Today, June 9th, is International Archives Day! But what does an archivist do? To find out, we asked our new archivist Annelie von Wovern some quick questions. Annelie started her job at the National Museums of World Cultures, Sweden on January 16, 2017 and fills an important role in the organisation. She has been an archivist for 16 years, in both state and municipal archives, most recently the National Library of Sweden.
Hi Annelie! What do you work with?
I am archivist at the National Museums of World Culture, Sweden.
What does an archivist do?
One could say that I work with the past, our own time and the future by caring for historical archives, investigating, evaluating and assessing what information should be preserved for the future, and in what way. The information may take the form of written documents, maps, drawings, photographs, posters, the moving image or digital documents.
Internationally (for example, in England), there are two separate professional groups within archives: Records Managers who handle day-to-day information in companies and administrations and Archivists who handle documents that are preserved primarily for historical reasons. In Sweden, the term Archivist covers both these aspects.
In addition to organizing, preserving and caring for documents in the archives, an important task is also to develop how the archives are used, to make them available for research and education. Because the National Museums of World Culture is a state authority, we also have a democratic responsibility to comply with the public policy requirements for transparency in our organisation. This means that the public has the right to request and access our public documents. There are also legal aspects of my job that relate to disclosure of public documents, confidentiality, storage and publication.
My job also involves acting as a consultant in the form of advice, support and service to employees, researchers and the general public.
Why did you choose a career as an Archivist?
When I wrote my master’s thesis in history and researched in the historical archives, I realized one day that I wanted to be part of that world.
I want to contribute to transparency and transparency in our activities, but also to take responsibility for preserving and enriching the diversity of cultural heritage for us and for future generations.
When you look at a historical archive document, such as a photo or diary of a person who did an expedition in Asia maybe 100 years ago, it’s like traveling in a time machine. I get a glimpse of another time. It’s a powerful feeling.
I usually think of archive documents as small shards from our historic past.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your line of work?
As the museums have not previously had a permanent archivist, we face many different challenges. First, we need to do an inventory of our archives, in order to make them easier to find and access. Strategies and routines must also be established, not least in regards to our digital databases.
Over the years, I have gained a growing interest in the educational aspect of my work. I grapple with important issues such as: How can I visually demonstrate the archives, its function and content in a methodical and clear way? How can I stimulate curiosity and interest among those who do not visit or use archives? I think a lot about our younth. They are working in a completely different arena today in terms of attaining information and knowledge about a particular area or subject. We communicate in new ways, for example, online and social media.
About International Archives Day
The Nordic countries established a joint international archives day with UN status at the ICA (International council on archives) conference in 2004. In 2009, therefore, it was decided to celebrate an international archive day on June 9, the same date as when the International Council on Archives was founded in 1948. Swedish Archives Day (Arkivens dag) is celebrated November 11th. Look out for a new post then!
Is there something you’ve always been dying to ask an archivist? Now’s your chance! We welcome your questions in the comments.