Reflections on the Gap Between Archivists and Librarians

Happy Wednesday, dear readers. I hope that you are all having a lovely day, whether it is in sunny SoCal or you are enjoying a snow day like my friends in Boston. I am very happy to be back home after a whirlwind tour of San Diego for both the ALISE and ALA Midwinter Conferences. Because I’m still processing everything I’ve learned or experienced at the conferences, I thought I’d talk about just one issue that was quite striking: the gap between archivists and librarians. This theme came up at both of the conferences and I think it deserves to be explored further.

I’ve written previously on the need for librarians to understand what archivists do, and vice versa, but today I want to discuss the communication, or the lack thereof, between the two fields. Communication is key on moving both professions forward and not duplicating each other’s work. This was driven home for me when I was sitting in a session on Top Tech Trends at Midwinter listening to librarians and library vendors discussing trends, a large part of which revolved around digital curation and preservation. I was excited to hear this in a talk about technology, but thought it was a shame that there were no archivists on the panel. Archivists have been wrestling with issues of digital preservation, curation, preservation, access, and authentication for years and it would have been a much more useful discussion if it was between librarians and archivists and not limited to the librarian world.

Now, I’m not saying that this lack of communication can be blamed wholly on the librarians, archivists are just as guilty of staying in their silos. There was actually a discussion about breaking down the silos among archivists, librarians, and museum curators at ALISE which had some defending, rather vigorously, the necessity of maintaining strict boundaries and not having any of this interdisciplinary stuff. On the whole, I find it rather sad and disappointing to see our wonderful professions worrying more about boundaries than figuring out how to work together on issues such as digital preservation.

The lack of communication seems to be leading to duplication of work by archivists and librarians. We don’t need dozens of metadata standards, some used by archivists and some used by librarians, none of which are completely agreed upon. We don’t need to duplicate projects (and we definitely don’t need to create any more crazy initialisms and acronyms). What we need is to first understand each other’s field, actually talk with one another, and then set out solving these digital preservation and curation issues together. Everyone seems to be chronically underfunded these days, so let’s make our limited funds and grants go further by working together instead of competing with each other. Who knows, we might make some progress. Wouldn’t that be great?

Okay, I’m stepping off my soapbox now. Kudos to those of you who are working to break down the barriers between archivists and librarians and working to build up our collaborations and communications. I have great hope for what the professions can do together in the realm of digital preservation and curation.

Today we will be ending with something fun from Doctor Who for three reasons:

  1. Because, as my awesome friend Hanna said, Who wouldn’t want to be at a wedding with the Doctor?
  2. Because another one of my friends has recently finished watching Series 5 and, like Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, believes that even if there are multiple universes, he will not be dancing in any of them. I’m hoping maybe the Doctor dancing will make him at least consider the possibility he is dancing in at least one of the universes.
  3. It’s Doctor Who, enough said:

Enjoy the rest of your day. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming in a few days. Allons-y!