DVAG open forum: theories of change in the archives

Winsor McKay. Gertrude the dinosaur, 1914.
Train your dinosaur. Winsor McKay. Gertrude the dinosaur, 1914.

At the year-end Delaware Valley Archivists’ Group meeting of 2013, we held an open forum on hot topics from across the membership. Here we discovered that there are more hot topics across the membership than could be more than haphazardly addressed in a single meeting. We promised to bring some of them to DVAG’s blog, and this is the first in that series.

Let’s talk about change: from the mailbag:

[…]in many situations, it seems there is nothing we can do other than wait for some people to retire (or die…) in order to make certain changes at our own repositories

Oedipus had the same problem.

One of the great parts about DVAG is our membership’s generational diversity. I’m positive my contributions to the conversation didn’t come off this way, but a lot of us keep our internal monologues in check during meetings like this because we know, intuitively, that whatever we’re talking about today has been discussed in some form by archivists 30 years ago. Chances are some of those people are in the room, thinking plus ça change…

Seriously. Want to talk about archival privilege? SAA’s Governmental Affairs Working Group dealt with that in the 1980s. Interested, concerned or nervous about implementing EAD in your archives? American Archivist ran a whole issue of EAD case studies in 1997. Think we need to integrate archival practice and education into a broader information economy? Frank Burke gave the SAA presidential address on more or less this topic in 1992 [SAA members]. What we call new is usually the same old thing in brand new drag.

I’ll leave it to others to address the political and economic presuppositions inherent in elevating “change” and denigrating “old stuff,” except to say that it’s an especially weird position for archivists to take. Which would you rather be: hidebound, or paperback?

Let me know how wrong I am below.


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