Similar yet different – an experience at ICA Congress

In August, I was fortunate enough to attend a day of the International Council of Archives Congress in Brisbane. This experience provided a broadened understanding of a different information sector, adding a piece to the puzzle that is, well I’ll call in the “information-sphere” for now. I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore this piece of the “information-sphere”. It gave me exposure to different roles, professional knowledge and practices.

It was the first big, international conference I had attended, with 1000 delegates from over 95 countries. That’s a lot of archivists! Inspiring yet intimidating to sit in awe of them all. I dressed a bit more corporate than I would have a library conference and glad I did. I’ve a few observations to note about my experience and reactions….

The ICA Congress provided me with a much deeper appreciation of the role and value of archives and good record keeping not only to a government, but also in upholding values associated with a democratic society. Archives take on a tremendous responsibility, record keeping practices and the management of an archives collection is felt for generations. Decisions made about the significance of records made now and how they are managed and maintained ultimately determines access to them in years to come.

Archives and libraries have their differences, and they are well defined, clear-cut  I might add. But something did strike out at me and that was both information sectors are currently facing similar challenges. Who’d have thought? Both sectors have much to learn from each other. They’re both facing identity crises and challenges arising from new technologies impacting on collection management and delivery of services. These two sectors, I believe, need to talk to each other more.

I also noticed that the presentations and papers were mainly practice-based. I wonder if this was deliberate of the program organisers. I only attended one day so I could be incorrect here. More than a few presentations seemed to be a lot like “this is what our organisation does” or “this is what we’re planning to do”. One of the very last papers for the conference presented a conceptual model for arrangement and description and without knowing 100% if it’ll work, have already started moving towards it and figuring it out as they go. I think perhaps the archives sector, and probably the library sector up until recent years, are stuck in this “my goodness we’d better figure it all out to the minute detail before we start otherwise we’re screwed”. Probably a bit exaggerated there, but you understand my point. (I can’t say I haven’t been guilty of this at least some of the time. It’s a habit.) If the archives sector continue to plan until the cows come home, and attempt to keep up with technology in the meantime, progress is not going to be made at a rate comparable of changing expectations of audiences, users, clients, etc. It is my initial reaction to believe this to be a reason why the archives sector is slowly slipping behind other information sectors. The archives sector need to get into a “perpetual beta” mindset and just do it! No one knows exactly what the outcomes are, what will work or not work until something is attempted. Continuous, ongoing evaluation and reflection will be oh(!) so important here.

A main theme of the ICA Congress was collaboration and collaborative partnerships. It was encouraging to see papers presented with different jurisdictions together. There seemed to be a coming together of a united front for the archives sector, a re-invigoration and energy towards the purpose and value of archives. The ICA Congress certainly revved up enthusiasm in the workplace for current and potential work programs, the conference “buzz” also managing to reach those in the office from those attending via Twitter. Some colleagues gave Twitter a go to see what more could be gained from the experience. If anything, given the sense of inclusion Twitter provides, I believe its use benefited the whole team conference experience. No one felt they were ‘missing out’ but was there through those that attended.

Full papers are now available from the ICA website. The ICA Congress is held every four years, the next one will be in Seoul in 2016.

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