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A Spotlight on Academic Archives with Sarah Lake

23 Apr 2024 3:46 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

From municipal and federal government to universities, from religious congregations to community organizations, archivists work in a variety of settings. This year, the ACA blog, In the Field, is setting out to talk to archivists across Canada about the unique joys and challenges of their work environments. We will feature a different type of archives each month, with the objective of showcasing the rich spectrum of archival work.

This month we are featuring academic archives. In today’s post, the In the Field blog chats with Sarah Lake, Digital Preservation Librarian at Concordia University Library. 

Q: Can you briefly tell us about your academic and professional path? 

Sarah: For my undergraduate studies, I did Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in film production at Concordia UniversityWhen I graduated, I wasn’t interested in working in the film industry and was looking for a new direction. It was around that time that I heard about library school and thought it aligned with a lot of my interests. I completed a Master of Information Studies at McGill University in 2019, and then I did a couple of short-term grant-funded contracts as a processing archivist and junior digital archivist at Concordia’s Records Management and Archives. I then got a one-year contract as special collections archivist at Concordia Library before transitioning into my current tenure-track role.

Q: What brought you to the field of archival studies and practice? 

Sarah: I have always been fascinated by memory, and it’s a theme that has been central to my artistic practice. When I was studying filmmaking, I chose the documentary stream and became really interested in found footage and archival materials. When I realized that I could make a career out of preservation, it seemed like the perfect path for me. 

Q: What does an average day look like in university archives? 

Sarah: Since Im not an archivist, my role doesn’t really involve typical activities like processing or reference. My day to day is more about project management, workflow and policy development, technical administration, and providing support to special collections and repository staff who are processing materials. Since my role is also more tech-focused, my average day also usually includes some kind of troubleshooting/problem-solving. 

Q: What is your favourite thing about working in universityarchives? What are some of the challenges that are unique to university archives? 

Sarah: Universities are in a position of privilege: we often have more resources than the individuals and organizations who are donating their archives to us. As such, we have a responsibility to build trust and keep active ties with the communities who are entrusting us with their memory. My colleague Alex Mills co-authored a great article about the archives as a community-engaged classroom and the importance of the ongoing relationship between communities and the archives that they produce.  

Q: What do you wish the public understood better about university archives?  What do you wish other archivists understood about university archives?  

Sarah: I think the use of new technology in academia, especially in digital humanities, is currently outpacing archivists’ ability to develop and implement standards, tools and procedures to preserve scholarly research. With new and emerging forms of scholarship, preserving scholarly output is becoming increasingly complex: it’s currently a lot easier to preserve and provide access to a thesis in PDF form than an interactive VR installationI wish that more researchers and funding agencies were conscious of the importance of embedding preservability into research from the start, and perhaps even inviting archivists to participate in the planning stages of large research projects, rather than preservation being an afterthought. 

Q: Can you tell us about a project you’ve been working on lately?  

Sarah: Recently I’ve been working with a few colleagues on a project to preserve web-based student journals using web archiving tools like Archive-It. These publications are so ephemeral that we have already seen quite a few of them disappear from the web in just the short amount of time that we’ve been doing this. When these websites vanish, a record of student life and scholarship at the university is lost forever, so we feel that it’s important to preserve them while we can. It’s still a work in progress, but we hope to keep building the collection and to find new ways to collaborate with students on this project. 

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