Do you remember the Wizard of Oz? I hope so, or else this will not make sense to the ones who do not. Dorothy and her friends went on a journey to see the great and powerful Oz to ask a certain request. This process can be translatable to those who go to the archives for answers. The archives, in a way, can be seen as the great and powerful Oz. The people of the town go to Oz for answers; he is all knowing. However, Oz magnificence was an illusion, he was merely a man.
Oz, and the archive have very similar purpose and position in society. The archive is a place and idea that holds power in the ways we preserve and shape knowledge and memory. But with this power comes great responsibility (thank you spider-man), in other words, where there is power of selection there is the power to exclude and silence.
The archive is a truly powerful and political domain. The archive has the ability to not only persevere, and organize information; this domain essentially shapes our knowledge and memory of the past. Yet, the power of selection can also be countered with omission. “Archives are ‘how we know ourselves as individuals, groups, and societies,’” (Carter, 2006) it helps shape one’s identity. However, amongst all the resources that is collected, how does the archivist determine what shall be preserved or forgotten? This question is closely knitted into the issue of archival alienation and silence. Archivist Rodney G.S. Carter notes, “the power to exclude is a fundamental aspect of the archive. Inevitable, there are distortions, omissions, erasures, and silence in the archive,” (2006) not everyone’s voices are heard, especially the marginalized. If the records of these groups are manipulated and destroyed, or excluded, [their narratives] cannot be transmitted across time, the records about this group may ultimately disappear from history (2006).
There are three types of powers that are possessed by the archive: control over collective memory, control of preservation, and specifically to the archivist, the interpretation and meditation between records and users. This amount of power is astounding, and scary. These powers shape what and how we learn. It was interesting that archivist Randall Jimerson, suggested archivist to embrace this power. However, there was a catch. We should embrace the powers, in order to use them for greatness. I believe this can be applied to reference librarians as well. Librarians hold somewhat power in the community, because we provide access to service and information that our residents interests or needs. By embracing this power, we can keep ourselves in check in terms of what to record and materials to exclude, how to intercept and provide access to the user.
However, the power to exclude materials can, and often leads to archival silence. Archival silence is gaps of information that are not present in a collection. These gaps are often records that connect or represent marginalized groups. Archival silence are gaps in preserved texts such as written, visual, audio-visual, and electronic which are “currency of archives” (2006) These text are often not representable of society. Oftentimes, the history accounted for are from the viewpoint of those in power or privileged, this act can leave a void in the collective memory because it excludes the viewpoints of the minorities or underprivileged. This silence can lead to a lack of identity. Most importantly, these gaps can lead to a history being forgotten or distorted.
The duty to be mindful of the gaps within the archive should be accepted by librarians and archivists. There are several tactics that were suggested by numerous archivists that will be helpful in the profession. The first is using a feminist critique to listen to the silences. This is done by listening to the omissions and interrogating the powerful (Carter, 2006). Secondly, archivist Randall Jimerson suggests embracing the power of the archive. By doing so, we can use the power for good, to use our power of knowledge preservations and memory formation to protect the public interest (2005). In addition, it is best, I believe, for anyone in the research profession, to eliminate as much bias in our process mainly neutrality. The act to not take a stance is a loose form of indifference. In addition, by acknowledging bias we avoid using power indiscriminately, or accidentally (Carter, 2006). Lastly, acquiring a social responsibility will help foster awareness and activism to address this type of archival discourse. These tactics will not solve this issue but will hinder the possibility of future gaps.
For those who wish to pursue the life of an archivist, or a librarian for the matter, be aware of this issue. Be conscious of your selection of material and look for ways in which you can be inclusive. It is a part of our social responsibility in a democratic society to notice alienation in our collection whether it is the library or archives. This awareness can enable information professionals to vocalize those who are misrepresented; this inclusion can lead to proper representation, positive formation of memory and identity.
Carter, R. (2006). Of Things Said and Unsaid: Power, Archival Silences, and Power in Silence. Archivaria, 61(61). Retrieved October 22, 2014, fromhttp://journals.sfu.ca/archivar/index.php/archivaria/article/view/12541/13687
Jimerson R. C. (2005). Embracing the Power of Archives. Society of American Archivist. Retrieved October 20, 2014, from http://www.archivists.org/governance/presidential/jimerson.asp
Jimerson, R. C. (2009). Archive Power: Memory, accountability, and social justice. Chicago: The Society of American Archivist.