Archivy etc.

opinions, occasional rants, and sometimes things that have nothing to do with archives at all. Nothing here should be assumed to be reflective of my employer's opinion(s) nor should it be assumed that at anytime afterward, this is what I still think.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A love letter to a researcher and friend

My dear friend:

For some time now, we've been having a friendly discussion over archival use rules. More specifically, you've been angry at the way you were treated at another archives and have told me about it at length. I'm willing to consider it a discussion. I understand you found it insulting to your reputation as a degreed and experienced historian to listen to a reference archivist lecture you on the no pencils, no rearranging things, no food and drink, must wear white gloves, and so forth. Of course you already know this. Of course you shouldn't be treated as a know-nothing small child who must constantly be reminded of the rules.

I need to confess something to you. When you were in the other day? And witnessed one of my archivists having to gently remind another researcher, a professional researcher, of the rules she was attempting to break despite not only having been told them but having signed the same use rules document that you signed? It's small of me, I know, but I took great pleasure in the fact that you were able, finally, to see why we archivists make degreed and experienced researchers sit through those interminable lectures, sign those use agreements, over, and over again. As you noted at the time and in doing so made my heart do a little pitter-pat: "it's people like her that ruin it for the rest of us."

It is, of course, and here's what I haven't yet said to you. In my experience, it's often the professional researcher that needs the reminding over the student or neophyte researcher. Most of the young or rookie researchers are so intimidated by our rules and regs and having to sign documents agreeing to behave in a certain way, that they don't tend to try and break those rules and regs and when they do, it often it is out of their unfamiliarity with the process or their inability to process the large volume of instructions they've received all in one go for the very first time. What are we left to blame it on when an experienced researcher challenges the standards so?

So can I beg an exchange of gifts? If you'll try to be forgiving of the occasional archivist that seems to dwell too deeply in that culture of despair that assumes that professional researchers will break the rules, I'll try myself to continue to give the practiced researchers the benefit of the doubt and not assume that it is simple contrariness that leads them to contravene our policies. Perhaps you, setting the professional and proper standard you do, will help bring some of those poor archivists up out of that slough of despond occasionally. As I, setting a helpful and courteous tone, may remind our wonderful and compliant researchers that I do respect their credentials and experience and value their time with us.

And if you ever meet up with that researcher who once told us that every time he goes to a new archives he tries to convince the archivists that he knows nothing about research so they'll do his work for him? Well, I have a favor to ask on that score. Several favors, really. I'm sure I'll be able to pay them back, someday.

Your fellow soldier in the good fight,
Attila the Archivist

Sunday, May 22, 2011

once more, with feeling

I'm going to explain this once, at length, and then I hope never to have to explain it again.

The shoes thing.

I've taken a lot of grief over the years about my shoes. I'll probably continue to take a lot of grief over the years about my shoes. I have no doubt that I'm going to sound cranky at times in the following. I'm not so much cranky as just tired of having to explain myself. I'm not mad at y'all, I'm not asking for apologies, I'm just asking for a few of you to let up a little. Here goes.

To the fellow archivists who doubted my wisdom and/or sanity at the Pittsburgh SAA when I wore forest green suede high heeled pumps on a rainy walking tour of Falling Water.  I'll never regret it, because over those shoes I struck up what was to become a long friendship with Jodi Allison-Bunnell. But here's the background story. It was my second SAA, ever. I had attempted to sign up for the tour earlier, to be told it was sold out. When I arrived at the registration desk that morning, all dressed up in my professional clothes for a day of professional networking, I ran into Rand Jimerson who knew of my interest in the tour and told me that they'd chartered an extra bus and I could go if I wanted, only I had to leave NOW. No chance to run back up to the room and change. My preference would not have been to wear green suede spike-heeled pumps over what was a quarter mile hike across a mud road to the house and without a coat, but my only other choice was to miss the tour altogether and I'm not sorry I went. It was a great tour and besides, I netted Jodi A-B.

