Conference Round-up: Part II

Following my trip to Glasgow to attend the Archives and Records Association annual conference, I was delighted to also be able to attend the International Council on Archives Section on University and Research Institution Archives conference, this year held in Salamanca in Spain.

The conference focused on three themes: the identity of university archives, archives in the university community and the management of university archival records. The conference was held at the University of Salamanca, which is celebrating its 800th anniversary this year! They have developed a brand just for the anniversary, and have this countdown clock outside the main gate of the university:

Over the three days of the conference we heard from colleagues across Europe, the Middle East, Asia, North and South America and Africa, all responsible for managing archives in very different universities. Yet there were many areas of shared concern: widening access, the impact of new technologies and the digital record, the challenges of collecting records from diverse organisations with many mergers and name changes, the importance of engagement and ensuring that people are aware that their records could be deposited with archive facilities.

Some of the most striking papers reflected on how the archive has the responsibility to tell the full story of an institution, even if this reveals uncomfortable truths. Wendy Scheir of The New School in New York gave examples of researchers using the archive to challenge legends that the School has constructed about itself, and argued that as it is part of the ethos of the school and its founding mission to challenge the status quo and question the past, by facilitating such research the archive is playing a key role in producing critical thinking and underpins this mission.

Several archivists from North America spoke about the role of archives in uncovering connections to the slave trade and to the suppression of indigenous peoples, including Megan Sniffin-Marinoff (Harvard University), Erika Gorder (Rutgers University) and Heather Perez and Courtney Stewart (Stockton University). The tweet below refers to Rutgers, see their Scarlet and Black project for more information:

Shelley Sweeney of the University of Manitoba offered some ideas for ways archives can begin the process of reconciliation and ensure that they adopt sensitive practices when working alongside indigenous communities, including moving away from ‘colonial’ collecting practices:

Shelley also mentioned the importance of getting cataloguing language right:

The importance of cataloguing was echoed by Lauren Zuchowski-Longwell of Loyola Marymont University. The university was formed by the merger of two separate institutions: Loyola University (all male) and Marymount College (all female). Lauren found that the catalogue structure subsumed Marymount College and did not give it due prominence as an organisation in its own right.

Another interesting area that many papers discussed was how university archives can make themselves relevant to the whole university, so that we are not viewed as just a niche research facility useful to only a handful of academics. Maggie Shapely of the Australian National University identified areas of the university which had interest in archives from an administration point of view, with the aim to embed archives in the university and make it indispensable to university functions including corporate governance, marketing, media office and facilities & services. Ruth Bryan from the University of Kentucky spoke about the limitations of the state university model retention schedule and how she adapts it to bring in Faculty papers, which are a mix of public and private papers and technically not within the remit of the archive. By collecting faculty papers the archive can document areas of university life that might otherwise be lost. Other papers discussed the difficulties of incorporating records management and digital preservation activities into the work of the archive service.

I also presented a paper at the conference, on the theme of university archive identity. I am planning to work the paper into a journal article – watch this space!

Of course the conference venue had its own perks – I did take the opportunity to enjoy the warm weather and do some sightseeing in beautiful Salamanca!


About Katharine Short

When I was 13 every careers questionnaire I did at school suggested I become an archivist. In rebellion I studied History of Art at Cambridge and the Courtauld Institute before giving in to the inevitable and undertaking a qualification in Archives Administration at Aberystwyth University. I worked at King’s College London Archives and the London Metropolitan Archives before becoming the Archivist here at DMU in January 2013. My role is hugely varied: answering enquiries and assisting researchers, sorting, cataloguing, cleaning and packaging archival material, managing our environmentally controlled storage areas, giving seminars, talks and tours, researching aspects of University history, liaising with potential donors and advocating for the importance of archives within the organisation. I am one of those incredibly fortunate people who can say ‘I love my job’ and really mean it.
This entry was posted in Archives. Bookmark the permalink.