Meta-morphosis: what’s in a name?

I recently attended the Archives and Records Association annual conference. The session I enjoyed the most was Jenny Bunn’s “We’re all digital archivists now?”, partly because it involved discussion (I do love a good natter), but also it seemed very relevant to Meta-morphosis, and other work we’re carrying out here at the IOE archives (see this post on the recent Digital Directorate project).

In the session, Jenny asked who would be happy to be called a “Digital Archivist”. Being the only person in the room to raise their hand got me thinking. Now I wouldn’t say my job currently involves enough digital records to warrant a name change, however, I would be happy to be called that at some point. It really made me think about the potential benefits of this shift in title, and about possibilities for people’s reluctance to take it on. Some of my musings included;

  • For those of us in a hybrid records situation, could the addition of “digital” give us a bit more clout within our organisations?
  • Could it also facilitate a bit more recognition/assumed understanding of what it is we might possibly be doing all day (of which some, at least, will be correct)?
  • The digital records environment is forcing us to throw the old rules regarding hierarchy and standards right out of the window, it would seem this can feel disconcerting, and even dangerous to a profession embedded in standards and rules that other people don’t understand (yet often need to in order to effectively access archival material). Is there a relectance to let go of some of that secrecy, including the title that more often not has to be explained?
  • Are we “Archivists” for all material types, and therefore need no prefix?
  • Does there need to be a division in skills, or should we all be thinking about ensuring proficiency in both the traditional, and “new” skills? After all, even those working with ancient manuscripts create catalogues in digital format, and will quite often be involved in digitisation projects, which presumably they would like to be available well into the future

I’d be interested to hear whether librarians are facing anything similar, and what your job titles mean to you (if anything). And of course whatever the archivists (digital or not) have to say about the matter.

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