The problem with the scholar as “archivist,” or is there a problem?

I have a problem, dear readers. And I think the solution to my problem is that I need to get over my problem. But let’s get to the end of the post and see if you think that’s the right solution.

Regular readers will remember past discussion here about “the increasingly common use of “archive” as a verb,” the use of the phrase “citizen archivist,” and the evolving relationship between archivists and historians. I was reminded of some of these discussions as I started to delve more seriously into resources about the digital humanities to prepare to write a blog post and the role of the archivist in digital humanities. This is not that post. This post returns to the same old semantic ground as earlier posts. What should my reaction be when I hear scholars talk about the “archives” they have created, collected, or manage? Because right now my reaction is pretty much akin to my dog’s when the mailman approaches. A low threatening growl, possibly followed by sharp nasty barking if the situation escalates (well, I’ve never actually barked at a scholar, but you get the picture). When my dog does this, I try to calm her down and explain that the mailman is our friend. He brings us something we need. She is not swayed by these arguments. Neither does it matter that the mailman delivers mail almost every day and never enters the house. You’d think she’d get over her instinctual reaction to protect her turf, and yet every time she growls. 

Before the advent of our wonderful digital age, scholars collected (primarily) copies of the materials on which they based their research. Slides, photographs, photocopies, transcriptions. I’m sure university archives are used to weeding through these kinds of personal research collections. Did scholars call their materials “archives” back then too? Probably, but I would guess they had a better understanding that what they had assembled was more akin to a personal archives–their own research collection–than an “archive” in the strict sense of the word.

But today, as we have previously discussed, just as you are curating your snack collection when you pull those Doritos off the supermarket shelf, any collection or assemblage of copies of original materials gets called “an archive.” When a scholar says her students are creating archives when they are assembling collections of links to digitized archival materials, does she really not understand what’s wrong with that usage? Does a scholar not understand that when she talks about the “archive” that she’s created, that I’m confused because I don’t know whether she’s talking about a collection of copies or a collection of original materials, and moreover, that this is an important distinction?

And what of scholars who are collecting copies of potential digital ephemera? Harvesting copies of things from the web that today are something publicly available but tomorrow may be unique and valuable scholarly collections? Do these collections have a more valid claim to the word “archives”? Should I growl at them too because they talking about “archiving” things and aren’t involving any real archivists?

And so, back to my problem. I don’t want to be like my dog. Scholars and historians who work with or collect archival materials–whether originals or copies–are our friends, just like the mailman. And, like the mailman, they will keep encroaching on archival turf (semantically and otherwise) day after day, taking no mind of a little growling. As we’ve previously discussed, the world does not care about what it truly means to be an archivist or for materials to be “an archives.” They use the words the way they want to. And it’s possible that we should even be flattered, as the term “archives” may be employed by scholars to add an air of increased importance or academic heft to their digital projects.

Intellectually, I know the popularist approach is the right one. In other words, if David Ferriero wants to call someone who tags images a “citizen archivist” because it makes that person feel more valued and empowered, then I should just get over my qualms. The important thing is that people are contributing to the descriptions of records and getting more involved with the archives. If historians are working with digital collections of archival materials, that’s the important thing. It’s all good, right? And I, maybe more than most archivists, want to see our profession move out of the background and get more attention for the work that we do and the collections that we care for. So I should just relax and embrace everyone, like a laid-back Golden Retriever, right?

“Fertörakos #16″ courtesy of Thomas Lieser

Ah, but there’s still a problem. People do appreciate our collections.

Scholars and the public love it when they have access to our collections, in person or online. Everyone loves the old stuff in archives, and they love to interact with it. But most of them (scholars included?) have little or no understanding that there’s a profession and discipline behind that old stuff.  Yesterday afternoon on Twitter an archivist wrote:

was just told, by one of the Town employees who is taking over the archives, “An archive is just like a library, how hard can it be?”

