Archivy etc.

opinions, occasional rants, and sometimes things that have nothing to do with archives at all. Nothing here should be assumed to be reflective of my employer's opinion(s) nor should it be assumed that at anytime afterward, this is what I still think.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Can't we all just get along?

My mom was a librarian.

She's still alive, just retired from the library world for a number of years now.

What's the lesson you should take from that? Attila has had a birds-eye view of the library world for a lot of years now both through Mom and through her own work, so often affiliated with libraries. And she respects librarians and librarianship. What librarians do is irreplaceable and important. And they and their work are currently under threat for no good reason that Attila can discern, though in her darkest of hearts, she occasionally has the suspicion that it's because what they do is irreplaceable and important and that's always scary to those seeking power who think they may not be able to harness those that do the irreplaceable and important work.

Okay, I've got to stop talking about myself in the third person--that's just too weird. Back to me.

Despite this affection and respect for librarians, recently I've found myself incredibly resentful of librarians. To the point to which I almost unleashed a rant on a totally undeserving librarian, who was making an excellent point about information management by sharing an anonymous piece about institutional memory that has some good lessons for those who are smart enough to pay attention to what has been written. Though I'm a trifle bothered by being unable to find any sort of clear sourcing information on this document: I'm okay with people being anonymous, but please can somebody step up and say "I know this person and s/he is for real?" Maybe it's the archivist in me, but the total lack of context on this document makes me doubt its authenticity and if I want people who I think are in need of the lesson to read it and to learn from it, I hesitate to give them something I can't provide any provenance on whatsoever.

But back to my library story. The librarian in question is a long-time hero of mine, The Lipstick Librarian (Linda Absher).  For those of you who haven't heard of her, go "like" her Facebook page. I read a higher per capita amount of her shared links than any of the other people I follow on Facebook, which is saying something. Plus she puts up cute kitten videos whenever she's nearing a milestone in fan counts, so that's always a bonus in terms of lowering blood pressure. At any rate, she passed on the above link and noted something to the effect of this is what happens when corporations wipe out their libraries and let their librarians go. And God and Melvil Dewey, 1851-1931 forgive me, but my first thought was: "This isn't about libraries. This isn't even remotely about libraries. What the Schellenberg? Where does she get off claiming this is about libraries?"

It's been a hard couple of months for Attila here, especially when it comes to librarians. I've had it a little too forcefully driven home to me that some librarians don't understand what it is I and my fellow archivists do. So I think I can be forgiven--a little--if I got somewhat resentful that a librarian had posted that link and turned it into a discussion about libraries when it to me seemed clearly about archives and records management, not librarianship and this was just another example of librarians who don't have a clue about their allied professions when we're expected to know everything about them...

Yeah, more than a bit of an over-reaction. And why I think I deserve at least a little bit of forgiveness is that I didn't unleash the blame dogs on the Lipstick Librarian, because while librarianship was her term, what she was really talking about was information management.  And as far as that goes, all of us whose professions fall under the umbrella have indeed been under attack, though perhaps in the case of records management and archives, it's been not so much an attack as a failure to adopt in the first place.

Where am I going with this? I'm not sure. First, I want to apologize to LL for having gone off--even if only in my head--at her. She's posted stuff before that I've thought was more about archives and less about libraries and usually I've just shrugged and thought "well, at least she's getting the story out to a wider audience." Or I've just mentally done the translation from "librarianship" to "information management" without even really involving my forebrain. We're all in that business together. And many of us have duties that overlap. Corporate librarians have long had duties that encompassed records management, legal compliance, care of original documentation, grey literature, published works. This archivist, though while primarily responsible for original documentation in a variety of media, also cares for a [semi-]rare books collection and also makes acquisition decisions for some institutional records that effectively translates to acting as an occasional records manager as well. We all seem to deal with legal matters no matter what our job title: whether it be copyright and fair use, standards like HIPAA and FERPA and FOIA and other laws and regulations that affect access to information, determining compliance issues, and so forth.

The acronyms we may use might be different. The jargon terms we use may occasionally overlap, if not always in meaning. I might measure things in linear feet or mb, gb, or tb, the librarians in linear feet and numbers of items, the records managers might be doing risk analyses of varying retention periods. Because, really, in the end, it's about creating and saving and disseminating the important information out to the people in need of it. Choosing what to save and what not to save and how to save it and how to provide access to it and taking the responsibility that the choices we make will affect information seekers, no matter where along the records life-cycle continuum we may spend most of our time.

So if maybe sometimes librarians don't seem to understand what it is we archivists do or neither the librarians nor the archivists seem to respect the role of records managers (forgive me: I'm using RM to cast the widest possible net) quite as much as we should, so be it. Let's each do what we can to rectify that and, while remembering that while I can only really guarantee that I educate myself, sometimes my own act of learning can serve to educate others. And I need to remember that I'm least likely to educate when I'm yelling at people for not understanding me. I don't have to know so much that I can do their jobs, I just have to know enough to know when I can rely on others to do the work so I don't have to. Or maybe I can advocate that institutions hire people who are best suited to solve the problems that face them. Maybe, just maybe, despite occasional internecine squabbling and misunderstandings, what matters is that we all carry a lot of power. So much so, that we're a threat to people who are scared of information and access to it. Think of what we could do if we could really understood the strengths each of us brings to what has been and continues to be a rather nasty battlefield out there. A battlefield based on ignorance and lack of communication which are problems that we, no matter what the alphabet soup after our name or our job title may be, have been specially trained to defeat.

Information power, people, information power.

And just in case that doesn't work, here's a picture of one of my cute kitties (Diefenbaker) attempting to help me type this piece by lying across my arms.

Hey, if it works for the Lipstick Librarian, it might just work for me. Who said I can't learn anything from my library colleagues?

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