Words of Wisdom for a New Archivist

I have been University Archivist for a year now.  I’m in the “looking back-looking forward” phase.  Much has been accomplished in one thin year with the assistance of the librarians (and one very savvy student worker).  The digital repository is filling in nicely, there has been a heavy focus on increased awareness of the Archives and its benefits, and MUCH (re)organizing.

Almost the first day in this position, I happened upon a letter written from one Archivist to another.  I felt the letter had found its way into my hands on purpose.  Here is an excerpt from that letter:  “I, as much as anyone, realize how much time and work the archives can be.  You will soon learn that you can’t do everything, and will need to establish certain limited priorities and goals.  You may also learn that everyone has their own ideas on what archives should be doing according to their own perspectives.  Some expect it to be a museum.  Others expect you to be an historian in residence.  Still others will want primary sources for scholarly history, while the administrators will think of you as the college attic, and the public relations people will see only human interest and heritage stuff.  Few will see the archives as a vital part of the responsible administration of the school–that is until they can’t find that certain report which was given a few years ago, and discover that you have rescued a copy from the campus basement somewhere.”

As I look back on the past year, and forward to the next, this little paragraph (which I keep pinned on a board next to my computer) keeps everything in good perspective for me.  Thank you to the Archivist who penned those words of wisdom for someone he may never know.


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