Sometimes when my dog growls, it’s not the mailman. I’m sure that the archivist in this case took some time explaining to the archives’ new custodian that it is not, in fact, just like a library. If a scholar truly does not understand the difference between a digital collection and an archive, then we archivists have a problem. That’s hardly a new observation. As a profession we’ve known for a long time that we need to do a better job of promoting the value of what we do. And for scholars who do have some understanding of the true meaning of archive but still think it’s appropriate to use it for their own collections of copies, we need to try to make them understand that for many archivists this appropriation of the word shows disrespect for the professionals who are trained to care for archives.

So, to wrap up with my extended dog simile, I don’t want to be like my dog who growls at the mailman everyday but I don’t want to be like the lovable Golden Retriever who growls at no one. I think I should emulate the watchful sheepdog, who lets the flock have their freedom until they stray out of bounds. Then, it’s time to go to work.

 ”Sheepdog in action” courtesy of Carron Brown 

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30 Responses to The problem with the scholar as “archivist,” or is there a problem?

  1. Dennis Moser says:

    I like the sheepdog metaphor…I’m going with a puli or Komondor …

    There’s nothing wrong scholarly research collections, or even “personal” archives (shudder!), but let’s be clear: a “collection” is NOT an archive by default.

    Here’s hoping others appreciate your clarity here.

  2. PeterK says:

    If scholars misusing the term “archive” drives you crazy wait until you work with IT folk who use the term to mean “inactive storage”

    and I agree with Dennis a Puli, Komondor or Great Pyrenees are much better protectors

  3. I think the problem with going down this road and digging in your heels, is that not only are you scaring away any of us delivering the mail but you’re not even going to receive mail.

    I also find it curious that as you substitute other terms for “archive”–as a verb or a noun–you then run into potential clashes with what can be strict definitions of those other terms. Or at least you don’t acknowledge that those can be sticky terms, ie curate, collections. There is an entire literature that seeks to define “collecting” and there are debates over what constitutes a true “collection.” Professional Curators care for and interpret collections. And they may not care for your loose appropriation of the term. Then again, collectors collect, but according a Museum Curator, they may not “curate.” Once you start holding your ground like that, it can get ugly.

    Standing ground doesn’t actually help bring people together across disciplines and professions for shared common goals: stewardship of documents, objects, facsimiles, digital items, & other things from our past that need saving and need care in order to survive for future use.

  4. Alli Burness says:

    I had a look at the use of the term ‘curator’ and found that, as the use of the term ‘curator’ began to proliferate, the official use of the term went out of favour in some museums. It seems to be back in favour but the term is still used abundantly in the everyday, as a verb or noun that anyone is welcome to apply to themselves.

    I try to be confident in my role as an Archivist, and generous in sharing the definition around a bit. As an Archivist who spends most of her time explaining the structure and purpose of our archive to all types of users, I can’t express my innate territorial dog. I have to make sure the potential mailman feels welcome – all users are potential donors.

    I think we should join with the curators and try to feel flattered that so many want to be in our roles and involved in our collection-types. Despite the complications this may cause.

  5. Kate T. says:

    Shelia and Ali,

    I think you are both missing the point of the post. The argument is that archivists should not be mindlessly territorial, since that, as you both point out, discourages the kind of collaboration we want and need. That’s the whole gist of the first part of the argument.

    What you both seem to take issue with is my point that sometimes it is important for archivists to ensure that people we interact with do understand that there is a unique and specific meaning for the word archive(s) and the role of the archivist. The correct position, I argue, for the judicious archivist is to know when to engage in that conversation and when it’s better not to. That is what I was saying, and I apologize if that meaning was not apparent to you.

    Kate

  6. Any instances of misunderstanding are opportunities to educate our users, donors, and collaborators. It’s a slow process, but it benefits everyone and builds allies. Whether or not the person we’re educating understands the finer points is often best left to the 2nd or 3rd 20-minute discussion we have with them — right up front we need to get them to understand the mechanics — practice before theory…”do this” before “this is why.” If you want a cringe-worthy experience, talk to a less-seasoned donor about “Here’s how an archives works” then listen to them explain it to someone else. Or do this with brand-new-to-the-profession intern for that matter. Or listen to me explain something to a scholar that I skimmed from a Wikipedia article. It’s all about repeated exposures, experience, and support.

