Reading Archival Theory from the Global South: Reflections on the Monthly ICA-SUV Archival Theory Reading Group

Intellectual work at its most fruitful has a collective dimension to it. The absence of a community of practice was something I felt acutely when I made my first (accidental) foray into archiving two years ago. Understanding the ins and outs of such highly specialized work on my own was liberating, but the persistent feeling that I may be reinventing the wheel was hard to shake off. I soon came to realize that my experience was far from singular. Many archivists in India are not formally trained in archival science, having come to archiving from diverse backgrounds, with varying concerns. Autodidacticism, trial and error, learning as you go along have been part of archival praxis in India all along. Although this opens up many creative and innovative possibilities, it can also be lonely work unless archivists devise ways to find each other. As new archives get built they raise provocative questions about the current state of techniques, technologies, standards, access policies,and ethical norms that make up our practice. How well do existing international archival standards serve current needs? Is there a need for an “Indian” archival standard? How have archives in the country evolved over the years? What is the social space our archives occupy and who are they meant for? 

It is from within this context that I approach the monthly reading group meetings organised by ICA-SUV since June 2020, where a group of archivists from different time-zones meet every month over Zoom to discuss an essay, article, or podcast about archives and archiving. Perhaps without the pandemic forcing us all to explore virtual modes of collective work, the idea of a virtual transnational reading group would never have materialised – a testament to changes in our common sense notions of what a community is, and can be!

Our very first discussion pivoted around an essay by noted Canadian archivists Joan Schwartz and Tim Cook, that problematised the archive and its pretensions to neutrality and objective truth. Starting from this postmodern macro-critique of the archive, subsequent discussions have drilled down into specific contexts and configurations of power – the archive and community activism, the archive and the state, archiving in times of crisis, the history of archival tools like the finding aid. In one sense, these sessions have doubled up for me as a kind of informal night school in archival theory, where instead of a formal classroom setting one learns from one’s peers. 

Just as the archival object illustrates the contextual and relational nature of knowledge, these meetings have opened a portal that lets me switch up scales, change vantage points, and move between the particularities of my work and a broader transnational archival discourse. I believe such a setup is uniquely positioned to raise certain critical questions: to what extent does archival theory emerging from the global North engage and speak to archival practices in other parts of the world? What would archival theory written from the global South look like? 

If I were to be ambitious and articulate one desired “objective” for these meetings, it is for archivists from different locations to be able to reflect on theory from within their local context and practice. The hope is that this community, brought together in part by the complex exigencies of a global pandemic, is able to outlast this moment of crisis itself and develop a much-needed multi-sited discourse on archiving.

(Bharat S. is an archivist and researcher at the French Institute of Pondicherry. Having a keen interest in urban history, music, and media studies, he was previously part of the Kolkata Urban Archive project.)

See more about the Reading Group meetings here.

Serendipitous Preparedness

Garfield Lam, Reference Archivist, University Archives, the University of Hong Kong

People often say ‘everything happens for a reason’. While we are still in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, I have been thinking about what I have learnt from this experience.

The pandemic is unpredictable, just like many things in life – which is why we make plans to be prepared and there is no difference in our profession. Libraries, Archives and Museums have preparedness plans for disasters. The on and off lockdowns and social distancing rules in Hong Kong affect our daily work in the Archives severely; especially for me as a Reference Archivist, who works closely with the physical collections and researchers. Since March 2020 I have been digitising a great deal of material to provide researchers access to our archival collections through digital means.

Looking back, my visit to the Institute of Conservation and Restoration (IBR) ( at Bayern State Library (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek) in Munich in October 2019 perhaps prepared me for this unprecedented and unpredicted challenge at work. The visit gave me an in-depth insight into the process of digital preservation, standards of digitisation including facilities as well as quality control, and how digitisation helps with providing inter-institutional access across German speaking countries and beyond. It seems to me that the visit prepared me for not only initiating the swift decision on digitising some of the popular materials for easy access right before the start of the lockdown but also for our ongoing uncertainty of prolonged closure of the University due to Covid as well as protests.

Between stacks at Bayern State Library, Germany (Photo: Garfield Lam)

Our digitised collections for research has already grown more than tenfold since March 2020 comparing to the entire year of 2019. It reflects not only the solid foundation of our up and coming new digital repository but also the needs of research and access. Our number of enquiries as of today in October has also already grown 63% compared to year 2019 and researchers are from diverse backgrounds and countries with interesting projects including students, curators, genealogists and authors from UK, USA and Germany. Most researchers are preparing for publications and exhibitions, both physical and virtual. The soaring numbers of ‘virtual’ researchers may imply that more people are focusing on their learning, educating and researching for their works during lockdown and our virtual research service is crucial in terms of providing email research consultation and widening the accessibility to materials.