To the fellow archivist who, when we met up after I'd spent a vacation day shopping, said to me: "you bought 4 pairs of shoes in one day? I haven't bought 4 pairs of shoes in the last 4 years." This wasn't exactly a spree of criminal proportion.  One was a pair of winter boots of the type which I find it nearly impossible to find (more on that in a bit) and one was a pair of sneakers which I wear nearly every day when I work out on my elliptical and which replaced a much-beloved, much-worn 12 year-old pair of Avia sneaks that were no longer up to the task. And all checked in at together at less than $60, a heckuva sale. Frankly, your admission that you don't regularly replace your shoes--and I know you work out very regularly--should not be anything to be bragged over. How can your geezer shoes possibly be doing your feet any favors with all that athletic activity?

To the people who keep giving me shoe-related items: I appreciate the thought, really, I do, but please stop. What I need you to understand is that I have no interest in shoe earrings, shoe soap, shoe bottles, shoe calendars, shoe holiday ornaments, shoe spatulas, shoe bottle openers, shoe artwork, shoe shower curtains, shoe figurines, and anything that resembles a shoe that can't actually be worn as a shoe. On my feet. For several hours a day.

To the colleagues and friends, now and in every job I've ever had, who when I wear flats for over 2 days in a row make the point of saying something about it to me or who insist on introducing me to new co-workers or professional colleagues or who-have-you by drawing attention to my shoes: your interest in my footwear is far more obsessive and fetishistic than mine. (I'm far too tired to go look up if fetishistic is a word, sorry.) I wear what I feel like wearing, what matches what I've got on, what works for that day, what was sitting closest to the front door as I was running out it. I really, truly, don't spend much time thinking about it. If you really want to obsess about my footwear? My full permission, only please, leave me out of it?

To all the shoe manufacturers who think it's amusing to put flat, smooth soles or open toes on winter boots: you should be ashamed of yourselves.

To those of you who worry about me shortening my Achilles tendon by wearing heels all the time: thank you, but your concern is unnecessary. I spend most of my home life barefoot. I also spend a great deal of my leisure time in tennies. I own--and need--several pairs of hiking boots for my summer berry-picking and other wanderings in the semi-wilds of Alaska. Those tendons are in great shape. Trust me, if my doc could figure out a health reason to get me to stop wearing heels, she would. Same thing for bunions, corns, hammer toes. Not a problem here.

And now that I've alienated at least half my colleagues, co-workers, and friends, here's the explanation. It's relatively simple.

I have a motor memory and coordination deficiency. If you ever want to see any member of my immediate family burst into uncontrollable frenzies of laughter, just use the phrase "It's like learning to ride a bike." My big brother is particularly susceptible to that one, since he's the guy who had to teach me both times as a child. Every spring, the first bike ride is still a bit of a challenge. I've learned how to swim 4 times. I cannot swim now. My mother who taught knitting to all sorts of strangers and friends for years, tried to teach me how to knit at least 3 times. I can't knit. I had to learn how to drive a stick shift twice, though the first time was in a 1973 Beetle, so that may not count. All of you who learn to do some sort of physical behavior and hit a point where you can do it more-or-less involuntarily? Not me. I mostly have to think about all of it. About the only thing I've ever managed to get to that point on is driving a stick.

So how does that translate to wearing high heels? My very conservative mother (I couldn't get my ears pierced til 16, had to wear a dress to school at least twice a week through all of elementary and junior high, couldn't go to movies, couldn't go dancing, etc) struggled with my lack of coordination for years. She took victories when she could find them. And so when one Sunday before church the fifth-grade me put on the Nordstrom's plain black pumps she'd put out for herself to wear that day and walked around the living room in them, the most expensive pair of shoes she'd ever bought for herself and given inflationary rates probably still the most expensive pair of shoes she's ever bought for herself, she let me wear them. That Sunday, and for many Sundays to come. And also went out and bought me some more age-appropriate and inexpensive heels of my own.