    I guess my knee-jerk reaction to your post was like something Sheila hinted at about “things from our past that need saving.” My creed is: All god’s resources could be useful to someone (even if it’s a local public library book sale). If you’re offered Mother Teresa’s girlhood diary, a personal reference collection, a book collection, a matchbook collection, or a thumb drive full of totally unrelated webpage grabs, you should appraise it’s value as an information and interpretive resource before appraising it’s value as an archival resource. And one way or the other, you also calculate its likelihood of discovery at the holding repository. I’m not high-horsing here — often this process is a time-consuming pain in the butt, and often it comes down to saying “Hey donor, I can’t imagine this being useful to anyone.” But we do in fact know how to determine what belongs in the trash, but we also need to balance it with helping donors get informed second, third, or fourth opinions from other specialists in allied professions.

    There is a little matrix that I have in my head when someone offers a donation. I don’t think it’s easy to draw it here, but it breaks down into 4 descriptions that usually apply to either whole collections or chunks within the collection:
    1 – Really archives & Useful to others
    2 – Really archives & Of limited use to others
    3 – Not really archives & Useful to others
    4 – Not really archives & Of limited use to others

    How these four options describe proposed donation material affects whether or not you accept it all, or accept some of it or none of it then try to help the user identify a good home for the rest — whether you’re saying “I think institution x might find this useful,” “I think your family would enjoy this down the road,” or “I’m afraid that this is of little use to anyone and here is why.”

    If you work in an archives that is lucky enough to have a real library and be part of a proper museum, proposed donations of any materials can be holistically considered. If you work in a strictly old-original-stuff-only archives, it is your ethical responsibility to help a donor find a suitable home for everything after you thoughtfully describe your collecting scope to them. Many of us have had the experience of being offered an awesome collection that we have to redirect to another repository because it is out of scope. On the extreme flipside, I recently worked with a really excellent “Senior Move Manager” (see the professional organization: nasmm.org) who was helping a woman move out of her house that she lived in for some 50 years — this manager thoughtfully contacted museums, archives, libraries, booksellers, estate sale people, movers, haulers, Salvation Army, and other services. This move manager is an extreme case, but it is the right mentality for archivists (and other keepers) to adopt.

    Lastly, these donor-conversations are not much different from instructional conversations with researchers who need help understanding, say, why a private repository won’t have much in the way of government records. Again, any confusion is an opportunity to help people understand. But to me, having people understand the concepts and mechanics is much more important than trying to get them to grasp correct terminology — and certainly what boils down to nuances in terminology. Kate, you were commenting on terms like “archiving” and “curating” but if I’m getting your gist, these are just examples of a larger misunderstanding.

    So Kate, I started out barking at your post — I suppose I too, like Sheila and Alli (spellings), missed the point of your post. So I was glad to read your follow-up comment, where I find myself agreeing with you. I think.

  7. Kate T. says:

    Matt,
    I love your comment, but I have no idea how my post inspired it. I don’t think I made any references to not accepting donations of materials because they don’t conform to some kind of ideal structure–as we all know, and as you point out, that’s not usually an issue in archival appraisal. That’s not what I was talking about at all, and I’m a bit mystified about how you got there, but language is a tricky thing, is it not? ;)

    And the primary group of people I was referring to, as stated in the title, are scholars, not donors or for the most part, the general public. The question for me is when is it appropriate/necessary to, as you wrote, educate our [scholarly] users and collaborators, and is it in the end worth the effort? I was using the word “curate” jokingly, since we all know that this word has been so widely appropriated as to have, sadly, lost its original meaning. The same is apparently true for “archive(s)” as has been previously discussed on this blog. Archivists can’t change that. The question is how much should we care that it has lost its original meaning with scholars? I think sometimes we should.

    Kate

  8. Collin says:

    There’s always going to be semantic games to play, especially when (as noted above) the IT world has appended it to a .zip file. All of these games are merely a symptom of the larger problem: nobody knows what we do. It’s the PR issues we have that are the root of almost all of our problems: funding, misuse of terms, lack of respect from outside our profession (yeah, I’m lookin’ at you, librarians). At my institution we’ve apparently had an archives for decades (complete with a horrifying Property of the Archives stamp) that I’ve been working to overhaul because it was mismanaged by librarians who had no archives training. “It’s just like a library, how hard can it be?” is what pretty much everyone thinks and it’s up to us to use these misunderstandings as a chance to educate, but also try to bring the message forward. The University Archivist (who is only allowed to do the work part-time and also has no official line in the budget) is doing tons of outreach and that’s the first step.

