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Chapter 6: Diversity and Respect, pp. 279-290 February 8, 2010

Posted by Kate T. in Chapter 6.

I’ve decided to take a different approach to Chapter 6. I’ll be breaking it down into smaller chunks covering one topic at a time. This chapter has a lot of ideas in it that I think could benefit from attention on their own. Also, given how many people seem to have fallen behind, I think this may also encourage people to get back in the discussion. I won’t say that you don’t need to read the rest of the book, but I will say that I think you can read just the pages we’re talking about and still not be completely lost.

Jimerson opens this chapter by returning to ongoing debate on how to define a professional identity for archivists, concluding with his observation that: “Archivists must not let their differences divide them, as they serve broad and diverse needs of society.” A while back, I wrote a post on my blog  asking “What is our core identity, or, can we all fit under one big tent?” (The answer I came up with is, “Yes, we can.”) So I am very much in agreement with his call for archivists to concentrate on what unites us rather than trying to create distinctions which create barriers.

To support his argument Jimerson discusses the diversity found within the profession, as demonstrated within the Society of American Archivists. He uses archivists who work with religious and corporate archives as examples of the diversity of the profession, and also as object lessons for what I think is the secondary theme of this section–the need for archivists to respect the professional choices made by their colleagues. It is in this section that he addresses head-on a subject that has come up in our discussions here:

Before articulating the implications of the call of justice and the potential demands of a new concept of archival ethics, it is necessary to address the objection that many archivists will not be able to accept these new perspectives. That is true. Some archivists will be constrained by institutional policies, by their reluctance to endanger their job security, by time constraints in the face of new initiatives, or by their own ideological or personal opposition to such concepts. There should be no stigma or criticism for archivists who do not accept these recommendations as personal or professional goals. By the same measure of tolerance, archivists who do embrace these concepts should be accepted as practitioners of a shared professional identity. (p. 283)

Jimerson follows this appeal with a lengthy discussion of the tensions between private/corporate archivists and archivists who service “public” collections (primarily government, college, and university archivists). Although I was a member of SAA during “Raisingate,” I admit I didn’t pay much attention to it, so I appreciated the discussion of the issues involved. What the selection of the “Sun Mad” image revealed (unintentionally, I’m sure) is that there are sensitivities, rifts, prejudices, and divisions lurking beneath the surface harmony of SAA. (Or am I wrong that the surface appears harmonious?)

Am I right that there’s room in the big tent for all of us, as Rand suggests, or are there important differences that can’t be ignored? Does focusing on the differences distract us from achieving larger goals?



1. Eric Ketelaar - February 8, 2010

I believe we have at least to explore and acknowledge the differences before deciding that we all can live “in a big tent”. Jimerson discusses these differences, but does not probe (I think) very deep. On p. 282 he writes that implementing/adhering to the new ethical imperatives, outlined in his book, may be blocked by some employers and resource allocators. On p. 284 Jimerson quotes O’Toole who asks where the religious archivist’s (O’Toole wrote: archives) loyalties lie: with the beliefs of the religious group or with the profession? I would have liked some examples/cases which demonstrate this dilemma. The same goes for the corporate archivist (p. 287): I do not consider the Raisingate case a good example of the conflict between loyalties to your exmployer and to the profession.

About the “big tent”: some years ago in Australia the records manager’s association and the Australian Society of Archivists organized a joint annual conference – for the first (and for the last) time. A “political” motion about archivist’s ethics was blocked by the records managers who posited that they were representing their employers, rather than attending as a professional. It reminded me of the Beijing congress of the International Council on Archives (1996) where the then director general of French archives declared that he could not vote on the proposed Code of ethics, because he was attending as a government officer and not as a professional archivist.

I think that Jiemrson is allowing too much freedom in adhering to the “new ethical concerns realting to social justice, accountability, and public responsibility”(p. 290): he seems to leave to any individual archivist the decision to accept one or more of the ethical norms. I would argue that members of a profession should share at least some ethical norms (which?) and that those who do not or vannot adhere to that minimum should not be regarded as archivists.