Our fast growing digitised collections as well as enquiries have also given us strong evidence of the urgent need for a digital repository for online exhibition and providing digital access to our materials. The pandemic has given us an opportunity to prove the University Archives is a key knowledge hub for preservation, research, education and digital access to the history of the University of Hong Kong.

My visit to the Bayerische Staatbibliothek was serendipitous – it may not be planned for the unpredicted global pandemic but it surely did prepare for my digitisation tasks for the unforeseen lockdowns. So as the digitised collections that we have been accumulating now – they are not only supporting the ongoing research but also preparing for the wider access and outreach in the future, with or without the pandemic. Preparedness is the key for anything, anytime and anywhere.

HKUA twitter post ( relating to the visit to the Bayern State Library with colleagues. From left to right – Archivist Garfield from HKU Archives, Curator Chris from HKU Museum, Librarian Edith from HKU Libraries, Ms Qiu from Sen Yat-sen University Guangzhou and Conservator Jody from HKU Conservation. (Photo: Garfield Lam)

The ICA New Professionals Programme

by Anne-Flore Laloë

There is still time to apply for the 2020-2021 ICA New Professionals Programme (NPP) and if you are eligible – I strongly urge you to apply. The deadline is the end of June.

I was incredibly lucky to be selected as part of the 2019-2020 Programme, and it’s been a thrilling experience. I had been working as archivist for 4 years and only just completed a masters in Archives and Records Management (distance learning) at the University of Dundee. Like a lot of us, though, I worked alone, albeit as part of various local, national or international professional organisations. I saw in the NPP the chance to interact with a more people, from all over the world, who are also starting out as archivists.

The 2019-2020 Active NP cohort (as the ICA calls us) is made of 6 of us with different interests and backgrounds. We all got to meet in person at the ICA Conference in Adelaide, Australia in October 2019 where we presented together about our work. This was an incredible professional opportunity in itself! And, while it’s easy to say that the “best part” of the programme is the opportunity to travel to the next ICA conference or congress – the next cohort will be attending the ICA Congress in Abu Dhabi , UAE – there is so much more to the programme.

Each Active NP is assigned a mentor, and mine could not be more kind. Professionally and from his background, he could also not be more different to me. What we have in common it we’re both French-speaking archivists and immigrants in Germany. Over the year, he has helped me, supported me, given me new perspectives on work and life. We try to speak every week, and when we do, it’s always a highlight of my day.

Then, there’s the other Active NPs. We are a very diverse group – different life stories and career paths – all starting out in our chosen profession, with all the challenges and opportunities that come with that. As part of the NPP, the ICA assigned us with several responsibilities, such as managing the Programme’s social media and working on a project for the archival community. (Our project is still being worked on and will be launched soon.)

One of the best parts of the project has been to work on our project together, as a team. We each bring our strengths and together have made something which is much better than any one of us could have done alone. I’m sure of it. The NPP and “my” cohort have in no small way improved my ability to work in a group. And more than helping me professionally – my fellow NPs have become friends. This is an incredibly awesome part of the NPP.

There’s much more – meeting new colleagues, discovering new topics – but, in short, it’s all about being pushed outside of your comfort zone, but also given a really nice parachute to slow the fall. Go for it!


Talking About the Archives of the Spanish Universities at the Time of the COVID-19

Pepita Raventós
Archivist and Records Manager, University of Lleida (Catalonia, Spain)
Member of CAU, Bureau Member of ICA/SUV

This post in times of pandemic wants to begin with a positive message and an opportunity to share with you the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Spanish Universities’ Archivists Conference (CAU).

The aim of the CAU is to encourage cooperation between the Archivists of Spanish Universities in all technical areas related to university records, in order to achieve greater efficiency in the management of their services and to disseminate their knowledge among all members of the university community and society in general.


CAU’s 25th Anniversary celebrated in Bilbao in 2019. ©Pepita Raventós

Since its creation in 1994, this work has benefited the development of the records and archival management system of both public and private universities. This system is fed by the results of each archive, which are collected through the situation survey and the work carried out by the CAU’s working groups. The management of records has been present since the beginning of its work within the universities and, furthermore, the promotion and integration of records management.

The configuration of the CAU with a defined purpose such as the management and administration of university records in all their cycle of the life, has allowed it to obtain very important results for the universities as a whole and for the archives in particular. Digital administration poses additional difficulties to the management as developed so far, which CAU is also focused on, studying and working to find the most suitable ways of managing and administering records and information content at the universities.

One of the issues that has always generated debate in the archival profession has been the terminology and definition of basic concepts in theory and practice. The CAU does a very remarkable job in proposing a common framework and establishing a common terminology for records management and its archival consideration, the specific holdings of the universities and the university archive essentially.