    Build the relationships and then people will be amenable to distinctions and, just maybe, do a little of the fighting for us farther down the line.

  9. Kate T. says:

    Collin,

    You bet. Actions speak louder than barking. If people see the value of what we do, hopefully this will help them understand it and be able to argue for it to others. It’s the bedrock of advocacy, right? Archivists need to aggressively put themselves forward, as your University Archivist has been doing. It’s sad to realize, as you point out, that sometimes not only do our natural allies the scholars not always understand (or perhaps care) about the archival perspective, neither do our even more natural allies, librarians. Sigh. I agree with what you’re saying, and what I think I’m saying is that there are times and places for archivists to stick up for our own professionalism. It’s just a question for knowing which times and which places. That’s the tricky part.

    Kate

  10. Josh Zimmerman says:

    Great post and even better metaphor…very apt. Funny, I’ve been thinking about the same thing recently, but haven’t been able to pull anything together. I usually find myself on the snarling watchdog side of terms such as “archives” and “memory,” but am learning to choose my battles.

    Though we can’t and shouldn’t police language, we can still remind scholars of the core responsibilities of archivists (appraisal, arrangement, description, mainting authenticity, preservation, and access and use, etc.), concepts (provenance and original order) and how our usage of the term archives differs from other common usages. My problem is not so much with copy vs. original, but with the lack of any sort of preservation strategy, esp. in the digital realm. Collecting is one thing, but taking steps to preserve your collection for use in the future is quite another and one many scholars don’t think about.

    Like Matt mention, we should be prepared to provide scholars with education (formal and informal) about what we do. We should give instruction on how to preserve, describe, and use their “archives” in hopes that they will get a better understanding of our “archives.” In an AHA address in the 1930s, Carl Becker claimed that everyman is a historian, reducing the profession to a set of skills that regular folks do…checking facts, weighing evidence and creating an account base on them. I think archivists could use a similar type of reductionism to relate what we do to what scholars do with their “archives.” It’s an offensive and proactive strategy rather than a defensive one and makes us sound less like curmudgeons.

    In a sick and twisted way, misuse of the term is a good thing for our profession. It forces us to articulate what we do and how we do it. I couldn’t think of a good dog metahpor for this. I think you’d like this article if you haven’t already come across it: William Maher, “Archives, Archivists, and Society,” American Archivist 61 (Fall, 1998).

  11. Kate T. says:

    Thanks, Josh. Love the reference to the Carl Becker remarks. I will have to track that down.

    And, FYI for others, William Maher’s article (his SAA Presidential Address, actually) is available here.

  12. Thank you for such a cogent and well-articulated post. I’m one of those scholars who uses “archive,” but it’s with an eye toward being well-versed as a scholarly editor. The choice for this term is polemical but also very strategic. The Society for Textual Editing has been a hotbed of debate over this for years, for reasons that you outline above: if someone assign the title archive or scholarly edition, they better have read up on the strategies for creating either of these, especially in the digital world of ongoing projects. Ken Price wrote an interesting article in Digital Humanities Quarterly about re-naming archives as arsenals (with tongue firmly planted in cheek). At University of Nebraska, Lincoln, where Ken is stationed, the textual scholars work very closely with the library to articulate a digital policy that adheres to the ideology behind archive or scholarly edition.

    This is all just to say, there are some of us scholars who are trying to pay attention to this. But, we’re a bit marginalized — and so the beat goes on!

  13. Kate T. says:

    Bless you, Katherine D. Harris, for engaging in this discussion.

    Kenneth M. Price’s article “Edition, Project, Database, Archive, Thematic Research Collection: What’s in a Name?” is available here.