So I started early with heels and wore them regularly. In other words, years of experience and training.

And my best heel height is between 2.5" and 4". I can do a 4.5 if it's built exactly right (which most shoes--of all heights--are not) but anything above that, I can't do.

Why do I mention the heel height thing? I not only have a motor memory and coordination problem, I also forget that I have a motor memory and coordination problem. When I wear heels in the proper height range? I don't forget. I become very careful about how I walk. When I wear flats or low heels, I tend to forget. I tend to treat them like I'm barefoot. I've seriously sprained an ankle twice in my life: the first time I was wearing sneakers (was walking sideways down some steps, missed the edge, and ankle touched the step below while foot was still on the edge of the step above) and the second time I was wearing a pair of 1" kitten heels (freshly waxed tile, heel went out from underneath me, ankle again touched the ground while I remained upright.) Neither of those events would have happened in real heels since I would have been much more careful about my foot placement.  The most recent time I seriously injured my foot/ankle, I was pulling a flatbed handtruck loaded with 500+ lbs of records, walked in front of it, and ran the protruding front end of the flatbed into the back of my ankle/lower calf. I was wearing flats at the time. Had I been wearing heels? The cart would have collided with the upper part of the shoe's heel and probably broken it. My ankle would have been fine. But again, if I'd been wearing heels, I probably would have been thinking about what I was doing and never would have walked in front of the cart.

I don't wear uncomfortable heels. If my toes can't do at least 4 hours in them, they're not for me. I don't wear shoes that don't fit properly, that are too large or too small. I don't wear shoes constructed to put my weight on the balls of my feet because I walk heel-toe, all the time, and when I stand, my weight is on my heels and not the front end of my foot, which explains why I can't wear anything above 4.5 inches which at the heel height/foot length ratio would force me to put the weight forward.  If it has a pointy toe, my toes are at the widest part of the shoe box, not crammed down into that tip. The arch of the shoe has to bend with my foot as I walk, thus no wedges, platforms, or thick heels. I also tend to have several pairs around because swapping them out regularly also helps me avoid the rare repetitive stress injuries that could be caused by wearing the same pair of shoes for days on end. Are you getting the picture that I'm super picky and careful about my shoes and shoe-wearing? The winter boots that I purchase for everyday wear--on the rare occasions I can find them--have lug soles and spike heels. The soles provide the traction most of the time, and the heels work just like studded tires do for your car when you're trying to stop on a layer of snow or ice.

To illustrate the winter boots point: a few years ago I was in Fairbanks in November for a work meeting. They'd just had a thaw/freeze cycle, leaving the streets and sidewalks covered with a half-inch thick sheet of glare ice. Two wonderful colleagues and gentlemen, Bob Forshaw and Jim Simard, and I were walking from the university to Bob's house to pick up Bob's car so he could drive Jim and I to dinner and then to the airport. Bob and Jim were both wearing standard Alaskan winter boots. I was wearing a pair of spike-heeled lug-soled boots (they looked exactly like steel-toed construction work boots, if you can imagine those in lilac, with pointy toes, and a 4" stiletto heel). The guys were clearly worried about my walking ability under the circumstances, but after an initial foray into the topic, took my edged "I'll be fine" as a definitive hint to leave it alone and as the gentlemen they are, let the subject be. About 15 minutes into our 20 minute walk, Bob slid sideways on the ice--he didn't go down, but it was a near thing. Jim assisted him with his balance and then graciously offered me his arm. I smiled and declined. Ten steps later Jim went sideways. He didn't go down, but it was a near thing, and he almost took Bob out with him. Once he recovered, I smiled and offered him my arm. He took it and we walked safely the rest of the way to Bob's house.

