Innovative Archivists as Drivers of Change


Innovative archivists know three things:

  1. Archival systems are infrastructure
  2. Archival infrastructure is man-made
  3. That which is man-made can be man-unmade

The word ‘infrastructure’ generally brings to mind roads and bridges, but our economic systems and very society is based upon intricate, interrelated sets of infrastructure. A unique feature of infrastructure is that it supports our society and our ways of living, but is taken for granted and largely goes unnoticed. Unless that is, something goes wrong. 


Road Infrastructure

For example, consider the roads we drive on every day and facilitates our transportation; invariably mostly we notice them is when there are faults on the road. As they don’t pull our attention, little thought is given to maintaining roads until potholes jolt us into action.

As archival systems (encompassing recordkeeping technologies, standards and behaviours) facilitate and support activities within a community or organization, they are another example of infrastructure. Like our roads, archival systems go largely unnoticed unless something is wrong, leading to the refrain that audits and disasters are an archivists’ best friend.

The nature of archival systems as infrastructure contributes to the lack of awareness of the importance and complexity of archival systems and of the archival profession. Regrettably, infrastructure also appears to be ‘set’ and unchangeable.

The innovative archivist recognises that archival infrastructure is man-made, and anything that is man-made can be man-unmade.


NASA Infrastructure, 1949

When the innovative archivist is told that something is impossible, their mind amends it to ‘there’s a limitation in the existing system’ with the recognition that the existing system could be changed. Just as a system can be changed, so too can systemic recordkeeping behaviours.


During the 2016 ASA conference, Laura Miller argued that we should look at how service initiatives have enabled change in the past. Miller used the Reduce Reuse Recycle campaign to demonstrate how attitudes to rubbish were changed through a systemic, long-term campaign.

The innovative archivist recognises that recordkeeping behaviours are waiting to be changed.

As Miller argued, archivists need to stop feeling overwhelmed by the wave of technological and societal change and instead become the drivers of that change.

1 thought on “Innovative Archivists as Drivers of Change

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s