The archivist holds a privileged and responsible position as custodian of the collective memory.
Archivists and archives assistants require a professional postgraduate qualification in Archives and Records management to understand the theory and practice of managing and preserving archival material. The theory and scholarly work underpinning archives practice is called Archival Science. The role of an archivist/archive’s assistant includes the following duties (this list is not exhaustive):
- Acquiring new collections through deposits, donations, and deeds of gift
- Appraisal i.e., deciding what is important and should be kept in the archive
- Accessioning new material and adding it to a new or existing collection
- Arranging: archivists apply two important principles.
- Provenance, refers to the origin of records and who created them
- Origin Order refers to keeping records in their order as established and maintained by the creator.
- Describing, cataloguing, and repackaging
- Digitization through scanning or photography
- Assisting researchers in the Reading Room by answering enquiries and retrieving items
- Project work such as Memorja
- Outreach e.g., promoting projects in the community or collaborating with owners of private archives
- Preparing and setting up exhibitions
- Liaising with conservator to ensure the continues preservation of the collections
Richard Pearce-Moses wrote in 2006:
“Archivists keep records that have enduring value as reliable memories of the past, and they help people find and understand the information they need in those records.”
Ed Pinsent, 9th November 2017:
“The archivist brings out the truth, through adhering to the fundamental principles of provenance (where the papers came from) and original order (how they were kept). These two principles may sound musty and boring, yet have proven surprisingly robust as a reliable method for reflecting the truth.”
Elizabeth Shepherd, University College London, 2009:
“Archives ‘underpin citizens’ rights in a democratic state and are the raw material of our history and memory. Archivists and records managers are the professionals responsible for ensuring that these qualities are protected and exploited for the public good.”
What is the role of a conservator?
The Conservator is a professional who has the training, knowledge, skills, experience and understanding to act with the aim of preserving cultural heritage for the future, and according to the considerations as outlined in various international charters.
The principal aim of conservators at NAM is to take care of our archival collections by ensuring that they are preserved in a stable condition while making them accessible to researchers.
Various factors determine the state of preservation of a document; these may include external factors such as handling, storage, and environmental conditions or intrinsic factors such as ink corrosion and brittle paper caused by chemical reactions and natural aging. For the safekeeping of archival material, the conditions for their storage and display are governed by a set of standards to act as guidelines for their better preservation. When any of these guidelines are not adhered to, damage will occur.
What is the difference between Preservation, Conservation and Restoration?
Preservation or Preventive Conservation consists of indirect actions to retard deterioration and prevent damage by creating conditions optimal for the preservation of the collection.
Conservation consists mainly of direct actions carried out on damaged or deteriorated documents with the aim of stabilising their condition and retarding further deterioration.
Restoration consists of a direct action carried out on damaged or deteriorated items with the aim of facilitating its perception, appreciation and understanding, while respecting as far as possible its aesthetic, historic and physical properties.
What are the main tasks of the Conservation Laboratory?
The Conservation Laboratory at NAM has the required expertise and equipment to carry out various interventions needed for the preservation and conservation-restoration of its holding.
In order to achieve its goals, the Conservators carry out monitoring campaigns recording the environmental conditions of the repositories together with condition surveys both on the existing holdings and new acquisitions. This analytical process shapes the foundation for any conservation intervention. Conservation treatments are carried out using selective methods accordingly and using high quality archival standard materials. Documentation is done before, during and after any intervention. These interventions are reversible and performed following International Code of Ethics.
Opportunities And Activities
The National Archives promotes learning and new experiences for people of all ages through various opportunities. Some involve groups while others are for individuals.
‘[…] Coming to Malta from the Czech Republic, this was a great opportunity to gain some foreign work experience and improve my English language skills. […] I am very glad that I was part of [the] archives for a few months and I have pleasant memories of this time. I really enjoyed my time at the National Archives and staying in Malta in general.’
Lenka Burková, three month internship, 2016