Today is International Archives Day, a day to acknowledge and promote the work of archivists and archives. You might not know that the Find & Connect web resource relies heavily on archivists and the records held within archives to create the website you see today.
Inquiries, commissions and apologies from around the world have endorsed the importance of records for people who spent time in ‘care’ as children. The accompanying recommendations place a high value on these records being made available and the International Council of Archives’ Universal Declaration on Archives recognises this more broadly:
Open access to archives enriches our knowledge of human society, promotes democracy, protects citizens’ rights and enhances the quality of life.
A UK study found that many Care Leavers viewed their records ‘as the key to starting to make sense of both their past and present’ (Pugh & Schofield, 1999). The official records about their time in ‘care’ might be the only records they have to help them construct a sense of personal identity and understand where they came from.
The Find & Connect web resource was created to help Care Leavers find those records held by past providers and government agencies. Part of the role of an archivist is to make records available for use. To do this, records need to be discoverable (people need to know the records exist, and they need to be able to find them). I often like to describe the records section of Find & Connect as a giant finding aid. It helps people navigate the path of their records journey; pointing them to the location of the records, providing them with context, dates, access conditions and contact details of the holding institution. It is not the record, neither does it hold any of the records, it is there to be a guide and we, the archivists, are the ones that help create it.
Records Access Documentation Project (RADP) was one of the hands-on ways that Find & Connect responded to the need for Care Leavers records to be more accessible. The RADP grants funded not-for-profit organisations who are current custodians for records relating to children placed in out-of-home ‘care’ in Australia during the 1920s to 1980s. The grants enabled the organisations to describe, document, list, or index collections of records that contained material likely to be of personal significance for surviving Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants. Once done, the organisations provided content for the web resource, to improve our entries for those records. None of this work could not have been done without the work of archivists.
So today, on International Archives Day, remember that archivists work in places you don’t always expect, and please, if you can, show some appreciation the work they do. (Suggestion: provide them with #archivescake).
Pugh, Gillian, and F. Schofield. “Unlocking the Past: The Experience of Gaining Access to Barnardo’s Records.” Adoption & Fostering 23, no. 2 (1999): 11. doi:10.1177/030857599902300204