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ARCHIVES Home

ARCHIVES Home

ARCHIVES  June 2006, Week 3

ARCHIVES June 2006, Week 3

Subject:

public ignorance of archivists [was Re: Pax Archivus]

From:

[log in to unmask]

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Mon, 19 Jun 2006 16:44:58 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (68 lines)

Kim and List,

Kim makes an excellent point when she writes that "The bottom line is 
that the service we provide is used by so few people when compared to 
those other professions, like doctors, lawyers, and (gasp) librarians.  
Since our customer base is so small, we have a larger responsibility of 
convincing the masses who will never darken our doors that it is a good 
idea to keep paying us."

That is to me a far more troublesome question than the archives v. 
library debate which pops up here from time to time.

Remember the debate we had several months ago on the List about reading 
history?  I then mentioned the fact that a growing number of people are 
aliterate:  they know how to read but choose not to, once their formal 
education is complete.  The percentage of people who read nonfiction 
for pleasure probably is quite small.  Think of how tiny is the 
percentage of people who read history books or biographies, for which 
archives serve as sources of documentation.  How many of them stop to 
think about the archival sources and what goes into acquiring and 
releasing such records?  Not many.  And it isn't just the general 
public.  I used to post about archival issues on the History News 
Network but gave up; although many of them are situated in academe, the 
bloggers there just didn't seem interested in that stuff.

Back to the general public then.  Think of all of the people in the 
U.S. who manage to live their lives perfectly well without ever 
wondering about the stuff that interests a history buff and reader of 
biographies, such as I.  Think of what a good biography or history book 
might cover:  the quality of the interior life led by a writer; how a 
composer wrote and sought to market his works; how a government 
official made his decisions; the intricacies of diplomacy and foreign 
relations; what life was like in earlier times, even in the near past 
(I've been reading a lot recently about what is referred to as the 
"civil rights era" in the U.S.); how a philosopher or theologian formed 
his core beliefs; how a scientist did his work; how an actor's public 
persona differed from or mirrored his on-screen image.  (I mostly read 
political and social history but I also dip into the enterteainment 
world - I recently read two excellent biographies of Lucille Ball and 
of Bob Hope.  Showing my age here in being interested in those old 
stars, I know -- ahem.)   These all are matters that can be traced in 
part through archival sources.  Some books provide entertainment; 
others are critical to understanding how our country, our culture, or 
our values have developed.  But few members of the public think about 
what it takes to write such books, even if they have hobbies such as 
genealogy or history.

Kim is spot on with her observation that the work that archivists do 
largely is unknown to the public.  And, of course, the small demand for 
archival services, in relative terms, affects the salary picture.

Maarja
________________________________________________________________________
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