The Future of Archives, Part II

Program cover from the Fall 2012 MARAC meeting.

Last week in our blog post The Future of Archives, Part I, we discussed some of the ways that a cultural shift towards digital record-keeping, media production, and even socialization is changing the shape of the archives profession in the 21st century. This was one of the major themes of the Fall 2012 meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference, held last week (Oct. 27-29) in Richmond, Virginia. Formed in 1972, MARAC is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and the topic of the meeting was timely: “An Enduring Profession: Reconstructing for the Next Forty Years.” Despite the fact that all of the rapid changes that have been occurring in the archival profession in the last decade can sometimes make our jobs seem anything but enduring, the conference did a great job of reaffirming why archives are crucial to a stable democracy and how we can take steps to ensure that our institutions and missions remain sustainable in this rapidly-changing landscape.

The conference kicked off with a rousing plenary talk by Christy S. Coleman, president of the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar, who spoke about our need to advocate for cultural institutions and the vital role they play in a democracy. One of the most attention-grabbing parts of her speech was a YouTube video about the audacious campaign launched by the Troy Library in Michigan to avoid closure when faced with budget cuts. Ms. Coleman closed by addressing the need to work together to help achieve our missions. This set the tone for the rest of the conference as we talked with colleagues about the successes and challenges of our work.

One major reason that we attended the conference was so that Heather could present a paper on our AskCaesar cataloging project during a panel session called Lessons in Success: Case Studies in Project Management. The four speakers who took part in this panel discussed issues like sustainability, metrics, donor relations, and the role of project-based assignments in the profession. The panelists represented different types of institutions including historical societies, universities, public libraries, and museums. These case studies showed that while we work in different places, we often face similar challenges, especially as we move forward in a world where more and more archival projects are falling to non-permanent staff members.

While at a reception at the Virginia State Capitol, we were inspired by quotes from Thomas Jefferson incorporated into the Visitor Center’s architecture.
In addition to the excellent papers that were a part of Heather’s session, we also enjoyed attending three other sessions which discussed the importance of digital projects in the 21st-century archives. Beyond Boutique: Building A Sustainable Digital Infrastructure discussed some of the challenges of launching large-scale digital projects and the important questions about resource allocation (including staff time) that institutions should ask themselves before embarking on these types of projects. Put Your Archives on the Map! Using ArchiveGrid to Promote Archival Collections explored how institutions can get their collections onto ArchiveGrid (similar to WorldCat, but for unpublished materials), a topic which was very pertinent to our cataloging project. Finally, Pin it! Tag it! Tweet it!: Outreach and Access through Social Media gave us some exciting ideas for how we can use social media more effectively and drove home the point that we need to have a more cohesive social media strategy that reaches across our whole institution.

These sessions were just a small sampling of more than 25 workshops and sessions which explored topics from disaster planning to privacy concerns to the history of the archival profession itself. Although we were not able to attend all of these concurrent sessions, we were able to follow along on Twitter to find out what was happening and see the key points of some of these presentations. Overall, the MARAC meeting was both informative and inspirational, and helped remind both of us that despite the many changes that the archives profession is currently undergoing, we both love our jobs and feel that we are doing important work every day – a great way to cap off American Archives Month!

— Heather and Jennifer

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