    Of interest to this conversation, he writes:

    In the past, an archive has referred to a collection of material objects rather than digital surrogates. This type of archive may be described in finding aids but its materials are rarely edited and annotated as a whole. In a digital environment, archive has gradually come to mean a purposeful collection of surrogates. As we know, meanings change over time, and archive in a digital context has come to suggest something that blends features of editing and archiving. To meld features of both — to have the care of treatment and annotation of an edition and the inclusiveness of an archive — is one of the tendencies of recent work in electronic editing. One such project, the William Blake Archive, was awarded a prize from the Modern Language Association recently as a distinguished scholarly edition.

  14. rgscarter says:

    Great post, Kate. It is important to gently educate people on what archives actually are and to highlight the importance and uniqueness of archival work. Outreach – for the records and for our profession – is one of our most important duties as archivists.

    Just as there is more to curation than selection, there is more to “archiving” than collecting. Using these terms in place of a more prosaic choice connotes that something more is at play – there is increased intellectual heft, prestige or greater authority, which is perhaps why scholars and others are appropriating them, without fully grasping the deeper meanings of the terms. They don’t merely select, they CURATE; they don’t simply gather, they ARCHIVE.

    To some it may just be quibbling over semantics but if we can make people reflect on their use of terminology, even for a moment, then perhaps we have advanced our profession just a little bit. If we stand idly by and let our professional terminology be weakened by misuse, particularly by those who should be our allies, then we do ourselves a disservice. We may not be able to enlighten the entire world but, when the opportunity presents itself, we do our best to help others understand the meaning of archival work and to get them to consider issues of authenticity, reliability, preservation, etc.

    Thank you for raising this issue and articulating the frustration felt by many archivists.

  15. Anna St.Onge says:

    My boss has a phrase that he often uses when talking about our profession and our role in scholarship: lead, follow or get out of the way. It usually relates to our acquisition polices but I think the phrase also speaks to this issue of interdisciplinary dialogue with scholars.

    The basic premise is as follows:
    Archivists can lead by refocusing our acquisitions and operations to ensure that we’re part of the research environment that we feed into. So in addition to being a passive supplier of content, we start producing our own scholarship using our own holdings, and get on project teams from the onset of grant proposals rather than at the tail-end. Be part of the conversation, not the subject of it.

    Another strategy (following in this case) is through patron-driven acquisition. This has been successful at my institution with collaborating with historians working in the field who encounter archives in the private sector which feeds into their research. By developing a relationship with young scholars we’re able to let them know what our profession is all about and we can build trust and cultural capital in communities who traditionally have little awareness of institutional archives (or have valid historical reasons to mistrust vaguely authoritative agents of the state showing up and asking them about their personal records). So far, we’ve had positive results. I think the scholar’s direct experience of using archives in the private sphere, shepherding them to the archives and then using the material *after* it has been accessioned, arranged and described really opens their eyes to how much our profession contributes to the long-term preservation of (and access to!) archival material.

    And then sometimes it is best to just get out of the way of scholars who are hell-bent on generating their own content on their own terms: the sort of scholar who doesn’t care about the provenance of their sources, generates content that is silo-ed, poorly documented and in obsolete formats, who wants access to everything (but is unwilling to share) and who throws around terms and theories with authoritative bravado but with absolutely no awareness or respect for the archival profession.

    (This of course is a gross exaggeration: a composite portrait made up of historical figures of archival legend, anxiety-driven conjecture and third-hand horror stories. “…Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental etc. etc.”)

    I’m not sure how this would fit with the dog metaphor. Maybe this kind of scholar is the car that drives by at a high speed which the dog (in my mind a terrier or basset hound) races after, earnestly barking at the thing that that will never slow down or acknowledge its presence. In short, we’ll always have scholars who will not be open to dialogue, will not play nice, will not share their toys and will ‘borrow’ ours without permission.

    I agree with much that has been posted above. I think what is increasingly setting us apart as a profession is our loyalty to provenance. Be it a cache of hand-written letters, a collection of news clippings generated by a researcher or a selection of items digitized for an online exhibit, when we document the origins of a thing and provide embedded metadata that traces the original context in which the record was generated, scholars will be able to evaluate its value and relevance to their own research. I think the clear documentation of the provenance of a scholars’ source material will ensure the long-term value and reliability of a scholar’s work, especially if it is taking place in the digital realm. Eventually the “quality” archives will stand out from the lesser-documented ones.

