First European Conference for Archival Educators and Trainers
Archival Education and Information Management: Rivals or Allies?
by Jozo Ivanovic, the Croatian National Archives
Concepts of education are closely linked to the formation of disciplines the educational programs are designed for. In this sense, education serves for the reproduction of concepts and of the common framework of a discipline. The education, and the archival education in particular, is often perceived as a kind of initiation and integration into a community, whose members share some basic values, presumptions, and more or less ritual patterns of behavior. The institutions and rules are established that filter the imput, control what is admissible, and protect the integrity of the community.
Frameworks of disciplines are always conservative. This fact is sometimes explained as a necessary measure to protect the professional standards, and sometimes as a normal usual, and unavoidable, method by which so-called normal science works. Disciplines are restrictive, too, normalizing the problems and the content, and transforming it to fit in with some pre-established grid. This transformation is often conducted in a way that transforms the problems themselves, by simplifying them and producing some kinds of ‘virtual’ problems, which then become the very content of the discipline. Disciplines sometimes proceed in a more ideological way, positioning some particular answer rather than problems as their fundamental basis. Then, the aim becomes to protect the validity of the answer, not to search for better answers.
The search for the identity and the content of archival science is a good example of this procedure. A great part of the identity of the disciplines in the broader field of information management has been gained through the process of differentiation - a process that is well-known in psychology and sociology as self-definition through the other. We still are not able to get out of this way of thinking. This happens because the discussion is forced to lead to a conclusion that is declared from the very beginning as the only one acceptable. And, every concept that is developed, or found and imported from elsewhere, has to pay tribute, at least verbally, to the principle of provenance for example, whatever it be and however it be understood. Archival science has to exist and to be in exclusive possession of some concepts and competencies. But, it is not easy to find such concepts and competencies that do not exist elsewhere, sometimes for a considerable time. This is obviously the case with notions of context, provenance, or recordeness, and especially in so-called postmodernism in archival science.
To emphasize the reproductory function of the education means to take into account the perspective and the needs of teachers and of those who already are well-formed members of the profession rather then the needs and prospects of those who are to be educated. The consequence is that the education could be focused more on content and form - as it often is - than on requirements coming from the environment where the products of the educational process are to be implemented and tested. If there are frequent changes in the content of the education, and if it has to be adapted to changing requirements, then focusing on content instead of on the competitive ability of the product can lead to the lack of competencies and a reduction of the field where the products of the education can be implemented successfully. The question is, if we claim that the domain of our responsibilities includes all process-bound and business-related information, including the processes themselves, their contextuality, social and cultural functions and values, what does this mean in terms of competencies and education?
The other way to look at problems of education is to concentrate more on competencies, competitiveness, and the ability to cope with those problems we are expected to be able to deal with. What are those problems? Are they so different from the problems of information management in general? Looking from the outside, I think, we deliver the same class of services, which could be defined as supporting organizational (through records management) and social (through access and appraisal) processes by improving the functionality and maintaining the ecology of information and communication resources and their usability. If the problems and competencies are what matters, then the question of the relationship between disciplines becomes fruitless and unnecessary. So, what can be achieved by setting aside disciplinary frameworks and focusing more on competencies for information management as an organizational and social function?
On the other hand, the information management field is focusing more and more on content of information systems and data maintenance, which is a more important and more risky task than code maintenance. This leads to separation of data and business process modeling and maintenance from programs and infrastructure maintenance. Metadata activities become a core activity, e-business activities focus on the value of data for business processes, the way they are used and recorded by processes, and how the processes are recorded. This is basically what we call the records management, information and communication environment in which the business processes are conducted and documented. Without getting involved in this, the archives field will be reduced to historical archives.
The second thing I would like to stress is the domain of competencies, it is extending to the entirety of events, procedures, and effects that relate to the process-bound information. We are conscious that any description of the work we are doing is somehow too limited if reduced to what we call archival theory or methodology. We are, also, concerned about the competencies and competitiveness of the profession, and its intellectual and operational potential. The first step in extending the domain is well known: rejecting any fundamental distinction between archives and records management, and integrating the two domains into a common concept of records continuum.
