Ah, Archives. It’s where history ends up. My profession is a misunderstood one. The very word, “Archives”, conjures up images of dusty boxes and books, bizarre organizational schemes created by strange looking people, and nasty, smelly basements.
The truth, happily, is far from that stereotype, and any resemblance to it is usually the result of misplaced administrative priorities on the part of the non-archivists. Modern archives follow standards for cleanliness and environmental control. And the rulers of these domains are Archivists such as myself.
We are the guardians of history. We seek out history as it’s happening and lovingly store it away for use in the future. We take the steps now to ensure that the world we live in is saved for future generations — we preserve the cultural heritage of our society.
The modern Archivist has a Masters degree in Library and/or Information Science (there’s a terminology switch in the works). We’ve studied more than just the Dewey Decimal system — we’ve explored the Information Seeking behaviors of Mankind so we can better help users locate information. We learn how to guide researchers to the answers they truly seek — which can be quite different than the one they think they seek. We learn methods of acquisition and appraisal, how to process rooms full of papers, bills, photographs, clothing, trophies, scrapbooks, and more. We learn about advocacy, fundraising, writing grant proposals, publicity, and ethical behaviors.
And we are vastly outnumbered by the Accidental Archivists — those persons who end up the guardians of their family’s history without really meaning to.
And it’s to these Accidental Archivists that I write. Your missions may be smaller in scope than mine but it is no less meaningful. You can take control of those boxes of history filling up your closets. The ultimate goal of any professional Archivist is to preserve history by all means possible. We are here to help you — however you need us.