It was born out of the concern of three women: “the archivists of the Universities of Oviedo, Valladolid and Alcalá de Henares took the initiative and decided to put into practice what was seen as a need and we thought it would be interesting to create a forum to deal with our problems, doubts, experiences and shortcomings and thus the idea was born of holding a meeting that would bring together all those Universities that had an Archivist and Archive and those that, even without one, felt the need to create one” (Peña, 2004: 2).[1]

At that time, the universities that had an archive perceived it as a tool to support historical research only, so that almost no Spanish university seriously considered the need to specifically manage recent records. This initial meeting, which gradually became what is now the CAU, had to face up to a new situation in the Spanish archival panorama, and that was to include records management. This was not to the detriment of the preservation of records, although the initial perception for some archivists seemed to be that this was due to the separation between administrative and historical archives. What was being promoted was an integrated management of records for the cycle of its life. This item today is continuing to be a great challenge for the CAU as it has been for the past 25 years of operation.

The CAU is a permanent working group within the sectorial of general secretaries of the Conference of Rectors of Spanish Universities (CRUE). It is the CRUE that has given it a legal entity since 2002. This has meant that it has been given a set of rules and a structure with a president and an executive secretary. This president is a general secretary of one of the universities that form part of the CRUE, and is intended to coincide with the office of general secretary of the university in which the executive secretary of the CAU works to facilitate decision-making. The executive secretary of the CAU is one of the archivists of the Spanish universities and is elected by the CAU assembly.

Over the years, CAU’s visible structure has not changed. It is basically based on three elements: The Plenary Session, the Executive Committee and the Working Groups.


CAU’s Members. Bilbao, 2019. ©Basque Country University

The Plenary Session is made up of all the universities that have archives and is held on the last day of the annual conference organised by CAU. This peculiarity distinguishes CAU from other professional associations, because it is made up exclusively of institutional members, i.e. the universities that have sent their archivists to the annual plenary meeting. In fact, in cases where it is necessary to vote in order to make decisions, only one vote per university will be counted. Formally, all Spanish public or private universities that are members of the CRUE are part of the CAU, and the university that considers that its archivist should be effectively integrated into the CAU will only inform the Executive Secretary so that he or she can attend the meeting that is held just once a year. There is no system of admission or expulsion of members here. In practice, the association’s decisions are taken by the archivists who are present at the plenary sessions.

The Executive Committee is composed of four university archivists, elected by the Plenary from among its members every two years. It is responsible for coordinating the Working Groups, implementing the decisions of the Plenary session and coordinating the Conference with the organising university. One of its members, in turn, is appointed executive secretary, with general coordination and representation functions.

However, what really gives meaning to the CAU are the Working Groups, which began to be promoted as soon as it was created and were set up to better carry out the functions of the CAU. In the still open history of the CAU, there have been twenty-one working groups, some of which have now disappeared. All the working groups have been set up during Plenary sessions at the initiative of one member. The oldest group, which continues its work today, is that dedicated to the appraisal; the studies have been and continue to be a help to the work of the university archivists. Other groups have had a shorter life span; for example, the group dedicated to drawing up a model regulation or that dedicated to the externalisation of services finished their tasks after one year. There are groups with a somewhat irregular history, combining periods of intense work with others apparently more lax; this is the case of those dedicated to human resources or the adaptation of international standards of description or quality. Others have evolved and changed their name, such as the Digital Administration Group, which began as the Electronic Records Management Group and then continued as the Electronic Records Management Policy Group, to make it clearer where university archivists consider their organizations should go within electronic administration with regard to records management and their archiving.

The CAU’s Working Groups that exist at the time of writing this post

Appraisal and Classification Working Group 1998-2017 This is the oldest group in the CAU and it was renamed in A Coruña, where it merged with the Classification Working Group that was created in Pamplona in 2014. It has identified and evaluated eighty-six series and has made a proposal for a framework of functional classification for the university archives. It is a tool designed for those archives that are starting or changing to a system based on records management and archiving.
Digital Administration 2002 This group was created in Valencia as the Working Group on Basic Requirements for Computer Applications for Archives. It changed its name in Alicante in 2009 to Working Group on Electronic Records Management. In Cádiz, in 2012, it was renamed as Electronic Records Management Policy, and it adopted its current name in Salamanca, in 2018. Amongst these works, the first CAU metadata scheme (2009) and the instructions on electronic mail management (2010) should be highlighted, the reports on digital archiving (the first in 2012 and the second in 2014) and the work in collaboration with the information technology (ICT) and communication sector (CRUE) for the preparation of an interoperability protocol for the European Supplement to the Student Title (SET) for the publication of the XML and xsd schema of metadata of records management (2014-2015).

It has a subgroup of work on the digital archive, created in Tarragona in 2016, basically to follow the standards and applications of the digital archive.

