Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Time for change?

Are there increasing signs SQA is influencing things? We have noted a new angle to much of what the National Archives publishes in recent months but here is another interesting development.

Several members of SQA have been included in a mailshot from Dr. Peter Anderson, chairman of the Society of Archivists [sic] inviting views from the membership of that body and some outsiders it seems, on their future direction. Dr. Anderson is deputy keeper of the National Archives of Scotland, an academic historian and historical biographer.

SQA is happy to offer its own views on the Society of Archivists [sic] just as we have been doing for the last year nearly in our own web site. Several of our members may be responding independently.

We have some remarks to make about the tone of the email.

Firstly we note from Dr. Anderson’s missive there is little recognition of the existence or role of the qualified archivist or of the need for a professional body for qualified archivists collectively. Perhaps Dr. Anderson impliedly recognises SQA as fulfilling this role in which case we are delighted to continue to take up the cudgel for our profession.

Dr. Anderson presents us with a list of archives and para-professional bodies including the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) and observes each of these newer bodies claims, in some way, to speak for archives. Oh really? Well, we can understand why The National Council on Archives might want to speak for archives but why does CILIP claim to speak for archives? Would it not be helpful for the chairman of the Society of Archivists [sic] to tell them to clear off? What percentage of the membership of CILIP are qualifed archivists? Who are their spokesmen in order that we in SQA at least can engage with them?

And if we can have The Scottish Council on Archives and Archives Council Wales, why can’t we have The English Council on Archives and an Archives Council England? Why has the Society of Archivists [sic] not been fighting for English archives? (See Anyone remember St. George?)

We in SQA abhor this anti-English arrogance which has resulted in the slanting of English archival institutions away from an English identity. If only the supposed spokesmen of the Society of Archivists [sic] had spoken out against Euro Regions and poaching librarians.

Have any representatives of the Society of Archivists [sic] been in communication with Kent County Council over the de-professionalisation of the management of its archive service?

Dr. Anderson informs us recent AGMs have been poorly attended and we are still unable to find a new Treasurer. Surprise surprise. If a supposedly professional body is neglecting the interests of professionally qualified people and more importantly perhaps the proper professional management of archives, why on earth should members participate?

And advocacy (on behalf of individual members)? Who does he think he is kidding? The Society of Archivists [sic] has on several occasions published notices of appointments and promotions of non-members let alone non-archivists and individual members of that body who have taken up grievances with it over professional matters have been treated as gadflies. Quite frankly the Society of Archivists [sic] has absolutely no right to claim this. Precisely its most prominent failing is not acting in the best interests of its qualified archivist members.

We asked Ellison Millinocket, our spokesman on local government matters to offer advice to Dr. Anderson. The following represents the printable part of what he said.

We need to hear more about security issues such as prevention of theft and limiting of access to strongrooms to archival staff and contractors under strict supervision, the avoidance of splitting up collections and the management of archive services by qualified archivists ONLY rather than librarians and academics who cannot find university lectureships. We need to hear less about unfettered access and we should see less collaboration with the news media in promoting archives when at ground level we simply don’t have matching resources.

Benedict Crumplethorne, one of our senior spokesmen, offered the following comments.

As long as the Society of Archivists [sic] is controlled by national archival institutions, civil service placemen and metropolitan elitists, the true archives profession will never have any say. Instead of the long list of politically correct activities Dr. Anderson boasts about, the the Society of Archivists [sic] should cut its cloth to suit its pocket and limit its remit to advocating the role of qualified persons like any professional body. Would you want to undergo a surgical operation or procedure by a person other than a surgeon or physician? Of course not. So why are archives increasingly managed by non-qualified archivists?

On the matter of new technologies, so what? Archives is about methodology not habit and the methodology of the qualified archivist will always ensure the integration of new technologies into professional working methods, as long as the training courses adapt. Electronic records are still archives. Who says? you ask. Me. I’m a qualified archivist! Don’t let these new issues distract us. If we proclaim them all under the banner of ARCHIVES matters will be greatly helped. Leave distractions to para-professionals or quasi-professionals as I would rather describe them.


We thank Ellison and Benedict for their views.

Finally, we draw our readers’ attention to the SQA’s aims and objects and code of ethics which offer salutary, some would say old-fashioned guidance to Dr. Anderson and his collaborators. In particular, on Benedict’s advice, we draw their attention to our objective to promote the assimilation of new technology into traditional archival professional practice.

Dr. Anderson is inviting responses at the 2005 annual conference of the Society of Archivists [sic] in September or via peter.anderson@nas.gov.uk

Further reading: Scottish Bollocks

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