Archiving the past, protecting the future

September 17 / 197

Katie Wood, Annelie de Villiers and Lucy Davies in the stacks at UMA. Photo: Paul Burston
Katie Wood, Annelie de Villiers and Lucy Davies in the stacks at UMA. Photo: Paul Burston

Later this month the University of Melbourne will host this year’s Australian Society of Archivists conference as part of the Information Technologies Indigenous Communities symposium, which will explore questions on the diversity of UMA’s collections, audiences and the profession, as well as exploring the impact and potential of information technologies in Indigenous communities and on traditional knowledge.

In the lead up to the conference, three University archivists share their views on why archives are important for protecting diversity in our society.

 

Annelie de Villiers, Project Archivist, eScholarship Research Centre, PhD candidate

What does your job entail?

Since 2014 I have been employed to build a 'knowledge base' as part of an Australian Research Council project. The project investigates the removal and repatriation of Indigenous Australian ancestral remains since the time of colonisation. Indigenous Australian ancestral remains were most often stolen from burial grounds and sent overseas to be studied, often in support of what would now be considered racist doctrines. The public version of the resulting archive will be published online for the purposes of educating the public and supporting the repatriation efforts of Indigenous communities worldwide.

How did you get interested in archives and records?

I started out as a student in archaeology, but found that I was more intrigued by the field notebooks of archaeologists than in the objects they were discovering. The real treasures were the stories about the digs, which were captured through the documentation. Going into archiving was a natural result of following my interest.

What is your favourite part of your job?

My favourite part of being an archivist is making decisions that will empower those accessing the archives. Too often, histories focus only on the privileged, which has the effect of disempowering under-represented communities.

Why are records/archives important?

Records and archives are important because they have the potential to empower communities.

Why is it important, in the context of your job, that archivists and records managers consider issues of diversity?

Without awareness of the issues presented by diversity within our society, archivists may choose to retain the ‘wrong’ records, may describe those records in ways which are offensive and/or alienating to those accessing the archives, and may negatively impact the findings of future historians. That’s why I am so thrilled that the 2017 Australian Society of Archivists conference will be running alongside the Information Technologies Indigenous Communities symposium.  

 

Katie Wood, Archivist Access and Outreach, UMA

What does your job entail?

For many years I ran the Archive’s part of the Reading Room on the third floor of the Baillieu Library, helping hundreds of researchers a year access our collections. Today, my focus is on helping lecturers use our material in their courses. We’ve done this in a wide range of subjects (not just history!), including architecture, creative writing, criminology, law, sociology, breadth subjects and, hopefully, biosciences. I also work on outreach projects, for example the Malcolm Fraser collection, the anniversary of La Mama theatre, speaking to local historical societies and much more.

How did you get interested in archives and records?

When I was studying history I noticed that archivists were often mentioned in the acknowledgements of the books I was reading. It made me think that archivists are the ones who really get to play with historical records, and that’s where I wanted to be.

What is your favourite part of your job?

Introducing students to the wonder, inspiration and frustration of actual historical material. There’s something about holding and reading documents created long ago, and then trying to apply your own knowledge and theoretical frameworks to understanding them that seems to deepen many student’s experience of learning. 

Why are records/archives important?

For many and varied reasons, and it really depends who you ask. Records in general are important for accountability of governments, organisations and people. But they end up having a broader meaning when they are deposited in a collecting archive like UMA, where they become a record of our past and contribute to the preservation of memory and current debates. 

Why is it important, in the context of your job, that archivists and records managers consider issues of diversity?

The process of collecting archives has a natural bias towards the powerful – wealthy families, successful businesses, and prominent academics. Their records are important, but they don’t show the whole picture. Archivists must work with marginalised communities, activist groups and others to not just collect records, but also create ongoing relationships that establish us as a trusted and respectful repository for records that more accurately reflect our society as a whole.

 

Lucy Davies, Manager, Records Services, Legal and Risk

What does your job entail?

I manage a small team of records management professionals within Legal and Risk in University Services. We provide records management advice to the University to ensure that records are kept not only for compliance purposes, but to support research, learning and teaching, engagement and administration activities. Many of the records the University creates today become part of the University’s Archives and evidence of the activities it undertook.

How did you get interested in archives and records?

I studied history and ancient history at university and was looking for a profession that would allow me to work with historical records. However, instead of working with historical records I’ve ended up working with current records that eventually become historical records.

What is your favourite part of your job?

I love making the records we manage in the University’s recordkeeping system accessible to University staff and then helping them find information in the system they need as part of their job. I also find it satisfying when we transfer permanent records to the University archives so other audiences beyond just University staff can access them.

Why are records/archives important?

Records are permanent evidence of ‘what happened’ – without them there is no proof that a decision was made, why it was made, or who made it. Effective recordkeeping supports the development of an accessible corporate memory and better decision-making in the University. 

Why is it important, in the context of your job, that archivists and records managers consider issues of diversity?

We need to ensure we capture and keep records representative of the whole of society, not just one section of it. If we only capture records from one part of society, our history is incomplete and unrepresentative.  This is why collecting archives such as the University of Melbourne Archives are so important – they ensure records created outside of government (which has to comply with recordkeeping legislation) are captured and made accessible.

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