What is “Ask An Archivist Day”?

According to the Society of American Archivists (SAA), Ask an Archivist Day is on October 1 and is the kickoff to American Archives Month. It is intended to raise awareness of the archiving profession by encouraging people to ask archivists questions. The SAA encourages archivists to look for opportunities to respond to questions posed directly to them or more generally to all participants. American Archives Month has been held since 2006; as for Ask an Archivist Day….well, it’s complicated.

So then what’s #AskAnArchivist?

It’s the hashtag for use on Twitter to ask these archivist questions. People can Tweet out their questions, and archivists around the U.S. will be looking for that hashtag and answering the questions they can. #AskAnArchivist started in 2014; more than 2000 participants sent more than 6000 Tweets.

No question is too silly,” the SAA reassures us.

  • What’s the craziest thing you’ve come across in your collections?
  • If your archives had a soundtrack, what songs would be on it?
  • What do archivists talk about around the water cooler?

“…and no question is too practical!”

  • What should I do to be sure that my e-mails won’t get lost?
  • I’ve got scads of digital images on my phone. How should I store them so I can access them later on?
  • How do you decide which items to keep and which to weed out from a collection?
  • As a teacher, how can I get my students more interested in using archives for projects?

Don’t have Twitter? #AskAnArchivist works on Facebook, too.

What is an archivist, anyway?

“Archivists take documents that come in and preserve them,” writes Lee Zion in the South Dakota Capital Journal, which, like a number of other states, also celebrates Archive Month in October. “Then they provide ‘finding aids’ to make sure researchers can easily find them.”

“Collect, preserve, and make accessible. That’s kind of the three big ones we do,” Matt Reitzel, manuscript archivist with the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center, told the paper.

(Incidentally, South Dakota also celebrates Electronic Records Day on October 10.)

Why are archivists valuable?

“Because archival records ensure the protection of citizens’ rights, the accountability of organizations and governments, and the accessibility of historical information, the Society of American Archivists (SAA) believes that the archives profession must take an active role in advocating for the public policies and resources necessary to ensure that these records are preserved and made accessible.”

What can people who’ve used an archivist do to thank them?

The SAA is sponsoring a program called “I Found It In the Archives!” for people to report on success stories. “SAA encourages a special effort to involve people who have sought out archival collections by engaging them in a fun contest that makes use of social platforms,” the organization writes. “’I Found It In The Archives!’ is a collective effort to reach out to individuals who have found their records, families, heritage, and treasures through our collections.”

Didn’t we just celebrate #AskACurator Day on September 16?

We did! And we love curators too! But archivists and curators are different. Curators specialize in all sorts of items that are in museums, while archivists specialize in records and documents.

Our very favorite of all, of course, are electronic records archivists.

And while we’re asking, what’s the difference between an archivist and a librarian? “An archive is a place where people go to find information,” the SAA writes. “But rather than gathering information from books as you would in a library, people who do research in archives often gather firsthand facts, data, and evidence from letters, reports, notes, memos, photographs, audio and video recordings, and other primary sources.”

Why do some sites list October 30 or June 9 as #AskAnArchivist Day?

In previous years, Ask An Archivist Day was held on June 9. In fact, in some countries, Ask Archivists Day (note the slightly different title) is still held on June 9, in conjunction with International Archives Day. It has been held since 2011. In the same way that different countries have different days to celebrate Thanksgiving different countries have different days for Ask An Archivist Day.

On the other hand, as recently as 2014, Ask An Archivist Day in the U.S. was held on October 30. The SAA doesn’t seem to explain why the change was made.

Hmm. Guess there’s a question left to Ask An Archivist after all.

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