Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Who do you think you are?

The recently published National Archives Standard for Record Repositories (2004) has opened up a can of worms as far as SQA is concerned.

Not only does the new Standard seemingly attempt to duplicate parts of BS5454 and at the same time defer to it as a fuller authority (see our previous blogs Some Dos and Don'ts and Up a bit, left a bit, down a bit, right a bit), quite unnecessarily when one considers BS5454 can be cited in its own right, but the whole concept of the identity of an archivist, that strange, hard-pressed being who actually runs an archives repository or service, as described in the Standard, seems wholly at odds with SQA's declared position.

So what does the Standard say that so antagonises SQA?

Our concerns relate to p.5, under Interpretation. This describes professionally qualified archivists and conservators as those having a professional qualification or specific training or equivalent experience recognised by the Society of Archivists [sic] (from which further details may be obtained on request).

Who are the Society of Archivists [sic] to dictate what constitutes a professionally qualified archivist? Does their privileged position derive from a supposed privileged position assumed in turn by TNA?

Is there a special relationship between TNA and the Society of Archivists [sic]? Does TNA have statutory powers to choose and discriminate between or recognise and appoint professional bodies? Hardly! There is no such national archives legislation.

And who exactly recognises the Society of Archivists [sic]? Neither TNA nor the Society of Archivists [sic] indicates who the recognising body is.

Not only does the Standard exclude SQA from this crucial matter, despite all our members being qualified archivists, but the Society of Archivists [sic] is made up of a membership that can hardly be described as exclusively professionally qualified archivists.

The Society's own web site makes this free-for-all clear. The Society of Archivists is the recognised professional body for archivists, archive conservators and records managers; admits students in full-time education, admits as Full Members archivists, archive conservators, records managers, archive education officers, archive assistants, record clerks and other staff; and admits as Affiliate Members any individual......provided that they are not qualified to join as full members of the Society. Individuals elected to this grade enjoy the [sic] most of the full benefits of Society membership.

On top of all this there is one further glaringly anomalous concern arising from TNA's statement. Quite simply it is this: it is not necessary for a qualified, professional archivist to belong to the Society of Archivists [sic] or any other given body in order to practice as an archivist in the first place. If it were, then TNA might be in a position to recognise only that body. Our so called profession is unlike the law or medicine in that persons can practice as archivists whether qualified or not and whether a member of any given professional or quasi-professional body or not. Any arrangement TNA has with any one professional body is thus entirely contrived.

As a digression, SQA has commented previously on the bogus status of registered membership of the Society of Archivists [sic]. Interestingly, TNA's Standard does not mention this, as though in confirmation of our own views.

Most professionals such as solicitors, barristers, accountants, surveyors, engineers, architects and doctors must marvel at this highly unprofessional mix of qualified archivists, registered members of the Society of Archivists [sic], unregistered members of the Society of Archivists [sic], unqualified archivists (is there such a thing as an unqualified archivist?) (Is there such a thing as an unqualified barrister?), archival conservators and paper repairers, bookbinders, teachers working as archive education officers, clerical officers working as archive assistants or record clerks and the ominous sounding other staff all going under the name of a profession.

Does the last category of other staff include manual staff such as cleaners and drivers? Or librarians (members of their own professional body CILIP) and library assistants, working in combined archives and library local studies services?

Do these any individuals and other staff feature in TNA's concept of a professional archivist? It appears so.

There is no concept of a professionally qualified elite in any of this. Neither is there anything of a traditionally recognisable profession. And hardly surprising, given the tendency of TNA to recruit into its curatorial grades persons other than qualified archivists and the general drift of political correctness against elitism.

SQA is not alone in expressing concern about the government's campaign against elitism, as we have commented in an earlier blog Where have all the intellectuals gone? The government's dumbing-down campaign, shared by TNA and the Society of Archivists [sic], is aimed at academia and professionalism alike.

An indication of how professional archival matters are regarded as subordinate to the grand design is the existence in TNA of a post of Director of government and archival services as though TNA is about anything other than archives.

We await the outcome of the selection process for the new Chief Executive of TNA with interest.

Further reading: Career Guidance


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