Reading Archives

With this blog, I am planning to offer, as regularly as possible, critical observations on the scholarly and popular literature analyzing the nature of archives or contributing to our understanding of archives in society. I hope this blog will be of assistance to anyone, especially faculty and graduate students, interested in understanding archives and their importance to society.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thinking About the Future

Nan Mooney, (Not) Keeping Up With Our Parents: The Decline of the Professional Middle Class (Boston: Beacon Press, 2008) is not a book about archives, but it is a book that archivists (as well as librarians, museum curators, and university professors) should read, since we are all part of this class. Mooney presents a carefully research, if depressing, analysis of the weakening financial and social status of professionals, especially those who are in the creative sector or who are committed to contributing to the public good. She describes low salaries, disappearing pension and retirement plans, weakening medical benefits (if any at all), and other similarly depressing concerns (and one reads in disbelief realizing this book appeared before the collapse of Wall Street!). However, Mooney also argues that the well-educated and talented pool of such professionals should turn their abilities to trying to reform society and resolve some of these issues; this makes for an entertaining and thought-provoking reading. She concludes the book in this way: "If there's one thing we must keep in mind about our current economic situation it is this: We are not failures and we are not alone. We have it within us -- every single one of us -- to fight back if we so choose. Don't just tentatively poke at the boundaries of how life might be. Bust through them with all the power you can muster." Then this: "Be active. Be vocal. Be creative. Be radical. This is your life. Make it matter" (p. 216).

I will restrain myself from commenting on all the various ways archivists might want to contemplate the issues Mooney raises and the actions she raises -- that, is, after all, for each individual to contemplate. I know for myself, however, that writing this blog is part of my own activities in this resisting and changing the negative influences in our society on the important mission of archivists. I hope that by regularly providing commentaries on how archives are perceived that archivists will reconsider how they seek to carryout their efforts to meet their mission. Failing that, however, I admit I have turned to landscape painting as a creative outlet, even though my limited abilities will not allow me to give up my day job!

Maine Coastal Sunset 2008


At 10:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do all professionals worry about social status and financial status so much? Some of us are children of immigrants who came from much worse economic & social conditions, and less opportunities for education, work and economic mobility.

We are professionals who are also first generation Americans, and first generation with higher education beyond secondary school educations. So while contributing to the commitment for public good is there, not all share the same concerns about financial or social status. Increasingly, sure we need it just to survive.

What such professionals would carry with them before anything else is as Mooney describes: to be active, vocal, creative, radical-- this we learn when we learn to walk as first generation American professionals. We do not enter professions for money or social status usually, especially librarianship or archives.

What makes people leave or give up on professional schools ultimately? Is it really a matter of financial or social status?
for some it most certainly is, but not true for everyone.

The socialization of many professional schools very often discourages all of the above qualities--being active, vocal, creative and radical --and very often stifles it more.
Do professional schools genuinely always welcome boundary busters ? Do all work places welcome boundary busters ? Or call it something else.

Many people try to answer a call to opportunity, and think about having a better future somehow -- however as education too has become a commodity, not everyone will have the same opportunities always. This will become much harder to succeed in obtaining without the financial means, or only obtainable to a certain class of economic society.

Many of us with immigrant parents came from countries where education was often denied to them, and was only available to those who could afford to pay, or whose families had the right local connections. Perhaps education will become increasingly more like this in the economic years ahead. Does it matter? Status is a word that is personally not in my vocabulary, yet continuing in a profession pursuing higher education as a means to advance one's career will increasingly not be an option for many, and open doors for those with other types of opportunities for them. One can be radical, vocal, active and still not be able to be supported in other ways besides financially. People come from different backgrounds and different perspectives, not just status seekers--which in our profession is an understatement. Does it matter ? It most certainly does, it just may not be going anywhere for different reasons.

ps Maine inspires many, years ago I used to spend summers there too (too many mosquitoes but remember great mussels) -- have you read E.B. White?

At 6:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: E.B. White, Maine & inspiration, here is a link with a brief "about the author" bio note:

I recommend reading One Man's Meat, Here is New York, and his letters to Katherine White. And also of course Charlotte's Web !


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