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Slowing down? January 22, 2010

Posted by Kate T. in Administration.

The conversation about Chapters 1 and 2 has been far less active than we had the previous week, and I doubt it’s  because the material is less engaging. I suspect people are having a little trouble reading and digesting two chapters a week–at least I hope that’s the reason, and it’s not that you have decided you’re not interested in this subject any more!

Our schedule for next week calls for discussing Chapters 3 and 4. Since many of you have already read Chapter 3, I’ll hold off until next Tuesday or Wednesday to start us off on talking about these two chapters together. I hope this will give everyone a little more time to get caught up on the reading and post more thoughts about 1&2. We can also play with the schedule a bit if it’s too demanding—maybe switch to a chapter a week or every week and a half. Whatever works for all of you.


Chapter 2 January 20, 2010

Posted by Kate T. in Chapter 2.

I really enjoyed this chapter and I suspect many of you did too. Much of the discussion of the history of the development of archives and the archival profession in the United States was new to me (or perhaps I had just forgotten what I learned back at Michigan all those years ago). I think we will find much to discuss—everyone can find something here that will spark ideas. The analysis of why archives were slow to develop in the U.S. should spur debate, I think, and the bifurcation of the AHA’s involvement into the drive to publish materials and the drive to preserve them is interesting as well.

Perhaps because of what I do elsewhere, the section that most caught my attention was the discussion of the work of the Society of American Archivists in the 1960s, 70s and 80s (pp. 108-118). Interesting how many of the problems and themes we are talking about today—creating an “archival identity,” promoting our profession with stakeholders, the concerns of “activist archivists”—are the same issues that our colleagues were grappling with decades ago. I’d like to get my hands on some of those reports produced by SAA—I wonder how much has changed over the years?

I wasn’t surprised that we didn’t have much discussion about Chapter One, but I will be if I don’t hear more thoughts about this chapter.

Chapter 1 January 18, 2010

Posted by Kate T. in Chapter 1.

Chapter One covers material that may be familiar to some of us from graduate school, but which we probably haven’t given much thought since (and which some of us, I won’t name names, may have shall we say “skimmed” at the time). Jimerson’s stated goal for this chapter is to give us a better grounding in an earlier “information revolution” to “help us understand our own times more clearly.” To do so he provides a selective history of the development of:

  • literacy, documents, and records,
  • record-keeping systems,
  • archival repositories, and
  • the role of the archivist.

Entwined with Jimerson’s discussion is the influence different forms of government have on recordkeeping and archives. How do you think the analysis of the history of archives and the influence of government on them contributes to the goals relating to “archives power” that Jimerson presented in the Introduction?

Chapter 3 January 13, 2010

Posted by Kate T. in Chapter 3.
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I found Chapter 3 somewhat problematic. I was engaged by its opening and closing sections (131-140 and 185-189) but found the lengthy discussion of the works of Orwell and Kundera to be less compelling in supporting the argument about the role of archives and records in resisting political power. I won’t dispute Jimerson’s analysis of Orwell and Kundera and certainly I learned a great deal about the two authors, but I do think that this chapter would have been more persuasive for me if it had either focused on the presentation of archives and records in fiction more broadly, and so included discussions of other writers, or if it had built more directly on the discussion presented in the opening section about archives and political power by discussing real-world examples. What was your response to the structure of this chapter? How persuasive did you find the discussions of Orwell and Kundera?

On a different topic . .

It seems to me that the kind of power being discussed here only works if people are interested in facts, in knowing the truth, in learning. If people equate history with “heritage”—with repeating myths and stories that have been handed down, or only hearing material that reinforces their own beliefs, then do archives still have this kind of power?

“The authority that archivists exercise within their domain partakes in political power, since access to information and knowledge conveys such power. Yet it is a power often unrecognized by most members of the society, who do not see or understand the role archivists play in the contested realms of power, distribution, and control.”(p.140)

Is power really power if people don’t accept or acknowledge it?  Can we compare archives to batteries (to add yet another metaphor to the collection)—they have latent power in them, but unless you hook them up with something (or someone) that needs that power and has the right “connectors,” what good is the battery (or the archives)? If society stops making gizmos that need a particular type of battery, what good is the power in it? If you have a society that doesn’t care about uncovering the truth, what good is the power of archives that help to reveal that truth?

