Ask An Archivist Day

Ask an Archivist Day

Yesterday was officially the longest time I have ever spent on Twitter. What a great day! #AskAnArchivist Day is an initiative by the Society of American Archivists (SAA) that is based on the popular #AskACurator Day.

Since 2011, archivists have been taking to Twitter in force one day each year to answer all kinds of questions from members of the public and other archivists. Of course, archivists are available all year round to answer questions, but this special day helps to raise awareness of the services that Archives provide.

#AskAnArchivist Day is described by the SAA as an opportunity to:

  • Break down the barriers that make archivists seem inaccessible.
  • Talk directly to the public—via Twitter—about what you do, why it’s important and, of course, the interesting records with which you work.
  • Join with archivists around the country and the world to make an impact on the public’s understanding of archives while celebrating American Archives Month!
  • Interact with users, supporters, and prospective supporters about the value of archives.
  • Hear directly from the public about what they’re most interested in learning about from archives and archivists.

More and more Canadian archivists are taking part in this initiative, so I thought I would add my voice (albeit in typed form) to the conversation. Here is the day as I saw it unfold.

#AskAnArchivist Day – as experienced by @EmilyLonie1

I began the day with a open call for questions.


After I informed Sarah Romkey that I had enjoyed some yoghurt and berries for breakfast,


I started wading my way through the hundreds of tweets that had accumulated from my archivist colleagues in the East who got a jump on the day.

The discussion started off with a great tongue-in-cheek question about the use of cotton gloves in archives:


The community responded with some great resources. I pointed to a blog post by the UK National Archives about this issue that gave their conclusion (one that many of us have come to) that clean hands are preferable to using gloves, as the gloves inhibit manually dexterity and can cause damage. We all agreed, however, that gloves with photographic media was a must!


Later on in the day, we returned to the topic of annoying stereotypes when Sarah Waldorf asked a great question about misconceptions:


This tweet garnered a lot of attention and resulted in some of the most tweets of the day. It seems that we are all a little miffed about the persistent stereotypes in our field. Some of my favourites include:

  1. Ahem <steps on soapbox> we don’t have dust and cobwebs everywhere! Why must this myth go on! (@AmistadResearch)
  2. That anything is intentionally hidden (@lemurchild)
  3. That we know where every exact page and/or picture is off the top of our heads. Half the fun is doing the research, imo. (@dezwallen)
  4. Just thinking of all the TV  shows that show flirting w/ isolated archivist = access everything (@KinkaidArchives)
  5. We aren’t all shy people! I actually have to be very social esp when doing outreach to get materials (Helen @thegetty)


Intrigued about our methods, Katie Aberbach asked a great question about the factors that go into consideration when we are appraising records. I definitely wanted to talk about this one, as it’s a question I get asked quite often.


Being a dog person myself, I have always wondered what the deal was with the archivist obsession with cats. I know the internet loves them, but man do archivists really seem to love them!  I thought #AskAnArchivist Day might be a good opportunity to ask.


I got some fantastic responses!


My absolute favourite tweet of the day was on this topic from an archivist at the US National Archives, who coined the term “ball of mascotry” (Click on the image below to watch the video)


For the rest of the day, I received very specific enumerations of the pets of archivists at various institutions around the United States. I learned that in addition to cats, archivists have dogs, chickens, turkeys, goats, turtles and my favourite of the pet tweets let me know that a blue-tonged skink was among the companions of the archivists at the Drs. Nicholas and Dorothy Cummings Center for the History of Psychology


I followed this up by asking about the strangest things people have found in their archives.



The Library of Virginia introduced us to Lucia Light, Mildred Mold, and Surge – three animated characters used to teach about the dangers to physical and electronic records. Mildred Mold has some pretty sexy eyes, don’t you think? Not quite how I have experienced mold in my archives.


I answered Kate Martin‘s question about why we chose to be archivists and what keeps us doing what we do.


It was so nice to hear about why others love this profession (but I think Patrick Galligan nailed it)


Matt Spry had the winning tweet in terms of retweets and likes. He perfectly exhibited the classic sarcastic, downtrodden humour of the working archivist, who is always trying to find more funding to carry out the necessary tasks.


By mid afternoon, the majority of institutions were signing off and I was pulled away to tasks in the real world. I am looking forward to hearing about the results of the day. It will be great to see how many users were engaged with the hashtag.

Reflecting on the day, it renewed my enthusiasm for this wonderful profession. Archivists want to share their knowledge and help people to find the information that is important to them. In reality, every day is Ask An Archivist day. We have a dual purpose to preserve and give access and it’s the treasure hunt that drives us. I have answered over 200 reference requests so far this year and I am always looking forward to the next one.