So, believe me when I tell you I'm safer and more comfortable in the heels that I wear. The Pollyanna Arlene occasionally tries to convince herself that this focus others have on her shoes that results in anything but complimentary phrases is light and unintended jealousy. For those of you for whom that is true, please stop taking my foot attire as a criticism of your own: I realize that in this case, I am an original created by some very unusual circumstances of both nature and nurture, and what is right for me is not likely to be right for the vast majority of people around me. By wearing heels, I am not casting aspersions on your own choice of shoes. For the most part I try not to comment negatively on the footwear of those around me (even when they're in shoes I regard as being evidence of the decline and fall of civilization and no, I'm not going to tell you what brands those are since that would be mean-spirited. Not to mention that those shoe manufacturers have plenty of money to hire attorneys.)  It's also not vanity. I'll admit I like pretty or eye-catching shoes but comfort will always take precedence over looks for me. And I'm not being profligate. The most I've ever paid for a pair of shoes is just over $200 and that was a pair of dress black leather winter boots I bought this last winter that I fully expect will last me for many years to come, and most of the rest of my stash cost no more than $20-$30 (I'm good at finding sales).

To Erin, who recently said about me: "I've witnessed her walking on ice with more grace in a pair of heels than anyone in a pair of those ice grabber shoes. I was stunned at how effortless she is in heels in all I'm a believer." Erin, I love you. I also love your own taste in shoes and knowing that I could never walk in most of them is one of the few things keeping me from stealing them from you.

To Val who, about a year after I left my job at the Utah State Archives, called me up and told me he'd heard the click of high heels approaching the research center that day and was gravely disappointed when the woman who rounded the corner wasn't me and that he missed me, thank you. Sense-memory is an amazing thing, isn't it? I miss you too.

To my immediate family who, though they make every attempt to point out every deficiency they can find in me, still have never been rude about the shoe thing and who occasionally have encouraged it, thank you for that.

Related to that, to Joel, a beloved nephew who as a teen not only spent hours with me in a shoe store but managed to pick out shoes for me that still bring in compliments years later, your taste in shoes is impeccable and trust me when I tell you that this trait will serve you in very good stead with women all through your life.

To the guy walking across campus near me one snowy winter night last November who blurted out "Wow, you can really move in those!" That was very sweet. But please be careful: judging by the expression on her face, I think your wife was plotting to tackle me, rip my boots off, and beat you to death with them. And I suspect I might have been next in line for grievous bodily harm.

To Jenny, who met me over a pair of fantabulous shoes she was wearing back when we were both undergrads in the dim past: thank you for introducing me to some of the few men I know who really appreciate my footwear, your own innate and well-developed respect for heels, and your company on countless shoe-shopping expeditions. You've been one of my mainstays, one of the very few to whom I have never, ever had to explain this.

And for those men and women who are willing and able to compliment me on my shoes without any extra or hidden meanings, thank you. Glad I could brighten your day in so minor a way, even though I'm doing it not for you, but for me.

It's about comfort, it's about safety, it's about what works for me. So please, can we stop with the "I don't know how you do it," or "I'm just concerned about your health" or "are you sure you're going to be okay on this walk" or all those other statements that often start out with a sort-of compliment that morphs into an implied criticism of my footwear choices?

Really. I'm okay. I'll be fine. And if I do stumble, I'll smile at your "I told you so," knowing in my heart that it wasn't the shoes, it was the distraction of your company that kept me from paying close enough attention to how I was walking.

And if you need an arm for balance, let me know. I'll be glad to offer you one.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

the sense of humor thing

Or: why you should never play a practical joke on your professional association.

Thesis fundamental: Program Committees have their senses of humor surgically removed.

Conclusion: You end up with things on your CV that you would prefer, really, not to appear on your CV.

Evidentiary piece #1: A number of years ago, somebody called me up and asked if I'd be willing to participate in a session on digital projects for NWA's annual meeting, that year in Olympia, WA. Or something like that. I don't recall the exact sequence of events, but I must have written some of the session proposal because the session title was all my own work. Consortial digital projects? I thought it would be funny to propose a temporary title: Multiple partners, multiple audiences.

