Elizabeth Charlton 2017-11-13 11:37:36
Although SAA is the oldest and largest archival professional organization in North America, our membership includes more than 230 international members (or about .03%). SAA recently talked with one such member, Elizabeth Charlton, who is the New Zealand Province Archivist for the Society of Mary (a religious congregation commonly known as the Marist Fathers and Brothers) about being an international colleague and the challenges in archives on the other side of the world. Although Charlton started out in commercial law firms and then taught French and German for 17 years in England, New Zealand, and Australia, she eventually turned her studies to records and information management. She now serves as vice president of the Archives and Records Association of New Zealand (ARANZ), has served ARANZ’s Council since 2015, and helped organize ARANZ’s 40th anniversary in 2016. SAA: Tell us a bit about your work with the Society of Mary. EC: My role is a sole archivist position, so I write policy, process collections, provide access, conduct outreach efforts, monitor environmental conditions, provide an information service for Society members, and even buy the cookies for daily morning tea. I am assisted by two Marists whose presence I appreciate very much—as a lay woman, there is some institutional knowledge that I will never have! What I love about my position is that I get to use my languages regularly since the Society’s early records are in French and Latin. I’ve become quite the dab hand at deciphering nineteenth-century French handwriting. I also love being able to “correct the record” and flesh out the lives of past members. I particularly like making connections with Marists and archivists of other provinces whereby our sharing enhances the Society’s historical record and leads to Marist Studies publications. SAA: What projects have you been most excited about being a part of in your career? EC: While not archival, my proudest moment would be when a refugee boy stood up in my final school assembly and thanked me for teaching him to read. A close second would be seeing how we as archivists can influence government. Concerned with the lack of records made accessible to former children-in-care and the impact this situation has on someone’s identity, my fellow ARANZ Councilor, Belinda Battley, and I prepared written and oral statements on the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Oranga Tamariki) Legislation Bill to the Social Services Select Committee. As a consequence, the bill was amended to include a subsection on the creation and maintenance of records for a child or young person recording important matters in their life (including significant life events and significant achievements) occurring while they are in care, and the provision of access to those records for the child or young person,” which passed into law on July 13, 2017. I was also very proud when I was recently acknowledged in the Society of Mary’s international weekly bulletin for providing archival material and research assistance to the Ethnographic Department of the Vatican Museum in preparation for an upcoming display. SAA: What are pressing issues that New Zealand archivists face? EC: We have a lack of archivists with digital preservation skills. The concept that digital preservation starts from the moment of creation has still not been embraced by the information sector as a whole. I was fortunate to receive a scholarship in 2014 from the Ian McLean Wards Memorial Trust to explore whether and how very small archives could manage legacy media. There has been a recent push to digitize but without the necessary preparatory discussion or planning for long-term preservation. SAA: How have you been involved in SAA? EC: I joined SAA in 2015 before attending my first Annual Meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, with a pre-conference workshop while I was in the middle of my research project. I was assigned a wonderful Navigator buddy who at that time also worked for a religious congregation. We have kept in touch and I’ve benefited from very useful advice. Networking! Those who’ve met me know that I’d never be called a wallflower or a shrinking violet. Many things have been helpful since then. I was encouraged to submit a proposal for the Research Forum and to present and publish a peer-reviewed paper. I find the sections’ listservs to be an extremely valuable resource, especially when working alone. And I’ve learned a lot from Kathleen Roe’s Advocacy Café webinars, using some tips for the good of ARANZ. Finally, I’ve appreciated receiving my personal copies of Archival Outlook and The American Archivist. SAA: What resources or websites could American archivists visit to learn more about New Zealand’s archives? EC: Find digitized copies of Archifacts (1974–2010), ARANZ’s journal, and New Zealand Archivist (1990–2004), the journal of the former New Zealand Society of Archivists, at www.aranz.org.nz. In addition, you can explore Archives New Zealand at http://archives.govt.nz/; the Digital Preservation Programme at the National Library of New Zealand at https://digitalpreservation.natlib.govt.nz/; The Community Archive at the National Register of Archives and Manuscripts at http:// thecommunityarchive.org.nz/; and DigitalNZ, an aggregation site of digital content, at https://www.digitalnz.org/about/our-work. SAA: How do you think archivists can be better international colleagues? EC: Each country’s archival traditions have created strengths that should be shared more widely. For example, during a session at SAA’s 2017 Annual Meeting, mention was made of the work done in New Zealand with regard to indigenous archives and cultural heritage rights. At the Liberated Archive Forum, I shared how we approach discussion with tribal groupings to break down archival barriers. Similarly, we in New Zealand can definitely learn from the work done by U.S. archivists in the realm of digital preservation. Strengths are also evidenced by the topics explored in an association’s journal. The New Zealand journal Archifacts has a long tradition of not being peer-reviewed, something that reinforces the association’s foundation of embracing all—whether professional, volunteer, or historian—in the archival and recordkeeping world. Additionally, we have the custom of bringing keynote speakers from overseas to our conferences. Since 2010, SAA members Randall Jimerson, Kate Theimer, and Anne Gilliland have represented the United States. I’ve been surprised not to see international speakers at SAA’s Annual Meetings. SAA: What stories from the New Zealand archives should we know about? EC: A favorite excuse when any archival government file cannot be found is to blame it on the fire! In 1952, a fire in the Hope Gibbons Building in Wellington destroyed many government records, which led to the passing of New Zealand’s first archives legislation in 1957 (https://www.teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/41758 /hope-gibbons-fire-1952). SAA: What advice do you have for other archivists? EC: In the digital age, it’s important to engage directly with those in records management. Decisions made there can have a drastic impact on future archives. For example, Archives New Zealand recently shared advice regarding the “destruction of source documentation after digitization.” When I questioned this rationale for material that should be preserved long term, I was told rather flippantly, “Don’t worry, Elizabeth, we’re not talking about archives!” This makes me wonder where they think archives come from and how we can better educate them.
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