When people ask what I do, I usually say, "I'm a librarian." This is true, but my day-to-day work with archives is pretty different from that of many of my CPL colleagues. Telling people I'm an archivist usually elicits blank stares, though. So, in honor of American Archives Month, let me tell you a little about my job.
First, what are archives? "Archives" refers both to the primary source material (original documents or records, photographs, sound and video recordings, artifacts, etc.) that tell the stories of history, as well as to the repositories that house them.
Next, what's an archivist? My job is to take these materials and make them accessible to the public. I appraise records to determine their enduring historical value; I arrange the material in folders and boxes; I address preservation concerns; and I describe the records by creating a finding aid. Finding aids tell researchers about the archives and who created them, as well as listing what is in the boxes and folders (example). Finally, I help people find, view and use the material.
Lastly, why are archives important? Preserving the historical record helps to ensure accountability and transparency in our institutions. The ability to access original documents helps protect people's rights and property. Archives provide the evidentiary basis for our collective memory and allow us to understand our past. Plus, old stuff can be super cool.