Strategic Plan and Review 2008 It was created in Castellón and renewed in Almagro in 2010. Its main task is the drafting and monitoring of the current strategic plan.
Guide to the archives of the universities 2010 This group was created in Almagro too and promotes having an updated guide to the archives of the universities in accordance with the ISDIAH standard of description.
Personal Archives 2010 This group created in Almagro was dissolved in 2013. The activity returned to Pamplona in 2014 and ended in 2019 again. It is worth noting the creation of the classification framework of the personal archives and the list of documentary types which worked on the creation of a type description database.
Historical Archival Holdings 2012 This group was created in Cádiz. It took on the task of organizing the Conference in Salamanca in 2018, and the Annual Conference of the Section of University Archives of the International Council of Archives, under the title Historical Records in University Archives, a Value Addedprecisely to highlight the importance of records with permanent value in the universities.
Communication 2015 This group was created in Zaragoza. Despite the fact that the functions have been assumed by the executive committee and the collaboration of two other members for this task, the first communication plan of the CAU was presented on this occasion, with a specific focus on strategic planning.
Open Linked Data in University Archives 2016 It was created in Tarragona. Its aim is to study the dissemination of the information contained in the records of the Spanish Universities’ Archives
Training 2016 This group was created in Tarragona. This group is responsible for the annual training day organised by the CAU.
ISO 30301 2017 This group was created in A Coruña. Its aim is to generate the necessary materials for the Spanish Universities that want to implement the management system for the records in accordance with ISO 30301. And it has been formed by universities that are interested in, or have already implemented, a management system for records.

The University Archives Conference, is the annual meeting point for all the archivists from the Spanish Universities attending and one of the indicators of the training axis of the CAU’s strategic plan since its inception. In this Conference, the Archivists of Spanish Universities are the place to share experiences and knowledge, while at the same time holding the plenary session where decisions are made that affect us as a professional group.

There are twenty-five universities that have hosted the Conference every year:


Where CAU’s Conferences have been celebrated these years

The Status Reports of the Spanish University Archives include the results obtained from the survey that the Spanish University Archives answer every two years. The collection and analysis of the survey data allows an assessment of the evolution of the university archives since 1994. The first survey is from 1999 and so on, until the last one, which is from 2018. The situation reports are presented at the plenary session held in the year immediately following the survey. This year 2020 there has been a change in the executive committee and the different members have already received news of new proposals in the organization of the CAU.

The CAU Strategic Plans approved since 2008 have been the instrument through which it has structured the planning of the management of CAU services. In the introduction to the latest approved plan it states: “the evolution of the university archive landscape and of records management in general has undergone major changes that we archivists are assuming with responsibility and commitment. For this reason, we consider the existence of four-year strategic plans to be very beneficial, allowing us to reflect on the current situation, the changes that have taken place and to have a clear vision of the changes that are expected in order to adapt and continue to grow as organisations of archival cooperation in the field of universities” (III CAU Strategic Plan, 2016: 2). The CAU has already approved and developed three strategic plans (2008-2019) and it is working on a fourth.


CAU’s Strategic Plan and Review Working Group in its annual report presentation. Tarragona, 2016. ©Montse Garriga

To conclude, the situation with the confinement resulting from the risk of contagion by Covidien 19 has forced the Spanish Universities to introduce working from home, including for Archivists. But this virus outbreak has not stopped the archivists and CAU works.

The Working groups continue towards their objectives and the Conference for 2020 is also being organized, this year at the University of Extremadura which has its headquarters in the city of Badajoz and with the theme: University Archives, responsibilities and competences, Horizon 2030.

Future is present in CRUE CAU reality!

<p>[1] PEÑA MONTES DE OCA, Carmen (2004). Diez años de la CAU: Balance y perspectivas. X Jornadas de Archiveros de Universidades. Valladolid, 2004.
[Access: 6.05.2020]

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Comunicado del Comité de Planeación

Comunicado del Comité de Planeación del congreso Memoria, derechos humanos y buenas prácticas en archivos universitarios y de investigación

spa cancelado

El Comité de Planeación se permite informar a colegas, ponentes e interesados su decisión de cancelar el evento programado del 29 de septiembre al 2 de octubre en las instalaciones de la Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá, Colombia), esta decisión se toma como consecuencia de la emergencia de salud pública que se vive a nivel global debido a la pandemia por el virus Covid-19 (Coronavirus), específicamente, al prever que esta situación continuará en el corto y mediano plazo, manteniendo e incluso acentuando las restricciones económicas, de movilidad, entre otras, que como personas e instituciones estamos viviendo en este momento. Pese a esta decisión, como Comité valoramos y agradecemos el interés y respaldo de todos ustedes a esta iniciativa, en especial de aquellos que enviaron su propuesta de ponencia, y en ese sentido, el contar con más de 70 propuestas de ponencias, provenientes de 18 países, nos invita a considerar que este trabajo debe dejar una huella y por ello comenzaremos a trabajar para lograr espacios que nos permitan conocer estas experiencias a través de otras metodologías de carácter no presencial.

