REPORT ON THE SOCIETY AND ARCHIVES SURVEY
by Richard E. Barry, Barry Associates
Sample Responses to Question #10: Other general comments/examples
Below are just a few of the many comments that were provided by 176 Survey respondents that the author has organized by the Survey Question to which they were linked. Some respondents provided multiple comments relating to different parts of the survey. Others provided comments to address points not included in the Survey. Several of these comments have been used in the main body of the report. For a full listing of all comments see: Complete Listing of "Other General Comments/examples from 176 Respondents.
1. Do you think society in general PERCEIVES archives/records…?
I have worked in Records Management for over 10 years and most people I
speak to have no idea or concept as to what that entails or its importance.
Archives and RM are not the same and ought to be perceived differently. Lumping them together does neither any favours.
Interesting questions but, to be honest, "society" really doesn't think about archives or records management at all. Unless it touches them directly, (usually through genealogical research and/or donations to archival institutions) most people haven't a clue about what archives are or what archivists do. As for people who work in government institutions, they are not much better. Again, only if they have been told about the necessity of good records-keeping and the potential archival nature of the records they create will they be aware that archives even exist! In my personal opinion, far more work needs to be done to increase society's awareness of archives and records management and, in particular, the very important role that archives play in the management of information -- i.e. we should try to get away from the stereotypical image of archives as dusty basements and only concerned with "old" records. This is, however, more of a problem in North America. I think that Europeans have a greater awareness and appreciation of archival institutions simply because they have a greater sense of their own culture and history. I'm not sure what their perceptions of records management are, however. Good luck with the survey!
I am guessing about society as a whole and the various mentioned professions. The questions should be about my own perceptions, not my perceptions about other's perceptions.
The general public does not know what an archivist or records manager is and cares less. Among those who should know, such as public officials, I would guess that their knowledge and appreciation for our profession(s)is in proportion to their need to use the information we acquire, maintain, preserve, and make accessible. The best means of educating the public lies, I believe, with the media. The more positive exposure on TV, radio, and in print, the better. We do not do a good job of publicizing our successes. Our leaders in the information professions need to do a much better job of networking with other shapers of information and opinion. My university, for example, does not see a pressing need for having a records management program. If the SACs review of colleges and universities REQUIRED institutions of higher education to have records management and a depository or archives of some sort we would have regulations on our side. Why don't we work more with the ALA? Why do library schools have so few archival courses? Legislators are the other influential group to educate and woo. If information organizations would work together, we might be able to assert some clout. As it is, improvements and reforms are piece-meal. I have been a graduate student in library school for two and one half years while working in the archives of a small university almost full time. My efforts to establish a records management program for the university and to follow good archival practice were not appreciated by the Library Director or the university. I was forced out of the position and now I am a grant & proposal writer (at the university) until I finish my library degree, one course per semester. My experience leads me to believe archivists and records managers are largely unappreciated and ignored. I hope you will receive replies that make my observations a minority report.
It is difficult to talk about society as if it were a single person. In general most people are indifferent to archival/record storage functions
I have tracked since 1995 English language society's perception of archives as represented in fiction. There appears to be an increased understanding of the importance of archives as seen through the popular media (principally film and television). See http://www.victoria.tc.ca/~mattison/ficarch/index.htm
1) In my experience most people don't know what archives are and have no
perception of them. Since in my opinion, most people don't know what archives
are, they have no sense of the value of archives nor do they see a need to
change a perception that generally does not exist.
Those who can close that gap are those who use archives and work in archives and RM. But this sort of work must reach the public via media that is widely used by the public. Otherwise we are preaching to the already converted which does nothing to close the gap.
Those who create records may recognise the importance of records management and archives but they will not put the resources needed to carry out programs that support control and preservation. Recognition of the problems of RM and Archives is largely reactive to some sort of "bad press" and then gratuitous until the bad press goes away.
Whereas the internet is clearly a good resource for closing that gap, it should not become merely a showcase for pretty stuff or telling stories, esp for archives. That is doing the work of researchers rather than making records accessible through on-line information about holdings.
