Answer: It Depends
My Guess: Donor Agreement (I have a lot left to learn...)
And so it all began. On my first day in class my fellow attendees and I dove into archival ethics, case studies, and group discussions (using the former to flesh out the latter). We moved through two chapters of our primary text (Developing and Maintaining Practical Archives by Gregory S. Hunter) at lightning speed, learning essential terminology left and right. And through it all we found out that when faced with decisions in the archives there is one response more than any other that you will hear: it depends. It is both reassuring and unnerving that armed with this single phrase I may now be able to fake my way through conversations with experienced, professional archivists without seeming like a total novice. Or so our instructor told us (though I submit that the results of my pretest may suggest otherwise). Now that I've gotten my money's worth out of the class (insert laughter here) let's see what else is in store.
Front of the GA Archives in Morrow, GAThe morning kicked off with introductions from our instructor, Tim Ericson, and members of the Archives Staff who helped to put the institute together. Then, straight to work. Working in groups of four, we tackled the first case study. In the scenario each of us had just been hired as an archivist at a community archives and were confronted with a useful but troublesome collection of health surveys. The nature of the questions on said surveys, coupled with the personal information (names, birth date, social security number) provided, raised questions about how to prepare this sensitive material for researcher use while accounting for issues of privacy and adhering to the ethical code. We explored the range of possibilities for dealing with this collection, from opening it sans restrictions to disposing of the collection entirely - favoring some options in between the extremes. The exercise encouraged my classmates and I to work together and talk through some of the underlying issues in groups, followed by commentary from Tim.
Two chapter overviews, a guided list of terminology, and several more case studies later, I had completed my first day. I am happy to report that I now have an understanding of the characteristics of records and an overview history of archives (initiated by the French Revolution). The group work and other case studies we reviewed were great - putting each of us into the position of a decision maker when considering what records to keep and why. And speaking as someone returning to the classroom for the first time in a few years, the case studies are a great way to cover material in an engaging way that pushes folks in the class to interact.
End of day one: I have lots left to learn. But, I'm heading home to reach chapters 3 & 4 in our text with great ambitions for tomorrow. Up next: appraisal! I can't wait. I'll let you know what I find out.
Your Archivist in Training,