    My strategies to dealing with the semantic issue is similar to what Collin mentioned.
    1) Keep talking with confidence about our values and standards as a profession.
    2) Give papers at interdisciplinary conferences from our perspective as archivists.
    3) Respond to ignorant statements with a “That’s an interesting perspective, as someone who works in an archives, my actual experience is…”
    4) Repeat with conviction and patience (unless it is that car that is never going to slow down to listen).

    The former Archivist of Canada Ian E. Wilson gave a great speech a while back where he told archivists that we have to stop talking to ourselves and get out there and start talking about what we do to our wider communities.

    Thanks Kate for keeping the conversation rolling!

  16. Kate, thanks for the response and clarification. I was obviously having a low reading comprehension morning. And then I allowed my own examples to run roughshod over my argument.

    I’ll give it more explicit, slightly shorter try:

    My argument: A person with archival tendencies is way more valuable than the words people use to describe archival things.

    Whoever we’re dealing with, we should do our best to expose them to how archivists do their archiving in archives. For me, it’s always been hard to get this across without a good visual aid, which is why anyone who comes through the repository’s door is offered a tour of the stacks, where content, scope, and concerns of scale slap them in the face — to say nothing of outright awesomeness. In the stacks it becomes easy to talk about collecting, preserving, and providing access. I know this is old fashioned, but it is my preferred way of helping people get archives, and it seems to work even on those without archival tendencies.

    A person’s archival tendencies are way more valuable to me than the words people use to describe what we do. It means that you have someone already on the hook who is further along in the learning process, someone who may not need the slap in the face (or where the slap can be even more effective). Generally speaking, I’d much rather cringe over any non-archivist’s sloppy use of one of “our words” than have the same person not think twice about throwing out stuff of potential value. My own tendency is to swallow the bile, engage the scholar (or whoever) in conversation, and draw them out with detailed questions about their “archive.” Then encourage them to see “something I have that relates back in the stacks,” where the conversation can take a natural turn towards good, wholesome collect-preserve-access discussions.

    I realize that this ends up not being any kind of straight answer to your question. It even seems like somewhat of a capitulation. But at the same time, I think it is just another reminder that we are called, every day to Spread the Good Word of Archives to every person we encounter.

    Have you been saved?

  17. Denise says:

    Kate,

    I’m not a regular follower of your blog but I came across it tonight and the topic was so timely for me that it was freaky. I am an archivist at NARA and until a year ago, I worked in a custodial unit (I’m now at the other end of the hall). I have experienced and continue to witness what seems like the increasing marginalization of much of the archival staff. I think we, as a staff, became complacent and failed to promote or protect our profession – our vocation – within the agency. Maybe we were like that sheepdog…just watching. I’m thinking it’s time for the sheepdog to get to work.

  18. Lance says:

    I am a little dubious at my ability to actually add anything to this thread, but it is so good I have to comment anyway. In my view, it is all about what lines are being crossed and what exactly is being implied by the use of the “archives” concept.

    It is my guess (could be wrong here) that librarians are not as bothered when people call their collection of records or their room with a couple of bookcases (guilty) “libraries.” I think this is based on the fact that libraries occupy a clear space. Everyone knows the difference between a library staffed professionally and other uses of the word. However, archives are spaces that have yet to receive such a clear demarcation. So, we archivists are a bit more sensitive to what we perceive as a misuse of the term or concept. I think that is why so many commenters here are spot on when they say that outreach and the continued enunciation of our professional worth are vital and will go a long way in helping draw those boundaries.

    So, to Kate point, when should we act? When should the dog growl? In my opinion, if folks want to say they are “citizen archivists,” that’s cool with me. If you want to save records, websites, or other documentation and say you are “archiving” the past, rock on man, it is awesome that you are doing that. Most people are not going to confuse a .zip file and a repository of historical materials, so use “archive” until you are blue in the face, IT dude.

