Friday, December 15, 2006

Lunch with an Archivist

On December 9th, ten students in the ESU Oregon-7 cohort and our advisor, Perri Perise, had an informal lunch with Mary Jo Pugh, the editor of the American Archivist. The Society of American Archivists is the oldest and largest archival association in North America.

Mary Jo began with defining archives as records of continuing usefulness with the idea that they will be accessible. They are not "old dusty, musty" but are records created in the course of business. They are "what your record managers leave you". Record management is analyzing how long to keep items (retention schedules).

There are two kinds of archives: those which are born digital and analog records. They can be kept by collecting institutions, such as the Oregon Historical Society, which don't create but identify and make records available, and by institutional repositories, such as Portland State University.

The SAA has 4700 personal members; their journal is not yet online but the goal is that it will be. Archives Week is held in October and there is an effort to make it Archives Month.

Archivists education began in the 1980's as an apprenticeship combined with directed reading. The University of British Columbia had one of the first programs. The University of Michigan is considered to have one of the best archival programs and is on the cutting edge in digital records. A good archives program has at least 2-3 tenured faculty members.

Archivists can be certified by the Academy of Certified Archivists. Certification requires passing an exam along with a year of successful experience. Certification is renewed every five years with a re-examination or a portfolio showing what one has contributed to the profession.

She discussed the difference between historians, who want to keep everything, especially those things which personally interest them, and then organize it into subjects and archivists who keep the provenance by preserving the artifacts in the order they were created and are willing to throw a lot of them away. She also discussed copyright issues and access. Having two masters degrees (in history and an MLS) can give an individual a leg up in the profession. Subject knowledge and keeping up with new technology are both important. It is also important to know who the critical players are and target who has the records as well as knowing what you're looking at when looking at records.

A mission statement or collecting policy determines what you accept or not. She stated that "the early approach was to vacuum clean anything". Criteria of what to keep and what not to keep is critical. For example, in business one would retain documents related to policy making, but not routine day-to-day documents.

Other organizations
She mentioned the International Congress on Archives as one place for those interested in archives to look at as it has many links to national and state archives. They hold a conference every four years; the next one is in Singapore in 2008. She also discussed the Northwest Archivists Association and the National Archives, begun in 1934.