[Information sent to applicants for new full-time post of Assistant Archivist. Gives interesting background, and principles: e.g., "An on-going challenge to the Archive and Study Centre is to find its place in a community in which history is often a disposable commodity..." Survival was on the agenda.]
Further Information for Applicants
The Archive and Study Centre began life in one room, with the David Wills Collection, in 1989. At that point there was no specific budget, and the research archivist was seconded from the Homer Lane Trust on a shared-time basis.
The need for such a facility quickly became clear, and with the unfailing support of the Trust it has grown steadily, expanding into two and then three rooms, before taking over the greater half of an existing residential building, to which is now being added a purpose-built archive store extension and work-rooms. From time to time there has been volunteer help, and for a period we had a part-time Assistant Archivist. But there has never been enough help to do all of the work that has needed to be done, and part of the new Assistant Archivist’s task will be to help identify and deal with the existing backlog.
There is currently a full-time archivist, a part-time archive assistant, and a part-time curator (for the democratic/progressive/alternative education side of our collections). This is a small but established team which is used to working together - with direction set by the Archivist, who is ultimately responsible to the Trust for the Archive and Study Centre, but in an environment of mutual consultation and concern, of personal initiative and motivation.
The Archivist is fully aware that having set up the operating systems in the Archive and Study Centre, and having been responsible for them from the beginning, they will inevitably reflect both his weaknesses as well as his strengths. The Assistant Archivist will play an important role by bringing new questions and insights into the situation, in order to help to ensure that we achieve the highest standards of practice possible.
Because of its areas of concern the Archive and Study Centre is responsible for a great deal of material relating to personal and social difficulties, disturbance, and distress. This calls for a special approach and orientation in those who work here. From the Archive and Study Centre Handbook:
One of the limiting factors governing our management of the archive and oral history collections is the high degree of sensitivity of many of them, or of some of their contents. We have an obligation to protect such material from unauthorised and/or unsupervised access, and this must be a part of our thinking from the very earliest moment of contact. This means that all in-coming archive and oral history materials in particular are handled as confidential until a specific decision is made by the archivist, normally in association with the donor or interviewee, to regard them otherwise. This places an obligation on Archive staff to be able to recognise potentially sensitive material when they come across it, and to maintain what is effectively a therapeutic confidence in all areas of work within the Archive. In an archive of this type the staff do have a therapeutic responsibility in the on-going lives of residents, of staff and even of organisations represented in the collections, the foundation of which is the capacity to sustain trust.
Having discussed these issues in relation to the new Assistant Archivist position, the Trustees have asked that an explicit confidentiality clause be included in the contract of employment.
Therapeutic communities are notoriously under-recorded, and a great deal of their history has been lost or has been simply discarded. Indeed, the long-term value of archival records and of history and research based on them is still not generally recognised.
An on-going challenge to the Archive and Study Centre is to find its place in a community in which history is often a disposable commodity; to locate and recover as much of that community’s memory as possible; and in effect to ensure the Archive and Study Centre’s own survival by facilitating a shift in the way that contemporary and archival materials are viewed and handled by the members of that community. Underlying this challenge is the perception that archives form a key part of a community’s memory; that memory is essential to the health and well-being of a community; and that the field to which the Archive and Study Centre is devoted plays an important role in the health and well-being of our Society.
The person appointed to this post will have the unusual opportunity of taking part in the on-going creation of an archives service with unlimited potentials for discovery and invention. It would be best to enjoy making archives and all they stand for come to life for people who are doing some of the most difficult work our Society has available; and to make those same materials come to life for the wider community to which we all belong, and thereby serve the field in that way. The foundation is best archival practice; the work is bringing that practice to life.