I attended the Society of Archivists’ conference last week. It was quite a long and full programme, extending from Tuesday afternoon to Friday morning. The theme was ‘Education, Development and Tomorrow’s Professionals’. I used to want to be one of the Tomorrow People when I was a kid and at this conference I gave a talk on myself as a ‘tomorrow’s professional’. Well, I’m not able to teleport and I’m not telepathic, which is a shame, but I thought it was worth raising the subject of an archivists, such as myself, who do not actually look after archives, be they paper or binary. As I work for the Hub, an archival gateway, my work is all about enabling cross-searching of descriptions of archives.
I hope that I made the case for the importance of archivists being willing to become more technically-aware and the importance of understanding technical concepts and language to a degree in order to work successfully with software developers and systems support staff. Whilst the majority of archivists are not likely to need to gain an in-depth knowledge of systems, metadata standards, protocols, etc., it is going to be necessary for an increasing minority to be willing to work more closely with new technologies. In addition, we need to be aware of the way that younger people especially are working with the Web.
The morning session during which I gave my presentation was introduced with a very fine paper by Louise Craven from The National Archives talking about new ways of thinking about archives and the status of community archives and internet archives. Caroline Williams from LUCAS then talked very eloquently about the new prioritising of personal papers, which have traditionally been under-valued compared to organisational archives. Both of these papers raised the concept of context, which is so central to the way that we think about archives. The lively discussion after the session continued this theme.
We usually think in terms of archival context, but it is something that is worth thinking about in a broader framework. For instance, the whole issue of context on the Web and the way that people use Web resources is well worthy of further thought. It may be that archivists find it increasingly difficult to promote the importance of archival context in an age where users so often create their own context. In the end, documents can have any number of contexts, and this will affect the way that they are interpreted. Maybe all we can do is to ensure that the archival context is maintained, for those who want to recognise it.