As September approaches and campus begins to bustle again I’ve been thinking a lot about outreach from the perspective of university archives. A pair of American Archivist articles , “Archival Literacy Competencies for Undergraduate History Majors” and “Archival Literacy for History Students: What Do Students Need to Know About Primary Source Materials” both speak to the question of archival instruction and outreach at a university level.
Sharon A. Weiner, Sammie Morris, and Lawrence J. Mykytiuk argue that though archival research is generally accepted as a necessary part of historical study there is no standard set of archival research competencies which history students should learn.
Weiner, Morris, and Mykytiuk assert that there is a need for archival literacy, the teaching of archival research skills that can be applied across archival institutions, an understanding of archival principals and access, and understanding the nature and use of archival based evidence. The complete list of proposed competencies can be found in their article.
Most history students are not provided systematic instruction relating to archival research or archival literacy. Many history programs include a visit to the archive but these orientation sessions are often superficial and do not focus on the building of student skills. Personally, I had the opportunity in the third year of my undergraduate program to visit a local archives, become acquainted with the staff, and do a project that involved archival research. However even after that introduction to an archival repository I was still left with many questions around access and how to most efficiently approach archival research.
Now working within an university archive I see the importance of effective outreach and the need for archival instruction. Building relationships with students, faculty, and community members is essential and has the potential to benefit all involved. Library instruction has long been a mainstay of undergraduate education. In many cases archival instruction has a lot of catching up to do before it is as common place.