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ARCHIVES Home

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ARCHIVES  April 1995, Week 4

ARCHIVES April 1995, Week 4

Subject:

Re: Institutional Evaluation (fwd)

From:

"Craig G. Wright" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Archives & Archivists <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 27 Apr 1995 10:24:06 EDT

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (114 lines)

*DISCLAIMER*  I think I'll write my disclaimer at the beginning.
1) This post is in response to Rich Wandel's response to Dean Debolt.
2) I have NOT had my coffee yet this morning  :-(
3) It reflects musings sparked by these two gentlemen and does in no way
   reflect judgement/flame/bash of their ideas, hopefully only additional
   points of discussion.
 
----------------------------Original message----------------------------
 
>>Personally I am all for institutional accreditation because there are so
>>many "archives" that prospective donors give their important materials
>>to without consideration for staffing, expertise, preservation
>>commitment and the like.
>>
>>Dean DeBolt, Special Collections, University of West Florida
 
>This sounds great in theory. Unfortunately accredidation would not exist in
>a vaccuum.  Most of the elements mentioned are dependent on money. With most
>money coming from government sources, and with its refusal to fund unpopular
>ideas, it will allow the government and other funders to further squeeze
>communities out of their right to maintain and describe their own histories.
> This ongoing cultural imperialism could then be rationalized as the fault
>of the unpopular community, and in those cases where the community has
>managed to collect their own history anyway, this accredidation could be
>used to force such collections out of the hands of those communities and
>into the very willing hands of main stream institutions.
>
>A better approach is assisting with both money and expertise institutions
>regardless of their size and financial/political influence.
>
>While I may be forced to admit that history is always written by the
>victors, I need not consent to it.
>
>Rich Wandel
 
First the excerpt from Dean's original comments: I am dubious whether
accredidation will accomplish this goal. It has been my experience that
if donors are "shopping around" for a repository, when an "established"
institution is approached staff will try to educate the donor as to
issues to be aware of. It is best to do this without badmouthing
other repositories. I know this has been
done in the past, and I wouldn't be surprised that it continues to some
degree today, but in my opinion it only hurts public perceptions of our
(and related) professions.
Many donors do not "shop around" and they just give their stuff to the
local historical society/museum/etc. I doubt whether they care about
accredidation, professional expertise or much else other than I grew
up in ANYTOWN, USA so my stuff should stay in ANYTOWN, USA. (or as
close as possible)
Of course some archivists may not feel these types of things are
"important materials" but that's a whole huge issue in itself.
Is there any collection ten (or even five) archivists would all rate
with the same degree of relative "importance"???
 
On to Rich's comments: I disagree with your idea that our government
refuses to fund "unpopular ideas." There is a long history of unpopular
projects of both the "left" and "right" which our government funds. I will
agree that the majority of the funding goes into more "popular" ideas, but
complete refusal?
 
I also wonder about this idea of a community's "right to maintain and
describe" it's own history? This sounds like a wonderful ideal, but I don't
recall seeing anything from archival, historical or museum communities
explicitly stating this concept as a right. (Rich, if something like this
exists please let me know, as I find it very interesting and would like to
investigate further). If this right exists, does it give consent for
communities (local, ethnic, etc.) to care for their materials improperly
and eventually lose their history? I've seen local repositories storing
materials in garages, attics, etc. with abysmal climate control.
 
One focus of many community based historical societies is some type
of "historical" building to house their collections. This often has
the effect of using up most, if not all, availible funds to maintain
the building while the collections themselves receive little attention.
 
The "cultural imperialism" you mention exists in the current state of
affairs, would accredidation make it worse? One of the worst scenarios
I've heard of involve Institution A (with a statewide collecting policy)
and Institution B (with a local collecting policy, basically ANYTOWN, USA
which is a very lage city). ANYTOWN's first African American Mayor is
perceived as "important" enough for Institution A to try to obtain his
papers, they succeed and appraise his papers on site and choose the
"important" stuff, that with statewide appeal, for accessioning.
Unfortunately Mr. Mayor was left with the impression that all his "important"
papers are now safe for posterity and trashes all the rest -- which would
have been a very rich resource indeed for Institution B. Certainly a
case be made that the entire collection should have went to Institution B
in the first place (hence my belief this story falls into the cultural
imperialism category).
 
I also fail to see how accredidation will force collections out of the hands of
communities which have managed to collect their history. Will the accredidation
police move in and take collections away?
 
I think it is a possible point that accredidation may lead to refusal of
funding/grants/$$$, but that would imply that the community based
institution may not GROW and improve. It could have the opposite effect,
institutions may be able to prove NEED by a less than satisfactory
evaluation.
 
Regardless of how accredidation might work out I do agree strongly with
Rich's idea of financial/expertise assistance without regard for size
and influence of the institution. Perhaps help could depend on
commitment of the institution to improve itself (i.e., hire professional
staff, commit to continuing a preservation program after seed $$$
provided, etc.)
 
While contemplating the issue of accredidation it is important to consider
the ramifications in order to determine what we wish to accomplish by it,
how it might be implemented, and whether our resources should be
expended pursuing it at all.
 
Craig Wright, Archivist
Central Michigan University

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