Kathleen Roe 2015-04-01 11:03:37
Every morning I drive to work past Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), a highly regarded college in the Northeast for engineers, architects, mathematicians, and a predictable array of bright minds, geeks, and techno-nerds—along with a few of what my daughter would term “hot college kids.” As part of its effort to rebrand, RPI has adopted and trademarked the slogan “Why Not Change the World?” It appears on physical and web banners, manifests itself in competitions to spur student innovation, and even takes the form of a red T-shirt that students sport as they wander to their 8:00 a.m. class. “Why not change the world?” I love the spirit it reflects and the encouragement it provides for fertile minds to have big ideas, big dreams, and big goals. Consider that slogan in contrast to some of the ones we see on T-shirts, mugs, and bumper stickers for archivists—like “Born to be filed,” “100% archivist,” or the proverbial “Archivists make it last longer.” Can you see the difference here? To be honest, sometimes archivists seem to take pleasure in being “misunderstood.” Since my entry into this profession more than thirty years ago, a perpetual topic of conversation among our colleagues is the mistaken terms people use to refer to archivists—a subject that Professor David Gracy II, a former SAA president, emphasized in his presidential address in 1984. Orchidvists, anarchists, activists, archivisors—the list goes on and on. The time has come to put away that role as underdog. We need to seek out those words that inspire and energize our community, our users, and the public to see the value and importance of archives. Many of you already have those “words” in your vocabulary. One of our recent efforts in “The Year of Living Dangerously for Archives” involved asking people to provide a statement on “Why I am an archivist.” The results were inspiring. People get it, they know what we do matters, as evidenced by literally hundreds of statements, many heartfelt and compelling. Words and phrases emerged, such as “making people more compassionate and self-aware”; “fighting for the continued existence and better sharing of stories”; “facilitating relationships across time”; “solving mysteries”; “memory, accountability, identity, and culture”; “supporting democracy, knowledge, and innovation”; and “defending the rights of people.” Many, many more words and statements were offered that demonstrate how we are truly dedicated to and passionate about our profession. We need to step beyond the daily technical operations of stewardship for records and make very, very sure that people know why archives matter, why they are so important that we should have the necessary human and fiscal resources to collect, preserve, and make them widely available to any and all who want and need them. So please, the next time you have the opportunity, use words of strength and inspiration when you talk about archives. We’ve got the words!
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