Reflections of an Academic Archivist Upon Retirement in 2021

By Stacy Belcher LEE, Executive Bureau Member of ICA-SUV, former Director of the University Archives, The University of Hong Kong

Stacy – drawn by her husband Dr. Hoyin LEE on the office whiteboard

As I look around my offices today I am reminded of how I stepped sideways from the study of Anthropology as an undergraduate to the study of History, and Archival and Museum studies as a graduate student, and thence, during my professional career to the study of records management, and then to rare books and manuscripts, digital archivy, and the study of the law in several different jurisdictions. With each step along the way I was filling in another part of the professional knowledge necessary for the application of archival theory and practice that has filled the last 30 years of my life.

In fact I remember in school when I was asked “Why Anthropology?” and I replied that “It is the study of all peoples at all times, what doesn’t it apply to?” In those days I was more than a bit of a smart arse… and I had yet to discover that Archivy has nearly the same depth of scope, applying to all peoples and all recorded time. What a joy to find that one study supported the other in ways I had yet to figure out.

Often, during the last couple of years here in Hong Kong, I have practised what my teacher Thicht Nhat Han, calls walking meditation, or walking with intent and focus on the here and now.  Gradually, as my mind begins to quiet (around mile 3 J) and my thoughts to become less agitated, I consciously begin a list of thoughts of gratitude.  My experience has me believe that gratitude relieves suffering and calms anxieties. I think archivists as a whole often suffer from frustration, anxiety, and occasional rage, as does anyone engaged in a profession that at its core is built on service to others.

So, if I am thinking about what I am grateful for within the context of my career as an archivist I have quite a long list. It may be very different from yours in the particular but in the general I think you will find it familiar.

Stacy is always a woman with positive thoughts

Not in any order (shameful for an archivist, yes?) these are some of the things I have loved about being an archivist and some things I have hated but which have forced me to learn and to grow up a bit:

  1. No matter how vital the role of records is in the life of the community, the majority of people will never think about that unless they are educated by archivists/records managers in a way which is both meaningful and appealing. Aim at educating the minority most important to your goals and then concentrate on education for the joy of sharing with other people – they both have value.
  2. Ditto in the life of your organization so learn to make friends and cooperate and only very occasionally carry a big stick…
  3. If you can communicate your joy in your work, you will make friends and influence people, just as Dale Carnegie said.
  4. There will always be a shortage of support, money, friends, influence, space, time, and so on. The old cavalry maxim “Get over heavy ground as light as you can” is still applicable. When I look back on my career I tend to dwell on that which I never got completely done instead of all that we accomplished.  And then of course I need to practise walking meditation again!
  5. In my particular case, I have been very fortunate to have worked and studied in beautiful places, with amazing collections, and have been able to travel quite a bit.  These are all things I enjoy very much but I also have learned from other archivists who have spent a lifetime in just one place of work. They have something to be envied as well, a depth of knowledge and a level of belonging to a place and a group of people that is rich with experience and love.
  6. I am extraordinarily grateful for the friends and family that my career has brought to me, to name just a few; my beautiful sister in law Tanya Zanish Belcher who also happens to be a superb archivist, an able administrator, and a friend since our days in grad school together; my fabulous husband Hoyin Lee, who is a member of the Faculty of Architecture here at the University of Hong Kong and whom I met and got to know as a colleague first; and my former mentee and current colleague Garfield Lam whom I am proud of as a professional but whom I think of as family, the son of my heart.
  7. What we do is important but we are not…think about that for a while and acquaint yourself with the meaning of the word humble. Rinse and Repeat every few years.
  8. Finally, I am grateful to have met, read, worked with, and been taught by many other archivists, GLAM professionals, historians and other scholars who have made my life richer, more varied, more full of curiosity, wonder and giggles than anyone could have hoped.  Thank you all so much, these are debts of gratitude that I have tried to pay forward, giving to others as you gave to me.
Stacy and Garfield in Dundee, Scotland for ICA-SUV Conference, June 2019
Stacy and Garfield in Washington D.C, USA for SAA Annual Conference, August 2018

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