Core Competency B: Recognize the social, cultural, and economic dimensions of records, recordkeeping, and records use.
What do you understand this competency to mean?
Records – whether corporate, personal, historic, or government – possess social, cultural, and economic implications that drive their creation, use, and retention. Archivists, in their goal to preserve records in their charge, must recognize the role that these records play in the weaving of the fabric of a civilization; the purpose of the records dictates the manner of recordkeeping required to properly care, store, and use them.
Social and cultural implications attached to recordkeeping and records use weigh heavily with historic records, some of which are relied upon for family or academic research. Arthur G. Doughty, Dominion Archivist, wrote that “Of all our national assets, Archives are the most precious; they are the gift of one generation to another and the extent of our care of them marks the extent of our civilization.” This gift can be construed as the social and cultural values embedded in archival records, preserved by archivists using the best recordkeeping practices possible.
Archivists must recognize the inherent values present in the records in their care. Understanding how and to what end these records could be used in the future can guide archivists and records managers in their attempts to retain and store these records effectively. For example, the potential use of a collection of records can dictate the level of description in their finding aid – a collection with particularly strong social and cultural implications for a community may attract heavy traffic from users and therefore require a finding aid that is organized at not only folder level but perhaps item level as well.
The economic dimension of records is equally important when considering use and recordkeeping practices, particularly for corporate records. A records manager employed by a business must familiarize themselves with retention protocols for specific records of fiscal importance, like those required for tax purposes or as proof of business transactions.
What course assignments or other work products are you submitting as evidence of your mastery of this competency? Which source or class is your evidence drawn from?
To demonstrate my understanding of the social, cultural, and economic dimensions of records and recordkeeping, and my ability to apply this understanding in a practical application, I am submitting two articles written for the Maine Historical Society’s blog, as well as a final paper produced for MARA 200: The Record and Recordkeeping Professions, titled ‘Art as Record: The Transformative Nature of Secondary Values,’ which demonstrates the cultural dimension of records.
Why did you select these particular work products as evidence for your mastery of this competency? How do your selections show not simply learning by also application?
Each example provided below has been chosen for its evidentiary material supporting my recognition of the social, cultural, and economic dimensions of records, recordkeeping, and records use.
- The Doris Blackman Merriam Collection Blog Article
The completion of the processing of the Doris Blackman Merriam Collection culminated in the writing of an article for the Maine Historical Society’s blog. I’ve chose this article as evidence of my mastery of this competency because it demonstrates my ability to expound on the impact that cultural and social elements of records has on recordkeeping, and the benefits derived from recognizing the importance of tailoring recordkeeping methods to the dimensions of the records in question.
Following the processing of the Doris Blackman Merriam Collection for the Maine Historical Society’s Brown Research Library Archive, I spent hours poring through her diaries to gain a better sense of the author’s experiences. As a result, the final article reflects her diaries’ contribution to a better understanding of the historic social and cultural events described therein. As the processing archivist of the collection, I needed to understand the cultural, social, and economic dimensions of the collection to best process it and to write an article expounding its relevancy to our understanding of historic events and attitudes.
2. The W.T. Grants Department Store Blog Article
While the cultural and social dimensions of records and recordkeeping are exemplified in this example of my mastery of the competency, the economic dimension of records use is supported in the result tendered by the publication of this article on Maine Historical Society’s blog. After reading this article, the W.T. Grant Foundation contacted the Maine Historical Society and purchased the rights to a portrait photograph of W.T. Grant used in the article. The use of the collection to generate an article to promote its availability in the research library of the historical society sparked interest in the holdings of the collection and prompted an economic exchange.
Comprised solely of photographs from the 1940s and 1950s of the W.T. Grant Department store located in downtown Portland, this collection relied on the social, cultural, and economic dimensions of a collection whose story is told through black and white images instead of words. Through an understanding of the impact of these dimensions, I was able to develop an article that shed light on the impact this department store had on the local community and the nostalgia inevitably attached to it.
3. MARA 200: The Record and Recordkeeping Professions: Term Paper
This term paper, titled ‘Art as Record: The Transformative Nature of Secondary Values,’ has been chosen as proof of my mastery of this competency because it demonstrates an understanding of the value of a record, even if that record appears in an unconventional format or the value does not immediately appear to be worth archival attention. Archival collections can include more than documents, and the interpretation of the archival values of objects can be overlooked if the records manager or archivist is not aware of the social, cultural, and economic dimensions of the various materials that can be found in an archive or can be considered to be of archival-level importance.
In his chapter penned for The Future of Archives and Recordkeeping titled ‘Archons, Aliens and Angels: Power and Politics in the Archive,’ Verne Harris wrote that “’the archive’ is to be found whenever and wherever information is marked, or recorded, on a substrate through human agency…in short [the archive] is all around us” (Harris, 2011). This philosophy is asserted and defended in this paper, and it directly correlates to my comprehension of the social, cultural, and economic dimensions of records, recordkeeping, and records use. Secondary values can transform an otherwise overlooked object or material into one of archival importance if the embedded social and cultural context is interpreted.
Ephemera is a prime example of archival materials whose value is often overlooked or underestimated. But in a social and cultural context, it is often the ephemera of our daily lives that define us, and civilizations are often defined by the products they produce – the creation of clay pots or hammered metals for adornment thousands of years ago would earn praise by modern historians, so it is not unreasonable to suppose that things we create today wouldn’t define our cultural identity in another thousand years. In this paper, I have argued the value of interpreting the social and cultural dimensions of artworks as one would read a document, and illuminated the recorded values that can be found as a result of such an interpretation.
What have you learned?
Understanding why a record was created allows archivists to take the best steps in organizing, preserving, storing, and allowing access to that record. Best practices cannot be enacted for a record if the cultural, social, and economic implications of that record are not taken into consideration first. The economic dimension of recordkeeping can be attributed to corporate recordkeeping; the management of records for corporations may require the consideration on the part of the archivist for financial, legal, and proprietary concerns.
An understanding of the social, cultural, and economic dimensions of a record and of recordkeeping methods also lends the archivist an edge in the administration of their work. With a full appreciation and understanding of the context in which the records under their dominion lie, archivists will be better prepared to administer to these records based on the specific needs dictated by that context.
I have benefited from a variety of readings, projects, and volunteer and internship activities that have allowed me to put into a working context the values of understanding the social, cultural, and economic dimensions of recordkeeping and records use.
Exposure to social and cultural dimensions of records during my internship at the Biltmore Estate archive provided me with a firsthand look at the operations of a private archive devoted to preservation of a family legacy and their contributions to the communities around them. Biltmore’s extensive archives chronicles all operations of the estate’s various enterprises starting with its employment of local and foreign craftsmen for its construction. The cultural implications of George Washington Vanderbilt’s vast estate are innumerable, and experience in their archive granted me the opportunity to witness an archive divested in the sustainability of a working estate and its role in the fabric of America’s cultural identity.
Working in Maine Historical Society’s archive as both a volunteer and an intern provided practical, hands-on experience in the importance of a collection’s social and cultural dimensions in terms of the necessary recordkeeping practices. Processing a collection for MHS culminates in the creation of a finding aid for the completed collection, a process which requires full understanding of the collection’s social, cultural, and economic dimensions in order to convey the values for potential researchers contained within the collection.
Harris, V. (2011). Archons, aliens and angels: power and politics in the archive. In J. Hill (Ed.) The Future of Archives and Recordkeeping: A Reader (pp. 103-122). London: Facet Publishing.