Celebrating real “citizen archivists”

During the discussion a few weeks ago about how people think the term “citizen archivist” should be used I started collecting references to people who I think provide good examples of real citizen archivists. Again we are talking here about:

people who take responsibility for carrying out archival functions for records or papers that are either their own personal property or which are currently not under the custodianship of an archives or archivist. [my phrasing]

people working _outside_ established institutions who are doing archival-quality work (not simply collecting), typically in an area that is neglected or inadequately addressed by established collections. Citizen archivists collect and add value to records of significance, many of which ultimately find their ways into institutions. [Rick Prelinger’s phrasing]

Celebrating the work of these kinds of community or amateur archivists acknowledges what we all know–that the archival community is larger than the archival profession itself. We know we certainly don’t have enough paid archivists to care for all the world’s valuable records and documents; the world needs people to step forward and take responsibility for documenting the people and places they care about and preserving their history. And, of course in some cases a community may want to retain responsibility for maintaining their own records rather than turn over custody of their collections to an archival repository. There are many reasons why people step forward to become what some people call “citizen archivists,” but surely they all share the kind of dedication to preserving historical materials that inspires many professional archivists.

Here are a few of the examples I’ve run across:

  • The work of the late Mayme A. Clayton in assembling one of the largest and most important collections of rare and out-of-print books, manuscripts, documents, films, music, photographs and memorabilia documenting African-American culture.
  • The ACTUP Oral History Project
  • The Prajnya Archives for the visual documentation of women in public life in South Asia
  • If you’re a member of SAA you can find another example in the most recent issue of Archival Outlook which has an article describing the work of the admirable citizen archivist, Erica DeGlopper, who took responsibility for the Art Shay photography collection. (May/June 2010 issue, what, no hat tip, SAA to the discussion on this blog about the term? Tsk, tsk!)

    But as I said these are just the examples I’ve run across recently–I’m sure you know of others. Please share in the comments your suggestions for people or organizations that you think qualify as citizen archivists!

    Be Sociable, Share!
    This entry was posted in Advocacy, Archival profession. Bookmark the permalink.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *