Reining in the Rogue Archives

A local government archives established before local government archives were a “thing,” and long before “Describing Archives: A Content Standard” was conceived. Long-serving archivists with dedication to and knowledge of the community and its history… but no formal archival training. One-of-a-kind propriety software used to describe and catalog holdings. Collections housed in a century-old wooden train depot with no fire protection. If ever an archives has “gone rogue,” the Limestone County Archives, established 1980 in Athens, Alabama, is it.

So how do you rein in a rogue archives? And why should you bother? I propose a roundtable discussion session in which we tackle the ways in which all archives tend go a little bit rogue, and we compare the tools and resources available to us to help us align with ever-evolving professional standards and practices. Specifically, I’d like to discuss:

– Content management systems: ArchivesSpace, Archon, Archivists Toolkit, ContentDM, PastPerfect, Access database… check around and you’ll find that nearly every archives and special collections repository is using something different, or the same thing in a different way. At the Limestone County Archives, we’ve gone from an Access database to software created for us to limited use of PastPerfect to, just in the past week, installation of ArchivesSpace and the steep learning curve involved in getting started with that. What works? Why or why not? How can we help each other through this process?

– Archival training: Many small repositories are staffed by the local history buff and a group of volunteers, not necessarily graduates from the nearest archival studies program. Let’s talk about practical ways to provide basic archival standards and practices training to people who know and love their collections, but need to know how best to care for and provide access to those documents.

– Climate control and protection: A purpose-built repository is not always feasible, particularly in smaller communities where archives may be housed in whatever space is available. Let’s find ways to protect those physical documents, no matter where they are housed.

This whole discussion needs to be in the context of why it matters: It’s ultimately not about the numbers on the box, but about preserving and providing access to our past for future generations.

– Rebekah Davis