REPORT ON THE SOCIETY AND ARCHIVES SURVEY
of November 2002
by Richard E. Barry, Barry
About This Survey
Many thank go to the 671 people felt strongly enough about this subject to complete the Society and Archives Survey that this report is based upon; and especially to the 176 respondents who took the added time to provide one or more comments at the end of the Survey. Colleagues who kindly reviewed the first drafts of the survey were: Terry Cook (Canada); Albert Meijer (Netherlands); Chris Hurley and Mike Steemson (New Zealand); and David Wallace and Lisa Weber (US). Subsequent comments were also received from Bruce Dearstyne, Richard Cox (US) and Piers Cain (UK). I thank all of these colleagues for their generous assistance and constructive comments; however, I take full responsibility for the resulting survey instrument and this report as it was necessary to make choices among the recommendations received. Despite the late date of the survey, and the fact that in at least one region (Middle East) it had to be translated into another language, the responses demonstrate that professional are very interested in sharing their views on society’s and records producers’ perceptions and what can be done to strengthen those perceptions. International email received from colleagues about the survey confirm that there is a strong felt need for this kind of dialogue.
2. Background of Survey
This survey was precipitated as noted above by the absence of discussion on any of the 8 international discussion lists that the author monitors. While the “image” of the archivist or records manager arises on Internet professional discussion lists from time to time it is usually done in the context of the latest novel or movie and how badly it characterized the profession. Recently, for example, we had the case of the movie Star Wars: Episode II, in which the Jedi Archivist, Jocasta, is shown in a discussion with a “user” of the Jedi Archives:
…the Jedi Archivist: “a frail-looking creature, quite elderly...”, but “She was a firebrand, that weak facade hiding her strength and determination.” The Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi is trying to find a planet system called Kamino, that doesn't seem to show on any of the archive charts. Madame Jocasta Nu undertakes a search, but she has to conclude:
“I hate to say it, but it looks like the system you're searching for doesn't exist.” “That's impossible - perhaps the Archives are incomplete.” “The Archives are comprehensive and totally secure, my young Jedi,” came the imposing response, the Archivist stepping back from her familiarity with Obi-Wan and assuming again the demeanor of archive kingdom ruler. “One thing you may be absolutely sure of: If an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist.” The two stared at each other for a long moment, Obi-Wan taking note that there wasn't the slightest tremor of doubt in Jocasta Nu's declaration.
Typical list discussions of such cases, while in good fun, do not ordinarily result in serious deliberations. Eric Ketelaar’s 15 August 2002 keynote presentation to the Annual Conference of the Australian Society of Archivists (ASA) in Sydney, “Past Caring? What does Society Expect of Archivists?” was a departure. He used the Jedi Archivist as a metaphor for his presentation in which he concluded:
…the Jedi archivist affirms her role in the Jedi society. But these words also express what I believe our society expects of archivists. ‘Secure’ can mean (OED): free from care, PAST CARING, free from distrust. But also: in safe custody. And finally: confident in expectation, feeling certain of something in the future.
So, finally, What Society
expects of Archivists is ensuring not only that records are created and managed
as evidence to serve accountability and memory, but also that archives as
storage memory are secured, so that society can be confident of the future.
The author first raised concern about the absence of serious discussion of the issues surrounding the public perception of archives/records in a keynote presentation “Transacting e-Business: is RM being passed by?” at the Records Management Association of Australia National Convention 2002 in Adelaide Australia, just a month after the ASA Conference. In early November, still seeing no discussion of this most important topic within the professional community, and discovering the availability of a free web survey instrument that would make it possible to widely solicit the views of professionals, I decided to take the initiative myself. I wish that time would have permitted me to solicit and receive feedback on the drafts from other international sources including in countries that do not have English as their principal language, and developing countries. As close as it was to the meeting date, it seemed better to undertake such a survey than not.
3. Report Distribution
A preliminary version of this report was transmitted by email to the ICA on 12 November 2002 for distribution to CITRA participants who had requested a copy, and for whatever additional use ICA might wish to make of it. Regrettably, the report was not distributed for background information at the meeting. Perhaps ICA will find it worthwhile to make use of the Survey results in time for its 2003 meeting in South Africa.
In recognition of the time and effort that the 671 professionals from every region of the world had invested in completing the Survey, and as the author has received numerous requests for copies of this report, it is published on www.mybestdocs.com to ensure ready access to the professional community and other interested parties at large. Comments on this report are welcomed. The report may be updated, or separate papers may be published as further reviews of the statistics are considered to reflect comments on the report. In addition, some 200 cross-tab tables have been produced from the survey, in addition to multiple write-in comments from 176 respondents, all of which could not be addressed in this Report.
