After spending a lot of time thinking about what the current state of archivist discourse is like, I started thinking about how much more and better and varied it could be. So, this last post in this series is a bit of a wishlist of things I want to see develop over the coming years.
Let’s start planting some seeds, archivists.
We need to increase the amount of conversation in general and with more archivists’ voices at the table.
It’s striking to me how few archivists are engaged in public conversation about the profession. I wish it were a professional norm among everyone to engage in active conversations about the nature of our work, and yet there are many archivists out there who are not participating in these conversations whatsoever. As a result, the same voices dominate conversations about digital preservation, archival social justice, metadata, DACS, copyright, etc etc. I personally find this really baffling. Sometimes I get the sense that lots of people are listening, and reading but not… contributing. Why is this? Is it because they feel like they don’t have something to contribute? Is it because we’re afraid to critique others’ ideas? I often hear anecdotal evidence that people are “not supported” in their jobs to read and write, but I also don’t know of many archivists who are working in a billable hours environment.
Divest our dialogue from platforms owned by profit-oriented companies.
This is a big one for me because I am planning to leave Twitter soon, and the only reason I haven’t quit sooner is because Archivist Twitter brings me a lot of joy and information.
I don’t really know what the answer to this is. Could we go back to 2005 with everyone owning their own domain, when people read blogs and left really thoughtful comments on them, and our main hits of new information came via RSS, and that was the main internet discourse? I know that that environment had its issues, but I miss how non-monetized it was and how people didn’t give a shit about their brand and how it was SLOW. I guess I can dream. I personally want to revive Reading Archivists.
We need a renewed emphasis on the public implications of institutional recordkeeping, especially by governments.
I am a bit skeptical of the recent emphasis on collecting social justice from demonstrations and private parties as the major expression of archival social justice (and I say this as someone who is active in some of those efforts). In my opinion, the greatest impact we could have on effecting social justice through recordkeeping is to assert the public interest on records issues – like demanding consistent access to law enforcement records, pushing against the creation of surveillance records, and so on.
Millions of people are affected by records that will never be transferred to an archival repository. These are also the same records that will disproportionately affect marginalized communities. Archivists need to be active participants in these efforts, and right now, we generally are not.
We need the voices of government and corporate archivists in our professional dialogues.
I’m not the first archivist to observe how atomized our already small profession is, and how dominated by university affiliations the general makeup of the Society of American Archivists has been. Clearly many archivists have found organizational homes elsewhere that meet their needs more than SAA. I don’t blame them, but I still miss their voices. As a past Nominating Committee member, and a current chair of the SAA Records Management Section, I’ve seen how much the domination of academic archivists within SAA has pernicious underdiscussed effects. While I’m an academic archivist myself, a huge part of my work is informed by public records issues. It is stunning to me how many archivists within SAA spaces do not understand extremely basic information about FOIA and the way state records issues depart from federal records issues, and I think this is because we do not hear from government archivists as often as we hear from academic archivists within archival discourse.
This would be kind of amusing if it weren’t such an obstacle for our profession. The worst is during the inevitable “politicians who fuck up their recordkeeping obligations.” I’ve seen SAA leaders, who come from an academic background, sharing information that blatantly is contradictory to NARA policy. How the hell are we supposed to advocate for the archival profession when we can’t even get our news stories right?
We need ways for great minds that think alike to find each other for collaboration
Much like finding a way to divest from profit-driven platforms, this one is a bit of a head-scratcher but I still feel strongly about it. I’m pretty well-connected and know who to ask if I’m thinking about starting a new project and want to find collaborators. But this takes a really long time to figure this out for new professionals and it shouldn’t have to be this hard. I wish there was a universal matchmaking directory where people could say “here are the projects I’m working on, I’m looking for collaborators to help me with this part” and then we could all be doing fun amazing things together.
We need more archivists to represent our profession outside of our profession
As my interests have drifted towards environmental issues, I’ve started to attend conferences in other fields. I’ve also published in non-archives journals. And it’s the best thing ever. I realize that flexible conference funding is a huge area of privilege, and I wish I had a good answer for how to start solving this. But I strongly encourage other archivists within whatever capacity they have to present to, work with, and write for non-archivist audiences when possible. It helps us learn how to talk about what we do to people who have no idea what we do (or at history conferences, people who think they know what we do), and often times non-archivists get super-excited about your work when you talk about it, which is lovely and affirming.
What’s on your archives dialogue wishlist?