But, that could just be my cynical nature showing through. I don’t want this discussion to veer off into the current state of American society, but I do think the question of whether the power of archives is more potential or kinetic (to go back to my high school physics) is an interesting one.

Introduction January 11, 2010

Posted by Kate T. in Introduction.

Well, I think the Introduction gives us much material to discuss. I’ll offer a few observations to get us started, but I’m sure many of you will have new perspectives to share as well. (I’ll put the post up kicking off discussion of Chapter 3 on Wednesday.)

— Any extended metaphor, such as Jimerson’s discussion of the archives as temple, prison and restaurant, is inherently problematic as it is a virtual invitation for people to find ways in which the metaphor breaks down—which it will, of course, since no metaphor will apply in all situations. How effective do you think Jimerson’s use of these three metaphors was in introducing his theme—the power of archives?

— One issue I had with the initial discussion of the power of archives is that it did not differentiate between the power of the archives as an institution or organization and the power possessed by the archivist.  It may seem to be hair-splitting, but to me these are quite different kinds of power. In the discussion of “archives as temple” for example, the architecture selected for the building to house archives applies largely to the archives as institution, and is in many ways a reflection of the status given to archives by the society it documents. The process of selecting records for preservation in the archives is clearly an expression of the power of the archivist (who makes the selection), but often also of the archives as an institution (which defines the values that should be reflected in the selection process). And in the last paragraph of that section, yet another kind of power is introduced (which will be discussed at greater length in Chapter 3), the power inherent in the records themselves as evidence of actions. Similarly in the last section, “The Role of Archivists in Society,” all three of these different sources of power (archives as institutions or abstractions, the archival records themselves, and archivists) are intermingled in the discussion.

I agree with both Richard Cox’s observation that archivists need to “transfer some of the power contained in the records to the records professionals and their repositories” (p. 18) and Jimerson’s call for archivists to embrace their own sources of power both for their own good, the good of the profession, and the good of society. I doubt there are many archivists out there who will take issue with this goal. However, I am hoping that as we read the case Jimerson presents for how this can be accomplished that these different sources of power—the institution, the records, and the archivist’s role—are more clearly delineated and discussed. Was this an issue for anyone else, or am I off on a tangent?

— Because of my personal biases, I couldn’t help but consider how much of this discussion does or does not continue to apply when we are talking about people interacting with archives on the Web. There continues to be selection and often some form of mediation, but many of the other barriers presented by the “prison” and the “restaurant,” as well as the cultural signifiers of the physical setting of the “temple,” are gone. Although Jimerson seemingly dismisses online access as a viable way to fully experience archives (p. 17), for many non-scholars (and increasingly for scholars too, I’m told) their only experiences with archival collections may take place on the Web. In what ways does a virtual archives on the Web (and by extension the archivist, too) lose the kind of power Jimerson discusses here? Does it gain other kinds of power?

Reminder: Starting on Monday January 5, 2010

Posted by Kate T. in Administration.

Just a reminder that I’m planning on kicking off the discussion on Monday beginning with the Introduction and Chapter 3. I’m not quite sure yet how this is going to work, so I hope you’ll bear with me as we collectively figure out how to structure the discussion. Happy reading!

Having trouble getting the book? December 28, 2009

Posted by Kate T. in Administration.
1 comment so far

Wow–the response so far has been fantastic. It looks like we will have a diverse group of readers which should make for an interesting discussion.

Just wanted to let everyone know that if people are having trouble getting the book in time to start on the 11th, we can always push the start date out another week. I know the SAA offices are closed this week for the holidays, so if you are ordering from them (and it looks like that is the best deal) you might experience a delay.

