“You can be a librarian or an archivist, but not both”

Recently I joined the Australian Society of Archivists, the professional body for archivists in this country. More recently I attended the local chapter’s AGM at the invitation of its convenor. Despite a) not knowing a soul and b) being one of about three people in the room under the age of fifty, I felt right at home and was warmly welcomed by several members. I’m also informed I had the pleasure of briefly meeting a Noted Archives Bigwig™, though I only realised who he was after he’d shaken my hand!

Over the course of the evening I had the same conversation several times: that I had almost finished my MIS, I was currently between jobs, and I was very keen on digital preservation and related endeavours. I didn’t mind, though, because I was fortunate enough to meet some extremely interesting people, one of whom shared my interest in #digipres and had done a lot of work in the field. I mentioned that I was see-sawing between library work and archives work, and could see myself doing both long-term. She chuckled and replied that librarians would often see archives as ‘the dark side’, to which I responded that I hadn’t been in the field long enough to pick up such ‘bad habits’.

A few days later, I came across an interesting thought bubble on the number of LIS / GLAM conferences in Australia and, according to the author, a corresponding paucity of material to discuss. A biennial whole-sector GLAM conference was instead proposed, where professionals from all manner of cultural and memory institutions come together and cross-pollinate developments and ideas. I love the idea of a whole-sector GLAM conference, but I’m doubtful it will ever happen.

For all our talk of collaboration, GLAM professions in Australia are terribly siloed. I know precious few people who are members of both ALIA and ASA (I am, for the record) and I’m not sure the two organisations talk to each other all that much. I know libraries and archives do some things differently, but I’m not convinced it’s beneficial for users or staff. Should I have to choose between being a librarian and being an archivist? Why can’t I be both? Are the differences between the two so great that no one individual can do it all?

In an age where the proportion of digitised or born-digital items in library and archive collections is increasing steadily, both types of memory institution will need staff with the requisite skillset to accession, curate and preserve digital artefacts. While paper items are treated much differently in library collections vis-à-vis archival collections, with the former housed on shelves for public consumption and the latter in boxes in climate-controlled storerooms, there is no fundamental difference between, say, a RAID system in a library and one in an archive. Or one in a records management unit, or a museum, and so on. Discovery layers for these objects would also function in a similar way across different organisations.

To me, it would make perfect sense for GLAM digitalists of all types to come together and swap stories. New Zealand’s National Digital Forum (NDF) fulfils this role perfectly. So perfectly, in fact, I’m planning to attend their conference in Wellington in November. (The conference outline looked amazing!) I really wish a similar organisation existed in Australia, but again I can’t see it happening. Unless I create it myself in my capacity as your local Over-Enthusiastic New Professional™.

We speak often of the ‘digital divide’ between those with access to the internet and those without, but a divide exists too between the GLAM professions. Archivists and librarians don’t appear to collaborate very much, which is a disappointment and something I’d dearly like to change. Perhaps I’ll become neither a librarian nor an archivist, but rather an Inter-GLAM Liaison Officer or somesuch, bringing light, a feather-duster and some government funding to ‘the dark side’. Wouldn’t that be something?