-of-copyrightimages online withpermissive licences– Let the public do yourwork for you, onlineand off– People love to shareyour content
    14. 14. Tell people about what you do• Blog, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr– Go where people are - online as well as off• Deliberately become a creator
    15. 15. Gather evidence of usefulness
    16. 16. Mobilize support
    17. 17. Those dreaded words…Service Delivery Review
    18. 18. "Archivists can also engage interested membersof the community in interactive dialogues withmainstream archives and their holdings.“Terry Cook, Evidence, memory, identity, and community: four shifting archivalparadigms Archival Science, June 2013
    19. 19. “…that backwater, which, though apparentlycalm and comfortable, may also be stagnantwith the signs of approaching irrelevance.”Hugh Taylor, 1993I watch the ripples change their sizeBut never leave the streamOf warm impermanence David Bowie, 1971
    20. 20. @mandahill