A special blog post by Shelley Sweeney, University Archivist and Head of the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections, and one of the founders of the ICA-SUV
I remember when I was in Paris for the ICA Congress in 1988 that Alan Ives from Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia, approached me about forming a section on University and College Archives. He was very enthusiastic about it and I was immediately swept up into his vision of a section of the ICA that would be dedicated to those whose archives were based in academic institutions. In those days we were not communicating through lengthy emails, and though I might be misremembering, I believe I spoke to Alan a number of times over the phone.
In the end, 41 Archivists from 13 countries attended the founding meeting during the 12th Congress in Montreal in September of 1992. The group elected a nine member provisional steering committee of which I was one member. Marjorie Barrett of the USA was the chair and various members from Belgium, Niger, the UK, and Sweden among others helped to direct the section’s activities. Over time, Marjorie became a major force, and led the first projects of the section: a compilation of a directory of university and college archives in all the member countries of the ICA, and an inaugural seminar that was held September 20, 1994 in the UK.
You may wonder, since the International Council on Archives was formed in 1948, why it took so long for a section to have been created that would cater to the needs and interests of academic archives? Especially since two sections, one for professional archivists associations (now SPA, the Section of Professional Associations) and the second for international organizations, were established in 1976. I can only speculate, but I think it might reflect the fact that the original membership of the ICA was made up primarily of national archivists or their representatives, and that individual members did not grow in sizeable numbers until much later. You have to think that it would have cost a great deal of money in the early days for individual archivists to travel to international destinations. The costs associated with travel and the time it takes to get to international destinations and back continue to be barriers for many individuals to participate.
I would like to say that I was heavily involved in the advancement of the section from that point on after I was elected on to the steering committee, but that sadly was not the case. There was no financial support and active resistance from my institution for me to take the time to attend SUV meetings in other countries. However under Marjorie’s capable leadership, and with the contributions from a number of members, the section was able to thrive and by 1994 the official membership had risen to 66 members. Given that only a few archivists have the opportunity to attend successive annual meetings, the section has been very lively. It is really a small number of dedicated individuals who have been able to coordinate the intermittent participation of other archivists to complete a variety of activities. Many of the annual conferences in particular have been outstanding, and I can honestly say that a few have been among the best that I have ever attended. Although I still do not have the amount of time I would like to devote to the ICA-SUV, I believe it is a valuable organization and in these days of rapid professional changes, more necessary than ever.
While in Salamanca for the ICA-SUV October 2018 Conference, Shelley Sweeney was interviewed for the podcast, The Archivist’s Tale. Click here to listen to Episode 36: Yearning to Understand (shared with permission, further sharing is encouraged).