I believe that archival organizations need to understand society and its needs in order to atrract more use/interest and therefore more positive perceptions. Maybe the reason why we're perceived badly, if at all, is because we aren't connecting to peoples' actual needs. Your questions are biased by a certain sense of it's society's fault Archives aren't highly valued. In my opinion, the lack is on both sides.
The need for and/or the status of archives/records management is not significantly questioned by those in positions of power. There continues to be a struggle to make them understand the importance of the archives/records management programs.
When people inquire about my job, the majority don't know what an archivist does. It's a foreign term to many.
I don't think the general public has much awareness at all of archives and their uses unless they see it brought up in the media or have personal, individual experience with a need for them. While I think the number of members of the public who are achieving that awareness is growing, I still don't believe it is widespread enough to be considered a part of one of the considerations of society as a whole. There doesn't seem to be that critical mass of awareness yet.
In my view, most Americans perceive archives as entirely neutral, conservative (literatally) and a reliable mirror of the status quo. They have absolutely no awareness of their political or legal significance.
I think archival world is poorly perceived as the contrary of
"action man" by most people who do not know what they are talking
about (this is enforced by litterature, cinema and media widely sprea. Those
who know a litlle have respect and even some fear of archives ans archivists
(they know all, they keep all our secrets, they have power over us, they are
governement servants, etc. ...)
Most society NEED to weaken archives and archivists in order to get rid of controls in their action legal or illegal. Question od power, which have nothing to do with law or profesionnal deontology (sorry, I am a professional archivist without any illusions)
society doesn't react to anything unless it hits it in its face. Archives and records are mute instruments and those who care for them are passive. Records are not important until there is a need for them then they are valued and lamented if they have been destroyed.
2. Do you think society in general VALUES archives/records…?
2 k. Establishing the rights of indigenous peoples
2. As an archivist I am somewhat impatient with the profession's obsession with its image. In this country (UK) the Society of Archivists has under 2,000 members. It is a tiny and not very wealthy profession. The most important thing we can do is a professional job when called upon.
(1) What to do with question 2a?
Cannot hold publicly to account or detect deception without good records management (Henry McCandless, author of A Citizen's Guide to Public Accountability - www.accountabilitycircle.org)
Universities teach a lot of theory and not enough practicality, thus people aren't aware of the costs when there are no(or procedures not followed) records management programs established within the organization. Today's children are brought up in a throw away society and don't even know how long to keep their personal records and don't care. We need to change that attitude first.
3. Do you think society sees a greater need for changing its understanding of archival resources and issues?
3. The continued professional distrust by archivists of historians (which I as one who moved from academic research to archives have experienced in a mild form) is potentially extremely damaging. They should be our greatest allies - especially with history proving so attractive to television.
4. Do you think there is a significant gap between society’s understanding of the changing demands on ARM and reality?
Those who can close that gap are those who use archives and work in archives and RM. But this sort of work must reach the public via media that is widely used by the public. Otherwise we are preaching to the already converted which does nothing to close the gap. Whereas the internet is clearly a good resource for closing that gap, it should not become merely a showcase for pretty stuff or telling stories, esp for archives. That is doing the work of researchers rather than making records accessible through on-line information about holdings.
6. How can improvements be made in society’s perceptions…?
Archivists generally talk amongst themselves, speak to the already converted, in language that archivists understand, that is, we use jargon and exclude others through use of this language. We do not generally do a very good job at speaking to a wider audience, at selling the value of archives to the wider public. Partnerships with other professionals would go a long way to bridging gaps in understanding and value that we, as archivists, struggle with every day. In particular, partnerships with educators to produce tools or kits that expose children in primary and secondary schools to the value of history demonstrated through use of archival documentation of events that have meaning in their own lives - local, community. The Nazi gold example is good, at a higher level, but local connections are more tangible and stand a chance of touching more people in a memorable way. Children thus exposed will be more open as they get older to the notion of value/archives, they will have seen it first hand. But other partnerships are important as well, vis, with IT professionals in particular, with the software and hardware industries to address archival issues in electronic record keeping, standards, etc. We need to get out there.
