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Commemorating American Archives Month

By Katy Lockard, Director of Archives & Records Management for the Diocese of St. Augustine

Answering the question, “What do you do for a living?” usually takes a little time. Since the average American doesn’t often do research in an archive, I find movie references especially helpful to clarify. 

“You know, like in National Treasure when Nicholas Cage steals the Declaration of Independence…or the first Star Wars when Obi-Wan goes into the Jedi Temple Archives to find the lost planet Kamino…?”

For someone with a limited knowledge base of archives, my response elicits one of two stereotypical answers: “Oh, you mean you keep the old dusty stuff in the attic, right?!” or “Oh – you’re a historian!” Eh…  

On my first visit to Europe, I was just amazed at how easy it is to have direct access to the past. In many places, history is such a part of daily life that one cannot ignore it. For example, walking down the streets of Segovia (Spain) you witness ancient history abutting modern life. Roman aqueducts stretch across the city’s entrance. Its West end is guarded by the Alcazar, a 14th-century style fortress that was rebuilt in 1862 after a major fire (and interestingly, the fortress was Disney’s inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle).

A tourist has to split her attention between admiring historic sites and dodging automobile traffic. When I returned to the States, I remember realizing how tenuous a connection we Americans have with our past. There’s no better example to illustrate this difference than the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Allegedly caused by Mrs. Catherine O’Leary’s cow (who has since, by the way, been exonerated), large swaths of the city burned to the ground. Modern architects, like John W. Root and Louis Sullivan, led the “Great Rebuilding,” treating Chicago like a blank canvas. Unlike their Segovian counterparts 10 years earlier who chose to rebuild the Alcazar with historical inspiration, Midwestern architects threw the past out the window and began experimenting with modern materials and designs.

When I explain that I am the archivist for the Diocese of St. Augustine, it means that I manage original records that document the decisions and actions of my organization. However, I would not call myself a historian. I received a degree in library and information science. My coursework taught me standard paradigms to organize and manage information, ways to make it accessible, and rubrics to guide subjective decisions and identify and prioritize information. I specialized in archives and records management, so I also learned basic archival tools, like collection management skills (the efficient administration of a whole lot of “stuff”), basic preservation skills (object conservation is a whole other specialized field that requires a LOT of organic chemistry – beyond my ability), collection environmental concerns (like how dust can destroy an object over time and an attic with an inconsistent climate is a bad storage idea because it speeds up damage), how to compile a collection finding aid (a guide which archivists have the habit of obsessing over), and of course, metadata content standards to help us make our repositories available online.

I respect my colleagues who worked hard (and read a lot) to obtain a doctorate degree. I would never do them a disservice by claiming the status of professional historian. At best, I’m the equivalent of an amateur local historian. In the diocesan collection (especially in St. Augustine), I have access to information from primary source documents which has already contributed a unique perspective to Catholic and Florida scholarship.

My job does include answering questions using the collection, which is how I have been educated in our diocesan history. However, I am only reading history from the diocesan perspective, not a wide contextual academic perspective. As I said, amateur local historian.  

The Society of American Archivists (SAA) (https://www2.archivists.org/) is my professional organization, and it is focused on “empower[ing] archivists to achieve professional excellence and foster innovation to ensure the identification, preservation, understanding, and use of records of enduring value.” Every October they celebrate “American Archives Month,” committed to raising awareness and education about archives. What better way to participate than launching an Archives blog?! I look forward to using this space to share insights on what I do every day and why it’s important. I expect to highlight particularly interesting or unique items from the collection and diocesan history. I also hope to raise awareness of how history connects to our contemporary life. Working in my favor, the Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church (its governing laws) recognizes the importance of protecting its records. Canon 486, mandates that every diocese and parish has a General Historical Archives. And so, I have named my blog, “Beyond Canon 486.”

Continue to visit the diocesan website’s homepage for more Beyond Canon 486 blogs by Katy Lockard!

Upcoming Events

17
Jul

Pilgrimage to the National Eucharistic Congress

8:00am

17
Jul

Luncheons 4 Life
Marywood Retreat Center
11:30am

17
Jul

Eucharistic Revival at St. Joseph
St. Joseph Catholic Church
7:00pm

20
Jul

Christmas in July Sale
Christ the King Parish
9:00am

20
Jul

Career Fair
Resurrection Parish
10:00am

21
Jul

Christmas in July Sale
Christ the King Parish
8:00am