    However, I do think we need to make a stand when professional lines become blurred, especially when the person doing the blurring should know better. As Josh so correctly points out, preservation is a big part of this. In Kate’s example of scholars who are collecting copies of digital ephemera, are those scholars implying that these collections will be around a while, that they will be “preserved?” And if that is the case, do these scholars know of digital asset management best practice? If not, then growl baby, growl. In my view, this is not semantics or pointlessly standing your ground, but protecting the value of our professional skill sets and competencies. The things that make us professional archivists. It is my hope that most scholars evoke the concept of archives as thoughtfully as Katherine described (although her comment does not seem to imply that the majority do).

    When that is not the case, I am glad that there are some dogs standing guard.

  19. Ah ha! Now, I’m totally engaged in this conversation. It’s interesting because the constituents are from the library world, a location us textual and scholarly editors really admire and respect.

    But, we haven’t all really settled on anything and a fire started in 2007 about the relationship between archives and databases (and I would add scholarly editions). I just wrote a definition of “archive” for a Johns Hopkins Encyclopedia project; being limited to only 1000 words, I couldn’t even remotely do it justice, but I want to post the references that most scholarly editors refer to when deciding what to name their digital projects (at least the good ones):

    “Archive.” OED 1959 Chambers’s Encycl. I. 570/1

    Flanders, Julia. 2005. “Detailism, Digital Texts, and the Problem of Pedantry.” TEXT Technology 2: 41-70.

    Flanders, Julia. 2009. “The Productive Unease of 21st-Century Digital Scholarship.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 3.3 (Summer) http://digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/3/3/000055/000055.html

    Folsom, Ed. 2007. “Database as Genre: The Epic Transformation of Archives.” PMLA 122.5: 1571-1579.

    Holm Christensen, Lena. 2008. Editing Emily Dickinson: The Production of an Author. Taylor & Francis.

    Manoff, Marlene. 2004. “Theories of the Archive from Across the Disciplines.” portal: Libraries and the Academy 4.1: 9-5.

    McGann, Jerome. “Database, Interface, and Archival Fever.” PMLA 122.5: 1588-92.

    McGill, Meredith. “Remediating Whitman.” PMLA 122.5: 1592-1596.

    Price, Kenneth. 2008. “Electronic Scholarly Editions.” A Companion to Digital Literary Studies. Eds. Susan Schreibman and Ray Siemens. Oxford: Blackwell. http://www.digitalhumanities.org/companionDLS/

    Price, Kenneth. 2009. “Edition, Project, Database, Archive, Thematic Research Collection: What’s in a Name?” Digital Humanities Quarterly 3.3 (Summer) http://digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/3/3/000053/000053.html

    Robinson, Peter. 2004. Jahrbuch für Computerphilologie Online http://computerphilologie.uni-muenchen.de/ejournal.html. Also available in print: Jahrbuch für Computerphilologie 123-143.

    Saklofske, Jon. 2010. “NewRadial: Revisualizing the Blake Archive.” The Poetess Archive Journal 2.1 http://unixgen.muohio.edu/~poetess/PAJournal/2_1/Saklofske.html

    Smith, Martha Nell. 2002. “Computing: What’s American Literary Study Got to Do with IT?” American Literature 74.4 (December): 833-857.

    Smith, Martha Nell. 2007. “The Human Touch: Software of the Highest Order.” Textual Cultures 2.1 (Spring): 1-15.

    Smith, Martha Nell. 2008. Introduction. Emily Dickinson’s Correspondences: A Born-Digital Textual Inquiry. Rotunda Virginia UP.

    Stallybrass, Peter. 2007. “Against Thinking.” PMLA 122.5: 1580-87.

    Voss, Paul and Marta Werner. 1999. Introduction. “Towards a Poetics of the Archive.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 32.1: i-vii

    Walsh, John A. 2008. “Digital Resources for Nineteenth-Century Literary Studies” A Companion to Digital Literary Studies. Eds. Susan Schreibman and Ray Siemens. Oxford: Blackwell. http://www.digitalhumanities.org/companionDLS/

    Julia Flanders and Susan Schreibman, both additions to libraries, have been writing about the issue for quite some time. And, yes, as some commenters mention, some scholars name everything with no concern to metadata, provenance, or standards. Argh! I’d like to see more collaboration with librarians, especially at teaching-intensive universities where the library is sometimes an afterthought. [sigh] We’d all be better for it!

