Our archivist, Dr. Craig Fees, has been invited to be the guest host for the Archives and Records Association's #ArchiveHour on Twitter on August 30th (2018). He will be online from 8 to 9 pm - posing questions, responding to questions, and taking part (or just standing back in awe at the technology) in the conversation that develops. The #ArchiveHour is a Twitter-based conversation that takes place on the last Thursday of each month from 8-9 pm, with a new theme each time, hosted by one of nine ARA nations/regions/sections and a guest host. It engages archivists and archive enthusiasts from around the globe. Craig will be tweeting on the PETT's Twitter handle @pettconnect.
This edition of #ArchiveHour is hosted by the ARA's Film Sound and Photography Group (@ARAFSPG).
The theme is:
Back in 1995 the Planned Environment Therapy Trust was assessing the future for itself and its Archive and Study Centre, and looking at things like the ideal staffing levels for an ambitious 21st century Archive and Study Centre. As part of that process I set out, in my report of August 12th 1995, the tasks I was doing on a daily basis. This was before the days of the Internet and websites (see #ArchiveHour 3!) so all of that - and Archive Weekends as well! - was still to come.
I was a lone archivist at the time, and much of this is probably what any lone archivist has on their plate.
I also wonder how much is just specific to a charity archive, or even what is unique to this particular archive.
The portrait is by the same daughter whose joyful welcome to the Archive and Study Centre graced the home page of the website from 1997 to 2011 (again, see #Archive Hour 3), done when she was older.
The Current Archivist's Tasks.
(August 12, 1995)
In general terms an archive is a holding place of the materials of personal and social memory; in conditions which ensure their longest possible survival; in such a way that they are quickly and easily available to potential researchers; with measures of security and control which insure that materials are protected from breaches of confidentiality, from theft, misuse, or loss. This archive extends its brief to records which could appropriately be deposited here, but which are held elsewhere.*
- The archivist's first task is to be aware of collections of material held elsewhere, to make the archive available to suitable collections, to actively seek material (especially material whose whereabouts are unknown, or which is known to be vulnerable), and finally to negotiate the terms and conditions on which material is taken into the Archive.
- Having arranged for the transfer of materials, the archivist then has two immediate concerns: insuring the best possible health of the materials, and establishing what is called 'intellectual' control over them. The latter involves arranging, listing, cataloguing, and developing public lists and finding aids to make the materials more accessible to researchers. The former involves an assessment of the condition of the materials, taking suitable conservation/ preservation action (e.g., dealing with mould; removing photographic negatives from acidic wrappers); rehousing the materials in archivally safe boxes, papers, and so on.
- The archivist is then responsible for managing the archives: For making them known to the public, liaising with prospective users, answering queries, overseeing the use of archive materials, providing assistance, insuring that materials are carefully handled at all stages of their use, insuring that any restrictions or conditions on use are maintained, monitoring publication and use of materials to insure that agreements on confidentiality and use are adhered to.
- This archive has a wider task, an outreach programme to try to insure the survival and accessibility of materials held elsewhere. This facet of the work involves locating, listing, advising, and in some cases helping to provide suitable storage materials for collections which are held elsewhere, often in private homes or in institutions whose primary task is very much in the practical present.
- The archivist is also responsible for mounting exhibitions, putting up displays, and creating appropriate educational packages or publications which encourage the understanding and use of the collections.
The Library aims to hold a copy of all published material - books, pamphlets, articles, journals, films, video and audio recordings, and other media as they arise - relating to the history, development and practice of the Centre's three focal centres, and more specifically materials directly related to or concerning the people, places and organisations represented in the archive's collections. It also aims to hold a significant body of supporting material.
- This requires the archivist to scan current bibliographies and book lists, television and radio listings, and film, video and recordings catalogues for relevant materials in each of the three areas.
- It requires the archivist to study older bibliographies, footnotes and references for potential sources, and to attend to references which arise in archival material.
- It requires the archivist to scan secondhand book catalogues, to visit secondhand book stores, and to be aware of any relevant materials which might be becoming available.
