The irrefutable strength of social media is in its ability to break down barriers. We usually talk about this quality in terms of social media’s ability to overcome issues of time and space, but in this post I want to focus on its’ ability to overcome barriers between groups; say… between researchers and practitioners in the Australian archival sector.
PLEASE NOTE: This post contains generalisations for the sake of argument.
In recent decades, the archival profession has strived to overcome the ‘gatekeeper mentality’ which has previously hamstrung segments of our profession and harmed members of the wider community (Humphreys and Kertesz, 2012). Now however, I’d like to bring your attention to emerging barriers – those which exist between academics and practitioners within the Australian archival sector.
Consider this; you are at an Australian Society of Archivists’ conference and you have a choice between attending two parallel sessions:
- World War II Photography: A practitioners’ guide to assigning titles
- Rethinking the Records Continuum Theory
Sure, your interests will naturally draw you toward one choice. However I fear that for most practitioners, theory and research is too far removed from their day-to-day work. Additionally, practitioners may feel that there is little they can contribute to such a discussion. In my view, this is due to researchers’ lack of engagement with what should be their core audience.
Last year, Monash University invited all members of the archival community to help ‘rethink’ Frank Upward’s Records Continuum Theory. Of the group of about 30 people, only five weren’t researchers/academics by trade.
The gap between researchers and practitioners is in danger of becoming bigger. According to Sue McKemmish, the profession is becoming a victim of its own success;
As our theorists, teachers and teaching institutions become stronger, we are attracting students of a higher calibre who are more likely to head straight through to PhDs without extensive experience in traditional archival practices.
In order to prevent this emerging trend from impacting upon our profession we need to improve communication, from both sides of the ‘barrier’. Conferences should be a good space for such communication to take place, however I find that the parallel sessions at the Australian Society of Archivists’ conferences has a downside; participants go to the sessions which are most relevant to their careers, therefore possibly reinforcing the gap between practitioners and researchers.
Journals are a delayed, one-way communication following the conclusion of research projects. Collaboration opportunities are limited as researchers move on to new projects and also, audience engagement is not supported by journal platforms. Additionally, journal articles are written with formal, jargon-filled language, rendering the research inaccessible to the average reader. This results in research outputs being communicated from researchers to researchers, with a very limited exposure to the practitioners who could put new theories into practice.
The gap is a by-product of specialisation, which is necessary as we pursue innovative archival theories and methods. However, this post aims to suggest a way in which we can aid ‘cross-pollination’ between the researchers and the practitioners.
The breakdown of this barrier would aid researchers in pursuing initiatives which are in line with industry requirements.
Innovations which are aligned with industry requirements are in the best interest of the practitioners. Researchers and academics have a responsibility to create opportunities for input from the sector, and practitioners have a responsibility to help further research by taking advantage of these opportunities.
It is within this space that social media presents itself as a unique solution. As members of the archival profession, whether you are a researcher or a practitioner, consider engaging with social media. Social media enables the communication of ideas and experiences in accessible informal language and forms.
This capability for engagement would go some way towards breaking down this barrier. The benefits of which would include:
- Stakeholders providing feedback to researchers which provide unique insights and aligns research outcomes with industry requirements, and
- Increased awareness of research projects among new audiences.
Social media provides us with a powerful tool with which to break down the barriers surrounding research processes. Researchers, stop limiting the reach of your own research by sticking to traditional methods of communication. Practitioners, take advantage of every opportunity to provide feedback and input for research projects, this will benefit your own practice in the long run. Both of these steps are necessary for the Australian archival sector to continue innovating archival theory and practice.