Friday, August 28, 2015

What is an Archivist?

            My favorite thing about blogging is this that I can trace how my ideas evolve over time. It’s a document of where I started and charts the time frame that led me to where I am now in my thinking. Continuing my public history blog for my Archives and Manuscripts class is a way for me to think about how I define the archivist’s profession after one class and see how I articulate its purpose a few months down the line in December.

            Margery, my professor, asked us at the end of this week’s class to think about how we would define in an “elevator” speech the purpose and value of an archivist and the archives profession. It got me thinking. How would I define it right now?

            Well, I would say, “An archivist processes, manages, and makes available a variety of media that serve audiences in their pursuit of knowledge.” This definition, though, comes from the perspective of a researcher who has used archives extensively in the past. I’ve looked at archives as a way to acquire the information that I need and seen archivists as the medium through which I could obtain this knowledge.

            However, I had been unaware of how archivists viewed themselves and their profession until I read Mark A. Greene’s “The Power of Archives: Archivists’ Values and Value in the Postmodern Age.” Explained Greene, many, including myself, view archivists as people who simply “do.” This is in large part due to a lack awareness of archivists’ own power. But that leaves out the larger mission that archivists work towards. It also leaves out from the larger conversation their power in shaping the historical record.

            Having read Greene’s piece has made me wrestle with my own definition that I came up with above. This is a challenge that I hope to further refine in my blog as the semester continues.  My biggest revision in my definition and in my general view of the archivists' profession is that archivists are active shapers of the historical process.

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