Evolution, Irrelevance, or Extinction?
This is really two topics, but they’re related, so I’ll throw them out together and see what happens.
One is to consider the future of the archival profession as a whole–can it evolve and succeed, will it continue to exist but be largely irrelevant, or will it just die out?
We will reach a tipping point in the future when more records suitable for “archiving” are digital than not, and if the majority of our profession isn’t prepared to deal with those digital records, others will come forward who are. Imagine a future when most archivists aren’t responsible for digital records, when all the important text and image collections have been digitized (and nobody cares about the rest), and when almost no one will travel to an archives to do research. Why pay a full-time professional wage to someone who manages a largely irrelevant collection of paper? It’s a doomsday scenario, but I don’t think it’s impossible to imagine (for organizations other than national and state archives). Is the archival profession going to succeed by evolving, or is it facing irrelevance or virtual extinction?
A related but separate topic is what value small professional organizations (small in comparison to groups like ALA) like SAA can offer today and what hope there is that they (in particular SAA) can evolve and succeed, or will continue to exist but be irrelevant to most archivists, or will just die off?
What do we need something like SAA for? To organize conferences, publish a journal, provide networking opportunities, and (in theory) advocate for us. How many of those functions will most of us continue to need and what would SAA need to do to meet them? What other options do we have for achieving those goals? (You might have seen this blog post back in June, which discusses these issues in relation to the Records Management Society in the UK.)
Again, this could either be an idea for one session or two . . .
Date: August 8, 2009