I think public and government have different and sometimes conflicting needs when it comes to access and use of records. Electronic services to public are dictating policy without committment to an infrastructure to support these demands
electronic records in general and the access to WWW for posting metadata about records and in csome cases the complete record is drastically changing preceptions and demands / use among most professions and the general public or individual user.
More international support is needed and the mainstreaming of records and archives management programmes in the development agenda. More fohelp and focus is needed in Africa especially in the area of records management on the subject of managing electronic records. The ICA should do more in these areas. More support is needed to support archival training schools in Africa where resources are so few and books and journals are hard to find. The ICA and other organizations need to do much more.
If we want to create awareness for good recordkeeping practices, and purport their value to the greater community. Then as information professionals/societies and organisations we need to lobby and ensure that all tertiary courses include a module/unit that creates awareness to best practice. Education is a must whether it is formal/informal.....
7. How do you rank POTENTIAL for the following people to make contributions towards positive changes in society’s perceptions…?
#7 need to try to reach opinion makers
7- Politicians, law makers and
top management of business
we need to use public relations experts.
Private citizens who are not necessarily direct users of archives or records centers or part of the profession of archives or records management might have some potential to make contributions towards positive changes in society's perceptions of archives/records centers and the people who operate them.
Teachers at high school level should be made more aware of archive services through some kind of in-service opportunities and then they should be solicited to pass on the varied values of records and records institutions to their students.
Qn 7 Others - Government needs to make more money available to allow for proper care of archives. External resources immediately raise the profile of any service, and the threat of removal of these sources is a big threat. Once standards for storage have been met and adequate space has been found, principal day to day crises are removed. More time can then be spent on Advocacy, outreach and publicity.
Forget journalists, the few with
any sense are far out-weighed by the headline grabbers who, if they use
archives at all, can't understand what they are reading anyway.
It takes more than a ten second grab, or its print equivalent, to justify spending on all that "old stuff".
You forgot to ask about peoples from the economical world.
7# Head of IT companies
7o individual businesses need to be encouraged to retain records, not simply as useful to themselves (which in itself need to be more widely encouraged, for example technical records for major infrastructure is of great importance to engineers/architects/planners/environmentalists for the life of the structure and beyond, which may be upwards of 150 years) but also as part of the cultural heritage of the countires they are in.
8. How do you rank how the following people ACTUALLY do today make contributions towards positive changes in society’s perceptions…?
#8 High School Students
#8 Same as 7 (#7 need to try to reach opinion makers)
#8: others who have done a significant job of promoting use of archival records and thereby promoting archival collections generally has been the City of Montreal. With its recent project to refurbish the canals in the Lachine Canal and the other "urban development" projects that have taken place around the Canal, a tremendous amount of information is out there about its history -- particularly on-site, with commemorative plagues, and explanatory signage that gives indications of where the city has been and where it is going -- excellent model for the promotion of local history using a range of archival evidence.
8 Ditto (7- Politicians, law makers and top management of business)
Generally, I think archival and records mgt professional organizations have not done enough to seek out and inform other communities about the value of records and records keeping. We have done a good job of talking to each other, but not so good at educating others outside our professional spheres. This is changing slightly in some corners. -- I am both an archivist and a records manager.
#8. I think we as archivists and
records managers need to spend more time talking with our constitutents.
However, it is really up to those in administrative positions of power, eg.
campus president and deans, business ceo, etc., need to write letters of
support for our programs to get records retention and disposition schedules
9. Do you think elected public officials and their dept. heads in organizations that create public records perceive archives, records centers and the people who operate them in the same way as you have answered above for society as a whole: Same, Some Differences, Major Differences (explain in #10)
#9 May see archives and records centers as a dumping ground for the items they no longer want.
#9 people involved in record making & keeping seldom seem to see themselves as others see us.
#9: With all groups our users tend to perceive us only in relation to their exact needs - we bear the burder of publicizing our breadth to increase understanding, support and use.
#9 In both public sector and private sector orgs, most line managers and workers don't necessarily perceive record-keeping negatively, but consider it extra work.
#9 - In strategic planning, systemic infrastructure support, organizational placement or access to senior management for archives and records. Even if records is placed in IT - management doesn't understand the concept of "content" management. Too much emphasis on point-in-time systems that eliminate or reduce access to older records, etc.
