A Sustainable Archives

Margot Note

Margot Note

July 08, 2024

In an age defined by environmental challenges and a growing commitment to sustainability, archivists play a crucial role in the broader effort to preserve not only the historical record but also the planet itself.

Sustainability is an ethical imperative and a responsibility embedded in the archivist’s code of ethics and core values. Archivists, as stewards of the historical record, recognize that their professional work can either be a harmful force on the environment or a reparative resource. Therefore, they embrace the principles of sustainability, rooted in an ethics of care, to guide their practices and policies.

Archivists hold a unique position in society, entrusted with preserving and caring for the historical record. Their responsibilities extend to identifying, organizing, maintaining, and providing access to materials documenting society’s cultural heritage. This role, however, comes with a dual responsibility. Archivists are not just stewards of history but also the environment.

Maximizing the Positive

As they care for collections and serve their communities, archivists must maintain an awareness of the impact of their work on the environment. Archivists understand that traditional archival practices of acquiring, processing, storing, and providing access to materials can have positive and negative environmental consequences. Their goal is to minimize the harmful impact and maximize the reparative potential of their work.

Archivists root their work in an ethics of care, a moral compass that guides them to prioritize sustainable practices and policies. In this context, sustainability is not just a buzzword but an ethical imperative informing every archival practice aspect.

Finding a Balance

At its core, sustainability is about finding a balance between preserving cultural heritage and preserving the planet. Archivists strive to create a harmonious coexistence between their role as stewards of history and their duty to protect the environment. This ethical commitment extends to critical areas of archival work, such as acquisition, processing, storage, service models, and education.

Archivists consider the materials they acquire, focusing on relevance, significance, and long-term preservation. By selecting materials judiciously, they minimize the environmental impact associated with the long-term storage and care of these collections.

Archivists employ efficient and environmentally responsible processing methods. They seek to reduce waste, energy consumption, and the use of harmful chemicals. Digital processing and preservation techniques are often preferred to minimize physical storage needs and environmental footprint.

Archivists recognize the importance of proper storage conditions for preserving materials. They implement climate control systems, utilize energy-efficient technologies, and employ sustainable storage solutions to reduce the environmental costs of preserving historical records.

Archivists develop service models mindful of sustainability. Such practices include reducing travel for access, digitizing remote access, and using eco-friendly materials in outreach efforts.

Sustainability in archival work is not the sole responsibility of archivists. It is a shared commitment that involves the collaboration of all stakeholders, from creators and donors to users and communities.

Heritage and Sustainability

Archivists occupy a unique intersection between heritage and sustainability. Their role as stewards of the historical record brings the responsibility to ensure that the environment is preserved for future generations. The commitment to sustainability is an obligation deeply embedded in the archivist’s code of ethics and core values.

Archivists strive to transform their professional work from a potentially harmful force into a reparative resource. Through sustainable practices and ethical choices, they ensure that the historical record remains accessible while preserving the environment. In this endeavor, archivists inspire a broader commitment to sustainability within their communities and promote harmonious coexistence between heritage and the planet.

Margot Note

Margot Note

Margot Note, archivist, consultant, and Lucidea Press author is a regular blogger, and popular webinar presenter for Lucidea—provider of ArchivEra, archival collections management software for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities. Read more of Margot’s posts here.

**Disclaimer: Any in-line promotional text does not imply Lucidea product endorsement by the author of this post.

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