This shift alone, without any other substantial addition, has improved our ability to analyze and to interpret the function of recording as a component of organizational and social processes and communication, and to address some more practical demands. I don’t think there is any substantial reason to stop here. The use of information, the needs for information in processes is often overlooked by archivists, But, from the perspective of participants in the processes, or in the logic of processes, there are no isolated areas that function for their own sake. Someone who is sensitive about contextuality should notice this and take this into account. Extending the competencies to the whole gives better chances in addressing complex problems. This is probably the most important thing in this context. It can be added that our theory says that records management shouldn’t be isolated from the organizational processes, except for the analysis.
The next matching point is analytical competencies: acquiring analytical competencies, tools, and methodologies. The average lack of such a kind of competencies is a big obstacle anywhere. In our case, the question is how many archivists are skilled in analyzing and optimizing process models? How many are experts in analyzing and designing data models, functions, and behavior, including functional aggregation like records, ‘in the conduct of the business processes’? Lack of analytical competencies can be an obstacle for being involved in programs and projects that are highly relevant for our business, because it limits the competitiveness. There are some promising achievements in the field of research, but our educational programs are a step or two behind those achievements. Adjustment of the educational programs to the demands is still a major challenge for archival education.
The fourth thing that should be mentioned here is the quality of the services we deliver. Here I don’t mean the services for the future - accomplished by collecting and keeping some records - but the services for the present time, by meeting the needs of our environment. Responsibility for the future doesn’t remove the same responsibility for the present time. We are still better in projecting future needs than meeting the present ones. Some conceptual reorientation would be welcomed here. Access to the records kept in archives is not the only service we can deliver, maybe even not the main service we are paid for. Collecting and ensuring access are an instrumental prerequisite for designing services. Professional competencies are also something that can be offered as a service, in a more competitive way than is the case now: a point where the education is essential.
Keeping up with changes and refreshing curricula is another weak point in most programs of archival education. The educational programs are exposed to the obsolescence, just as, or more so, than information technologies. The relatively small influence of external criteria in measuring quality, combined with a higher degree of self-sufficiency can only add to this tendency. The problem of curriculum development always appears to be more complicated and more demanding than it seems in the beginning, partly because of the disciplinary boundaries. It is only seemingly strange that in education, as in the science, the large programs change and adapt more promptly than the smaller ones. And, the best stimulus for keeping up with changes is exposure to the external judgment and demands. In this sense, keeping up with means to be open.
Openness and exposure to judgment from the outside are important for the average level of professional standards, image and general profile of the profession. These qualities may seem minor and secondary in an educational program, but the success and the destiny of the programs often depends more on these qualities than on the content and proclaimed aims of education. Most archival education programs are in fact training or postgraduate specialization. For most archivists archival science is the second professional identity, initiated by the institutional environment where they are employed, and this will probably continue in the near future, at least. Some substantial changes in the overall approach are needed if we want to change this.
Those changes, I think, can be based on two concepts of transformation. The first one is de-institutionalization. Our educational programs are dominated by archival institutions, often by a specific kind of archives, and even individual institutions. This restrains the education to some kind of extended training and limits the possibilities for program and curriculum development. The second one could be named deconstruction, or ‘de-professionalisation’, meaning that the education shouldn’t primarily serve to, and be designed for, the reproductory needs of the professional community. One of the products of the education is always some kind of professional identity, but it could be dangerous if it becomes the main target. The rule of psychological or craft-guild needs can be even more limiting than the rule of institutions.
As to the relationship between archival education and education(s) for information management, I think that concepts of de-institutionalization and de-professionalization are more promising than what is called harmonization and convergence, because the harmonization is conservative, conserving institutional and disciplinary frameworks. Confrontation of the archival domain with some developments in information management and the information sciences, and even more the confrontation with the problems that we are supposed to be able to deal with, could lead to both de-institutionalization and de-professionalization. I don’t see that any threat to our professional competencies and identity should follow from that. At least, some developments in archival theory and research, which are moving out of the traditional domain of archival theory and methodology, do not suggest that.
e-mail to Dr. Karsten Uhde, Date: 14.01.2005