I also heard from one person in the UK who said the cost of shipping when ordering the book from SAA made it cost prohibitive, so if anyone has suggestions for other sources outside the US, please share them. And remember that Rand has posted some content on his website, so you can follow along to some extent.

Again, introduce yourself on the previous post (if you want to), and let me know if you have any comments or concerns about the schedule.

Introduce yourselves . . . December 18, 2009

Posted by Kate T. in Administration.

I thought it might be useful for all of us to give a little bit of information about our backgrounds before we get started, so I’ll kick it off. I’m Kate Theimer, the organizer and moderator this group read. I’m the person behind the ArchivesNext blog. I frequently write and give presentations about the use of social media and Web 2.0 in archives, as well as the larger scope of change in profession, sometimes referred to as “Archives 2.0“. I worked for several years at the National Archives in College Park before striking out on this more independent path. I received my MI from the University of Michigan.

If you’re going to participate in this conversation, leave a comment below introducing yourself. It’s not a requirement, so if you’d rather not, that’s fine. There is no formal way of “signing up” for this. Just do the reading, subscribe to the blog (or just bookmark it, if you’d rather) and join the conversation. Note that the tentative schedule is the previous post.

I suppose I should make it clear that in my role as moderator I will approve all comments that are relevant to the discussion, but if I think a comment is too inflamatory or disrespectful of the other participants, I will not approve it (or take it down if it has already been posted). I will contact the person responsible and ask him or her to re-phrase their thoughts and re-submit. This may never occur, but I just wanted to make sure the rules were spelled out. It’s ok to disagree or challenge, but don’t be jerk about it.

Ok, that’s out of the way. So, go ahead and tell us a little about yourself while we’re waiting to kick this thing off in January.

Welcome to Reading “Archives Power” December 18, 2009

Posted by Kate T. in Administration.

Welcome to Reading Archives Power!  As announced on the ArchivesNext blog, this site was created to support a “group read” of the book Archives Power by Randall C. Jimerson. Published by the Society of American Archivists, Archives Power is available for purchase here (and on Amazon too, of course). You can also read excerpts from the book here.

UPDATE: Don’t buy the book through Amazon! They’re listing it for a crazy price. Order it from the SAA site. If you have any problems contact me.

The plan is to begin the conversation of the book on January 11, 2010. I’ll start the conversation out for each section with a few questions or thoughts in post, and then we’ll continue the conversation in the comments. I think that as ideas or conversational threads develop I’ll probably split them off by creating a new post for it, but we’ll see how it goes. I’ve never organized anything like this, so we’ll just work it out as we go.

Here’s the schedule I’m proposing:

January 11: Power – Introduction and Chapter 3

January 18: History of archives – Chapters 1-2

January 25: Memory – revisit Chapter 3 and Chapter 4

February 1: Serving the public interest (e.g., accountability, open government, diversity, social justice) – Chapter 5-6

February 8: How archivists can respond to these issues – Chapter 6 and Conclusion

February 15. Ethics – Conclusion

Is this too optimistic? Do you want a little more breathing room between sections? I’m afraid to go a full two weeks between each section because we might lose some steam as the months pass by. Let me know what you think.

The book’s author, Rand Jimerson will be participating in the conversation. As he wrote in a comment over on ArchivesNext:

I will be glad to participate, answer questions, and join the ongoing discussion on these issues. I do hope that other participants in the book discussion will ask the tough questions and consider the potential ramifications of these ideas. My involvement will not be to defend my book but to consider all points of view, ask more questions, and perhaps explain any of my ideas or comments that are not clear to readers. I hope the book will stimulate further questions and new thinking about the issues facing archivists as well as scholars, researchers, and citizens affected by the legal, administrative, documentary, and historical aspects of recordkeeping and archives.

This should be an interesting project. Certainly the subject matter is timely and provocative. In the next post I’ll introduce myself and invite you to introduce yourselves too.

[Disclaimer: I should add that this project is not sponsored by or affiliated with the Society of American Archivists. And I paid for my own copy of the book myself!]