October is American Archives Month
This month has flown by, and I find myself behind on my professional duties to “create public awareness and promote” a greater understanding of who archivists are and what they do. But, since it is still October, I’m technically keeping up my professional obligation through this post.
Archivists are people! Sure, we can be surly, brief, and verge on the edge of being anti-social, but it’s only because we’re not used to actually interacting with real people. Most of our conversations occur with history or historical figures. In my case, I ”speak” with Edward A. Filene and Roy F. Bergengren more than I do with my co-workers. I know more about them and their history than I do my own family and friends. It is only through the grace of facebook that I have any real contact with the outside world.
So, outside of being rather socially inept, ”What does an archivist do?” Archivists collect, preserve, organize, describe, and make available records of enduring historical value. Doesn’t that sound like a canned answer? More to the point, an archivist controls history. (Don’t tell anyone I said that, I might be controversial.) But, when you pass my office you’ll see a mess of boxes, scattered papers, stacks of photographs, and random objects. If you ask about what I’m doing, I’ll show you an Excel file with 20 spreadsheets representing over 2,700 c.f. of records, 1,000 books, 12,000 photographs, 514 films, 148 audio recordings, and 340 artifacts. I can walk you through my job and duties, but you’re likely to glaze over fairly quickly. My job isn’t very difficult, but it does require a special knack for organization, even though it might not look like it.
What my job really entails is providing you with historical information. I get you that special photograph, that one speech, that information on the origins of share drafts, that film, that slide, that…needful thing. I’m Col. Nathan R. Jessep from the movie, A Few Good Men. “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth! ” You want me on that line, you need me on that line…the line between the present and the past. I slog through the dust, I wade through the endless boxes, files, and papers, I suffer paper cuts, and pull rusty staples. I get you what you need when you need it.
But, unlike Col. Jessep, I thank you for using my services. I want to help you! I have an unrelenting desire to find the information you need. In most cases, I give you more than you thought you needed, but be sure I have more. If I can’t help you with something specific I’ll find something that should be an adequate replacement. I anticipate your needs by collecting ”new” material. I protect those old brittle documents, so we can have them for the future. I do my best, to make you look your best with that presentation, display, marketing piece, book, article, web page, and brochure.
I am an archivist…and I’m here to help you!
Shawn San Roman, CA (that’s Certified Archivist)