Friday, November 12, 2010

MARAC Fall 2010, day one

Market Street Bridge over the Susquehanna River, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 12 November 2010. The Ionic columns at the entrance of the bridge were salvaged from the old State Capitol building, which burned down in 1897.

The Fall 2010 meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference got underway today. I'm offering only a few highlights from a jam-packed and rewarding day:
  • Colgate University, the Rockefeller Archive Center, and Syracuse University are investigating the possibility of developing a New York State EAD consortium, with particular emphasis on assisting repositories that have some EAD knowledge and experience but are having problems with publishing their finding aids and securing adequate technical support. If you're interested in seeing how this project proceeds or in contributing your expertise, contact Colgate University Archivist Sarah Keen at skeen - at -
  • Kathleen Roe (New York State Archives) delivered a great plenary address on the importance of advocating for archives. Noting that we all need to explain -- to administrators, boards of directors, or local, state, and federal politicians -- the value of archives and what we need to do our jobs as effectively as possible, she offered some practical words of advice:
    • Learn the rules of engagement and accept them for what they are. You don't have to compromise yourself or your principles, but you do need to learn how to find your way through established channels. For example, if you're seeking Congressional support for legislation, you simply have to accept that you'll be making your case to the incredibly bright twenty-somethings who run Congressional offices.
    • Archival issues are generally poorly understood, and you need to explain, clearly and succinctly, the value of archives: records safeguard rights and benefits, influence major policy decisions, enable people to connect to family and community history, help to document and correct longstanding injustices, and, in some instances, help to save lives. When dealing with legislators, make the story local -- how do records help their constituents? Have records helped constituents secure benefits to which they're entitled? Are archives attracting tourist dollars to their districts?
    • Archivists have substantial competencies and qualifications that can be of use to legislators and other stakeholders. We can help legislators manage the ever-increasing volume of records that they create and can help all stakeholders care for electronic materials.
    • Don't listen to people who tell you that you can't do what you need to do; just go ahead and do it. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results.
    • Don't forget to state plainly what you want. Legislators, administrators, and board members aren't mind readers.
  • In "Replevin: Pros and Cons," Joseph Klett discussed the New Jersey State Archives' new Document Recovery and Amnesty Web pages, which encourage holders of alienated state government records to convey them to the State Archives without penalty, lists records known to be missing, and lists records that have been returned to the State Archives. Most of the missing records listed are enrolled laws of the Royal Colony of New Jersey (1703-1775) and the State of New Jersey (1776-1804), which were alienated from state custody a long time ago and which have been sold openly for decades; in fact, the listing on the Web site is based upon auction catalogs from the 1950s onward. Making these lists, which have been shared with law enforcement, readily accessible alerts dealers and members of the public to the fact that the listed records are the property of the State of New Jersey. This is a good thing -- after these Web pages went live, several people contacted the State Archives and voluntarily returned listed records that they held -- and I hope other states follow New Jersey's lead.
  • In "Compulsory Candor? Open Records Laws and Recordkeeping," Pennsylvania State Archivist David Haury noted that new ways of doing government business can eliminate documentation of how things are done. For example, press releases, which were once issued and retained in paper format, are now issued electronically -- and even the electronic master copies may be deleted after the releases are posted on the Web. Archivists and records managers have yet to come to grips with the transitory nature of modern recordkeeping.

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