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News from Planning Committee

News from Planning Committee of the Congress Memory, human rights and good practice in university and research archives


The Planning Committee of the Congress ‘Memory, human rights and good practice in university and research archives: different views, a single objective’ with regret informs colleagues, speakers and interested parties of the decision to cancel the event scheduled from September 29 to October 2 at the Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá, Colombia). The decision has been made because of the public health emergency caused by the Covid-19 virus (Coronavirus) and the consequences of this in the short and medium term. It is likely that the economic and mobility restrictions, among others, that we as individuals and institutions are currently experiencing, will continue over the coming months.

Despite this decision, as a Committee we value and appreciate the interest and support of all of you in this initiative, especially those who sent a proposal for a paper. We had more than 70 proposals for papers, from 18 countries, and would like to ensure that this interest and work is not lost so we will begin to investigate ways to exchange experiences and views on the topic through virtual and other non-face-to-face means.

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University of Alberta Archives

Interview with Anna Gibson Hollow, University Archivist

Interviewed by Maryna Chernyavska


Anna Gibson Hollow, University Archivist at the University of Alberta

M: Let’s start with the basics. What’s your personal journey to archives? How did you become an archivist?

A: Many-many years ago, I had completed my bachelor of arts degree in classics, I studied Greek, Latin and all of those fun things. And I was working as a receptionist for an organization that happened to have an archives attached to it. I started volunteering at this archives and developed an interest in it, because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my undergraduate degree. I met someone who introduced me to the different [archival] schools that were available, and I went to the University of British Columbia (UBC), their archives program. When I graduated from there in 2001, I was very fortunate to get a position at the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA). It started as a contract position, then I moved to full time permanent work. So, I worked there for a number of years, and then I took a little departure – did some information management, data management, records management work for different organizations. I was able to get some management skills, actually managing teams. I worked at the University of Alberta in the Office of Advancement managing a records group there for 6 years. I was very-very happy working there, but the University Archivist position came up. I remember years before jokingly saying to my boss: “The only job I would leave this one for is the university archivist.” And it happened. So, I am very pleased to be here.

M: Well, it sounds like a great fit with all the different experiences that you have.

A: I think so. I think me actually leaving archives for a while and getting other experiences made me better prepared for this role.

RCRF Ext Sign-fall 2

The new Research & Collections Resource Facility contains environmentally controlled storage spaces to maintain the highest standards for preservation of the Archives collections.

M: Can you tell me a bit about your involvement in professional associations on local, national and international levels?

A: When I was an archivist at the Provincial Archives, I was very involved in the Archives Society of Alberta (ASA).

M: When Michael Gourlie was the Archives Advisor?

A: Yes, Michael was actually the one I met when I was volunteering. And he was the one who told me about all the archival schools. So, I was involved with the ASA on the Communications Committee. I was also involved with a group of Government Records Archivists who formed the Government Records Special Interest Section for the Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA). That was back in early 2000s.

M: So, at the Provincial Archives of Alberta, was your position related to government records?

A: It was at the time, yes. So, I chaired that [group] for a year. Then I was also on the ACA Code of Conduct subcommittee. We were responsible for doing a provisional code for the ACA 2017 conference in Ottawa because we didn’t have one going in. So, I was on that subcommittee as well. I haven’t been involved in any international organizations though, so I am curious about that.

M: Tell me about the archives here at the University of Alberta.

A: It’s a wonderful place to work. I am really enjoying it. We are a lean team. We are the second largest archives in Alberta after the Provincial Archives and we have a staff of three full time positions (including myself) and one sessional, contract position.

M: And your position is a new one, isn’t it?

A: Not exactly. We had a University Archivist until about 10 years ago and so it’s been vacant for quite some time. It’s been pretty lean for a while, but we are looking for creative ways to do things. We have some great students who work for us part-time. They have been wonderful. I don’t know what we would do without our students.

We have a variety of holdings. We are the institutional repository, so of course, any of the records of faculties, departments, university related records come here. We also get private donations from different faculty who have retired, some notable alumni, like Anne Wheeler, she’s got her films here. We’ve also got some of Peter Lougheed’s records here as well. So, it’s pretty great, it’s a very enjoyable place to work.

M: How do you see your role, the main things that you are doing here?

