Cultural Heritage Collaborators

Introduction

Cultural Heritage includes the tangible items that are considered worthy of preservation for the future due to their reflection of a society’s identity. It also encompasses intangible values and customs that are passed from one generation to another. Cultural Heritage Collaborators work to preserve knowledge by making sure appropriate tangible items are retained for the future and that intangible information is identified and recorded. Everyone has the potential to be a Cultural Heritage Collaborator. This article explores the reasons we would want to become one and how we can participate.

The focus of the discussion is on archives. Archives form the foundation of what we know about society and are found in every home and institution in the civilized world. Archives are records that should be kept permanently because of their long-term value. Unique among other materials created by humans, archives are the original documents made by the participants in an event of activity. Also referred to as “primary sources,” archival materials include manuscripts, ledgers, diaries, photographs, original recordings and digital material. They are not mass- produced. They are not necessarily old and are not always produced by well-known people. Because of archives’ common character, every member of society has the potential to support cultural heritage through our archival foundation.

Cultural Heritage Collaborators

Cultural heritage collaborators include professionals such as museologists, librarians, and archivists who care for the materials humans create that reflect history. Though only archivists specialize in retaining historic records, all of these professionals manage items that are vital to our cultural heritage. In fact, they all use archives in their daily activities to help support their specialized cultural knowledge and collections. The collaborators also embrace clerks, secretaries, records managers and others charged with retaining a specific history. Finally, there are “Citizen Archivists.” These are people who may or may not know much about cultural resources. They may have some interest in collecting or preserving materials. Or, they may not be conscious of any personal interest in retaining cultural items, but possess records that hold importance for historical memory. Working with diverse people across society, we can properly identify and protect the resources that should be saved for our future.

You are likely a “Citizen Archivist,” retaining family papers and documents that tell about individual life stories. The records you keep in your home — letters, diaries, account ledgers, calendars — reflect your life and who you are. These materials are important to you because they help you define your own identity, ensure your legacy when you pass them down to the next generation, and help you preserve your own cherished memories of family, friends and community. However, every individual story helps make up a larger community history and your personal records have a broader appeal. Many professional repositories, such as historical societies, build a large portion of their collections on personal papers. It is important for people to realize that the documentation that preserves their memories and reflects their family history often has importance in a larger context that relates to neighborhoods, states, or nations.

Why Value Cultural Heritage and Archives?

Valuing a common heritage allows us to better understand our place in the world, boosting self esteem and a sense of belonging. Cultural heritage appreciation fosters a sense of community and strengthens civic pride based on a shared and documented history. There are even more concrete reasons to value and preserve our documented community history:

1. Archives provide primary information about society’s activities to help everyone recognize and evaluate events for themselves. Primary sources allow us to go to the source of information so we can try to discern truth and reality from fiction and biases without relying on secondary opinions. Original documents have the potential to give us multiple perspectives so we may contemplate diverse ideas that develop due to people’s different ways of thinking and different environments.

2. Records ensure administrative continuity as organizations and businesses function and evolve. They help ensure a smooth-running society governed with order and efficiency. They allow us to hold public officials accountable through organized public records that can be viewed by citizenry, also ensuring our rights and freedoms. Archives allow us to hold liable those who stifle more, repress societies and otherwise degrade human rights. They provide evidence against those who break laws.

3. Recorded materials allow us to plan for the future by reviewing past mistakes and successes. They allow us to evaluate society and distinguish trends from more permanent traits of diversified culture.

4. Historical records can be used to market a community and promote tourism using a deep knowledge about the community’s history and strengths. They can serve to promote the value of an area to researchers, encouraging them to study and write about local history.

Archives also support education and lifelong learning, preserve memories, provide fodder for programming and entertainment, and help ensure our legacy. Due to all these roles, archives should be valued and protected.

What Can You Do?

– Learn what organizations in your area collect archives. Support their efforts by becoming a member of their institution, visiting, serving on a board, or spreading the word about their work.

– Examine the materials in your possession and make note of what cultural items you keep. Properly care for them by preserving and organizing

– Educate yourself about culture and archives by noticing cultural heritage resources all around you. Your knowledge will help you become an informed supporter.

– Become a cultural heritage collaborator by directly reaching out to a professional cultural heritage collaborator at your local historical society, public library or museum. Talk to a special librarian or archivist about your own materials. Learn about their collections and donate items in your possession that are valuable to community history.

– Help create a collaborative that focuses on gathering and preserving documentation that will preserve community memory.

A community of collaborators has a greater opportunity to raise awareness, increase enthusiasm, build support, boost goodwill, fully document a community or place, and encourage pride than any one of us working alone. Valuing your history, learning about the resources upon which we base our history, and actively promoting the preservation of these materials. This will help us sustain our communities and the things we value while propelling us successfully toward the future.