Professional Standards

April 7, 2009

The archives world has spent the past several decades struggling to establish and strengthen a distinct professional identity. They created the Academy of Certified Archivists and educational standards to help give credibility to their professional programs and have worked towards uniform standards in most all areas of theory and practice.

The problem with this is that archival repositories, like their collections themselves, are unique. The uniqueness of their records (using the term in the less technical meaning that includes manuscript collections, images, etc.) suggests that at least a portion of the users of a repository will also be unique in their research needs. There will be many aspects of the records that will be different from any others and defy standard description. The mission of each institution may also be different. Why should we expect to force these unique attributes into a uniform set of standards?

Perhaps the mission part of this is the key. If a repository has a mission only of preserving records that its staff finds important based on their own uniform standards, records that they will make available in ways governed only by their own theories and traditions, then a consolidated profession is the way to go. If, on the other hand, a repository has a mission that is determined by taking into account the views of other stakeholders, those who created the records, those who will use them, those who will provide resources or donate collections, etc., then the methods used by staff might need to be just as diverse as the collections; just as unique.

The archives profession should not be trying to consolidate and create uniform standards. It should, rather, be trying to remain fluid and adapt to changing situations. These situations include user needs, nature of collections, technologies that generate records as well as those used to access them, and changing values and missions as seen through the eyes of stakeholders. Archivists should be moving more towards a general concept of collection management, incorporating theories of records management, library and information sciences, museum studies, and other allied fields. The theories that are most appropriate to the mission of the unique institution and the nature of its unique collections should be used.

Of course, this would mean that archivists would have to relinquish a lot of control. Wonder how that’ll work?

The Heretic


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: