Last updated on 5 January 2018
Today, 9th June, is International Archives Day. Around the world, archivists and those who appreciate the role of archives to society celebrate archival institutions and their collections. The International Council on Archives is calling for contributions to its celebration by bringing together photos of archival material linked to the local area. You can take a look at how others are celebrating by searching #InternationalArchivesDay on Twitter.
I do have one wish on this International Archives Day. I wish for more co-operation and collaboration between archivists and librarians. From what I’ve seen, there isn’t enough to ensure cultural heritage content is brought together and preserved for generations, and that these collections continue to be relevant and treasured by relating them to today’s user needs, expectations and the possibilities for further content engagement, inspiration and discovery.
Archivists and librarians have a lot to learn from each other. There need not be fear or threat in reaching out to professional knowledge, practices and experience beyond each of these profession’s parameters or self-imposed boundaries. Just because someone works in an archival institution, doesn’t mean they should only consult the professional body of knowledge of archivists or work within what other archival institutions are doing, particularly in relation to providing access to collections, and vice versa. Borrowing from each other’s professional knowledge is imperative to accelerating progress of generating new knowledge and its application to the delivery of services. I strongly encourage and would like to see increased conversation and connections between these two professions.
Being an archivist or librarian are two, distinct kinds of information professions. I personally identify as a librarian or information professional and work within an archival institution. I wouldn’t call myself an archivist just because of my context. I don’t think it is fair to other archivists who have undertaken their training and qualifications in this area. It is because of this that I can sometimes feel like ‘piggy in the middle’ in professional conversations, trying to promote appreciation of, and balance out the different perspectives.
Librarians are skilled at making sense of information and delivering services in line with needs of identified users (and non-users) of information sources and in ways that enrich their information experiences. Librarians look outward. Archivists specialise in the description, arrangement and long term preservation of records and other primary materials. Archivists are more naturally inclined to focus on their processes. There is nothing wrong with either perspective, inward or outward, they’re just different professions, focusing on different aspects of information and information services with a corresponding body of knowledge that allows them to fulfil their roles.
There are archival institutions and libraries which have merged. For example, LINC Tasmania and more recently, the back end functions of the Australian national collecting institutions. As long as there is respect for each other’s professional knowledge, this pooling of resources and knowledge can only be a good thing for maintaining and providing access to collections. Though I must note my concern for the advisory role to the government that assist agencies and their records with making it into the collection in the first place.
I’d like librarians to be better utilised in the land of archives. I’m not saying librarians are saviours, but they may be able contribute to deriving as much value out of the archival collection as possible to further serve the community. And archivists’ knowledge need to be tapped into more in a variety of settings, not just cultural heritage. I’m a librarian, an information professional. I appreciate the role of archives and archivists in the information professions. It is therefore my wish for the two information professions play nicely with each other because after all, we’re on the same team.