- In reading, in talking with people, in going through correspondence, and so on, the archivist also becomes aware of materials which may or may not have been published, which may or may not have been published under certain titles or noms du plume, which may or may not have been produced under the aegis of deceased organisations or in obscure periodicals, and it is one of the archivist's tasks simply to attempt to locate these or else to disprove their existence.
- The archivist is then responsible for accessioning, cleaning/preserving, copying or converting format (e.g., film into video; NTSC video into PAL video; disc or reel-to-reel recording onto audio cassette), cataloguing and putting onto computer, arranging on shelves, ascertaining copyright, and managing use.
3. Oral History (including Video and Film)
The oral history programme serves a variety of needs. At the core is oral archiving - compiling archival accounts (which might include, for example, the oral equivalent of case histories) where written records have been sparse in the first place, or have been lost or destroyed. The programme also exists to build up a body of raw research material, documenting the history, events and practices of the therapeutic community and its environment, in order to stimulate and facilitate research and discussion. Another element is the creation of a kind of reference library containing recordings of conferences, seminars, lectures, and discussions.
There is also the potential for the creation of a centre of practice and excellence in oral history as such, encouraging and promoting the use of oral and video history in the three focal areas, but becoming as well a kind of regional community resource, aiming to achieve the kind of presence and recognition within the field of oral history that we would hope to achieve in the field of archives.
The archivist, therefore, has a number of broad responsibilities:
- Identifying, locating, and acquiring relevant recordings being made or made in the past in the three relevant areas;
- Identifying and making contact with potential sources, and conducting recorded interviews;
- Identifying appropriate conferences, seminars and other meetings, and arranging to record or encouraging and facilitating others' recording;
- Which may involve conservation, and will involve copying, processing, documenting, transcription, aftercare, and attention to questions of copyright and ownership.
- The archivist also provides advice, help, and, where appropriate, equipment and facilities;
- Purchases and ensures the maintenance of equipment and supplies, and
- Develops appropriate professional involvements, quite apart from
- Initiating and responding to joint projects and other opportunities which arise.
4. Study Centre
- From the beginning the Centre's central mission has included the organisation, promotion and hosting of talks, seminars and conferences, and the promotion of research through bursaries and through the provision of residential facilities. This has been the least developed area of the Centre's work, in part because of the amount of work involved which is eccentric to the primary task of building the archive and library collections. In playing host the archivist is not only responsible for all the usual pre-event preparations, but for cleaning and preparing bedrooms, cleaning and preparing the event venue, providing food and drink, and cleaning up afterwards.
- The Centre's work also includes publication, and the archivist is responsible for each step, from recording or compiling and typing, to copying and running off labels, to posting and billing.
- Limited to date by resources, a core project of the Archive and Study Centre remains the compilation of a guide to relevant formal and informal archival holdings within the United Kingdom, combining a kind of rescue archaeology with a rigorous survey, involving searches through extant sources, the creation of a computer data base, and preparation of the results for publication.
- Secretarial: There have been occasions when we have had a large accession of books or articles and the job of entering these into the computer has been farmed out. Transcription is farmed out (although checking, printing, photocopying and posting are not). On balance, however, all secretarial jobs from typing to filing to ordering materials and answering the phone are done by the archivist.
- The archivist cleans and maintains the premises, and has traditionally been responsible for shifting file cabinets and boxes, building shelves, painting, installing security measures, and anything else to do with the immediate physical life of the Archive. All plant and fixtures are ultimately the responsibility of the archivist.
- The archivist is responsible for recruiting and overseeing volunteers to help with the various facets of the Centre's work.
* Editor's Note, 2018: We were in the same position as the early County Archivists, following the Second World War: establishing their services, raising their own awareness of the records still extant in the County, locating those in danger and either offering them a home or helping the owners to understand their value and how best to look after them, and generally raising the public's awareness of archives and of the County Archives in particular. It was an educational and consciousness-raising exercise; encouraging people to think historically about the future, and so recognise and value the records they might have or be aware of, while also becoming aware of the new Archive and its services.