I would never have thought archiving would be quite such a fascinating thing.. .
You, like me, probably think of archiving as towers of dusty books locked away in a bomb proof basement somewhere, solely of interest to aged historians. You might also think that this is a long way from the world of open data, however today I’ve discovered that they may be inextricably linked.
This is all thanks to Andrew Cooper, Research Manager at The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund who held a fantastic event today with Jack Meyers, President of the Rockefeller Archive Centre to talk about archiving in foundations.
There were many interesting things that came up in discussion but my personal 5 key reflections were:
- Archiving is valuable both from an accountability and legacy perspective. From an accountability point of view it helps identify what has been happening. For others, especially ‘spend out’ foundations, it can help leave a legacy of your work.
- Opening archives means a cultural shift towards openness. This is particularly when getting buy in from, for example, trustees and agreeing that it’s ok have your history ‘laid bear’, so to speak. An important reflection on this from Jack Meyers was that generally people aren’t really interested in foundations so there’s nothing to fear from being open. It’s the contextual information that foundations have on organisations, individuals or social issues that is valuable to researchers.
- Digital archiving is tricky – something digitised in, say 1995, (the start of the ‘digital dark ages’ apparently, as many things moved digital then and there became less physical content to archive) may well be difficult to use now. This is because software will have moved on significantly (and you may even have to use an old computer to read it!)
- Looking at archiving is an incredibly valuable way of improving your practice, as much as we like to think we’re always breaking new boundaries, someone somewhere has probably faced that problem before (or one very similar).
- Archivists may feel they are missing all the contextual information that we used to get through diaries, letters and so on. It’s less easy to capture now as these personal reflections aren’t as physically present as before. However, there’s a vast source of personal contextual information on social media sites such as blogs or Twitter streams. It’s just that we, as organisations, are not very good at taking that information ‘out there’ and curating it. If we could curate it, we’d have a better measure of our own impact and influence, and the archivists and future researchers would be happy too.