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“In thinking about archival strategies, we need to think not only about how to redefine goals or measures, redefine the actors, and change degree of risk or reward, but also how to identify opportunities and develop methods that exploit them.” Archival Strategies. American Archivist, vol. 58, 1994, pp.374-407 by David Bearman.

In 1989 David Bearman challenged the existing hegemony of redundant archival practices in his essay Archival Methods. Due to a “shortfall between documented needs and proven methods…greater than one order of magnitude”, he called for a “redefinition of the problems, the objectives, the methods or the technologies appropriate to the archival endeavor”. No process or purpose was spared in his wide-ranging critique: selection and appraisal; retention and preservation; arrangement and description; access and use; and the value of recorded memory and cultural continuity.

Bearman’s diagnosis seems prescient and perhaps even more persuasive today. For example, the contemporary records manager’s general inability to manage email records, on both a personal and more importantly organisational level, is a pertinent example of the “order of magnitude” cul-de-sac in which we find ourselves when our goals are uncertain and our methods no longer practical.

Bearman further developed his critique in the 1994 essay Archival Strategies, recommending new strategic objectives for archives as evidence, and suggesting oblique tactical steps to reach these measurable outcomes via internal and external levers for change. The tactics included implementing self-documenting systems, letting users describe records, leaving records with record creators and appraising business functions not records. He advised that “it is important to keep in mind that archival strategies produce archival outcomes, they are not necessarily strategies directed or conducted by archivists”.

I have adopted Bearman’s essay as the unofficial manifesto for this blog, as an example to myself and others how bold and creative the archivist and strategic information manager must become. Coincidentally, the excellent Future Proof blog has also been writing a manifesto this week, and the need to be strategic is first in the list. Are there any more manifestos out there to suggest a revolutionary “archival spring” sometime soon?

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