#9: I believe that agency heads, public officials, etc. view archives as more of a necessary evil, an annoyance, something that takes their time with no perceivable benefit, and a possible outlet for negative news about their activities. Not good.
#9. While they know the uses of records, they may not know what its involved in archives/records centers to care for and retain records.
For Q 9 - most officials & heads see archives & records centres & their staff as nothing more than a nusiance and a hindrance
Link to Q9: Obviously these officers would see the importance of records for the public organisations in their jurisdiction, for the rights of citizens and for the community (now and in the future). Unfortunately, most of these entities do not see the importance. Only education (positive promotion) can bring about a change. It is possible, but it will take effort.
Q.9 In my view, they have very little appreciation of the potential value of good records management to their organisations.
9 there is a significant failing in the education of current government administrators (record creators) who are of the view as expressed to me by a senior executive in charge of billions of taxpayers' money that 'records/archives need to exist I guess -- but what's it do do with me?"
9 - a small, insular subset of society exists within public records organisations - if they dont "perceive archives, records centers and the people who operate them" differently to society as a whole, then God help us all!! They must have differing perceptions due to the nature of their work, but they certainly need to disseminate their views widely, so the general populations understands the importance of good record keeping and doesn't think it means "filing"!!
#9. I think the general populace vaguely knows of our existance, but has never had to think about us in a concrete way. Information is kept, we have it, people can go there to retrieve it. Unfortunately, elected officials' level of knowledge and understanding seem the same. yet these are the very people upon whom many of us depend for funding. They mandate we exist, yet do not supply any concrete means for the work to be done. This is probably the most significant area of lack in any group.
The record creators have unrealistic expectations of archivist, e.g. find information from the past immediately and present it in condensed form for a report but funds are not allocated for the proper housing of the records nor for the personal to proces the records and/or do the required research.
Those who create records may recognise the importance of records
management and archives but they will not put the resources needed to carry out
programs that support control and preservation. Recognition of the problems of
RM and Archives is largely reactive to some sort of "bad press" and
then gratuitous until the bad press goes away.
#9:They are aware of the function of records keepers, though they still may not appreciate it.
Re: #9 My perception is that while many (but hardly all) recognise the need for archives and records centers, few of them feel the need to encourage their clients/general public about the significance of their organisation's archives/records centers.
9. See archives, etc. and money pits, no political return for money invested, not vote getters, etc.
#9 elected public officials usually ignore the archives until budget cutting time.
#9. Department heads who create the records that will eventually in up in the trash, records center, or archives need to work more closely with records management officers to ensure the proper disposition of records. Records management officers and archivists should be able to make final judgement calls on implementation of schedules. Here in the City of Los Angeles for example, department heads are solely in charge of determining what and what will not be sent to the records center and archives. I do not believe they should have this sole responsibility.
We used to have researchers. Now we have users and shoppers. And these users do not want to credit where they obtained the archival materials on which their work and products are based. No wonder it is difficult to obtain visibility for archives and advocate for core funding and infrastructure.
11. Main Professional Work/Discipline
#11 Note - professional experience is as a holistic recordkeeping professional (cannot be pigeonholed as Archivist or Records Manager or even Business Analyst which is equally relevant)
For below, question 11, I have worked equally as an archivist and a historian. Most of my paid career has been as an archivist but I have been moving more and more to the historical side - DAA 1979, PhD 1990
Re #11 I am an archivist and records manager.
#11 profession: professor (communication studies/journalism)
response to #11 = public sector / govt. analyst
Manuscripts librarian/archivist, with 10 years experience in this field;
many more years experience as librarian.
(4)Specification question 11: historian + archivist/educator.
