Unit 3: Archives and Archivists

So I might want to be an archivist …

In the first week of readings, we learned that the basic tasks of an archivist are to establish and maintain control over “records of enduring value.” Archivists select, arrange, and describe records. They help to preserve paper, film, and electronic sources. According to the Society of American Archivists website, there are many different types of archives. These include college and university archives, corporate, government, historical societies, museums, and special collections archives.

The core values of an archivist “to promote open access and use when possible.” Access to records is essential and “records should be both welcomed and actively promoted.” Accountability as well as transparency are also important values to archivists as they are the “hallmark of democracy.” According to the website, other core values include advocacy, diversity, professionalism, preservation, and social responsibility.

Although archives are similar to libraries, they have many differences as well. Archives hold different material like manuscripts, letters, photographs, and rare objects.  Methods of evaluating whether or not an archive contains certain material consists of checking bibliographies, contacting experts in your field, and searching websites. My favorite website is the American Historical Association, which has links to archives all around the world. Contacting archival staff is another way to track down material in an archive, especially if they are not accessible from Interlibrary loan.  An archivist might help you scan or you can hire a research assistant. Archives also differ from libraries in terms of handling material. Many times there is no food or drink allowed, no pens allowed, and one usually submits identification.

One important lesson that I learned from Professor Zhu from Eastern Washington University is that if you need substantial help from an archivist, bring a substantial gift. Booze helps you schmooze. Is that appropriate?


In the article titled “’Dear Mary Jane’: Some Reflections on Being an Archivist” the archival intern, Mary Jane, is asking John, the archivist, for advice. John’s first job as an archivist was to gather records from a local settlement house. Mary Jane wants to know if his career was satisfying and John replies that archival work was “part science, part art, and when done properly, part showmanship” (24). He explains how archival work can help get justice for victims, like it has for Native Americans whose land was denied to them. An archivist has huge responsibilities and John explains to Mary Jane that, “the archival record serves all citizens as a check against a tyrannical government” (26).

Pretty heavy stuff.


In “Born Digital” the creation of the Washington State Digital Archives is examined. Astoundingly, 100,000 items are added each month. A movement to claim the building started in 2000, a time when less knowledge about digital archives existed. With a $14 million budget, the museum broke ground in December 2002 and opened two years later. It began housing marriage records from Chelan, Snohomish, and Spokane counties. And so began “America’s first state government digital archives facility,” right here in lil’ old Cheney, Washington.



Phlebitis or a Security Breach?

In Sandy Berger’s Theft of Classified Documents: Unanswered Questions, the findings of an executive summary are displayed as a piece of digital material. President Clinton’s former National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger,  was caught stealing documents from the National Archives. This is illegal, compromised national security, and was obviously a major core value broken by Berger, who pleaded guilty. The highly classified 9/11 documents were viewed by Berger on four separate occasions between 2002- 2003. There is no way to know what he took because the documents were not specifically numbered by page. He was sentenced to two yeas probation, 100 hours of community service, and a $50,000 fine due to “the seriousness of the offense.” This is a lesson that should teach archivists to babysit better … and number each page.


2 thoughts on “Unit 3: Archives and Archivists

  1. Nicolle, interesting article about this week’s readings! I also found Berger’s theft quite disturbing, especially since we cannot know exactly what he did and did not take from the National Archives. Instead of archivists needing to number each page, I think a more appropriate response is for archivists to follow proper protocol as well as the ethics and core values of the profession and NEVER leave anyone (no matter their security clearance) alone with one-of-a-kind irreplaceable documents. The archivist mentioned in the report should have taken the documents with her while Berger was supposedly talking on the phone.

    Liked by 1 person

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