A: As I said, there was a university archivist many years ago, Bryan Corbett, so there was structure already in place. So, it’s not like I am starting from scratch. One of the things that I am trying to do is get the University Archives more involved with the broader archival community again. I think it has been a little bit quiet on that front. So, going to institutional forums, trying to get us involved again in the ASA, the ACA. One of the things that we are also working on with other institutions is our response to the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). I think there is a lot of work that needs to be done here. We don’t know what that looks like just yet, but I am reaching out to other organizations like the City of Edmonton Archives, the Provincial Archives of Alberta, we are all working together to try and figure that out, and ensure we have the right engagement with various communities. We are also looking to the ACA for guidance, specifically the TRC Taskforce and their recommendations.

The other thing that we are looking at is filling our vacant Digital Archivist position. Our previous Digital Archivist left in March, so that’s currently vacant, and I am hoping that we will be able to recruit to that some time soon. That would be wonderful to get that going. We actually have many departments with a lot of digital content that they need to transfer to us.

M: You are saying that you worked in different contexts, in different archival institutions. How is working in academia in a research institution archives different from working in other types of archives?

A: That’s a really good question. One of the differences I have noticed between the Provincial Archives and the University Archives is that the Provincial Archives on the government side, actually on all fronts, it was very structured. And because there was legislation actually requiring government departments to transfer records to the archives, there was a very defined process. And I am finding that on the university side, that process is not quite as defined. We have a university records archivist, Jim Franks, who has been very good at going out to the departments when called and acquiring records, but there is no formal trigger process that dictates when departments need to transfer records to us. We do work with the Records Office, but it’s not like in the government where it is very regimented: ok, it’s time, these records have to go, their final disposition is met, they have to go to the archives. Here it may be that way for some departments, but for a lot of them it’s more like: hey, we ran out of space. Let’s call the archives and see what they will take. Which is great, because then we can get in there, and we can get the records over here. So, it’s different.

One of the positive things that has happened since I came on board, and it’s not because of me, it’s just the stars happened to align, is that the University Records Office, the Information and Privacy Office, the Chief Information Security Office, and the Archives are all working together to train areas on proper information management, on what different areas do, and what services all of us provide. We are all working very closely. So, the Records Office, if they hear from a department that they have got a bunch of stuff they want to destroy, they say: “Let’s call the Archives first, let’s get them in there.”

RCRF exterior 2-Fall

University of Alberta Archives is located in the Research & Collections Resource Facility

M: It’s great to see there is a vision.

A: Yes, it’s largely driven by the University Records Office but, of course, the Information and Privacy Office was very involved at the very start, because they deal with the fallout from poor records management. When they get an access request and they receive thousands and thousands of pages of records when they really only needed twenty because people are not managing information properly and not destroying it when it should be destroyed.

M: The University Archives is part of the library system at the University of Alberta. What benefits do you see in such a setup? Do you as the university archivist benefit from being part of the bigger team?

A: Absolutely! I think there are huge benefits to being part of the Libraries. I’ve heard this from some of my colleagues at other institutions that one of the benefits is that the libraries are very, very advanced in terms of digital strategies. So, we can draw off of that expertise, certainly bringing in our archival expertise, but also working with these experts in the Libraries who are very tuned into digital. So, that’s a huge benefit. The Library is also a very large department, so when it comes to funding, it is really a benefit for us to be part of it rather than being on our own.

M: Do you use their IT people?

A: Yes.

M: Are there any bigger projects or initiatives that the Archives is working on at the moment?

A: One of the things I’ve been tasked with is looking at our private records acquisitions and coming up with a strategy for that, coming up with some broader acquisition themes that could guide what private records we acquire. Also, assessing our holdings for any content that may involve Indigenous communities. We receive research papers from a variety of faculty, some who may be anthropologists, or medical researchers, for example. So, there may be content in our holdings involving subjects from different Indigenous communities. So, actually getting a handle on what we have, figuring that out, trying to decolonize our holdings and our descriptive practices. It’s a big job, so that will be long term.


The Archives preserves over 9,000 linear metres and 30,000 boxes of records. This includes textual records, photographs, audio and video recordings, film, microforms, architectural drawings, and maps.

M: Do you have any short-term projects or goals that you are trying to achieve in the Archives?

A: For myself, it is just trying to get a handle on what we do, and our place within the university. I am trying to identify how we can serve the university, our communities, our students, our researchers. I would really like to know what the users want from us. It would be great if we could do user studies to just find out what our users are looking for in terms of their research, access to our holdings. Because we often make an assumption that if we digitize it all, then people will come. It’s not always the case. I’d really like to find out what it is our users want from us.

M: And our users have changed.

A: Yes. One of the things that I am trying to do is to offer more information sessions for students in different areas on how to use the archives, why are we here, what do we have, how can you use us, how can you engage with us. So, this is one of the things I wouldn’t mind doing in the future having those kinds of workshops. We do it already with different groups ad hoc. But I would like to put a little bit more of a formal structure around it.

