What’s an Archivist?

Welcome to my blog.  I am about to launch a personal history archives business and thought it would be a good idea to begin sharing my ideas in this format.  I’ve been thinking about starting this business for several years and find that the time is finally right to get it going.  I’m in the process of writing a book that will teach people how to archive their memorabilia.  It occurs to me that most people have never entered an archive or looked through an archival box of materials, never mind knowing how to store materials for long-term preservation.

Mass Historical Society

The archives at the Massachusetts Historical Society contain many original materials such as letters, diaries, and deeds.

What’s an archivist you may ask.  We are similar to librarians and often work in libraries but our jobs are very different.  It’s like the difference between a nurse and a physical therapist.  We work in the same field but what we do specifically is very different.  The basic difference is that librarians care for books, and nowadays, increasingly, digital materials and resources.  The books and digital materials that librarians care for can be found in many libraries throughout the region, the country and even the world.  There are multiple copies of these things. 

Archivist on the other hand, work with one-of-a-kind materials.  We work with the documents produced by individuals and companies often in their daily activities.  Many things can be found in archives but what makes them similar, is that all the documents are one-of-a-kind and cannot be found anywhere else.  These include diaries, ships logs, correspondence, art work, and original drafts.

John Adams by David M

Adams’ letters, diaries, and deeds, archived at the MHS, were used to create this biography.

Think of it this way:  One of the most recent famous books on John Adams is David McCullough’s book of the same name.  This book can be found in numerous libraries and in people’s homes around the country.  You may have a copy on your library shelf.  The copy of David McCullough’s book housed at the Boston Public Library will be cared for by a librarian.  On the other hand, the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, around the block from the BPL, has the original letters, diaries, deeds, bookkeeping records and other items belonging to John and Abigail Adams.  The archivists at the Mass Historical Society care for those documents. David McCullough used the documents in the Mass Historical Society to write his book, now found in many libraries.

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