Archives, Library, and Museum Leadership: Collaboration and Coalescence

I want to raise the profile of archivists and ensure that they are supported by their organizations and by an informed public that appreciates the value of their service. The vitality and growth of the field depends upon positioning professionals to be confident voices in a dynamic information environment.

Transformative change and advocacy can sometimes be a challenge because most cultural institutions value tradition more than innovation, but archivists must creatively respond to complex organizational and field-based issues. Archivists should cultivate skills to help them become better advocates for themselves, their repositories, and the profession as a whole.

One fundamental way to do this is to assist archives, library, and museum professionals to create cross-sector collaborations for our common benefit. At a time of dwindling financial support, cultural institutions will thrive only if they can prove that they provide unique, essential, and compelling value in the public’s eye. Levering resources by collaboration across institutions can achieve this, as well as delivering services that are organized around user needs and not professional sensibilities and silos.

While libraries, archives, and museums have taken separate routes to professionalization, the digital environment and its many opportunities for collaboration are unifying cultural institutions. Most users of heritage content seek quick and easy access to information on their research interests without much regard to source. In the networked environment, many potential patrons may bypass cultural heritage institutions for the less authoritative, but more comprehensive experience online offered by companies like Google and Amazon. Libraries, archives, and museums will have to provide competitive services.

The Internet is changing the way users approach archival research and their expectations. They have come to expect that cultural heritage content will be available digitally. They also assume they will be able to interact with their content and obtain research help virtually. The integration of the fields will become essential in maintaining relevance in an information landscape dominated by corporations. This competition will compel the information fields to think dynamically and creatively. We are up for the challenge.

At the same time, professional communities in the cultural heritage sector should work together in ways that do not compromise their necessary independence. Libraries, archives, and museums will continue to maintain their own cultures, traditions, and viewpoints, while finding the way forward together. The essence of their character will not be diluted through collaboration, but fortified through coalescence on specific pursuits. 

I’ve noticed that the projects I’m most drawn to were ones that united the strengths of each information sector field. In my experience, I’ve looked to museums for ways to tell stories better with archival holdings and to strategize on outreach activities. I’ve also called upon my library experience and education when performing reference interviews and offering information services to aid my colleagues and students in their research. In my writing, I’ve addressed an audience of professionals who work in some information capacity, regardless of education or professional background. My point of reference will always be at its essence archival, even as I borrow and implement the best practices of libraries and museums.

Leadership demands thinking bigger and being visionary about how projects can be planned and performed. When selecting and planning projects, for example, it is worth taking a moment to think about how the project could be transformed from delivering a suitable solution to being a project that catches the imagination of the public. 

Leading in an era of change and complexity is both daunting and exciting. Archivists who are equipped to work with others, prepared to look critically at what they do, and assist the people whom they serve will be capable of leading their organizations forward into the future. Cultural heritage fields—especially archives—must be forward thinking while still preserving the past. To prolong the existence of cultural heritage is our goal and our reward.

How do you think that professionals working in archives, libraries, museums, and similar environments can demonstrate leadership?

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