On these dilemma’s one may consult the perceptive paper by Theo Thomassen (now professor of archivistics at the University of Amsterdam) “Archivists between Knowledge and Power” (1999) http://pagesperso-orange.fr/felina/doc/arch/thomarch.pdf


2. Elena Danielson - February 8, 2010

Eric: Thanks for the link to the Thomassen article and the Einaudi case on archival independence and professional autonomy. The ethics code of the (American) Institute of Certified Records Managers has a provision 3 that pretty much prohibits autonomy: “Certified Records Mangers shall be prudent in the use of information acquired in the course of their duties. They shoud protect confidential, proprietary and trade secret infomation obtained from others and use it only for the purposes approved by the party from whom it was obtained or for the benefit of that party, and not for the personal gainof anyone else.” Here maybe we have a distinction between archivists and records managers.

3. Kate T. - February 8, 2010


I agree that this discussion could have benefited from, as you say, greater depth and more examples. I feel as if each of the ideas presented in this chapter (and which will be broken out here) deserves its own chapter’s worth of attention. But that would mean the book would have a whole different structure and probably a different audience.

I also agree that it’s important to discuss who is part of our community–understanding our differences is, as Jimerson points out–important to helping us understand each other and get along as professionals. Regardless of who is in “the tent” with us and who is in “the tent” next door. Personally, I see records managers as being in the tent next door, like librarians and museum curators. In my original post, I was discussing the heated arguments about who should and shouldn’t be called an “archivist,” which in this country often centers around the issue of credentials. Your suggestion that instead the designation of “archivist” should only be allowed for people who can conform to an agreed upon set of ethical norms seems problematic to me. The range of settings in which archivists work–all seeking to collect, preserve and provide access to records in a way that is appropriate for their setting–would seem to preclude, as Jimerson argues, any kind of ethical litmus test. Or am I misunderstanding your point?

4. Kirsten Wright - February 9, 2010

Thanks again everyone for their comments on these issues. I agree with both Eric and Kate in that I would have preferred more in depth discussion of the issues presented. While Jimerson acknowledges that they may be a tension between the professional beliefs of the individual archivist and the organisation for which they work, I would have liked more discussion about this issue, and maybe even some suggestions about how archivists could adhere to both their own professional beliefs, and their organisations’ drivers, politics, etc.

The discussion here reminded me of Michael Piggot’s closing paper at the Australian Society of Archivists 2008 conference, where he also called for a stronger (Australian) national records and archives ‘voice’, and acceptance of all types and users of records and archives (Piggot refers to ‘records and archives’ together). For those who are interested, his paper is on the ASA website and provides some good examples of the number and diversity of the types of organisations in Australia which archivists and records managers could join – and a more general discussion of many similar issues to the ones Jimerson is highlighting in this chapter (http://www.archivists.org.au/files/Conference_Papers/Perth_2008/2008_Piggott.pdf).

5. Alison Stankrauff - February 9, 2010

As with all previous posts and attendant discussions, this is totally engaging…

I really do believe – deeply – that all stripes of archivists are much more alike than we are different… Regardless of “credentials” or not – as Kate mentions the discussions about just “who is” and “who cannot be called” an archivist – have pivoted on… For one thing – and it’s something that Jimerson mentions too – that without a unified voice, we are not a strong profession… If we have a lot of infighting or a rigid sense of hierarchy, we just cannot represent ourselves properly to the outside world – let alone think about working together to get important work done – say, for example, ensuring legislation passes that favors our collective repositories rather than gutting them (or is that too activist archivist for some?)…

In addition, I particularly appreciated Jimerson’s point that builds upon the point that Kate quotes above – “The archival profession needs to acknowledge that there is a broad range of acceptable ethical choices, and to welcome and support those who act upon their own personal system of values and morality. This does not mean that there are no criteria for measuring and evaluating ethical conduct. It simply recognizes that archivists can legitimately exercise a range of ethical options in carrying out their important professional and societal responsibilities.” (Page 290)
(And I imagine the above quote may well lead us into our next bit of discussion on the chapter – so I’ll stop there!)

