Were your ears burning on Friday, January 17? Archivists gathered that day in Convocation Hall at the University of Winnipeg for a full day of discussions which returned a number of times to a central question: what are you, the primary user of archives, looking for?
You have never set foot in an archives? Archives come in all shapes and sizes. Your house in fact, is an archives. Your house is a library and museum as well.
When you make a cup of tea in your grandmother’s gold-rimmed china cup (horrors!) and then pull down your mother’s cookbook from the cookbook shelf to find her hand-written recipe for cinnamon buns, you have accessed the most important heritage centre in your realm: your private museum, library and archives. If that recipe is where you expect it to be, you are doing a good job. Just be careful with that cup.
As for a bricks and mortar archives, if you have explored your family tree, worked on a school project, or researched just about any topic, you have accessed archival services. You may not need to step into the bricks and mortar archives as often these days because frequently you can find the records you need through the Internet.
During the cross-country one day summit, archivists were looking at the common challenges they face, asking tough questions in a time of change when clearly one size cannot fit all.
A central question was how to provide the greatest benefit to the service user: you. Hanging on the coattails of that question was a second: do archives need increased profile to encourage user interactions?
Here are two examples of work performed by archives in Manitoba, one a publically funded archives, the other private. The publically funded University of Manitoba was in the headlines during the summer of 2013 for the signing of the Agreement to host the records of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Residential Schools. Please see CNC, The Children’s Summer Solstice, June 22, 2013.
How many researchers will visit the Truth and Reconciliation Record Centre in person or online? What do you, the user want to tell the Centre’s archivists about care of the records and access to them?
In the private sector, the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Winnipeg Archives completed a major photo digitization project during 2013. Funded in part by the Sir Thomas Cropo Foundation, the archives digitized hundreds of photos from the collection of the late metropolitan (archibishop), Michael Bzdel.
The main focus of the Metropolitan Bzdel photo project was to digitize photos, but the archival process was broad and may lead to various future projects. For instance, in the photo above, Metropolitan Michael stands in a cemetery. Many religious archives across the country are struggling to digitize cemetery and sacramental records. Will this project augment work with such records? How many users will applaud the effort?
If you are an archives’ user, join the dialogue. Contact your favourite archivist. Firstly, make clear what it is you appreciate when you work with your archivist; secondly, if you have needs that have not been met, put in a wish list. Your voice counts, because when you need a record, you really need that record. You wouldn’t be asking otherwise.