Fighting Archival Stereotypes – Ditching “Dusty”

Four men in dust marks standing on a railway

Let me tell you about something I am not ‘fonds’ of – the word dusty. It makes me irrationally (or perhaps perfectly rationally) angry when I hear it in reference to archives. It makes me especially angry when it is used by the media. Because really – if everything is so darn dusty, then what the hell are we doing as a profession?!

This morning I was driving to work listening to the morning show on CBC Radio 2. I was waiting for the Play It By Year segment so that I could feel superior when I guessed the correct year of the song, when the host decided to play the stereotype game. She was plugging CBC’s new show, From the Vaults, which “is a breathtaking all-access journey into a Canadian treasure that few people have ever seen: The CBC Music Archives. Hosted by Amanda Parris and Tom Power, this series features musical performances and candid interviews, shining a bright light on a remarkable musical story – our own.” LOVE LOVE LOVE this idea for a show. Don’t love the way it was sold this morning. The pièce de résistance was “explore the archive without getting dust on your clothes.” Urgh.

So, I did what any self-respecting millennial would do in this day and age – I tweeted my rage (politely, I think).

I have to say that I was impressed by the immediate response from Raina:

This got me thinking that archivists need to do a better job of calling out stereotypes and educating the public about what we do. It’s why I am part of the Awareness Strategy Taskforce (goodness we sound badass, don’t we?) convened by the Steering Committee on Canada’s Archives. The role of the taskforce is to develop a strategy to raise awareness of the profession and of the importance and value of archives. My ultimate goal is to meet a stranger at a party, tell them what I do for a living, and have them know what the hell I am talking about and better yet, value the work that I do! No one is going to magically know unless we tell them. Hopefully our taskforce can come up with some good ways to do that. Stay tuned!

I would love to hear about ways in which you are fighting the stereotypes in our field. In the meantime, I am fired up and ready to take on the word “moist,” cause…yuck.


Cover Photo

“The dump crew with dust masks” (City of Vancouver Archives, AM427-S4-F2-: CVA 289-002.470)


2 thoughts on “Fighting Archival Stereotypes – Ditching “Dusty”

  1. Another brilliant post, Emily! The phrase “dusty archives” has been winding me up regularly since the arly 1980s. especially when it’s used in describing a collection I’ve worked with. Another pet peeve is when people talk about “discovering” something in the archives–something that the archives staff actually “discovered” years before, and that is now readily available to researchers BECAUSE AN ARCHIVIST ALREADY DESCRIBED IT! GRRRRRR!

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