Imagine my dismay when the Program Committee accepted the proposal with no requested changes in title. I consoled myself with the thought that at least I'd been smart enough to suggest it as a paper session with me as one of the speakers instead of a panel discussion. Why? As presenter of a paper I actually had a paper title to go in my CV when I went up for tenure and did NOT have to include that terrible session title. Unlike my pal Anne Foster who did not present a paper but chaired the session, and who is either the most forgiving of women or who never picked up on the joke either. (If the latter is true: Anne, I swear I never meant this to happen. Though I notice you got tenure too in spite of it.)

Karmic note: some years later I was bemoaning evidentiary piece #1 while walking somewhere with Jodi Allison-Bunnell, a good friend, regular conference roommate, and no slouch in the thinking department, and she stopped dead on the street and said to me: "I was on that program committee. I never spotted the joke." And promptly looked appalled. At herself and not me, I hope, but I didn't have the courage to ask.

Evidentiary piece #2a: In 1998, at my very first SAA meeting ever, I was part of a session on archives & archivists in the movies & novels. That's another story and probably further evidence in support of my thesis here, but at any rate, the session participants were Frank Boles, Danna Bell-Russel, and Kathy Marquis. Pretty high-end company, myself excluded, to be doing what we were doing. Fast-forward to the SAA meeting in San Francisco in '08 when Danna and I were sitting in the lobby lounge of the Hilton and I said to her: "Wouldn't it be fun if the four of us could do another "lighter side of archives" session together?" We decided we couldn't do a reprise of '98 since somebody else was doing archives and the movies as a regular SAA event and doing it very well indeed.  We realized we needed to do something nobody else would ever consider doing. Our eventual brainstorming focus was: "What can't get published in American Archivist?"

Well, once we had that, the ideas started flying (mainly from me) and getting vetoed (mainly by Danna, who is frequently the good angel sitting on my shoulder telling me to shut up NOW.) I suggested archivists' shoes, Danna told me that was mean-spirited. I suggested "What's on Council's iPods?" and that didn't get a verbal response, but her expression was sufficient. A haiku contest was one of the early winners, and that stayed in. But neither of us wanted to do that, so we decided Frank could take that one on. Kathy would once again be our Vanna White of the session: doing whatever pointing needed to be done. Danna was pondering something musical or blog-oriented, and that left me with the one piece I'd never written, never thought I could or should write, and that was the one topic I'd left out, deliberately, of my thesis on archives and archivists in fiction: archivists and sex.

Note that we hadn't yet consulted either Kathy or Frank. There's actually an explanation for that. I was considering this a giant practical joke. It would become the session proposal that would never die. We'd propose, the PC would turn us down, we'd re-propose the following year to be turned down by that PC, and so on and so forth. No Program Committee would ever seriously consider something like this.

The second Kathy heard about the haiku contest concept, she immediately nixed being relegated to the Vanna White role and demanded that the haiku section be hers. Which essentially meant that Frank was our Vanna, but we decided to be a little more respectful of him--he was President that year, after all--and call him Chair.

You see where this is going, don't you?  Yes, I'll admit my logic had been faulty to this point. There's a good role for the "lighter side of archives" fare at SAA. I'd even argue that it's essential. But I honestly thought that this was so far beyond that, that we were in the clear. Well, we weren't. The Program Committee bought it. Asked for 2 changes: the first of which was the session title (which okay, was really boring before, so boring I can't even recall what it was) and the second of which was that Frank be removed from the proposal. Apparently there's some sort of rule about SAA Presidents not participating in sessions in the year of their presidency. Well, that kind of wrecked my whole reunion concept but nobody said Frank couldn't attend and if we dragooned him to hand out the haiku prizes at the event itself, that might be good enough.