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!

  20. Roxanne Shirazi says:

    This post is very timely for me as I’ve been grappling with similar territorial instincts in relation to the digital humanities, though from a librarian perspective. Part of this, I think, concerns the devaluation of the profession and reflects an anxiety surrounding the “#alt-ac” movement of scholars who are filling positions that could go to professional librarians (or archivists). Why hire an MLIS grad when you can get a PhD (or an ABD)? Lance is absolutely correct when he speaks of “protecting the value of our professional skill sets and competencies,” whether librarians or archivists. But the best way to do this is by demonstrating our value in partnership with scholars, not by quibbling over semantics when people throw around the word “archive,” as they are apt to do (perhaps to evoke the dark, dusty treasure trove, etc.). So, as you suggested, it seems we just need to get over our problem. That is, we need to get over the knee-jerk defensive reaction and take real steps to ensure our professional viability. This includes focusing on how we describe what we do, and politely nodding when others do it for us.

    Bethany Nowviskie gave a great talk called “The Skunk in the Library” that touches on several of these issues and has posted it here.

    And I hope you won’t hold it against me for veering into archives territory from a librarian perspective!

  21. Alli Burness says:

    Thanks Kate – through your comments, I see what you’re getting at.

    Working out when to defend the ‘out of bounds’ misunderstandings of archives and archivists probably comes down to knowing when the bad effects outweigh the good.

    I have never corrected the misunderstandings that historians (who I think would come under the ‘scholar’ umbrella) might hold about archives and archivists – I’ve seen these misunderstandings expressed when simultaneously trumpeting the value of archives.

    I’ve had to sit on my hands when elected members of governments (as representatives, users or potential donors to archives) express their misunderstandings about archives/activists. Any relationships archivists have with these people are built on delicately established sources of funding or agreements to donate personal papers. Such a missed opportunity – these people are well positioned to improve broader understandings about the role of archives.

    But when staff in a large organisation which has an archives try to transfer ‘records’ which should have been filed in the bin – ooo I get defensive then. The archive as a rubbish bin isn’t out of bounds, it’s insulting.

    I think it’s also worth exploring when archivists should bend their definitions of technical terms (provenance, acquisition, registration) to join with our collection siblings (libraries, museums etc) and when to assert our differences. Is the good and bad effects of these choices as apparent to us?

  22. Kate T. says:

    Just a quick fyi from Twitter: here’s a great post from William Cronon, President of the American Historical Association which discusses in part the definition and value of the identification of “professional” historians, some issues that may be relevant for this discussion and past ones here on the blog:

    http://www.historians.org/Perspectives/issues/2012/1203/Professional-Boredom.cfm

  23. Kate, you’ve wrote “…I would guess they had a better understanding that what they had assembled was more akin to a personal archives–their own research collection–than an “archive” in the strict sense of the word.”

    There are three established meanings of the term “archive” in the archives/records management glossaries. One of them is:

    “The whole body of records of continuing value of an organisation or individual. Sometimes called corporate memory.” (Australian Standard AS 4390-1:1996 Records management – Part 1: General, sec.4.4)

    “1. The whole of the documents made and received by a juridical or physical person or organization in the conduct of affairs, and preserved. Synonymous with the term fonds.” (University of British Columbia’s Select List of Archival Terminology)

    So in at least one of the strict senses of the word, the scholars are not all that incorrect! ;)

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  25. Desiree says:

    While I understand the frustration, I don’t take offense. Many people refer to their own home library, quite lovingly, but recognize that the skills they’ve developed in organizing their own shelves at home would not allow them to step into a professional environment with any sort of confidence.

    Speaking of the use of the terms library and archive, has anyone else noticed that on Google’s Ngram viewer of words in Google books, there’s a staggering difference in occurrences of the two terms? Maybe we WANT people to start using the word archive a bit more!

    http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=library%2Carchive&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=3

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