April 17th, 2024

Eye on the Esplanade: Representation in Archives

By Philip Pype on March 28, 2024.

Canadian Citizenship ceremony, Riverside (Veterans Memorial) Park, Canada Day 1989. Esplanade Image 1075-0056--PHOTO COURTESY ESPLANADE ARCHIVES

To serve the entire community, the Archives and archivists must be part of the community.

We strive to collect, preserve and share the records and stories of Medicine Hat and area, whether through personal or organizational records, photographs, film, or recorded stories. We make every effort to reflect as wide a breadth of activities and perspectives as we can.

Although an aspirational goal, this is something the Archives work toward in several ways. We will not achieve full inclusivity overnight, or even over decades. Rather, it is a willingness to adapt alongside the community through active engagement.

Archives must be welcoming; not only in person in the physical space of the Reading Room, but also through our online presence, email and phone conversations. We encourage everyone to visit and explore.

The most diverse groups we get to see, and likely the most fun, are the elementary school classes. Through our education program, classes regularly visit us to learn a little of what archives are all about, and to connect with local history through stories and exploration.

Over almost eight decades of working within the community, the Archives has slowly diversified its holdings to get them out in the community. Elements from our archives regularly appear in social and traditional media and are shared person to person within the community. Raising awareness of the variety of archival records we have to offer sparks the sharing of ideas through interpretation, storytelling, as well as passive appreciation.

Connecting with our community also requires going beyond our own walls. By doing so, we improve our visibility, learn more about the people we serve, and engage in spaces that are not our own. It is vital for us to build relationships outside of our workspace. We can’t expect others to leave their comfort zone and come to us if we are not willing to go to them. We, as archivists, must meet the community as active, learning participants.

We are very fortunate to engage with a diversity of organizations. These include our fellow formal institutions including galleries, libraries and museums, but also many groups, both formal and informal, welcoming us, and all public, into their spaces.

Being truly representative is one of the most difficult goals in archives; in our holdings, and within our staff we need to achieve diversity of gender, ethnic or religious background, ability, socio-economics and perspective. This is not the path of least resistance, but a journey of twists and turns. As a bonus, there is often great conversations and food.

Philip Pype is an archivist at the Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre

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