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An organized collection of the noncurrent records of an institution, government, organization, or corporate body, or the personal papers of an individual or family, preserved in a repository for their historical value. Managed and maintained by an archivist. Also refers to the physical repository itself.
The word archives has three potential meanings: materials, location, and agency. Materials refer to all historical records (not just documents and manuscripts but videos, disks, and other tangible forms as well) held and preserved by an institution. Location is the building or place where materials are stored, also called a repository. Agency is the program responsible for maintaining and making available historical records, which can vary from federal, state, local, or affiliate). Furthermore, archival materials are not published, always famous documents, or even necessarily old.
Libraries and Archives
Although archiving began long before the first libraries were established, the two institutions are often confused. Libraries hold published discrete items that can usually be found in other locations, whereas archives hold unpublished, published, and unique groups of related items that cannot be found elsewhere. Libraries also adhere to predetermined arrangement classification systems and have open stacks (or items that are available to circulate in and outside of the building). Archives, on the other hand, use relation and function to classify items and have closed stacks (items that are not permitted to leave the room or premises in which they are stored). Archives are usually created by a parent organization or institution that will serve simultaneously with its own mission, vision, and purpose, while libraries are created and sponsored by a variety of individuals and organizations which it may or may not have to answer to.
History of Archives
The earliest known archives date back to ancient Greece in 690 B.C. where records were kept at the various temples of worship. The first official state archives began between 121 and 60 B.C. in Rome. Modern archives, however, did not surface until sixteenth century Spain, with other major archives springing up later in France and England. It was not until 1934, that the United States established its National Archives, which remains one of the leading archival institutions today.
Archivists, according to the archival mission, are those trained to identify, preserve, and make available records of enduring value. The first step toward becoming an archivist is to identify the necessary education, skills, and knowledge. Earning an undergraduate degree is simply not enough. Many entry-level positions require at least a graduate degree in library science or history, as well as experience or training in areas such as preservation and conservation. Archivists must also undergo a certification process, which can include oral and written examinations. Of course, once certification is granted, archivists must be sure to keep their certifications up-to-date. However, these are not the only qualifications. Archivists must posses a plethora of skills and knowledge. They must know how to perform research, analyze document content and context, organize large amounts of information, write clear instructions for document retrieval and usage, and possess abilities to work with computers and electronic records. They are also expected to join professional organizations, uphold the professional code of ethics, and participate in continuing education programs.
The job responsibilities for an archivist are numerous. However, they can be broken down into three major categories: identification, preservation, and availability. Identification involves three steps. The first is conducting surveys, which are used to determine things such as locating items of possible value to the institution or to examine preservations needs within a repository. How the survey is constructed and administered will depend on what they institution is analyzing. Next, items are appraised. Finally, there is the acquisitions process, in which records are acquired (such as from donors or other archival repositories). Preservation deals primarily with arrangement, preservation techniques, and security issues. Arrangement is how records are categorized according to professional and institutional standards. Preservation includes safeguarding records from theft, deterioration, and restoration of damaged materials. This step also requires policies and procedures be put into place about how to store and care for specific items. Safety regulations can include monitoring patron use and requiring staff to undergo security checks when entering and leaving the repository. The third and final category, availability, is the responsibility of the archivist to make their records available to the public. They do so by arranging materials in an orderly and consistent manner that promotes easy access. This can be accomplished through collection arrangement, displays, and presentations. As a result, archivists follow strict guidelines for classifying and storing materials, as they must be able to give specific details about items and where they are to be located within the repository. Availability also calls for policies and procedures that will protect historical records from physical damage. Such policies might include banning food, water, and writing utensils (except those supplied to researchers and patrons by the repository) to guard against potential harm.
Professor and author Bruce Dearstyne identified the eight roles of the archivist. The first of these is the role of agent to the past and the future. This means that archivists must always bear in mind historical significance and its importance to posterity. Second, they must work in conjunction with related information fields. For example, many archivists work closely with librarians and records managers to determine the value of records and their place in the repository. Next, they act as organizers. This requires archivists to manage, coordinate, and allocate resources in a manner that allows easy access and use by staff and patrons. Fourth and as mentioned earlier, archivists should act as evaluators of program materials by continually assessing records. Fifth, they should assert control and order. This includes systematic filing and storing of items. Sixth, they ensure physical survival of records through security, storage, and disaster planning. Archivists foster access to valuable records and so they must also encourage patrons and researchers to make use of their collections. They can do this through various promotional campaigns (articles or exhibits). Finally, archivists act as public relations coordinators for their repository. This means that they attempt to reach out to the community via conferences and presentations that demonstrate the importance and richness of their resources.
The current outlook for the archival profession can be summarized in one word: limited. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, archivists held about 27,000 positions in 2004. Thirty-four percent worked in museums and historical sites; sixteen percent were employed in state and private institutions; twenty-eight percent were in federal, state, local, or regional agencies. In the United States, most archivists were employed at the National Archives or the Department of Defense.Those considering the archival profession should also consider related jobs. Curators, museum technicians, records managers, and records administrators all perform jobs that are closely related to archival work, as keen competition in archival positions is expected with the number of qualified applicants by far outnumbering the number of positions. The field of archives, however, is very mobile. Archivists can move from federal, state, and local agencies into educational, religious, fraternal, corporate, and private institutions. Advancement opportunities, however, are very limited and usually require a doctorate in history or library science.
Code of Ethics
Codes of ethics are customary in many job fields and there are many reasons as to why one might be written and enforced. The archival code of ethics was established for the following reasons: to inform new members of the high standards within the profession, to remind experienced archivists of their responsibilities, and to educate all who have contact with archives about the archival mission, vision, and purpose. The archival code of ethics covers all activities and responsibilities that archivists will encounter and attempts to regulate them. These include: collection policies, relations and restrictions with donors, description of items, privacy and restricted information, use and restrictions of materials, information concerning researchers, research by archivists, complaints about other archival institutions, and professional activities.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition, Archivists, curators, and museum technicians. http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos065.htm.
- Dearstyne, Bruce. 2000. Managing historical records programs: A guide for historical agencies. California: AltaMira Press.
- Hunter, Gregory S. 2003. Developing and maintaining practical archives. 2d ed. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.
- Kurtz, Michael. 2004. Managing archival and manuscript repositories. Chicago: The Society of American Archivists.
- Society of American Archivists. So you want to be an archivist: An overview of the archival profession. http://www.archvists.org/prof-education/arprof.asp.
- Yakel, Elizabeth. 1994. Starting an archives. New Jersey: Society of American Archivists and the Scarecrow Press.