Archives Week 2018: Meet Your Archivists!

Archives Week is celebrated annually during the first week of October. The week includes public events at archives across the province and online exhibits. As a part of Archives Week 2018, we sat down with three local archivists to get their story, their thoughts on where the archival sector is headed, and why we should celebrate the profession!

Marlena Wyman is the current City of Edmonton Historian Laureate, an archivist and artist. Kathryn Ivany is the City Archivist at the City of Edmonton Archives. Braden Cannon is a Private Records Archivist at the Provincial Archives of Alberta.

Join us in celebrating the fascinating  and diverse collections in local archives, and the professionals that safeguard them!

What do you love about your job?

MW: I love that I can make a difference in people’s lives. When I visited with potential donors, they were often donating the records of deceased loved ones, and the fact that those records would live on in the archives also meant that the memory of their loved ones would live on in a tangible way.

KI: Initially the fact that I was able to do archival work a much bigger scope than I was doing as a contractor. I like the detail of archives both the historical aspect and the technical aspect, but I also have a lot of other things in my portfolio, so my day is never the same as any other day, and every day is a new challenge. I have lots of opportunity to talk about my passion and promote historical preservation and archival preservation both within the city and with the public as well.

BC: I enjoy working directly with records, with the tactile evidence of human activity in all of its myriad forms. But my absolute favourite is when I get the opportunity to work on a donation of records that I know will make a real impact on the people who donated them and for future generations that will have access to them. Helping to broaden the scope of collective memory in even small ways is the most meaningful aspect of the job.

What pushed you towards a career in archives? 

KI: Initially when I went to university I was geared towards a scientific career and then I took as an option one Canadian history course, as I hadn’t really encountered much Canadian history in the school system, and I had a simply wonderful professor in Olive Dickason, who managed to change my life course. Her passion for history and authenticity in stories and her ability to talk about can history from a different perspective than I had ever considered opened my eyes and changed my career path.

BC: I came to the field in a roundabout way, like many other archivists that I know. My initial interest was in filmmaking but after attending film school, I realized that I was more interested in film theory, history, and the academic side of cinema. So, I switched my focus, changed schools, and ended up in a films archives course, which led to a student internship at the film section of Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa. I enjoyed the experience and saw how my interests could lead to a career, which led to graduate studies in Library and Information Studies. By that time, my interest had broadened beyond just film archives to include public archives no matter the media type.

MW: History has always been one of my passions, and my university majors were visual art and history. The position of Audio/Visual Archivist at the Provincial Archives of Alberta seemed like a perfect fit. I was responsible for the photo, moving image and sound archives, and I always felt lucky to be able to work with these fascinating collections. 

What are some trends and challenges disrupting the world of archives?

KI: It’s certainly not new, but it’s picking up speed and that’s digital preservation and the transfer of digital records to archives. We’ve just acquired the software to start doing digital preservation in the city. Digital preservation is certainly something that we’ve been working on as long as I’ve been here – at least ten years – it’s now coming to fruition.

MW: Both a challenge and trend is the archiving of digital records. The digital era represents a double-edged sword of the sheer volume of digital records that are produced, and the very real potential loss of those records. The traditional archival concepts of appraisal, selection, description, preservation, and access are being turned on their head. The concepts of evidential value and authenticity of historical records shifts with digital records as does copyright and privacy. It is both an exciting and daunting time for the archival profession. 

What advice would you give a student considering a career in archives?

KI: I always tell students that come in to make sure that they are very aware of the digital world. There are lots of people that get into archives because they really want to work with medieval manuscripts. That doesn’t work so much in Canada, so if you want to work in Canada you probably need to be much more aware of the upcoming trends and that includes digital perseveration, as well as the conservation of paper and those kinds of things.

BC: For those interested in getting into the field, I would suggest learning as much as you can about digital technology because that’s where the field is going. There will always be analogue and textual records in archives, of course, and they still make up the bulk of our donations. But we really need solutions for digital records so that is an area with a lot of potential.

Why is it important that we celebrate Archives Week?

KI: I think there are a lot of people that don’t actually know about archives. So, Archives Week is our chance to blow our horns, to spread the word, and to encourage people to consider as a part of their research project; they don’t just have to go to the library and try and figure to out what’s out there. We can actually get them into the minds of people who were actually on the ground thinking, writing, doing things, and get right into what they created at the time.

BC: More than anything, it’s an opportunity to shed a bit of light on an often misunderstood, third-cousin to the more widely understood libraries of the world. We’re here, too, and we’re a public service devoted to evidence, accountability, transparency, and culture. And we can’t exist without donors and researchers, so don’t be afraid to come visit!