Archives Moment: Archives Week 2022 – #ArchivesAreYou

The theme for Archives Week 2022 is #ArchivesAreYou. As you see from the video above, this week is dedicated to talking about Archivists, who work in the archives, and the people who use the archives. Quite simply, it is people that the archives capture and describe to provide relevant information with the materials included in the archives. So, it is important to understand both the people who are featured in the archival materials as well as those who help to preserve it.

First, the Musée Héritage Museum currently has two archivists on staff. We have our archivist Vino, and our assistant archivist Jia Jia. Both have been here at the museum for close to ten years. If you click on their names, you’ll learn more about their backgrounds. Our archivists have core duties to perform in the archives, this includes acquiring materials from the public through donations, processing the donated materials (arrangement and description), making materials available to the public through our database (which includes digitization of materials), and providing reference service for the public (addressing your research questions, which includes pulling materials from the archives for you to view in person).

Another important aspect for archival work for our archivists is outreach, which is to bring awareness in the community and access to the archives. Both of our archivists are active in the community by presenting at various conferences and sharing archival knowledge with people both in person and online. We are fully aware that archives are not necessarily the most well known area for most people, so we do feel it is imperative that part of our job is to bring awareness to what the archives has to offer to the public. We hold the documentary heritage of the St. Albert region, which can lead to endless potential usage for our users, such as private usage, publications in print and audiovisual media, and research possibilities.

One advantage we think we have is that since we work in a museum, we have the chance to work with colleagues with vastly different backgrounds and this helps us to think differently about what archives should be like as opposed to a more traditional institutional archives.

Having the chance to work with our programming team has opened our archivists’ eyes to the potential to reach out to younger audiences and how we need to adapt our styles to be more inclusive. An example of this adaption is the creation of our Archives Challenges, which are a series of fun activities based upon archival materials for our patrons to try at our museum.

Working with different staff members has also taught us to be more inclusive in what we acquire at the archives. Indigenous staff members and local Indigenous partners help us to understand that traditional written record keeping does not always capture all people and we need to think about different cultures and how their histories are recorded.  For example, oral histories are a form of record keeping that is sometimes overlooked or dismissed, but these records hold valuable information and have been used by different cultures to record their history over a vast period of time. So we have made an extra effort at our archives to record and digitize oral histories and make them available to the public.  You will find lots of oral histories in our database.

At the same time, we know that there are some sacred practices that certain communities do not want recorded. These practices should only be viewed at the moment they happen so to record them for future usage is wrong. We at the archives want to capture as much as possible so that future generations can get a better sense of what our communities were like. However, we have learned that we need to respect the requests of communities that are asking us not to record them either at certain points in time or altogether so that the people we collaborate with feel respected and our space is safe and welcoming. The archives do this to build long term relationships and gather materials that will benefit our users for years to come.

This brings us to you, the people. We feel that it is important to be more proactive when capturing records that hold the history of our community and the people who have lived here. It used to be that archives were passive, waiting for records to come to them. However, we have found that this could be problematic in that many people may not know about archives and that we can preserve your history. So by the time one comes to light of such a place, many records could be gone. So we are trying to be more proactive in asking people to donate relative historical records to our archives.

 

Also, we are not immune to biases that help shape the historical record. That is where we need to careful in being more active in collecting records. If you read our archivists bio pages, you’ll see that they have some distinct backgrounds and have personal reasons for why they joined the archival field, which could certainly affect how one does their job. To circumvent these biases, we are doing our best to be more inclusive in what we collect on and the type of records we hold. We mentioned oral histories as an example earlier, but we hold many different types of records, such as photographs, video, and art. We know that people express themselves in different ways and so we want to be more inclusive in what we store as historical record. Also, as mentioned above, we work with a diverse staff and so we are careful to have discussions among us all so that no one opinion is more dominate than the other. We recognize that are not all us are experts in every field of knowledge, so by consulting with all of our staff and with community partners, we hope that we are better able to serve our community when we process materials in our archives.

Lastly, we want everyone to know that archives are just stories of the people. To give an Indigenous interpretation of the archives, we are a place that “hold[s] onto our stories until our grandchildren are ready to hear them.” (Sherry Lawson, Chippewas of Rama First Nation). So we’ll be here when you are ready to come on down and hear what we have to say!

As always, feel free to contact our archives if you have any questions or comments: archives@artsandheritage.ca or 780-459-1528. If you are interested in learning more about the important areas in the archives that our archivists have been concerned with over the years, please follow the links below.

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR)

Entertain first, Educate Second

The Young and the Archives

Decolonization of the Archives

South Asian Documentation Project, filling gaps in our history

Eugenics in Western Canada and how records (or lack there of) affects Social Justice

Being Subjective

Activist (Active) Archivist

Archives of Marginalized and Under-Represented Groups

Archives are not about records

Musée Héritage Museum is honoured to present at the 2019 ASA conference