This title of this post is also the title of a session at the Association of Canadian Archivists Annual Conference, held June 12, 2020. The panel developed out of research I conducted between May and October 2019, when I interviewed 29 archivists about their encounters with and experiences of grief and other emotions during archival work. Some of the clearest findings of this research have been: 1) that archivists feel unprepared  through their archival education and training to manage the emotional dimensions of their work; 2) that they would like more opportunities to talk about these emotional dimensions; and 3) that improved support systems – both formal and informal – are needed.

The panel – as originally conceived – aimed do three things.

  1. To present some of the key findings and emerging themes from the interviews with archivists;
  2. Through a roundtable discussion, invite professional archivists to respond to and expand upon the presented findings and themes;
  3. To facilitate an active brainstorming session with the audience (in small groups and then as a whole) to start problem solving the big question: how to develop networks and facilitate ongoing discussion about the emotional dimensions of archival work.

The primary goals of the brainstorming session were to identify actionable steps that can be taken to develop networks and create opportunities for further discussion and action. Although this part of the session had to be dropped to accommodate how the online version of the conference worked, I hope that the discussion can be carried on in other ways. To that end, a couple of spaces have been created to continue the discussion: an open google doc here and a space to contribute anonymous questions, reactions, and impressions via Padlet here.

As we noted at the beginning of the panel, we recognize that these types of discussions are easier for some records workers to have publicly than for others. We know of archivists who have spoken up about the emotional impacts of working with difficult records, for example, who have been ridiculed for having feelings and expressing them, and who have been told there is no place in the field or profession for such discussions. I purposefully put a panel together that is made up of archivists who can speak from a position of privilege as white, mid-career, cis: archivists who can take the hit. I also know that the issues that were raised in the interviews I conducted were experienced differently by BIPOC archivists, by new professionals, by those precariously employed.

Speaking on behalf of the ACA panel, we know there’s something we need to talk about, that there should be – and will be – many ways to talk about ‘it’, and that it is not our role to direct or lay claim to the conversation. Here, we open some space. Please feel free to contribute to the google doc with ideas, resources, and brainstorming, or to Padlet if you’d like an anonymous place to post some impressions or questions. These spaces will stay open for contribution. Within 3 to 4 weeks, we will post some compilation of some of the discussion that occurs in these spaces to this blog and/or to the ACA blog.

And please feel welcomed to comment in this space, to ask questions, to link to projects and resources you’ve found useful, to connect with others who also want to make space. Throughout the summer and fall, we will also be publishing posts on the different interview themes we were only able to touch on in the short ACA session. We look forward to talking.