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April 10, 2013 / Council of State Archivists

Tell Your Story Demonstrating “The Value of Archives”

The Council of State Archivists (CoSA), National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA), and Society of American Archivists are working together to develop information that archivists and constituents can use to demonstrate the value and importance of archives.   A joint working group is now collecting “stories” demonstrating this value for use in advocating for archives.  Ultimately these stories will be made available–along with other advocacy materials–via the groups’ websites.

The working groups seeks stories that show the importance and impact of archives rather than focusing on informational content. Some examples of stories:

  • Following a 2008 accident at the Quecreek Mine in Pennsylvania, historic maps created by Pennsylvania state mine inspectors were used to identify closed tunnels where the nine miners might have taken refuge. The miners had harbored in just such a tunnel, and the archival maps led to their rescue.
  • A Tallahassee high school senior used records relating to the investigation of murders at Florida State University by serial killer Ted Bundy to research a History Fair project on changes to victims’ rights laws resulting from those murders. The project won at the state level and went on to compete at the National History Fair. Spurred by this research, the student, who had previously been disinterested in school, gained a renewed interest in education, went on to complete law school, passed the Florida Bar, and is now practicing law in Florida.
  • In 1950, Mary Jean Price, salutatorian of her high school, tried to enroll at her hometown college to become a teacher. She was denied access because she was an African-American and never went to college to fulfill her dream. Instead she stayed at home, helped her aging parents, got married, worked as a janitor, and buried the story. Many years later, her son was curious and pursued the story in the university’s archives. There he unearthed evidence that she was denied entrance specifically because she was an African-American. He shared that information and, as a result, 60 years later his mother was awarded an honorary degree from Missouri State University. The stories found in archives may not always be “happy,” but confirmation of the accuracy and truth of a situation was extremely important in this case.
  • A woman in her seventies was attempting to locate her brother and sister with whom she had not had contact during her lifetime due to adoption. Records were located by Wyoming State Archives staff in District Court adoption files and school censuses that made it possible for a Confidential Intermediary to reunite her with her brother and sister.

Because stakeholders may be motivated by a wide range of examples, the working group seeks a wide range of stories that can be shared. Particularly needed are stories emerging from or addressing the following:

  • University archives
  • Tribal archives
  • Religious archives
  • Business archives
  • Scientific or environmental uses
  • Business or economic development uses
  • Educational uses
  • Veteran-related uses, particularly from the Viet Nam War period to date

By May 1, 2013, send your stories and suggestions to awackerson@statearchivists.org. Working group members will compile the information received and will contact you if clarification or more detail is needed. Thanks for your help in advocating for archives!

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