6. Eric Ketelaar - February 10, 2010

@Kate and @Alison
I would hope that we could agree on a minimum set of ethical principles which govern the core of our (record professionals’) endeavor. Take for example, #1 of ICA’s CFode of Ethics: “Archivists should protect the integrity of arechival material and thus guarantee that it continues to be reliable evidence of the past.” (NB Archivists encompass record managers). Anyone who contravenes this (even if instructed by his or her superiors!) should not be (any more) regarded a member of the profession, unless the manipulation of the record has been done to serve a greater societal interest (e.g. falsification of records by Dutch archivists during WWII to save the lives of Jews). This is a more normative approach to archival ethics than the aspirational approach advocated by Jimerson (and many others!).

7. Noah Lenstra - February 10, 2010

Just as a side-note to this discussion, I wanted to expand the “big tent” even further by including a few more voices rarely represented in the American archival literature:

1) Kolovos, Andy. 2004. “Contextualizing the Archives.” Folklore Forum 35(1/2):18-28:
Kolovos (who is working on a dissertation on the history of folklore/ethnographic archives in the U.S.) describes the slow but steady move towards more integration between folklore archivists (traditionally trained as anthropologists) and historical archivists (traditionally trained as historians).
2) Folklore and Folk Music Archivist:
A seminal publication from Indiana University that charted a separate identity for folklore archivists beginning in 1958.

I mention this to say that, while I agree there is certainly room in the “big tent” for archivists of all stripes, I question whether most archivists are aware of the often stunning diversity of types of archives and archivists. And if not aware of this full diversity, do we inevitably advocate for that which we are most familiar (or that which we think represents the “mainstream” of the profession, as opposed to the minority)?

Case in point: In the most recent Archival Outlook SAA newsletter Kathleen D. Roe makes the great point that
“Ultimately we will fail to ensure that archives are widely
and effectively used as long as we talk mostly to and about
ourselves. We need to develop our archival “frontal lobe,”
get outside ourselves, and explicitly draw society’s attention
to the value of archives…..So our professional organization must
take the lead in defining the “why” of archives, in giving voice
to the ways in which archives can literally change people,
events, and conditions. SAA’s recently established Government
Affairs Working Group has both the responsibility and capacity
to compile our individual knowledge and demonstrate “why”
archives matter.”

Why I find this quote problematic: Roe seems to be advocating that the “Government Affairs Working Group” can somehow speak for the entire profession. But if you look at the charge for the group (http://tinyurl.com/ycwwgsw) it explicitly says “Although the Working Group’s purview is broad, its overarching priority is issues relating to the preservation of and access to government records,” and that is fine, government records are important, but if we imagine that a group that is primarily (in the final instance) interested in government records can speak for the entire archival profession we kid ourselves. And the fact that Roe could make such an implication without questioning herself (or questioning the logic behind it) indicates how blind many archivists are to the diversity of voices beyond the concerns of their “niches” in the profession.

So I agree it would be great to have a “big tent,” but I am suspicious as to whether or not it could really happen, and if it did would it be a top-down tent or a bottom-up tent? And who would decide who would be in or out? On what criteria? For what purposes?

8. Alison Stankrauff - February 10, 2010

Great point, Eric – I (personally, as a professional) believe that we ought to – across the profession – agree on a minimum set of ethical principles which govern the core of our work – absolutely… That’s crystal clear in my mind…

And in fact, I’d restrained myself from following my own point up, since I was guessing that Kate was going to divide up the points that we address from Chapter 6 according to the subheadings in the chapter – that’s why I’d said “(And I imagine the above quote may well lead us into our next bit of discussion on the chapter – so I’ll stop there!)”

Because it’s that very next section that I found absolutely key – and affirming:
” Professional standards, including objectivity, need not prevent us from addressing moral, ethical, or political issues. A common fallacy is to equate objectivity with neutrality. One can maintain professional standards even while advocating a cause or defending a moral or ideological perspective….” (Pages 292 to 293)

I found that this particularly resounded with me – and in my own notes, I’d put stars all around the point! : )

And Noah:
I keyed in on Roe’s piece in Archival Outlook… I guess that I didn’t read her commentary as being exclusionary. I’m not sure that the fact that the fact that SAA’s Government Affairs Working Group spoke to this means that they serve as the protector/sole voice for archivists – and only government records archivists – but I maybe am being a bit naive (?)

