Danna C. Bell 2014-02-11 10:56:05
I recently served as the keynote speaker for a cultural heritage symposium held at the Library of Congress. As I worked on my speech, I hunted for quotes about archives and archivists, about cultural heritage and its importance in our lives and careers. I was fortunate to stumble on the following Verne Harris quote: “Archives are not the quiet retreat for professionals and scholars and craftspersons. They are crucibles of human experience; a battleground for meaning and significance. A Babel of stories. A place and a space of complex and ever-shifting power plays.” I totally agree with Mr. Harris. Users can discover stories that highlight the human experience in archives. One of my favorite examples of this is from a series of diary entries by Theodore Roosevelt, the first dating February 14, 1884. There is a large “X” on the page and below it the words “The light has gone out of my life.” The second entry, written two days later, describes his wife Alice, how they met and got married, and how three short years later he lost her in childbirth on February 14, shortly after losing his mother to typhoid fever. Most of us know Roosevelt as a rough rider, hunter, and strong man. Who knew that behind this persona was a widower trying to cope with the sudden loss of two of the most important women in his life? How did this experience shape the man who eventually became president of the United States? We have been chosen to protect these materials and, in some cases, help users find the stories and the meaning behind these stories. However, there are many who believe that these stories of power plays, meaning, and significance are not worth the medium on which they are stored. We’ve seen it with the companies and governments that decide to balance their budgets by shuttering or decimating their archives. How do we help those who do not understand the importance of archives to understand the meaning of the collections in our care? We have advocated to public policy makers.But there is more to advocacy than just reacting when there is a crisis. Advocacy also includes making people aware of archives and archivists and what can be found in our collections. SAA has done this through initiatives such as American Archives Month And I Found It In The Archives!, as well as by encouraging members to create elevator speeches to explain what archives are and what archivists do. We hope to do even more. Instead of merely reacting to emergencies, we strive to be proactive agents helping our organizations make effective use of archivists and our repositories. But we can only do so much. As I noted in my Off the Record blog post on the recent government shutdown, we need to connect with our users and ask them to communicate what archives mean to them, to their scholarly community, and to the broader public. There may be individuals who find documents within our repositories that give them the strength to continue their research, recover after a loss, or find a connection to their communities. Find those stories. Share them with your colleagues, administrators, and communities. Make them see the Babel of stories, the crucibles of human experience, and the meaning within your collections. There may be individuals who find documents within our repositories that give them the strength to continue their research, recover after a loss, or find a connection to their communities. Find those stories. Share them with your colleagues, administrators, and communities.
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