I am doing a presentation for a first year Native Studies class. It’s a research class taught by Dr. Paul Gareau, he is wonderful. He is bringing the students to the libraries and the archives and telling them: “These are the resources that are out there and this is how you can use them.” I am going to do a presentation on the archives. And they may not use it in their undergraduate work and that’s fine, but you never know why you might use us, or how you might engage us.

M: I think it’s very important what you are doing. It all leads to raising awareness of archives, of importance of archives. What is the general awareness about archives in Canadian society? How do you see it?

A: It’s a tough one. I think many people have misconceptions about what an archives is. They associate “archiving” with emails or they have a romantic vision of archives as shown in movies – dusty, old, or we have these fabulous holdings that people are trying to steal from us. I remember when I got this job, my 14 year old nephew congratulated me and said: “You are the “National Treasure” lady!” That’s sweet, but no, my job is not that exciting.

M: I remember a presentation at the ASA conference in Canmore a couple of years ago on depiction of archives and archivists, I think, in movies.

A: I’ve seen a similar presentation. I don’t know if it was that same one. It was at a different conference. Have you noticed, we are either really-really nerdy and in the shadows, in the basement, or really-really cool? One or the other, never in between. So, I think there is a lot of misconception of what an archives actually is.

M: What can we do about it?

A: What can we do? I know that me, for the University Archives, I’ve been trying really hard to engage with not just the public, but with some of our donors, and we are talking our monetary donors. After years in Advancement, I see the value of that. Certainly, there is a concern, you don’t want the donors to influence what you do [in archives] but I work closely with our Advancement person in the department. One of the things that she and I did together is we volunteered for Alumni Weekend. Because who are some of the supporters? They are former students, who are now alumni. They are coming back for Alumni Weekend, they have fond memories of their time here. So, just trying to meet with them and say: “Hey, we are here. This is the archives. This is what we do.” There were two alumni who came with their teenage son whom they referred to as a “Future alum.” So, we were chatting and talking about libraries, and the father made a comment about how kids don’t know how to check out books nowadays. They think everything is online. And I said, “I work at the archives. I can tell you, not everything is online.”

M: And neither it should be.

A: Exactly. Both parents looked at the son and said: “Remember that.”

M: Is there a favourite part in your day working here?

A: This is going to sound so cheesy, but my favourite part is coming here. I love working here. For one thing, the space is beautiful. Coming here and seeing a rabbit outside of my window or hearing frogs outside in the spring is really uplifting and I really love it. I can ride my bike here in twenty minutes through the River Valley. I love it. I think one of the things that I also love about my day is actually getting into the records. Archivists don’t always get to do it… I don’t know. I don’t have a favourite. I like it all. We had a meeting here with all of the staff, and as an icebreaker, there were three questions we had to answer and one of them was: what is your dream job? They got to me, and I said, “This is going to sound cheesy, but I mean it. This is my dream job.”


A rabbit outside Anna’s office window

More on the UAlberta Archives: 

Designing the Archive: Reflections on the ICA Conference

by Caroline Brown

This year’s International Council on Archives Conference was a memorable affair. There was a real buzz in the air from the 700 or so delegates attending either as ICA / PARBICA members or as members of the Australian Society of Archivists (ASA) and the Archives and Records Association of New Zealand Te Huinga Mahara. Located in the impressive Adelaide Oval, everything seemed to work like clockwork thanks to conference and Oval staff. The food was plentiful and tasty and even us vegans had plenty of choice. Adelaide itself is a beautiful, friendly city and the temperatures (in the mid 30s on some days) a pleasant change from the Scottish autumn I had left.


I attended the ASA University Archives special interest group where there were some really interesting discussions about a range of issues. Some attendees focussed mainly on records and information while others were embedded in special collections and GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museum) environments. A number of projects relating to digitisation, oral history and anniversaries were discussed while those working with more current records reported on updates to business classification schemes and information management policies. A key issue seemed to be systems with a few archivists trying out AtoM while others talked about DAMS systems for collections management, the challenge of Sharepoint and systems for email and contract management.

Gavan McCarthy has talked about the conference itself in a previous blog; I found as ever that there was too much choice – I wanted to go to too many sessions! The keynotes were all interesting and generated a lot of discussion; across all the conference papers the theme of designing and re-designing what we do dominated. This could be through re-visiting our structures, systems and processes, advocating to new audiences in innovative ways, or reviewing our fundamental assumptions about what archives are, who they belong to, who they represent and who should manage them.

