After a welcome breakfast for new participants at CITRA, the conference proper was opened by keynote speaker Professor Henry Frendo. Frendo surveyed the current uses of archives, and touched on the purposes of recordkeeping. As a re-statement of familiar challenges it set the context for this conference addressing education, training and development of future professionals.
The first plenary session looked at “what…employers expect from archivists today?”. Matthew Gatt described the experience of the Maltese Information Technology Agency as it developed a significant role over the last few years. These experiences portrayed the fast-changing times, which were further elaborated by Kuan Wah Pitt, Director of the National Archives of Singapore.
Pitt explored in a paper shorter than his planned slides his “ideal singaporean archivist for the 21st century” explaining that this was currently his aspiration. Placing appraisal firmly at the centre of the archivists’ duties he explored characteristics such as intelligence (both IQ and EQ), capacity to lead and to nurture (passing on tacit knowledge), and ambition/strategic vision. The majority of these characteristics Pitt identified were skills and abilities we tend to class as “soft” and which professionals are generally expected to learn on the job. Indeed although Pitt included “technical competencies” (which could be described as curriculum topics) such as how to preserve a record in a particular format, by far the majority of the characteristics he identified were these soft skills. Although this theme was not explored further during the session this is part of the context to wider professional development beyond the initial training and education and I hope it is a theme to which the conference returns later.
Although there was opportunity for question and discussion following the plenary session, delegates were more focussed on the coffee break! However it struck me that whilst we are able to or are attempting to identify a list of competencies both at a national level and internationally, we also need to focus on the capacity to learn and develop them. Perhaps our session tomorrow on mentoring, and the sessions on CPD will start to draw this theme out. Certainly the capacity to learn and to identify is an aspect of the personal and professional development planning, activity and evaluation cycle that we try to encourage through the Society of Archivists’ Registration scheme.
Three parallel sessions followed, of which I attended “What is the relevance of archival education and training for indigenous and marginalized communities?” The first two papers surveyed the situations in the Pacific islands and in Africa. The National Archivist of Fiji described the potential opportunity offered by Freedom of Information legislation to address the recognition of the profession, to build the recordkeeping capacity that underpins access to information, and to deal with issues of training and resources.
Shadrack Kutuu then surveyed the situation as regards archival education and training in African countries, drawing on a wide-ranging published paper. I haven’t yet been able to read this yet but it seems to offer a useful summary of the varying schools of thought with regard to archival education and training as well as further detail of programmes and institutions, so I’ll be downloading it from http://tinyurl.com/yhcun8h soon.
The third paper given by Arike Oke of Hull History Centre broadened the discussion by offering a practical example of development of recordkeeping professionals through the positive action traineeships which were part of Birmingham City’s “Connecting Histories” project which ran from 2005-7. Underlying Oke’s paper was the argument that diversity of communities should be represented in the holdings and in the workforce, and the importance of heritage in the construction of self-identity.
The short discussion following the papers was wide-ranging, including the importance of orality in African and Pacific communities, and the importance of access to affordable education training. The core curriculum for recordkeeping was also briefly discussed. However I felt that the session lacked the dimension of professional diversity and self-scrutiny, which I imagine the experiences of formal bi-culturalism in New Zealand and Canada could have illuminated? On reflection at the end of the session I did feel that although the UK has been slower than some other countries to consider the implications of postmodernism for archival theory and practice, it seems that we are more advanced in exploring some of these issues through doing – in particular practical work on and with community archives, and the contribution of heritage to community cohesion and engagement.