Why is [historical] archiving important?

Last year when I attended the Society of Florida Archivists conference in Saint Petersburg, I listened to a talk by a woman who’d gotten into the field rather by accident. I learned a lot at that conference, and I also realized what a narrow niche archiving is. It sounds mysterious to a lot of people, I imagine, and the very term “archiving” carries a heavy load.

It makes me think of when I took environmental science class in college and I learned the difference between “conservation” and “preservation.” And when I got into historical preservation, I had no trouble explaining why preservation was important. But when I started to learn more about archiving– and even when I became a volunteer archivist –I still wasn’t totally certain that I could define it.

Recently, I needed to define it. I was in a situation that required me to be clear. I also made the mistake of thinking that librarians understood archiving. Rather, it’s not always the case. This morning I took a webinar on collection development marketing.

Discussions regarding collection management cause me to understand why archives can become endangered. If a librarian is managing a collection in a library, and there’s a room with archives tucked away that no one can look at without supervision, I can see how this would become tiresome, difficult, or make people think, “Heck, why do we need any of this? What purpose does it serve?”

And those who are not historians are less likely to value historical documents, photos, and other memorabilia. One feels much like the comic book geek guarding her collection: “Wait! Be careful with that. Don’t crease the pages!” Frustration and annoyance might lead to retorting, “Well, what’s the point, then?”

Archiving is important because history is important. Consider this:

The oldest surviving English language newspaper was printed in Amsterdam and dated 2 December, 1620. It opened with the line, “new tydings out of Italie are not yet com….”

Such documents and books do not last without careful archiving and climate control. And if you think 60 years isn’t old, then when does one begin preserving history? After all, we are creating history right now.

For something to be remembered, it has to be recorded. For something to last, it has to be properly cared for, and archive-quality products that are free of certain chemicals, intended to store valuable documents, help these items to survive.

Archiving is important. And it’s important because we are protecting and preserving our own history for future generations.

If you’re an archivist, let me ask you: Am I missing anything? Is this a correct picture of what it means to be an archivist in the realm of history?

Please comment and share your thoughts.


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