11. Archivist / Public Librarian
Minister of religion
11m. I work as an archivist/records manager (a combined program)
# 11 and educator and administrator.
#11 Archives & recordkeeping policy
Q11. Archivist & Records Manager
archivist & attorney
# 11 Profession = archivist, records manager, information access and project development
This is based on the opinions of a society based on a reliance on oral history, that distrusts the written word -in other words the society in which this particular archive operates, not on the society that I come from. I work in a variety of fields, principally as an Archaeologist, but also as an archivist - which I am doing at present - also records management, clerical, library etc etc. My present position I have held for 4 months. A small archive, still trying to convince people that an archive is important and actually has a value - both to them personally and to society
11. Communication manager introduction RMA/DMS
#11 - I am also the Agency Records Officer. We have one official policy, with little support (budget/personnel - I am the only person in Records Management) for over 3000 employees statewide. Info Tech has not included me in any discussions, and we are scanning sensitive public records without a policy for file formats, proprietary issues, etc. As much as I want to increase awareness in the Agency, I have been thwarted by being told not to discuss the issues with any one in the Agency or outside the Agency, and to accept all paper records, without proper documentation. I trained over 170 records liaisons in the past two years, have set up a functional Records Center (~7000 cf), created standard operating procedures, included forms, etc., on the Agency Intranet. We were awarded the "Award of Achievement" by the State Archives in May 2001, and to date, the Agency Director has not accepted that award. We could have been selected last year for the Award of Achievement, but because the Director had not accepted the first one, the supervisor was "embarrassed" and did not submit the paperwork. I would have submitted the paperwork, had I known it was proper for the Records Officer to do so. However, when the Agency needed records for a Highway Patrol class action suit, I located all the information within twenty minutes for pick up. Does that tell you how people feel about Records? South Carolina, USA
13 The society in which I work is in the following region:
#13 International Community
Number 13: 45 Countries Worldwide
My replies are specific to South Africa, where we are emerging from a case where the National Archives was perceived to be an agent of the apartheid government. The archives service is struggling to regain credibility and is doing a pretty good job, though always room for improvement. It is probably difficult to draw conclusions from an international survey, when conditions vary so much from country to country.
I come from an African society, where archives are seen are part of the agencies who limit access to information. Except for reserachers and historian the average citizen is unware of what archives are and what the role of the arhivist is. Some even percieve national archives as part of the police as they are fortifies and security gurads posted at the gates throughout the day. national Archivists, please open your doors to the ordinary citizen.
Records professional - why do you assume that an archivist and a records manager are different? That's not what it is in the rest of the world, regardless of whether the situation exists in some parts or not.
1. Archives and RM are not the same and ought to be perceived differently. Lumping them together does neither any favours.
Understand that CITRA-members do see the world: can we assume their country (homeland) to profit considerably from their international meetings?
(2) Feel the need to emphasize the record continuum: it is (current)
records AND archives we are talking about.
(3) Strongly support the notion that there is more than PUBLIC records and archives. (... No more ENRONs)
We really need to abandon the stereotype of archives and records being old, dusty files locked in a warehouse a la Indiana Jones. It's time for that stereotype to go and for records and information to be recognized as dynamic, not dead. I am a records manager and archivist for a Fortune 200 company.
I work in the United States where most people with the exception of genealogists and historians do not know what an archivist is or does.
I live in an area (Boston MA) rich in archives and historical assoc and sites. Usually when I say I am an archivist, people light up and find that very interesting. Also I have friends who work on OPen Meeting Laws and are concerned with open govt documents. so I believe my views are accuarate for an area like this. I suggest that the view of records mgt etc. varies a lot by geography.
I think that historians and geneologists have less clout in advocating for records/archives because they have an obvious vested interest. Elected officials; people from Secry of Stste office in US states, speaking on the subject would help. Librarians are of course good allies. Educators? legislators. I would like to see people who don't have an obvious interest in records/archives speak / do psa about them.
My experience in the last 3 years has been as a research assistant in a specialized field, women's history.
The majority of people do not think of archives at all until they have a very specific reason to do so. I think this leads to severe misconceptions about what archives are and what the role of archivists and records managers is.
I think in this hectic digital world there is no interest for somtehing so no trendy -records and archives
Enabling legislation along with compliance mechanism is paramount.
I think that some writers, film and documentary makers and commentators have great potential to raise understandings about archives and records. William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, the science fiction writers, have raised issues relating to electronic archives amongst computer programmers and science fiction readers, both through their books and opinion pieces in magazines. Ken Burns and other documentary makers have used archives extensively in their programs. It may be time to get them to make programs about archives rather than with archives.