Archives for February 2022

We’re Having a Moment

I had to update my personal information form at the dentist recently, and I smiled at myself as I wrote archivist under profession. I knew what was coming as soon as I handed the form over the counter. As predicted, the receptionist scanned the page to make sure every field had appropriate content, and said, “Archivist, oh, what’s that?”

What is that? It’s a lot of things actually. If we believe the entirety of the profession can be explained from scenes in popular culture, then I guess I find the answer to historical questions in archival records every time and save someone’s life doing it. I’ll tell you from experience, I have never rushed through archival records in search of clues to save someone’s life (every Dan Brown book turned movie, ughh) nor witnessed a researcher doing the same.

BUT luckily, we’re having a moment. We’re – as in archival professionals and as a professional field – in popular culture and the news lately, and I think all of it is great for people’s understanding of and learning about what we do and why it’s important.

Yes, I’m about to bring President Trump into this. How can I leave out the fact that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) of the United States is opening an investigation into the former President’s handling of White House records? If you haven’t been following this (it’s ok, I understand), US presidents are required by law to transfer their letters, work documents and emails to the National Archives. All of the records, not some, all. Trump is accused of taking boxes of records from Washington, D.C. to Florida, some of which are marked classified, and destroying others. Now NARA is asking the Justice Department for an investigation.

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National Archives of the United States, Washington, D.C. Image from Bestbudbrian, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


 

How bada$ is that??? The National Archives taking on a former President. Archives are complicated institutions bound by laws and policies that we have to balance with the needs of our communities and stakeholders. Certainly in the L&A County Archives, we’re not chasing records down through investigations but we have laws and policies we must abide by too. NARA is using its power to ensure laws and policies are followed so that history doesn’t get rewritten by what’s missing or omitted from the record base. It’s hard to come up with a modern archive that’s more important to have intact than that of this particular former President. Scholars and journalists will be busy with this one for decades, I imagine.

On a brighter note, archivists are featured in supernatural thrillers now too. Netflix’s series Archive 81 tells this story: “An archivist takes a job restoring damaged videotapes and gets pulled into the vortex of a mystery involving the missing director and a demonic cult.”

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Image from Netflix, accessed February 22, 2022


Ok, I know how that sounds, but there’s legitimate archival work being showcased until the demons show up. What’s important here is that the archivist gets entangled in this supernatural mess (also never experienced this as an archivist) while working to digitize analog media, something archives are compelled to do all over the world in their efforts to preserve the historical record. Finally, a pop culture reference to archives beyond the stuffy reading room and hurried flip through “old” books and texts. The work of digitizing records (photographs, diaries, sound recordings, old films, etc., you get the point) is not quick or cheap. Staff time is intense with this type of project and don’t forget maintenance costs – yes, even digital files require upkeep!

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Examples of different media types archivists work with.


There are many other examples of archives in pop culture and the media (think genealogical shows like Who Do You Think You Are? and Finding Your Roots) that I don’t have space for here. And what does all of this have to do with our work in L&A County? Nothing really, except to highlight that we do a lot of different things to collect, preserve, and provide access to the historical record. I’m just happy to see that the profession is being noticed and hopefully better understood. That way, when I joke that I hardly use my teeth at work, I’ll get a smile instead of a dead glare from my dental office receptionist.

And… We’re back!

Back open at the Museum of L&A

After another month (mostly) working from home, with only my cat to keep me company, I am thrilled to be back in the archives! In January, I devoted most of my time to bringing more content online, specifically photographs. I’ve been busily updating descriptions in the collections database to get as many digitized photographs up online as possible. I’ve also spent a lot of time scanning photographs on loan from some of our community members, continuing the quest to preserve snapshots of everyday life in L&A throughout the twentieth century.

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One of the most vivid photographs I came across while working from home was a photograph of T. I. Winter’s drug store in Newburgh, taken in 1910. We have little information about the photograph or who the people in it might be, but the clarity and detail within the photograph – from the crumpled newsprint on the street to the stacks of paint cans in the window – really brings the scene to life.

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We’ve also been busy behind the scenes developing online exhibits (coming soon!) for the Museum website and the next archival exhibit that will be on display IN-PERSON in March. You can look forward to hearing L&A stories highlighting agriculture, labour, and even fire insurance maps! We have also begun working on a few social media campaigns for the Spring – get ready for a look at the many forms of art and nature in the archives!

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Being back in the archives means that I have more time to devote to what I cherish most about my job, processing collections – ensuring that the cultural records of L&A are properly stored, organized, and retrievable, so that the unique and varied stories of life in L&A may be shared both tomorrow and one hundred years from now! Community archives work is fascinating because it is continually a balancing act between preservation and access, managing your time and resources in a way that ensures that the public can easily engage with collections while maintaining the physical integrity and unique history of each item.

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As disheartening as it was to have to close the museum’s doors once again, coming back to the building each time brings a new appreciation for the work and learning that happens here. There may be a few more hills to climb in 2022, but I’m certain that it is going to be an exciting and educational year in the archives!

We’ve missed you! Book your visit today.

Museum hours

Monday – Saturday: 10am–5pm

Macpherson House & Park hours

Open for tours in the summer

Archives Hours

Monday – Friday: 10am–5pm

Museum and Archives daily rate

Adults: $3
Children under 12: free

All service fees are based on a cost recovery model. Factors such as the physical condition of the records and copyright restrictions may prevent some or all of the reproduction processes from being offered.

Museum & Archives location

97 Thomas St E, Napanee, ON K7R 4B9

Macpherson House & Park location

180 Elizabeth Street, Napanee, ON K7R 1B5