Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Archival Advocacy: Beyond History for the Sake of History

"Think creatively --and beyond the confines of regular archival management.  We live in a service economy---and archives can provide an array of services to a variety of clients.  Be entrepreneurial when seeking opportunities....the work of managing records for others may well mean far more in terms of meeting both internal and external needs and objects than any attempt to take on ownership of the materials in question." 
The above quotation from James E. Fogerty's essay "Competing for Relevance: Archives in a Multiprogram Organization" in Leading and Managing Archives and Records Programs speaks to the need for archivists and archives staff to be proactive in their approach to archives management and development.  Given the economic and spacial constraints that many organizations are currently faced with, proclaiming that archives should exist for the sake of history alone is no longer a sufficient advocacy tactic.  

Very few archives work in isolation.  Most archives are part of a parent organization, a government body, corporate organization, or another oversight body.  Archives are dependent on external funding and support.  Being part of a large organization means that archives need to become aware of institutional missions, culture, and politics.  Gaining supporters in upper management, specific departments, and amongst general employees can help archives in their requests to the organization as a whole.

It is increasingly important that archives demonstrate their value to both internal and external benefactors.  This value should be demonstrated in ways which everyone can understand, even if they do not understand the historical value of an archival collection.  Many organizations understand dollars saved, staff efficiency numbers, statistics, and positive media reports.  Numbers of linear feet processed and items digitized can sound like huge accomplishments to those in the archival field, but may have little meaning to upper management.

But the are ways that archival accomplishments can fit inside corporate and organizational structures. For example, the establishment of a record management program which facilitates speedy retrieval of documents can save parent organizations money in wasted staff hours looking for old records.  Partnering with the communications department to create media content on past initiatives, anniversaries, and  staff can be a huge boon.  Assisting IT with an electronic records strategy can be another way which archives can ingrain themselves in a corporate culture.

Creative outreach is becoming more and more important in the archival world.  Archives need advocates who understand the importance of archival development and can see beyond the processing of archival material.  Professional development programming, exhibits, mentions in the press, and development of systems that benefit more than the archive (Records management or web infrastructure for example) are all steps towards archives as a service not just a holding place.  Archival staff need to balance archival priorities with organizational priorities.

How have creative approaches to advocacy helped your organization?  

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