Below is the text of an email I sent to the New York Times today.

Date: Sat, 1 Feb 2014 13:59:06 -0500
Subject: Re: “New York Court Archivist Isn’t Letting Retirement Stop Him”
From: Meridith Halsey <mlhalsey@gmail.com>
To: character@nytimes.com

Is it with concern and disappointment that I write to you about the article by Corey Kilgannon entitled, “New York Court Archivist Isn’t Letting Retirement Stop Him.”

The article almost touches on a pressing issue facing the archival profession today: the decision of many institutions to let their archives programs lapse. This seems as though it might be the case at the court archives in New York, but the point is left vague. A important question to answer is, are the records under Mr. Abrams’ care still accessible to the public? How will New York’s lawyers conduct research on state cases from the pre-internet era? How will journalists be able to do the same? It seemed clear that Mr. Abrams himself was happy to resign from responding to the public’s inquiries.

(Other questions that are of particular interest to archivists, but which are perhaps beyond the scope of a character study article, include: Why is there no successor to Mr. Abrams? Has funding for the archives been permanently cut? If so, why? And what is the city’s plan for maintaining the records in the event that Mr. Abrams ends his tenure as a volunteer?)

I was also disappointed by the author’s insinuation that dedicated archivists tend to be uneasy in social situations; the profession is people-focused; without people who are interested in using the archives, there would be no point in maintaining said archives. I would urge Mr. Kilgannon to visit more archivists, or visit their webpages, to get a broader view of what kind of people make up the bulk of the profession. Some suggestions on where to begin are:

http://nixonara.wordpress.com/
http://www.archivesnext.com/
http://blogs.archives.gov/aotus/
– Search #ArchivesShelfie on Twitter

Finally, I was saddened to see that Mr. Abrams’ particular distaste for interacting with the public seemed to be normalized in this article. The article concludes with:

“In other words, now that he is no longer working here, he can finally get some work done here. ‘Now I can focus on important stuff,’ he said.”

On the contrary, making the holdings of the archives accessible to the public IS important stuff. I would like to bring your attention to the SAA Core Values Statement, which includes the following language:

“Archivists select, preserve, and make available primary sources that document the activities of institutions, communities and individuals.” –SAA
Core Values of Archivists

As you see, making one’s holdings available is one of the three primary duties of an archivist. Allowing Mr. Abrams’ statement to stand in a vacuum allows the reader to assume that his sentiment is shared by many or all archivists, which is a perception that archivists are actively trying to dispel. In fact, as a profession, archivists welcome and encourage the public’s interest in archives and are we are constantly trying to attract more people through outreach (e.g. the National Archives on Facebook, the Massachusetts Historical Society on Twitter, and the Archives of American Art on Pinterest).

Sincerely,
Meridith

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4 thoughts on “The Popular Perception of Archivists

  1. As an Archivist, I know that his being a volunteer will enable him make more archives available to the public when he is closeted in the stack area to do the critical work of documenting and describing the documents. When you are an employee serving the public takes precedence over that work which is necessary for putting up new accruals on the archives that are accessible to the public

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