Tuesday, February 19, 2008

How We Talk About Archives

When archivists are talking to each other, there is much delight in old documents, in history and the heritage they are trying to preserve. Or to paraphrase from one of my professors, we're interested in "the neat old stuff." This direct access to documents from a different time creates a special frission of excitement, of a type that maybe only historians can understand. This is part of the answer of why archivists archive, at least for me.

This excitement and passion is usually sublimated when archivsts are talking to other people. These other people could be a government agency (who fund archives) or perhaps somebody who politely asked about your profession. In this case, a whole different presentation is offered. There is much focus on democratic accountability (which is certainly a good thing), helping organizations become "litigation ready," and how archives (or records management) can generally improve the efficiency of an organization.

I get the sense that the reasons expressed in the first paragraph are what drive many archivists but there is a sense that we can't tell that to other people. Why? My guess would be that the history argument comes across as asking people to indulge us in our geeky interests whereas the latter clearly shows benefits to others.

Has anybody else encountered this?