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What Is An Archives and Why Should I Care?

Back in university days I was fortunate to get a summer job at the Saskatchewan Archives. It was an interesting position and the people I worked for and with, were most supportive. 

However, I failed to really appreciate the significance, at that time, of just what the Archives is all about.

Much more recently, in fact just a few weeks ago, something happened to drive home the importance of what an archivist provides. The incident was a simple happenstance brought on by the thoughtfulness of a fellow church member.

Pat Carter brought a scrapbook her grandmother had compiled to the coffee hour after church. Pat said, “You like history Morley. Perhaps you might like to look at my grandmother’s collection of newspaper clippings. They are not thematic, nor are they necessarily related to each other. They are just clippings my mother liked and saved.” 

Pat was right in her description. But as I looked through the scrapbook, I not only found several of the clippings interesting, I also realized something else. Here was an amateur archivist at work. Pat’s grandmother was preserving for others what she thought history was all about. If she hadn’t bothered, her interpretation would be forever lost. 

Now those artifacts, news clippings, can be passed on to others for their own contemplation and use in interpreting the significance of the history around us.

Soon after this, I returned to our own Prince Albert Historical Society’s Archives, with a renewed interest in just why we need an archives.

Here, Jamie Benson, one of the volunteer archivists (Prince Albert does not have a paid archivist) was more than willing to sit and share what he and others like him do.

Jamie has compiled an “Archives Manual” that carefully outlines what an archives is and how ours is organized and expanded.

I will now quote extensively from the manual Jamie put together.

“An archives is a place in which collected public or corporate records are kept.”

“An artifact is a product of human art or workmanship”

“The present (Prince Albert) archival collection contains not only accessioned (acquired) items and photographs, but also a considerable amount of reference material relating to Prince Albert and area, including such things as school yearbooks, Directories, newspapers, and books ... used for research into local history, and for answering queries about people and events.”

“The Archives will accept historical materials of any medium: textual records, obituaries and other local events; photographic negatives and prints and other visual records: maps, plans, and architectural records, sound recordings and oral history audio records.”

“The Archives is available to everyone, from academics... to members of the public looking for genealogical and family connections.” 

Yes, Jamie, his present volunteer colleagues, and those who preceded them, have created a significant and irreplaceable tool for all of us. But the real significance of what they have done is summed up best in the guideline our volunteers follow:

“If knowledge of its past triumphs and failures, its good times and bad times are important to a community, some interested citizens must take on the responsibility of recording and preserving the history of that community.”

Bill Smiley, a previous archives volunteer, was so committed to this goal that our archives are named ‘The Bill Smiley Archives.’

Yes, thank you to our local archivists and all archivists. Yes, we benefit from their efforts. And yes, they truly contribute to our greater appreciation of just who we are and what our community is. 

May we all learn to access what has been preserved for us, and may we all think carefully about how we can both add to what is there and grow from what we find – find in The Archives. 

Yes! It truly is a gold mine!

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Wednesday January 12, 2022