Archives on the edge – know what you mean, and sometimes you might just have to break the rules September 15, 2015

Last month, a number of State Records NSW employees travelled down to Hobart to attend the annual Australian Society of Archivists conference. The theme of the conference was ‘archives on the edge’ – what role might archives and archivists play in the age of big data and almost everything as a service?

There were a number of papers which looked at how we may need to adapt or replace our current methods and practices in order to remain relevant and effective. Two of the key messages that I took away from the conference were:

  • language is important, but so are key concepts
  • sometimes you have to break the rules to achieve your objectives.

Language is important, but so are key concepts

The conference kicked off with a keynote address by Geoffrey Yeo, who talked about archives and records and their place in the ‘information society’ in which we live.

He noted the changing language being used in this space, with the rise of ‘information’ and decline of ‘records’ and ‘archives’. Courses, societies, position titles – all are increasingly referring to information where once they would have referred to records or archives. So we now work as information managers instead of records managers, and may be members of Records and Information Management Professionals Australasia where we used to be members of the Records Management Association of Australasia.

He also talked about how many recordkeeping professionals have learned to adapt their language to their audience. The word ‘information’, with its connections to the vibrant, cashed up world of IT, is seen to have a broader appeal than ‘records’.

The key point for me was the reminder that no matter the language we use, we must have a solid understanding of what we mean and what we are working towards achieving. We can adapt the language we use to explain our priorities, projects and responsibilities to decision makers and funders to maximise the power of our messages, providing that we are clear in our own minds about our objectives and purpose.

We may need to ‘break’ the rules to achieve our objectives

In the final plenary session, Tony Leviston entertainingly tasked conference attendees with three activities. One of these was to ‘loosen up’ a bit and not follow the rules too strictly.

Tony suggested that it is timely for archivists to consider what we are hoping to achieve through our recordkeeping legislation, standards and guidelines and whether we may need to ‘break’ some of these ‘rules’ in order to achieve our objectives.

In other words (in fact, in the words of Voltaire), the best is the enemy of the good.

Photo credit: Nagesh Jayaraman – “Livin’ on the edge” (CC BY 2.0)
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