Archives Awareness Week : 2 - 8 April 2012

To celebrate Archives Awareness Week, held the first week of April, we're compiling a idiosyncratic and completely biased list of interesting news stories involving archives, historical documents or rare books and the compelling stories they generate.  These can cover a range of topics, including:

Serendipitous discovery!    Unexpected loss!   

Wanton destruction!       Benign neglect!


The power of archival material to reconcile past wrongs or rekindle fresh animosities!

And underlying all these stories is (if the exclamation points didn't already give it away) our unbridled enthusiasm for our shared documentary heritage.

Visitors may also wish to visit our post from 2011 featuring 100 facts about the Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections.

In no particular order...

Found treasure in a London, Ontario home

Local auctioneer finds obscure 19th century publication of great cultural interest to Australian historians.  "Several advisers suggested he take out the original oils and sell them separately, but [he] declined. The book was created as a whole, and needed to head to Australia in one piece, he said."

Downsizing of CBC's network of local music collections

There has been quite a bit of chatter over the past few months about plans to downsize and consolidate the regional music collections held across the country at CBC outposts.  Concerns raised includes the loss of obscure or local music recordings, the loss of paratextual elements of music recordings (liner notes, cover art, inserts, annotations by staff) once the materials are digitized to feed into a proposed central resource of content for CBC staff, and the dispersal of carefully curated collections through de-accessioning and sale. Links to news stories can be found herehere and here.

Report cards found in file cabinet

This story raised some questions around our morning coffee about the privacy implications of the discovery and re-purposing of a series of report cards of young women attending a vocational school in 1920s New York City.  It did make for a fascinating story and slice of history. See story here.

Convincing government officials to follow the rule of law

The on-going controversy regarding the dissolution of the Long-gun registry and efforts to preserve the data it has gathered over the years falls under the heading of "preserving government-funded data and government records... even if the government would rather not."  Here is a link to a news story and here is a link to a letter of protest written by the board of the Association of Canadian Archivists.

Rebuilding Haiti's archival infrastructure

Rebuilding Haiti following the devastating earthquake of 2010 is more than just bricks and mortar, it also involves rebuilding the country's documentary heritage and archives after much of the archival material was destroyed or lost to environmental damage. See here and here for information about efforts to rebuild a digital archives and library.

Constituency office files: preserve or perish?

A perennial discussion in our shop is the importance of local politicians' papers and how individuals should be encouraged to preserve and donate the records of their constituency office. The topic is frequently raised during times of political transitions as new representatives arrive in their office only to find that the previous incumbent has removed, destroyed or donated their previous records.  See stories regarding this issue on the federal level in Canada here and here.

Destroying inconvenient truths

We can't talk about the significance of records and research if they don't exist.  Here's a cautionary tale of the destruction of key research data and reports by a tobacco executive twenty-years previous to a class action lawsuit.

Special Collections at risk in Sarajevo

A heart-warming story of the survival of an over 600-year old Jewish text now located in Sarajevo and concerns about its survival.

Boston College controversy

The Belfast Project was an oral history of Irish Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries gathered between 2001-2006 and archived in the Burns Library at Boston College. In 2010, the first transcripts were made public upon the death of the interviewees as per their agreement with Boston College. In 2011, the British Government contacted the US Department of Justice to initiate proceedings which led to the issuing of a sealed subpoena for select materials held in the archives.  This has sparked a series of legal disputes and public discussions about the importance of informant confidentiality and the ability (and willingness) of research institutions to respect and defend donor agreements related to privacy and embargo periods.  A blog documenting the development of the case can be found here with interesting updates and media coverage available here, here and here.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

The official government inquiry into the historical impact and legacy of Indian Residential Schools (IRS) has been conducting consultations and gatherings across the country in an effort to prepare a complete historical record on the policies and operations of residential schools and complete a public report including recommendations to the parties of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.  The third objective of the TRC is to establish a national research centre that will be a lasting resource about the IRS legacy. The importance of government, religious and local records and documentation has been highlighted in a number of ways, not the least the commission's commitment to establishing a  research centre to hold all archival material gathered and generated through the process.

There was some earlier controversy regarding the disclosure of archival documents generated and held by church archives resulting in letters written on behalf of the  Association of Canadian Archivists and several follow up clarifications and corrections.

You can follow the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's activities on twitter here.

Historical records of Harvard University's first African American graduate recovered

This recent story out of Chicago tells of an unlikely find and exciting research possibilities now that records of Harvard's first African American graduate have been recovered from an abandoned building scheduled for demolition.

This bubbly "I Found It In the Archives" video submission by a high school history teacher's search for the site of a murder in her home town falls under the 'unbridled enthusiasm' for archives category.

Diligent Denmark deigns to determine if all Danish documents can be digitized

Alliterative and self-explanatory story.

Henry and Ian visit the archives

DIY punk pioneers Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, The Teen Idles, Fugazi) and Henry Rollins (S.O.A., Black Flag, Rollins Band) visited the Library of Congress to learn about archival preservation and digitization practices and write about it here and here.  Librarians and archivists across North America nerded out about the event herehere, here and here. Ian later presented about DIY Archives and his Fugazi Live Series. View a video of the event here.

News clippings are still great sources of historical context

Velma Fann writes about how a collection of news clippings held by Emory University,'s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library helped a group of theatre students gain insight into their performance of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.” Read her essay, submitted as part of the SAA's annual competition "I Found It In The Archives!"

Controversy regarding Hungary's plans to destroy the archives of the former secret police

Historians across the globe were shocked to hear that the current government in Hungary planned to destroy all records generated by its secret police during the communist era. Here is a letter of protest addressed to the Hungarian ambassador to Canada written by the board of the Association of Canadian Archivists.  Here is the ambassador's response.

Preserving Ghana's heritage in the face of chronic under-funding

This was a media story covering the slow deterioration of government records in Ghana.

Controversy re. the mandatory long-form census

Plans in the Canadian federal government to do away with a mandatory long-form census let to considerable controversy and discussion amongst archivists, data librarians, statisticians, policy makers and scholars across the country.  Here is a letter of protest sent by the board of the Association of Canadian Archivists, the official response from Minister Tony Clement and the ACA's public statement on the matter.

CAUT campaign to 'save' LAC

This campaign features some nifty videos by scholars and researchers who rely on the holdings at Library Archives Canada.  This video by writer Susan Crean is my favourite, especially her line that "archivists always deliver."


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