Letters to the Editor as Advocacy
by Meridith Halsey
One of the biggest barriers to archival access is the invisibility of archivists. Although advocacy efforts on behalf of institutions are necessary, I want to cover an easy way to be an advocate for our profession independent of our institutions: writing letters to the editor.
I think we are all familiar with the “dusty archives” and the “asocial archivist” stereotypes that appear too-frequently in news articles. These and other stereotypes persist because we are not effectively challenging them. But it doesn’t have to be this way! We can respond directly to these newspapers and supply better, more accurate descriptions of who archivists are and what archivists do.
Below are recent examples of individual archivists courageously putting themselves out there; they have set examples for the rest of us to follow.
Letters to the Editor (with excerpts)
Kate Bowers writes to explain an aspect of archival practice that had been confused in an earlier-published editorial:
The editorial “Arkansas should keep Clinton records open even to critics” (July 5) was written without recognition of the fundamental difference between access to archival materials and republishing them.
Helen W. Samuels writes to challenge the idea of the “dusty archives:”
I was saddened that [your article] perpetuated the outdated image of archivists as preservers of dusty, precious artifacts maintained in a cloistered environment. This is not the case.
Notices (the membership journal of the American Mathematical Society) – January 21, 2009
Carol Mead writes to illuminate some of the challenges that archivists face in preserving digital media:
I do want people to realize before they digitize everything and discard the paper documents (or audio or video cassettes, etc.) that the more sophisticated the technology, the more unstable the output. Will any of our masses of digital data be readable in even 10, 20, or 50 years? Archivists (and others) are working on that question…
Like the archivists above, if you have a meaningful contribution to the discussion, speak up!* These letters make archivists visible, amplify the voice of our profession, and challenge popular stereotypes.
Finally, bear in mind that only a very few letters to the editor actually make it to publication. But don’t be dissuaded! Writing letters to the editor (even if none of them get published) is excellent practice in explaining, in layperson’s terms, just exactly who we are and what we do – which can only help us when we are called upon to advocate for the archives in which we work.
*Let’s not leave the heavy lifting to Kathleen Roe; we can do so much more when we work together!
Meridith Halsey is dedicated to increasing public awareness of archives and of the opportunities that they represent for our communities and the economy. She has a Master of Science in Library & Information Science with a concentration in Archival Management from Simmons College and recently moved to Chicago.