Archivist: Research Support or Researcher?

I 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’.

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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?

 

2016: The Pact that Proves the Value of New Professionals

Being a new archival professional is terrifying. You are scared of stepping on toes, of being viewed as competition, of making a fool of yourself. Often this means that we hesitate to step out of our comfort zones.

Unless of course, you make a pact with a colleague…

Annelie’s experience

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When I entered the profession in 2013, it took welcoming and encouraging colleagues to convince me to submit my first conference abstract, publish my first blog post and attend my first professional association meeting.

Once I did these things however, I realised that not only was I welcome to do so, the established professionals asked me how they could get more new professionals to get involved. In every archival association meeting I’ve attended, the question has been asked “Where are our new professionals and how can we better engage with them?”

It became clear that we new professionals have two things which are sought after in every level of our associations and workplaces:icaairport

  1. We have enthusiasm, and more importantly;
  2. We have time.

On the heels of this realisation, my colleague Nicola Laurent and myself made a pact at the beginning of 2016 to put our hands up for every opportunity which came our way, no matter how under-qualified we felt.

Without this conscious commitment to stick our necks out, I don’t think that we could have achieved half of the things we did in 2016.

I started the year as a research assistant and ended it as a project manager, a reviews editor, the coordinator of the Information Technologies Indigenous Communities Symposium, the recipient of an international bursary and the author of a minor thesis and journal article.

2016 was a wild ride, and whilst it sucked on a global scale, it won’t be easily surpassed on a personal/professional level. I encourage any new professionals out there to make the same pact. Chuck your hand up, even if the only thing you feel you can offer is your time. You have no idea how welcome your contribution is and what doors it will open along the way.

 

Nicola’s experience

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When Annelie suggested this pact, I thought ‘how many opportunities could come my way?’ By the end of the year friends were training me how to say no, because I literally did not have the time to do more. If you had told me a year ago everything I have since achieved, I would have laughed and said I don’t think you’ve got the right person.

My year started with a mentoring opportunity to meet David Fricker, Director-General of National Archives of Australia and President of the International Council on Archives (ICA), through the Australian Society of Archivists (ASA). I was nervous, but I had made the pact so I went for it. I asked colleagues (and Google) the types of questions people should ask of a mentor, I flew to Canberra with my notes, and I came home with the message to ‘change the world’ and with so much inspiration for the year ahead.

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Much the same as Annelie, I started the year having done a lot less – I was a Project Archivist, the Communications Officer for the ASA Victorian Branch and I had just submitted a conference abstract after a lot of encouragement and help. I ended the year, as a higher paid Project Archivist, a Councillor for the ASA, Secretary of the VIC branch, a recipient of ICA’s New Professional bursary (and therefore a member of the ICA’s New Professional Programme) and helping to organise patriarchive.com. I now have 4 conference presentations (including two at an international congress), a poster presentation at a conference and multiple talks for my work under my belt. I’m also now on YouTube thanks to one of my conference presentations and on the ICA’s homepage promoting the bursary for 2017 and I have an incredible network of new and experienced professionals who help, encourage, mentor and support each other so we all achieve our best.

I had so many amazing moments in 2016, I learnt and continue to learn so much, I met some incredible people, made great friends, and I’m sure that the whirlwind of amazing is definitely going to continue. But don’t think it will all be easy, sometimes you will wonder why you said yes or what you have signed up for, or if you can really manage it, but in the end it will all work out. Looking forward, I’ve already applied for an international conference for 2017, and I’m in the process of finishing my first conference paper and journal article and I will soon be launching a blog on advocacy and outreach (two things that I have found at every turn on my journey so far).

So believe in yourself, smile, and I hope that from this blog post you can see that you have value as a new professional within the archival profession and that you are wanted. Without the encouragement of Annelie and our pact, I know that I wouldn’t have gone for half the opportunities and done half the things I have, despite my supportive workplace. So if you need someone to give you the confidence to say yes, and to get involved, or throw your hat in the ring then find us on twitter and I’m sure we can help 🙂

 

Where to start:

  1. Get in touch with your professional association, whether it’s local (Australian Society of Archivists) or international (International Council on Archives)
    • Remember that it’s not about what the association can offer you, it’s about what you can do for the association which also benefits yourself, ie. volunteer to write content for their social media accounts – This will help you to meet other professionals and develop an employable skill, whilst being of benefit to your association.
  2. Check out call for papers for conferences
    • Submitting abstracts to conferences is an invaluable step toward developing your networks and career.
    • If you need help, here is a tip sheet that Nicola, Annelie and Mike Jones developed for anyone wanting to submit for the 2017 Australian Society of Archivists conference.
    • If you can’t afford to go to a conference, get in touch with the conference organisers and ask whether you can attend the conference for free in exchange for volunteering as a helper.
  3. Get writing
    • Do you have blogs in your region that are dedicated to archives? Why not write a guest blog post? Write something for your professional association’s newsletter. I know that the ICA New Professionals welcome submissions to their newsletters.
    • If you would like to do a research project one day, have a look at Annelie’s post about conducting archival research.
  4. Apply for bursaries
    • Apply for bursaries such as the ICA New Professional bursary (hurry as applications are closing soon).
  5. Keep an eye out
    • Sign up for the newsletters and listservs of professional associations in order to keep abreast of upcoming opportunities. Once you know where to look, and start developing your networks, you will find that there is no limit to the opportunities open to you.

Innovative Archivists as Drivers of Change

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

Debunking Archival Research Myths

For most archivists, research continues to be shrouded in mystery. Unfortunately this contributes to the growing gap between practitioners and researchers in our profession.

This blog post sets out to debunk a couple of myths that are stopping people from doing research.

Myth 1: I don’t have the authority to do research.

FALSE. Everyone is an expert in something. The first trick is to identify what you know.

Example: I have only worked in the profession for three years. So last year, a couple of us organised a panel discussion at the ASA Conference about what it was like to be a new professional in the Australian archival sector.

Myth 2: Everything’s already been done.

FALSE. The more you read, and the more conferences you go to, the better you get at identifying the gaps. The second trick is reading as widely as possible. Join your professional association and gain access to their journals, you will soon be overwhelmed by how much has not yet been rigorously considered. Journal articles will help you out here by identifying their own limitations.

Example: “The impact of the WW1 centenary on the public’s exposure to archival material was out of scope”. Remember: Another article’s limitation is your opportunity.

Myth 3: I don’t write well enough.

FALSE. The more you read and the more you write, the more you get the hang of the jargon. Journal articles are written in dense, academic language because the writers want to convey complex ideas in fewer words. Every writer approaches things differently; compare the dense, academic style of the Canadian academic Terry Cook with the more conversational style of practitioner Cassie Findlay. The more you write, the more you will develop your own style. Start your own blog or contribute to others’ (e.g. the Recordkeeping Roundtable.

Myth 4: I don’t know how.

Ok, this one is possibly true. However it’s one of the easiest obstacles to overcome! In order to get your research published you need to prove two things: that the research was rigorous and that you are contributing to existing knowledge.

You demonstrate these two things by completing the following process:

  1. Identifying the gap in existing knowledge through a literature review
  2. Articulating your research question, adapting the literature review accordingly
  3. Designing your methodology to best suit your research question
  4. Collecting your data
  5. Analysing your data
  6. Comparing your findings with existing knowledge
  7. Identifing what new knowledge has been gained
  8. Writing it up

I would recommend getting your hands on this book as it guides you through the steps listed above.

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Of course there are little tips and tricks that I’ve only learnt by asking experienced researchers. The best advice I can give is just to talk with as many people as possible. Collaboration opportunities are likely to come your way if people know you are interested.