I also think that the tent can be truly a tent – that everyone – all of us, whether they’re a lone arranger on a small “regional” campus of a state university or a director of a division of NARA, etc., etc., etc.

– Believe me – in part because of just the kind of archivist that I am and the institution that I proudly and happily represent – this pull of “who is and who isn’t” an archivist draws on me – personally… It’s something that I think about and effects me…

Again – I may be being naive, but I feel like if there’s a real awareness and energy put toward creating a movement toward considering us all a unified – and equal – body, as diverse we are – that we can really start to progress as a profession, both internally (amongst ourselves) and externally (in our advocacy to and representation to the “outside world”).

Does there really need to be anyone to decide who would be in or out, criteria, purposes, etc. – it seems to me that if we’re thinking of ourselves as walking together on an even playing field, that that precludes these points…

Alison Stankrauff - February 15, 2010

I should probably mention that when I say “the kind of archivist I am”, I’m that lone arranger archivist on a small “regional” campus of a state university that I’d mentioned : )

9. Lincoln Cushing - February 10, 2010

Hooray! Some discussion! I’m new to SAA, but not to this broader profession, and the challenge of “who we are is not yours alone. When I worked in an academic labor studies library I was a member of the Special Libraries Association – which also included librarians from law firms that specialized in breaking unions. Professional associations often make for strange bedfellows. I didn’t join SAA assuming all members would share my politics, I did so because it offers a dedicated forum for professional education and opportunity for community – such as this very self-selective ad-hoc group. That’s the nature of the beast. I also worked as a corporate archivist, and frankly, I don’t think that establishing high “ethical imperatives” (Jimerson’s term, p. 282) will make much of a difference. The vehemence of “Raisingate” responses (quite amusing to me, since I deal with archives of images far more provocative than that) revealed that it’s highly unlikely we can achieve unanimity of professional purpose. Let it go. Work on supporting the marginalized, unrepresented community-based collections and projects out there that genuinely benefit from our expertise.

10. terryx - February 11, 2010

Tough discussion here! I’m a big proponent of big tent thinking. The problem in my mind when it comes to professional identity, and what often tends to divide us, is the rub between professional concerns (body of knowledge, common set of ethical values, standards of practice) and occupational concerns (educational background, certification, getting hired, getting paid). The former concerns can be constructed to include a wide variety of practicioners; the latter requires (to get the vast fortunes comensurate with our vast power!) separation and hierarchy. It is in the “professional” archivist’s best interests *occupationaly* to exclude as many people as possible from the tent. We need to be able to separate these issues better; maybe looking to increase the power and status of the varied types of people doing archival work, even if it means sharing some of the hard won professional standing we have. In a complex, diverse, and fast-changing world, the profession needs all the ideas and skills it can get.

11. Paul Lasewicz - July 11, 2012

As a participant of sorts in Raisingate, I can say the the crux of the issue for corporate archivists was the profession’s lack of awareness of and sensitivity to corporate realities, and the implications those realities pose for corporate archives. Twaren’t an ethical problem per se. But this lack of knowledge evidenced in Raisingate was, from where I sit, symptomatic of the larger ‘big tent’ issue.

I say that because from a big tent perspective, corporate archivists have in the past been accused of being unethical by noted archival academics. To those critics, the appropriate response is that an organization’s mission is the primary arbiter of what is, and isn’t ethical behavior – professional codes come second, which is in fact recognized by the SAA Code of Ethics. To wit, “This Code should be read in conjunction with SAA’s “Core Values of Archivists.” Together they provide guidance to archivists and increase awareness of ethical concerns among archivists, their colleagues, and the rest of society.” Or, in the more succinct word of Captain Barbarossa of “Pirates of the Caribbean” fame, “the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.”

The sticking point is that for many members, professional ethical guidelines and institutional missions align very closely, so they are predisposed to believe a) that’s how it is for all archives, and b) that’s how it should be for all archives. So they tend to pooh pooh organizational environmental factors, and interpret any deviation from mainstream archival practice as unethical behavior, despite language to the contrary in their own professional code,

So I agree with Alison that there are commonalities that can unite many different types under the tent. But true inclusiveness will require dropping archival dogma at the door, and embracing the similarities.between us, rather than focusing on the differences.

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