But back to the a-step-too-far part. The truth is, aside from my contribution, we really hadn't gone a step too far. Danna's proposal & resulting paper about archivists who blog outside of their professional responsibilities, was a fascinating look at the creative worlds so many of our co-professionals inhabit. She even managed to provide some practical advice for attendees on how to track blogs. And the response we received to the haiku contest calls was another amazing display of the creativity of so many archivists.  The winning entries as well as many of the other entries are now posted on the SAA site. Go and take a look. The finalized session title Archives After Hours, actually suggested by a Silicon Valley-type friend of mine with no connection whatsoever to the archival profession (hey Jen!), was not only incredibly accurate, but somewhat lyrical as well. We did good, as it turned out. And even some of the naysayers who attended walked away, if not overly impressed, willing to admit it wasn't the total waste of time they'd anticipated.

Okay, so maybe that wasn't such a strong piece of evidence. But I haven't arrived at the most telling part of the evidence. You see, the December email from the co-chairs of the PC approving the proposal was a huge shock to me. I honestly had never figured that the PC was going to go for it, or if they did, that they weren't just going to cut my piece right out.

Evidentiary piece #2b: Here's the thing: in another (dumb) moment of titling whimsy, I thought it would be funny to call my proposed putative academic paper on archivists in sexual fiction: Archives Uncut. Now, okay, I probably should have grabbed a clue that people weren't getting the joke when neither Danna nor Kathy said anything about it. But I know it's not that obscure of a gutter reference because when I handed the draft paper over to a younger librarian for proofreading and response, her first response was indeed "please, please, please tell me that's the actual paper title and not a placeholder!" So not only did the PC not ask us to dump my paper, they missed the double entendre, too.

And the worst part isn't that I now have this paper title associated with my name out on the net. If you go websearching my name (well, at least before I published this), you'd have to dig pretty far before finding this reference. So it's not a big deal for me to keep it off my CV if I want. I paid for conference attendance myself, did all of my research and writing on my own time and own computer, and so I can reasonably claim that this wasn't a product of my professional life. (Though come to think of it, claiming it's a product of my non-professional life probably isn't any better.)

The worst part? The worst part was that I'd forced myself into the situation where I actually had to do research on the topic. I had to go find appropriate fictional sources on the topic. And since some of these were not available, really, really not available through ILL, I had to buy them. You know how Amazon uses previous purchases to make recommendations? You should see my recommendations list these days. (Karmic revenge 1.) And not only did I have to purchase, I had to READ them. (Karmic revenge 2.) Let me tell you, there's a reason libraries don't buy this stuff. Several reasons, in fact.

In self-defense, I ended up writing one of the most academically-oriented lit-crit papers it's ever been my displeasure to write. The process of which was no pile of cuddly puppies, either.

So, in conclusion, this is why you should never, ever play practical jokes when proposing professional activities. I refuse to believe I am, I desperately need to believe that I am not, the only person on earth to whom this could happen. So consider me your cautionary tale. And let's hope I've finally learned the lesson too.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

you've got some 'splaining (not) to do

I was on the phone today for a while with somebody who is about to become a member of the family. At one point she said "tell me again what it is you do?" And I said "I'm an archivist." Now usually with that, I go on to some variant of the elevator speech, but for whatever perverse reason, I just left it there. Without even pausing, she said "Do you like your job?" I said: "I love my job." And that was that.

Here's the thing: I still have no idea if this nice woman has any clue what an archivist is. And it was the most extraordinary thing: I hadn't realized how freeing it would be not to care! Does she need an intensive--if short--explanation of what it is archivists do and why we matter? Probably not. Most of my family doesn't really understand what archivists are or do or I wouldn't have aunts who throw out years of family and friend photographs on the grounds that "nobody could possibly care about these." Or  a father who asks me for advice on getting conservation work done on a circa 1920 KJV bible.  See? None of the ones who are related to me by actual blood understand what it is I do nor do they particularly care. Nobody related to me has ever read my thesis (and it's actually kind of fun) or any other paper or presentation I've ever given, for that matter. And aside from the photo-destroying aunt, no harm done. It's not going to affect our relationship as family members.

