Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Archival Advocacy: Canada and Abroad

There has been a tremendous amount of discussion in the twitter and blog realms about SAA's new publication Resources for Volunteer Programs in Archives. The publication garnered a heated post on the "You Ought to be Ashamed" blog, this post spurred a charged the twitter debate and number of other blog posts.  See here and here

For those of you who have missed the discussion, it boils down to a criticism of the use of volunteers in place of paid archival staff and a subsequent criticism of SAA's lack of advocacy for paid archivists positions.  Personally, I see volunteers and students as a great thing, but they do need guidance and proper support from trained staff.  Many organizations couldn't survive without the hours put in by their volunteers.  But organization also can't flourish without consistent trained guidance.  I think this issue highlights the need for archives to make the general public, stakeholders and funding organizations more aware of what archives actually do and what specialized skills are held by trained archives staff.

Many people have limited knowledge of what terms like appraisal, processing, arrangement, preservation, etc mean.  As a result archives are often seen as storage rooms for old stuff.  Explaining the value of organization and documentation can be a starting point for introducing archival skill sets to the general public. A lot of misconceptions can begin to be altered through community outreach and active advocacy.

The other point which this discussion highlighted for me was how much more involved and active archival professional organizations seem in the United States.   The Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) does hold an annual conference, publishes a newsletter and journal, and has a growing social media presence. The ACA also released a number of news bulletins and a letter writing campaign when cuts to Library and Archives Canada were announced.  Despite these efforts, Canadian archivists on a whole just don't seem to be engaged in national professional dialogues to the same extent as their American counterparts.  Though perhaps I'm just observing the wrong segments of the web-- in which case please correct me. 

A number of Canadian archival institutions use twitter and facebook to promote new collections and services.  However these accounts rarely engage on topics related to the archive profession itself. 
Almost all of the prominent individual archives blogs and individual archival users of twitter tend to be from the United States.  Frankly, I can't see an ACA publication causing such a stir in the Canadian archival community even if it was controversial in nature.

This lack of professional dialogue or national community on the part of Canadian archivists can be disheartening at times.  Canadian archivists are angered when cuts are made to archival funding and tend to rise up in the face of crisis.  But on a daily basis very few archivists are engaging in discussions about how to improve the field or change public perceptions.   Last minute action isn't always the best method and continuous education, promotion, and outreach has the potential to root out some problems before they begin.

Additional reading:
Adam Crymble's 2010 Archivaria article, "An Analysis of Twitter and Facebook Use by the Archival Community," provides a good analysis of the different uses of social media by archival organizations and individual.  Despite the data being from 2009-2010 the conclusions about types of usage and outreach are still very relevant.

Some Canadian Archives Twitter Folks:

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