Archivist: Research Support or Researcher?

library-la-trobe-study-students-159775.jpegI recently became excited when I learned that an Australian Information Management undergrad course contained subjects about research. This excitement dampened considerably when I was told the intent of the subject was to teach future information professionals about how to support the research activities of others, rather than to conduct research of their own.

In that instance, our information professional students, on the cusp of their careers, are subliminally being told; “you are research support, not researcher”.

Granted it’s postgrad courses which are designed to turn students into researchers, however I strongly believe that acknowledging the potential in students as future researchers during their undergrad will encourage them to enroll in further courses or to publish in the future regardless.

By acknowledging the ‘research potential’ of undergrad students, we move toward closing the gap between archival practitioners and researchers.

Once again, by looking outward, we can learn how other sectors are bringing about this change in emphasis. The Tweet below came about from a recent talk about how treating students as writers who have something to say shapes student identities as ‘writers’.


By shifting the emphasis of literature review activities to the authors of papers rather than the ideas within the papers, research becomes ‘re-humanised’ and therefore more accessible to students. Students can then be encouraged to reiterate the ideas within papers in their own words, subtly putting them in the role of communicating research.

Educators play a major role in acknowledging the potential of undergrad students as researchers and fostering the confidence within those students to share their insights with others once they become practitioners.

I’m by no means arguing that everyone should do postgrad, I’m just passionate about breaking down that ivory tower in order to ensure that research in archival science actually is relevant to practitioners in the field.

Acknowledging the expertise of our GLAM students will assist them with the question; ‘But what do I have to contribute?’. This question, and the accompanying ‘But I have nothing to say’, seems to be holding professionals back from engaging in research.

Let me save us all some time by telling you that what you have to contribute is expertise because everyone is an expert in something. It’s up to you to find out what that something is and to recognise the value of it, before you share it with others and have them recognise the value of it too.

It’s all just a matter of upskilling yourself and getting started.

Are you an archival educator or manager? What do you do to encourage research thinking and activities?

1 thought on “Archivist: Research Support or Researcher?

  1. In my opinion, archivists have an important task to support any researches using archives/records. Generally, however, as they also have historical background and passion to research, they tend to be a writer. Unfortunately, the attitude could be making double standard of profession, as a provider and a user. Finally, they should choose a profession where appriopriate.


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