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ARCHIVES AND ARCHIVISTS: Telling stories

 ARCHIVES AND ARCHIVISTS: TELLING STORIES 
 
Kildare County Archive
Kildare Archive service is custodian to a broad variety of archival series, including a significant number of predecessor bodies of the present government system. Some of these bodies encompass the earliest extant materials in a local authority archive. In Kildare County Archives quality material has survived.
 Grand Jury collection (1809-1893) 
 Naas and Athy Poor Law Union records
 Athy, Naas, Celbridge, Edenderry Rural District Council records
 Athy Urban District Council
 Interment records are also now available on microfilms
 Private papers
They constitute a wonderful resource for research and should be a source of pride for the whole county.
All collections are cleaned, arranged, described, listed and preserved under the best archival standards.
(Researchers are requested to call in advance for an appointment with the county archivist)
Archives are evidence
 Archives are the foundations of peoples, they are the keepers of languages, of traditions, and they are the societies’ memory, pillars of the Irish cultural patrimony.
They are also the operational tool of the public and private organisations and a backup enabling every citizen to obtain the guarantee of their rights. Records and archives can justify activities of all sorts, in a transparent manner. Thanks to properly preserved and conserved archives, agencies can function efficiently.
Archives are records of intrinsic value, stored for all time because of the unique information they contain. Archival material can include manuscripts, maps, plans, drawings, letters and all correspondence, registers, diaries, but also non-textual records such as tape recordings, photographs, film, microfilms and electronic records.
Archives are not just any old pieces of paper or electronic document. They provide evidence of actual events and for that reason, records should be trustworthy, meaning well managed, accurate, involving a creator and recipient, should be able to be transmitted.

Challenges – What to keep? What to forget?
Like the bulk of our interactions, most records are necessary but individually unmemorable (we do not need the record of what time we put out the garbage or brushed our teeth). However we do recall the overall pattern: outcome of events, whether we did something unusual, and our ‘main directions’. Day to day recordkeeping in a local authority is roughly similar to that reflection. The essential uses of records range over all human endeavour and those who use them are just as varied.
Institutional archivists are now facing one of the greatest challenges: to ensure that suitable documentation of societally important organisational and institutional archives AND personal, creative, reflective and spiritual life is ‘captured’, protected and accessible to the public over the long term.
For this very reason, local archivists are always on the look-out for private archives, family memories and estate papers, as well as photographs in the hope that what they will leave behind them will illustrate the life of everyday people, not only the administration or authority of that county.
However what does ‘national significance’ means? What is important? To whom?
‘While no one can objectively know or state with complete assurance what the elements of societal value(s) are or have been within any given generation, archivists can develop appraisal (1) strategies and methodologies that are most likely to provide a comprehensive documentary memory of what has transpired in society over time’. (2)
County Councils, through their various departments and functions have a significant impact on people’s lives and the holdings of the archives should illustrate that impact, its nature and the relationship between society and governance.
In that respect, the archivist is a kind of story teller; by taking the decision of keeping or discarding, he or she shapes the memory of a county, country or an organisation. Nevertheless, this approach is not an ad-hoc activity; it is the result of extensive research from the archivist’s part who is required to examine his/her jurisdiction (national, regional, local (county council) or private organisation), and its interplay between social structures, social functions, and citizens and groups as social agents.
Many archivists around the world have now taken an active approach towards the material they acquire.
Archives we left behind us will retrace the major ‘lines’, the significant events, the most essential patterns. It is essential for private material to be professionally preserved under archival standards.
Projects like the Ehistory website are essential to remember the unusual, the details, the incongruous. It gives a voice to another side of our lives and it complements traditional holdings of an archive repository. It gives a voice to another side of our lives.
Archives are the raw materials of history; they are primary sources of information and irreplaceable. Archives are evidence of human activities. Unless they are carefully identified, stored and processed by archivists they undoubtedly will be lost through neglect and carelessness.

Ms Cécile Chemin
Regional Archivist – Kildare, Wicklow, Meath County Councils
Irish representative, Society of Archivists
For requests, reactions or archive donations: mideastarchives@gmail.com
 
 
(1) Appraisal: The process of determining if materials have sufficient value to be accessioned into a repository. Appraisal theory explores, in a philosophical sense the sources upon which archivists base their decisions to assign ‘value’ or ‘significance’ to records.
 
(2) Terry Cook, ‘Appraisal Methodology: Macro-Appraisal and Functional Analysis. Part A: Concepts and Theory’. Summer 2000. (National Archives of Canada).

A new article on collecting Archives and the role of Archives and Archivists from Regional Archivist Cecile Chemin. Have a look at the new Wicklow Archive page for some more ideas on the type of work done by Cecile. 


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