Questions for an Archivist
1) Is your job ever confusing dealing with all those files?
It can be. That's one of the reasons we set standards and develop
2) How hard is it to organize so many records into files that make
Actually, most of the time, the files, or records most archives receive,
are fairly well organized. Those that aren't take some (sometimes a lot!)
time and patience to organize. But, for most archivists, that's part of
the fun and satisfaction of the job.
Even for the records that arrive well organized, we put a fair amount of
effort into describing them - so that we and our customers can find and
use the right records to answer their questions.
3) Are the files stored on computer or kept in shelves?
Most of the records in this Archives, and in most other Archives I'd say
at this point, are paper-based, and therefore kept on shelves. We also
have film and video, photographic prints, artifacts and memorabilia (from
company signs to T-shirts and baseball caps and toothbrushes, with the
We, and most other Archives, are beginning to acquire and keep electronic
records. These provide something of a challenge. You need a machine
(sometimes a particular machine) and particular software to access the
records and the information contained therein (eyes and some light are
generally all that's needed for most other records - paper, photographs,
even microfilm and microfiche). For example, say you have a favorite game
for your original Game Boy. But say you just got Game Boy Advance - and
your favorite game won't play on that system - because the cartridge won't
fit, the systems are incompatible....
Here's a link to an article in a London, England paper, about a computer
project that was supposed to make information available for 1000 years.
12 years later it's a failure - the old system was not kept up and now its
obsolete, and the information is inaccessible.
The Observer 03/03/02
Digital Domesday Book lasts 15 years not 1000
Robin McKie and Vanessa Thorpe
It was meant to be a showcase for Britain's electronic prowess - a
computer-based, multimedia version of the Domesday Book. But 16 years
after it was created, the £2.5 million BBC Domesday Project has achieved
an unexpected and unwelcome status: it is now unreadable. The special
computers developed to play the 12in video discs of text, photographs,
maps and archive footage of British life are - quite simply - obsolete.
Archivists are developing ways to deal with the issues raised by
4) Who has used the records you keep? Can you give an example?
Most of our users - or customers -
are employees of my company, although
we do answer questions for the general public. On the general public
side, we get a lot of questions about the company's various office
buildings, general information about company history, the address and/or
telephone number of our headquarters (this information is on our website,
www.cigna.com, though not easy to get to).
Our main purpose is to help company employees use the company's history in
current business. Company employee customers range from executives to
mail delivery people. Most of our company customers come from
Communications / Public Affairs, Legal, Marketing, and Human Resources.
We just provided several images from the 1910s for a video to help launch
a new type of insurance. We help celebrate product and employee
anniversaries, and employee retirements. We demonstrate how the types of
risks people insured against in the 18th and 19th centuries relate to the
types of risks they insurance against today. Yes - our company is that
old - it's "grandfather" was founded in 1792 - check out the history
section on cigna.com:
http://www.cigna.com/general/about/history/index.html. We create webpages
to get historical information and images to employees' desktops.
5) Do you think archivist will always be necessary? Why?
Yes, I do. You've probably had the experience of sifting through a
zillion hits from a web search to find a link to get you where you
actually wanted to be. Archivists, and librarians (for published
materials), with their training and experience, act as a filter to help
locate reliable information, and help interpret and understand that
6) How does somebody become an archivist?
Two ways. Some people know this is what they want to do, so they go to
school to learn. Some colleges and universities now offer degrees in
Archives - either as part of a Master of Library Science or Master of
Library and Information Science program, or part of a History program.
This is the way most people, especially younger people, now become an
archivist. Others "back into" the profession - assigned the
responsibility at work, volunteer work they take on, or something like
that. They learn professional standards and methods through workshops
offered by and books published by professional organizations, through the
help of colleagues and friends, and also college courses.
7) Where do you work and what are your hours like?
I work in an office building, in
the center of Philadelphia, where many
other employees of my company work as well. I work about 8-10 hours a
day. I and all my staff (2 other full-time professionals, 2 part-time
clericals) put in the time to get the work done, and meet our customers
deadlines. Right now we're working on a couple big projects for our
company's so we're working long hours.
8) Is it a well paying job?
Some would say yes, some would say no. For many, the "pay" includes the
satisfaction of doing a job they really enjoy, and doing it well. I've
provided links to a couple of websites that give salary ($$) information
from surveys undertaken by various professional organizations. You can
draw your own conclusions about how "well-paying" the profession is. A
qualification - the data from these surveys, except from the 2001
Corporate Archives Forum, is rather old, in salary terms (most companies
like to use data that is no older than 6 months to determine the current
"market value" of a job or position.)
http://www.certifiedarchivists.org/html/results.html - by the Academy of
Certified Archivists; scroll down, you'll find several graphs comparing
reported salaries different ways.
http://www.archivists.org/catalog/survey96/toc.htm - by the Society of
American Archivists; many tables comparing results different ways.
http://www.hunterinformation.com/caf2001.htm - by the Corporate Archives
Forum, an informal group; scroll down to the very end of the page.
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