As seen on Twitter, 18 May 2012:
The cliché of the introverted archivist – like the idea of ‘dusty’ or ‘musty’ archives – is widespread. I shared that State Records NSW tweet with colleagues at the time to knowing laughs; and more recently I noted there is often a sense at the end of archival conferences that many of the participants are scurrying away, eager for some much needed solitude.
I am one of those people. I live alone, have my own office at work and can be fiercely protective of my personal space. After the recent ARANZ/ASA conference in Christchurch I avoided any commitments (read: did not leave the house) for a couple of days to re-focus myself. I am definitely, in popular parlance, an introvert.
But given the right situation I love socialising and meeting new people. I give lectures and look forward to presenting and public speaking. Site visits and meetings with stakeholders, users, researchers and potential collaborators are a highlight of my work. Outside work I have a busy social life which has included performing on stage as a musician many, many times.
What I need is a balance. Being introverted is not synonymous with being quiet, shy and retiring. It just means I tend to expend energy while with other people and re-energise by spending time alone or looking internally, as opposed to those who gain energy from external stimuli and can find too much alone time wearing, or just plain boring.
So I get frustrated when the ‘introverted archivist’ idea starts to twist the public perception of our profession. Case in point: a New York Times article from January 2014 about the New York Court archivist who retired then turned up the following week and kept working, unpaid. A few quotes from that piece:
Mr. Abrams had retired from the job the previous Friday and was no longer employed to tend this mazelike archive he treated as his own personal, cloistered garden …
“It feels like home,” Mr. Abrams said with the requisite reserve and slight social unease one expects from a dedicated archivist …
One problem with the job, he said, was that he was often interrupted in his archiving to retrieve files for the public. “When I started, I made my peace with the fact that I’d have to spend much of the job getting files for people,” he said, noting that he would now like to focus on archiving.
In other words, now that he is no longer working here, he can finally get some work done here. “Now I can focus on important stuff,” he said.
Sure, it’s a fluffy human interest piece, but if these are seen as the ‘requisite’ qualities of an archivist our profession is doomed.
We need archivists who are passionate about helping people. Archivists who are communicators, networkers, lobbyists and activists. Archivists who embrace the idea that access, far from ‘interrupting’ archiving, is in fact the sine qua non of archival practice.
Ivy Blossom said it best when talking about librarians in a recent post:
Everyone thinks a good librarian is an introvert stashed away behind the rows of books, but if the idea of talking to strangers for hours makes you feel ill, you will struggle to find a job as a librarian …
If you are an intelligent person who isn’t afraid of new technologies, have experience with and knowledge of how online tools work, are willing to play and explore new stuff as it comes along and if you’re not afraid of change, if you enjoy working with and helping people, can manage public speaking without getting freaked out, if have passion and enthusiasm to share and want to make the world a better place, please. If this is you, go to library school. We need you.
Libraries and archives both.
 “Introversion and extroversion,” Simple English Wikipedia. http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Introversion_and_extroversion (accessed 27 October 2014)
 “New York Court Archivist Isn’t Letting Retirement Stop Him,” New York Times, Online edition. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/02/nyregion/new-york-court-archivist-isnt-letting-retirement-stop-him.html (accessed 27 October 2014)
 Ivy Blossom, “Sorry, I saw that you’re a librarian…”, posted 11 September 2014. http://ivyblossom.tumblr.com/post/97270579275/sorry-i-saw-that-youre-a-librarian-and-i-was-just (accessed 27 October 2014)