I was very lucky to be in a position to visit Australia and attend the conference and I know that many archivists are not in such a fortunate position. If you want to know more, you can review the Tweets at #DTAAdelaide2019 or catch up via the ICA Facebook page @ICAInternationalCouncilonArchives

Wondering about the future – Designing the Archive 2019

by Gavan McCarthy, eScholarship Research Centre, University of Melbourne


Credit: Australian Society of Archivists

Last week, 21 to 25 October 2019, I attended an international archives conference in Adelaide, Australia. Designing the Archive was presented by the Australian Society of Archivists (ASA), Archives and Records Association of New Zealand Te Huinga Mahara (ARANZ), the International Council on Archives (ICA) and the Pacific Regional Branch International Council on Archives (PARBICA). Workshops, tours, special interest group meetings and annual general meetings were held on the Monday, the conference proper was Tuesday to Thursday, and Friday was reserved for further tours and workshops but my focus that day was the ICA Indigenous Matters Summit.

Following an exemplary Welcome to Kaurna Country by Mickey Kumatpi Marrutya O’Brien, the opening keynote of the conference by Michelle Caswell established a clear theme for the conference looking at how archives and archival practice needs to adapt to meet the needs of a changing society. And this is not to say that archives until now have necessarily met the needs of society in its totality in the past.

By the end of the conference, I reflected that like just about every archives conference I have attended (since 1985), this one also revealed a community that could be characterised by the ICA logo – Janus. He has two faces, one looking forward and one facing in the opposite direction and is also known as the ancient Roman god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages and endings. But for our profession he seems to represent a community that has one group looking to the future and one group stuck in the practices of the past. The phrase in the hallways was ‘tin ear’ from those looking forward and tackling the issues of the decolonising/decolonialisation of the archive when referring to those with a gatekeeper and business as usual world view.

The highlight for me was the ICA summit on the Friday. The ICA Indigenous Matters Summit, See Us, Hear Us, Walk with Us: Challenging and Decolonising the Archive, had as its focus the Tandanya – Adelaide Declaration (which will be found on the ICA website in the near future). This four-page, carefully constructed document was the product of the leadership of the ICA Expert Group on Indigenous Matters, many of whom were present. All delegates were encouraged to sign the declaration and I think all did. The opening addresses including heartening statements from the Honourable Ken Wyatt, the Australian Commonwealth Government Minister for Indigenous Australians (appointed in 2019) and the Director of the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Dr Craig Ritchie, both Indigenous Australians. This in itself was a landmark moment. The day followed with breakout groups examining some of the details of the Declaration.

My hope is that by the end of the day there were far fewer tin ears in the room.

Reflections and takeaway from the SUV conference

by Hye Lim Joy Nam

In a three-day conference of the International Council on Archives Section on University and Research held in Dundee 1-3 July 2019, 70 participants from 20 countries from universities and research institutions around the world discussed the past, present, and future of the archival profession. With “appraisal” as this year’s central theme, presenters from ten different countries covered subtopics ranging from diversity (student organizations) and record types (folklore materials) to reappraisal (“How to throw away one fifth of your archives”). These were punctuated by an energetic “Introduction to Dundee and its University” by Eddie Small and an animated debate on appraisal issues.


Hye Lim Joy Nam (centre) at the conference

A couple of general aspects of this conference that stood out were the theoretical debates underlying appraisal approaches and the technological challenges that archivists must face both now and in the future.

Firstly, although archiving is geared towards practice and “learning by doing,” many presenters touched upon theory, finding the underlying concepts to be helpful in decision-making processes. The archival profession has been shaped by unresolved and challenging debates, whether it be the issue of “representation” and inevitable human bias as articulated during the conference by Geoffrey Yeo, top-down macroappraisal vs. bottom-up analysis, or the debate between Jenkinsonian and Schellenbergian approaches to appraisal. It follows that the archivist must remain flexible and responsive in an interdisciplinary field facing ever-changing legal, institutional, and societal frameworks. Shifting theories, methods, and approaches lead to a constant reappraisal of not only the archival material or the archival methodologies but also of the archivist’s vision, goals, and standards as well.

Secondly, some of the significant appraisal issues raised during the conference related to technological changes and digital record types. Selecting what is to be preserved given growing masses of digital data, limited resources, and limited technological and contextual expertise is a complex undertaking. New approaches to appraisal in the digital realm and the challenge of digital record types were topics that ran through several presentations in the conference on the second day, in particular those on appraising emails and social media. Susanne Belovari’s “Simple and expedited appraisal” and “On the path to an intelligent appraisal” by Basma Makhlouf Shabou demonstrated positive ways in which archivists could effectively approach appraisal in the digital realm.

As demonstrated by conference presentations and in the final discussion, the archivist engages critically with theory, weighs methodological options, and copes with changing archival mediums and technology in the process of appraisal. The challenges of establishing appraisal methods that account for competing priorities, a variety of media, and diverse communities reflect the complexity of archival practices and the resourcefulness and flexibility of its practitioners. Archives, in theory and in practice, are the result of an ongoing international conversation—one that, I hope, will never cease.

Hye Lim Joy Nam is an archival volunteer at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany. She has degrees in Transcultural Studies and German Studies and is interested in scientific archives.