Here's the thing I'm starting to suspect. Bear with me a bit here, this isn't fully realized yet and I could later decide I'm completely wrong about this. But at the moment, here's my theory: Somewhere in all of our hindbrains, we've all become convinced that if people don't understand what it is that we do, they can't possibly value it. And if they don't value it, we'll all be unemployed and sitting on street corners with a sign saying "Spare change for a temperature & humidity controlled vault please?" while the archives buildings burn around us.

Look, those elevator speeches I referenced above? They're pretty succinct. Accurate, as far as that goes. Nice encapsulations of what most archivists do or think they do. A bit epic, even, which is always handy. But I really wonder what purpose they serve. I wonder if they'd actually give non-archivists an understanding of what it is archivists do, or if they're really (oh, this is probably heretical, I'm probably going to archival professional hell for this one) more for archivists or maybe even historians than for anybody else. How many non-archivists would even do the thinking time to really grasp those concepts?  If I were a little less lazy and a lot better at designing and carrying out psychological experiments, I might even start going up to strangers and see whether or not the elevator speeches help them picture what archivists do and why archivists matter.

But I'm sort of getting off track of where I wanted to go with this and I did it right there in that last sentence of the last paragraph. I've been noticing that a lot of us of late (okay, me) seem to be focusing on making everybody around us understand what it is we do on a daily basis. Does everybody need to picture what archivists do to get that archival work matters? Really? Seriously? Why are we (okay, I) drawing the conclusion that the only way to get people to value archival work is by giving them crash courses in it? An awful lot of other professionals seem to go blithely on their way, bringing in the funding, without spending the kind of time that we've (okay, I've) been spending explaining ourselves and our daily work.

A while back (a long while back) I dated a Navy engineer who was training with nuclear reactors so he could go work on one of the nuclear subs for the rest of his enlistment period. Did I really understand what it was he did? No. Did I think it was important? I think the answer to that would be a fairly resounding yes. (Not that I approve--necessarily--of the development and use of nuclear power but that's a whole 'nother discussion which I'm not prepared to have now. Or ever, really.)

And I think of all the other professions I think are important such as oncology, and bank auditing, and cetacean biology, and epidemiology, and criminal justice. Do I really comprehend what it is the people working in those fields do? Not so much. But guess what? It may not be a proportional rate, but as much as we need them? They need us too. Somebody has to take care of the data sets and documents they either create or need to access to do what it is they do.

But again, I digress from my main point. Is explaining what we do the most efficient way to get people to understand that we're important? I'm beginning to think not. I'm beginning to think that this constant stream of words is just boring people. Perhaps the archival promotion isn't the elevator speech contest, but the "I found it in the archives" contest, which skips the verbiage and goes straight to the results. (okay, slight digression: I would have said something like "I got it in the archives" instead of found which runs a little too close to my most-hated term in contemporary archivy: "hidden collections." But that's another discussion for another day and I realize my suggestion needs some serious wordsmithing because it's a bit too reminiscent of transmissable diseases).  Bringing the past to the present?  A lovely thought. A house buyer being able to track ownership of their land to see if the creek that runs through their property ever had a silver mine's tailings pile on the banks? That's practical. That's real. That matters. That's archival.

So bravo, the good folks at SAA, for the I Found It In the Archives promotion for making it practical and real and relevant and more about the what than the how.

And to beat a dead horse just in case I haven't made my division of concepts clear: while I don't think that everybody needs to know what it is we do, I do think that people need to know that archives matter. Maybe not everybody, but a lot of people need to know that. Probably far more than currently do. Because sooner or later, they're going to need some resource in our protection and to which we provide access. Sometimes it'll be life and death, sometimes it won't.

But for now, for this nice woman marrying into this family? Here's what I want to say to her: "Oh, honey. Do you really know what you're getting into?"

And that's in the custody of no archivist anywhere. At least, I sincerely hope not.