I can barely remember a time when archives were not central to my life. I’ve been a professional archivist since I was twenty two, and have researched and worked in record offices and archives on and off since I was ten years old. A thirst for knowledge about the people who lived in places before me saw me begging my parents to take me to the record office in the summer holidays. I was, to put it mildly, an unusual child.
To be an archivist is often considered unusual in itself. I’ve lost count of the dinner party/coffee shop/train carriage based conversations I’ve had where I’ve tried to explain what it is that I do. My side of the conversation often goes something like this…
“No, no. Not an anarchist. An archivist. I work with records. Yes, a bit like a historian. No, not usually dusty ones – we’re quite picky about keeping things clean.”
And yet, people are often entranced by the idea of making a career out looking after the history of the country. And it is entrancing. It’s fascinating. Wherever you look, whatever it is that you are interested in, there will be an archive that has something of use, relevance and/or interest to you. And so it should be. Archives matter. Archivists matter. Record keeping matters. What we do is important. Poor record keeping should be a matter of national concern. In recent years we’ve seen what happens when records aren’t kept, aren’t looked after, where record keeping is the lowest priority. And where archives are treasured, championed and well resourced, it isn’t just history which triumphs, but democracy.
This week is ‘Explore Your Archive’ week, spearheaded by The National Archives and the Archives & Records Association and championed by, amongst others, Kate Adie and Stephen McGann. There have been all sorts of things going on, virtually and in person, in record keeping organisations the country over. Keep an eye on the #explorearchives hashtag on Twitter, look out for our Thunderclap across social media and check out the Explore website
This message matters all year round. This week is a great opportunity to shout about what we do and why it matters, to draw attention to the value of archives to everyone. We have a number of significant anniversaries coming up in the next few weeks and months but it’s important to remember that archives are created by the present. It’s our responsibility to ensure that archives continue, adequately supported and appropriately recognised for their purpose, not just to record the past but to hold the present to account. So get out there, try your local archive or record office. Archives are friendly, welcoming, intriguing, inspiring places. Seize the opportunity to have an explore in one. It’ll be worth every second.
(Photograph shows Joseph & Stephen McGann, and was taken on a recent visit to The National Archives. It was great to introduce them to some more of our collections, and to discover some more for myself.)