4. Demographics: Who Completed the Survey?
Demographic questions are important in any survey because their answers provide information on which to base cross tabulations to help gain a better understanding of what might appear to be large standard deviations in the responses to some questions that otherwise would be unexplained. Average results for a particular question may be meaningless if they mask wide differences at either end of the spectrum of the possible responses to the question. On the other hand, they also can be useful in demonstrating that the demographic in question doesn’t seem to have an important bearing on the results. The author considered including more such differentiating questions than ultimately were. In the interest of keeping the size of the Survey and time to complete it to a minimum, and to use the maximum number of questions for substantive questions, only 3 demographic questions (Q11, 12,13) were asked:
11. Disciplinary: main profession/work experience
12. Experience: time in the workplace
13. Region: geographical location of the respondent
Question 11: My main profession/work experience is as:
Twelve professional disciplinary selections were provided for principal professional work experience, in addition to an “Other” category. No Legislators, Attorneys or Genealogists completed the survey. While there was representation from each of the other nine professional categories, 74% were Archivists and Records Managers.
Table A-1: Who Completed the Survey?
My main profession/work experience is as:
Breakdown of Respondents by Time in Profession
Question 12: I have been in the workplace for:
The representation of the respondents by time in the workplace was quite evenly distributed with 56% having been in the workplace for 11 or more years, 41% less 10 or less years and respondents still completing their education 3%. For the large part, this demographic may also be used as a measure of age of the respondents.
Table A-2: Who Completed the Survey?
I have been in the workplace for:
Question 13: The society within which I work is in the following region:
The survey was completed by 671 people from every region of the world – 96% from N. America (55%), Australasia (22%) and Europe (19%). (One stalwart Canadian chose to select “Other” for designating a regional affiliation, and marked “Canada” in the “Other comments” section for regional affiliation.)
Table A-3: Who Completed the Survey?
5. Description of Survey Instrument
The survey system used for this Survey was the Zoomerang system. It is a relatively easy and excellent system for design, distribution and use of the survey that can be used through a website for any and all respondents or by email, sending the survey to a specific list of people. In this case, the Survey announcement was sent to 8 international ARM discussion lists and was forwarded to others. It has its drawbacks, especially in the free version (which ultimately did not work out for this survey). However, it has many significant advantages, especially for the paying subscriber.
Some of the drawbacks were not apparent until after several hundred people had completed the survey. One was that, when using the free service, the survey owner is allowed to see the results of only the first 50 respondents. Thus, the author found it necessary to make a payment to get the added features needed to write this report. This was entirely due to haste in reading the terms of usage that spell out which features are free and which require a paid subscription.
Considerable time and effort was lost initially because of several unusual Internet disconnects while constructing the survey over a dial-up connection. This resulted in losing the work done up to the time of the disconnect, because Zoomerang (at time of this usage) didn’t save any part of the survey design until it was fully completed. This happened, unusually, three times. Thus, it was necessary to begin the survey design all over again each time a disconnect occurred, in one case nearly at the end of the design process. The system apparently does not save work as the survey is being completed. This is a potential problem for those using dial-up Internet access. It is therefore wise to complete the survey questions off line in a wordprocessing, spreadsheet or other format before starting and quickly copy and paste questions and response choices during the design process. Using existing pull down response menus also speeds up the design process, but it is not always possible to use such standard response in a customized survey such as this.
Another limitation to the free version is that access to analytical tools is limited. Up-to-date details on both the “free” and “Z-PRO” (paid subscriber) accounts are available at www.zoomerang.com including information on how to build a survey. To use the system, one has to agree to consider taking the surveys of other Zoomerang users. This sounded formidable to the author at time of sign-up, but he went ahead anyway as there was no requirement to take any surveys. As it turned out, none were requested.
The system provides for various types of questions – multiple choice, button/pull-down menus, open text, etc. One other consideration for international surveys is that the system doesn’t provide a drop-down or other menu for selecting from a list of countries for use in gathering demographic information. It was therefore necessary in this survey to use a much broader regional choice for demographic purposes – Africa, Asia/Pacific, Australasia, Caribbean, etc. The author thought it would have been preferable to be able to get that breakdown of responses by country, given the nature of this survey. As it turned out, regional differences did not make a major difference in most key responses. Country-specific differences very possibly could have. On the other hand, country breakdowns would be useful only if there were sufficient responses from each country to make the results statistically significant. If one were to use a country breakdown, it would also create an enormous number of cross tabulations if they were to be done by each country. Thus, where country breakdowns are feasible, it would probably still be sensible to include regions as was done in this survey.
 Robert A. Salvatore, Star wars. Episode II. Attack of the clones, based on the story by George Lucas and the screenplay by George Lucas and Jonathan Hales (Ballantine books, New York 2002) 155-160, here p. 160. Quoted in “Past Caring? What does Society Expect of Archivists?” by Eric Ketelaar, keynote presentation to the Annual Conference of the Australian Society of Archivists 15 August 2002.
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