From the readings this week in Documentation and Appraisal, here is the concluding paragraph to Richard Cox’s entry for Archivists and Collecting in the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science (Cox, 2010):

Archival collecting is not just a mindless exercise in sweeping up old records or sitting back and waiting for the important records to appear for maintenance by an archives; rather, collecting is a process enmeshed with political, theoretical, psychological, and historical elements. More research is needed about the nature of archival collecting. More understanding by society about how archives and historical manuscripts repositories are formed is needed as well. The image of an archivist as an Indiana Jones-type character, hunting out the treasures of the past in exciting pursuits, is romantic but inaccurate; rather, archivists are flawed humans trying to develop clear and reliable methods for identifying records that should be acquired by archives. Much of merit has been accomplished by archivists and manuscripts curators gathering records, but more reflection and experimentation needs to be done on this topic. It seems that the new archival hunters and gatherers will be using very different techniques to sleuth about in the sophisticated record-keeping technologies of the twenty-first century

It strikes me that this recognition that archivists are flawed humans, is key to the archival enterprise. While we may have standards, methodologies, processes and tools to assist us, archival work is ultimately guided by our interests as members of communities, cultures and societies. Rather than seeing this as a problem, or a frailty, that needs to be systematically eradicated I wonder if a more satisfying way forward is to celebrate and dignify this aspect of archival work. What are the ways in which we can celebrate the subjectivity that is always present in the archive? In what ways can our tools reflect this orientation?


Cox, R. J. (2010). Archivists and collecting. In M. Bates & M. N. Maack (Eds.), Encyclopedia of library and information sciences (3rd ed., pp. 208–220). Taylor & Francis.