Thursday, 13 March 2014

Speech Review: The Power of Archives: Archivists Values and Value in the Post Modern Age

Speech Review
Title: The Power of Archives: Archivists’ Values and Value in the Post-Modern Age
Author: Mark Greene
Publication:  The American Archivist, Volume 72, Number 1, Spring/Summer 2009

In 2008, Mark Greene, then president of the SAA, proposed a set of archives professional values that included professionalism, collectivity, activism, selection, democracy, service, diversity, use and access, history. In 2011, a committee of the SAA adopted the following professional values; access and use, accountability, advocacy, diversity, history and memory, preservation, professionalism, responsible custody, selection, service, and social responsibility.

More descriptions of archival value system, according to Mark Greene:

Professionalism: We should be developing our specialized knowledge (via research and publications). We should also strive to be motivated by our professional mission, rather than rules and obligations.

Collectivity: This principle works on two levels. On one hand, we should continue to focus on aggregates in digital and analog forms in terms of arrangement and description. In another sense, we can work with other library professionals to make a wider variety of materials available for users.

Activism: Greene bundles activism with agency, our role in shaping the historical record, and advocacy, bringing attention to challenges in the archives. When agency and advocacy are in practiced, we can give voice to under-documented individuals.

Democracy: Archives are critical to keeping the government accountable to the governed.

Service: We provide service to our institutions and to society in general. We should also place the needs of our users over the needs of our collections.

Diversity: This can be a tricky value because although it has the power to increase the relevance and access of the archives it can blind us to the negative impact our intervention. Greene focuses on the importance of encouraging diverse individuals to enter the profession and accessioning/processing diverse archival collections.

Use and Access: Greene’s views on access and use included a discussion of electronic records and revised processing methods. Consistent with his ideas of putting the needs of the user above all else, he states that “rights holders’ interest laws” amount to censorship and diminishes access. He believes that HIPPA and FERPA regulations should have time limits. In all questions of access versus privacy, he would error on the side of access.

History: Most people associate archives with historical resources. Our focus on primary sources is the source of historical accountability.

I started this blog entry with a discussion of professional values because Greene asserts that an embrace of our professional values is the key to asserting our power with resource allocators and the general public. It is kind of interesting to think that the American Medical Association was established in 1847, the American Bar Association was founded in 1878, and the Society of American Archivists was founded in 1936. I’m not sure how long it took those groups of lawyers and doctors to establish their core professional values, but I am guessing it was less than 75 years. Greene’s central message in this presidential address is how can we expect other people to value us, if we don’t value ourselves, and by the way, here are some quotes about our challenges and potential solutions (as stated by some of our favorite archives scholars and leaders).

David Gracy:
  • ·       The depth of the problem was demonstrated with he commissioned a survey on how archivists were perceived by resource allocators. Some of the comments included, “roles not worth fighting budget battles for”, “admired but frivolous activity”, “appear as hoarders”
Mark Greene:
  • ·        “We have to demand, cajole, finagle, bargain, collect points, win friends, influence people, whatever it takes to build and exercise power for our programs.”
  • ·        “We wield power by shaping the historical record, providing access to government information, protecting citizen rights, educating young minds, affecting the ways scholars use and interpret repository materials; provide substance for powerful entertainment.”
  • ·        “We can advocate for the archives by creating concise definition of what we are and why we are important, participating in Archives Month, draft press releases to institutions and local media, talk ourselves up with donors and supervisors.”
  • ·        “Too many institutions behave like janitors clearing away the refuse; not selecting at the onset and de-accessioning at the item level. We are scared of throwing away something important.”
  • ·        “We are trained to appraise and select, let’s do it with confidence; it is one of our powers!”
  • ·        “The resonance of the word primary, in the phrase primary source. Primary connotes first, most, important, chief, key, principal, major, and crucial.”
  • ·        “Assigning professional values can be seen as exclusionary, but this could be a good thing. We should endeavor to share our values, not just degrees, records, repositories, affiliation, or function.”
John Fleckner
  • ·        When it comes to expressing our value, we have to move beyond how [we work] to why [we work].
Gerry Ham
  • ·        “If appraisal is so important to archivist, why do we do it so poorly?”
Maynard Brichford
  • ·        “Not all accession materials are worth extraordinary conservation efforts.”
Susan M. Heathfield
  • ·        “Living your values is one of the most powerful tools available to help you lead and influence others.”

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