Sunday, July 4, 2010

International Archival Connections (conference post 1)

A few days ago, on July 2, I attended the second day of the I-CHORA 5 (International Conference on the History of Records and Archives) at University College London.

I had a busy morning since this was also the first official day of my month-long Library Science program through the University of Southern Mississippi at King's College London--and that meant packing up and moving into the dorm at 127 Stamford Street. Here is the link to view the campus and dorms I arrived at the dorm a little before 9am, hopped a bus and arrived at the conference site at 9:22am. Whew, I was so certain I was going to miss at least the first two presentations.

And now, here is where those of you with little patience must just relax, I know that I can be quite verbose, and maybe you do not need to come on a step by step journey of my day...but that's how I write.

First of all, attendance at the conference was different than I expected: there were approximately 90-120 registered participants, most attendees were currently employed as archivists, records managers or IT professionals. There were a number of speakers who emphasized "I am not an archivist," which surprised and frustrated me a little--one of the issues I have with the current literature in the profession is the constant need to ask: why are we here? what is an archivist? How do we explain to resource allocators who we are and why we are needed? But as I discussed with Else Hansen of the Denmark National Archives and Susanne Neugebauer of the Hogeshool van Amsterdam (how cool is that) it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy--if we, as archivists, cannot explain why we matter, if we constantly pose the question then what prevents the powers that be from saying: yes, why do we need you? Wouldn't it be better to assert our importance and the critical nature of our profession rather than constantly undermine it?

What struck me as most different from US conferences was the truly international nature of the conference presenters and delegates: 18 countries were represented, most from Western Europe but also Estonia, Romania, Korea and mainland China. Nearly all of the English-speaking world was present: U.S., each country of the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. There were comparative projects bringing together archivists from New Zealand and Estonia, in a presentation which addressed archival traditions (Estonia has a strong one and New Zealand's is virtually extinct) and joint research between colleagues as the same institution (University of Glasgow HATII, Stasi Records Office, and the Institute for the History of Medicine in Berlin).

Similar to the work that we have done in our classes at the University of Maryland, College Park most of these presentations were case studies of work done at individual archives. The German Stasi papers archivists discussed their efforts to deal with the incredible amount of material they hold including hand-shredded records. There were presentations on new technology, on the impulse behind the creation of electronic registers in Denmark, and on the need for more emphasis on the creation of email archiving. Talks were mostly powerpoint based, though some of the speakers, bravely, used powerpoint only as support and for visual illustration.

I will post more tomorrow about the content of the talks and our visit to The National Archives, or TNA--such an unfortunate abbreviation for those of us who remember...

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