What Are Archives? (Or, Shameless Plug for Archives Hub Authors)

(And as I am not one of the authors in question, I can do the shameless plugging:)

I’m proud to announce that two of our colleagues here at the Hub, Jane Stevenson and Paddy Collis, have been included in this important anthology of essays What Are Archives? Cultural and Theoretical Perspectives: A Reader. The collection has been edited by Louise Craven of The National Archives (UK) and brings together a range of voices around this complex question. Underpinning the question, ‘What Are Archives?’ is a fundamental change in perspective where new answers to that question are beginning to emerge, as Craven notes. We are now, she says, beginning to adopt a wider perspective, “looking at archives from the outside, rather than from the inside” (Preface).

Jane Stevenson’s contribution, ‘The Online Archivist: A Positive Approach to the Digital Information Age,’ is an excellent overview of the practical issues that emerge in the realm of ‘online archives.’ She considers the evolving skillsets needed by information professionals in general and archivists in particular, especially around emerging technologies. “We need to know how to share and exchange data, how to structure finding aids to enable sophisticated searching, what the advantages and disadvantages are of using controlled vocabularies…”(90). Above all, she says, “If the archive profession does not address this need to change and adapt to meet the needs of the new information society, we run the risk of being sidelined in this most crucial area of work”(105).

Paddy (Gerard) Collis’s essay, ‘Permitted Use and Users: The Fallout Shelter’s Sealed Environment’ takes an altogether more exploratory and philosophical approach to the central question of the collection. Through a series of meditations on the ‘archives’ such as the caves at Lascaux, nuclear waste repositories, and avant-garde art exhibits, Paddy asks us to question our perhaps restricted notion of ‘the archive,’ and significantly the polarising concept of the ‘casual’ visitor versus the ‘serious’ researcher.

Well done to both Paddy and Jane for these valuable contributions. We’re very lucky to have you sitting in desks across from us!