Archives Month Series on History@Work

Filing cabinets with archival material.

Over the past couple of months I have been working with  History@Work affiliate editor Kristin O’Brassill-Kulfan, and NCPH The Public Historian co-editor/Digital Media Editor Nicole Belolan to help pull together a month long series of posts about of archives and public history.

This series will be published throughout October (Archives Month in the United States). I’m super excited to see these posts go live as they discuss a huge range of archival work, public history work, and community center history making.

The first post in the series, “Fearless Education: Quaker values, collaboration, and democratized access at Haverford College Quaker & Special Collections” by Liz Jones-Minsinger went live this morning. Go read it and keep an eye out for new posts throughout October.

Image credit: By Daaarum – CC BY 3.0

Historical Reminiscents EP 09: Demystifying Archival Labour – Access

New podcast episode!

In the final episode of my mini-series on “Demystifying Archival Labour” I talk about all the access and archival labour feels. I reflect on why access is at the core of what archivists do, why we don’t ‘just digitize everything’, and the challenges of managing researcher expectations. Missed part one of this series? Listen to it here.

Mentioned in this episode:

Historical Reminiscents EP 08: Demystifying Archival Labour – Preservation

New podcast episode!

In part four of the mini-series on “Demystifying Archival Labour” I discuss preservation best practices and why preservation is a fundamental part of making archival records accessible. I chat about  my favourite resources and tools for teaching about preservation. Missed part one of this series? Listen to it here.

Mentioned in this episode:

Historical Reminiscents EP 07: Demystifying Archival Labour – Description

New podcast episode!

In part three of the mini-series on “Demystifying Archival Labour” I tackle the work of archival description and talk about the intellectual work goes into descriptive practices. I also discuss my favourite strategies for teaching about description and the inherent challenges of describing records using RAD.  Missed part one of this series? Listen to it here.

Mentioned in this episode:

Historical Reminiscents EP 06: Demystifying Archival Labour – Arrangement

New podcast episode!

In part two of the mini-series on “Demystifying Archival Labour” I tackle the work of archival arrangement and talk about how archives are organized, archival arrangement principles and how to teach about arrangement in the classroom. I also discuss the idea of alternative arrangements as a means of shifting away from colonial perspectives.  Missed part one of this series? Listen to it here.

Mentioned in this episode:
How Do Archivists Organize Collections?
Dalhousie LibGuide: Differences Between Archives and Libraries
-Dalhouse LibGuide: How is Archival Material Organized?
-Kimberly Christen, “Tribal Archives, Traditional Knowledge, and Local Contexts: Why the “s” Matters”

Active History Archives Theme Week

Archives Venn DiagramI’m overjoyed by how the Active History Archives Theme Week has come together.  This week emerged after the ‘secret archives’ new story and the subsequent response from the archival community.  The goal of the theme week is to foster discussion between archivists and historians.  Posts in the week tackle issues of archival labour, how private records end up in archives, the legacy of colonial collecting practices, collaboration within archives, and archival outreach.

The theme week includes the following posts: (I’ll update with hyperlinks to the posts once they are live on Active History)

Many thanks to all of the fantastic archivists who contributed to this series.

Volunteer Labour in Archives

A researcher working with delicate resource at The National Archives.  Wikimedia Commons.
A researcher working with delicate resource at The National Archives. Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the implications of volunteer labour in the archival profession and the challenges faced by archives that are completely volunteer run.  If you haven’t already go read “Implications of Archival Labor” by Stacie Williams. Williams’ work clearly outlines the problems wTith invisible labour in archives, the need for archives to advocate more effectively, and the need for us to talk openly about time and money.  Jarrett Drake, and Eira Tansey, and Allana Mayer have also addressed the cultural bias, volunteerism and privilege that is embedded in the archival profession.  We need to be having these discussions about precarious employment and the real costs of archival labour.

In the case of completely volunteer run archives – many of which have been operating on volunteer labour for their entire existence – how do you make the case that this labour need to be paid?  And how do you create a succession plan for the retirement of a volunteer archivist? The common answer is “document everything!” As Danielle Robichaud pointed out on twitter documentation is often lauded as a way to standardize practices but it is also often used as a way to continue with under funding and poorly resourced archives. Documenting everything doesn’t fix the problem of volunteer labour and at times it can actually work toward devaluing archival work – eg. “Well it’s all really documented in that binder so that any one could do it.”  Archival work is specialized and we need to acknowledge the fact that training (which can come in many shapes) matters.  The idea that archivists do their jobs because of a deep love for history/preservation makes me uncomfortable.  Many people do love their jobs and profession – but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be paid for their labour.

Volunteer and unpaid labour is also hugely problematic when talking about diversity with in the archival profession.  The profession is overwhelmingly white and is largely female.  When volunteering and unpaid internships are a core part of gaining professional experience and entry into the field you limit growth opportunities to those who can afford to volunteer.  Volunteerism and unpaid work is often tied to privilege and has a huge impact on limiting the field to those who can afford to work for little or no money.  Recently someone told me that they thought the best way to encourage more Indigenous people to enter the archival professional was to create volunteer positions specifically geared at Indigenous folks looking to gain experience.  If this is your strategy for increasing diversity you are doing it wrong and ignoring much larger systematic problems.

This post is more of a thoughts in progress post than anything.  The practices and circumstances in the archival profession continue to remind me of the advocacy work that needs to be ongoing.