Andrew Chernevych is Head Archivist at the Galt Museum & Archives, Lethbridge, Alberta. He also serves as a Director-at-Large at the ACA and as a board member of the ICA's Section of Local, Municipal and Territorial Archives (SLMT).
The social isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic was the last straw. Being an archivist in a small urban centre, a town or a municipality means you’re on your own—professionally speaking. Chances to talk to a fellow archivist are precious and rare. It’s a difficult situation to be in, especially for a young professional. The pandemic made things worse as conferences and workshops got cancelled. How does one hope to challenge oneself and grow professionally under these conditions?
The pandemic upheaval, however, has brought to life developments that can remedy the problem. One of them is the rapid proliferation of virtual meeting platforms, particularly Zoom. Almost overnight, virtual meetings have become a new normal, upending the culture of professional communication. And this has opened new doors for connecting—notably for archivists in small communities. The first virtual meeting of local archivists took place in June 2021. Fourteen participants from Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia joined a Zoom event to get to know each other and share experiences. Each participant had the chance to introduce themselves, their institution, and share their interests and challenges. It was novel, exciting and perhaps a bit overwhelming. For me, it was quite eye-opening to see so much diversity—in institutional settings, in roles and backgrounds, and in perspectives on archival work. The hour flew by fast.
The consensus was that such meetings are useful and that participants would like to make them regular. It was agreed to keep it informal and to have the chair position rotated among the members. It was also suggested to have themes for future meetings —with a focus on a particular subject such as volunteers, grants, digital records, etc. A volunteer facilitator was to take care of scheduling, meeting hosting and note-taking. The group was to be called the Network of Regional Archives or NoRA for short.
Since the summer of 2021, we have had two more NoRA meetings. In the fall, we discussed archival databases and most recently in January we delved into a discussion about volunteer programs. Both meetings featured brief presentations by members, Q&A periods and informal discussions. Big thanks to Philip Pype of the Esplanade for chairing both sessions. Personally, I learned a lot. For example, Tara Hurley of Kelowna Museums offered cautionary tales of unethical behaviour of volunteers, while Corine Price of Lloydminster Museum outlined limitations of work-from-home volunteering. The purpose of the group is to provide networking opportunities and a forum to exchange ideas and experiences. Unlike the Society of American Archivist’s Lone Arrangers Section, the NoRA has no formal affiliation or organizational structure. A participant doesn’t have to become a member or take on any commitments. Anyone is free to attend as many meetings as one wishes. It’s open to everyone—one doesn’t have to have “archivist” in their title or have an archival education. In fact, many Canadian lone arrangers have neither. The NoRA collective currently includes a librarian, a museum CEO, a collections technician and an archives manager. We are open to all “small-place” heritage professionals who work with archival records.
If you would like to participate in future meetings, please contact Andrew Chernevych (firstname.lastname@example.org) to be added to the NoRA email list. The next meeting will take place in late March or early April; the theme will be announced soon.
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