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Power of archives, Archival functions, Selection, preservation, and access


In my dream I am entering a temple. Its ornate facade and tall spires give me hope. I will find enlightenment here. I push open the massive door and enter. The door clangs shut behind me. I am in a dimly lit room with high windows that prevent the sunlight from reaching me. Despite the heat outside it is cool here. A security guard approaches. The temple has become a prison. The guard tells me to surrender my pens and put my briefcase in a locker. I sit at a table. Guards and security cameras watch me constantly to prevent escape or theft. I realize that I am hungry. A young woman hands me a menu. The prison is now a restaurant. "What do you want?" the waitress asks. The menu she hands me does not list food items, only the names of food creators-General Mills, Vlasic Foods International, Kraft Foods, Hormel. "May I suggest something local?" She pulls down a menu for Touch of the Bayou, Inc. It lists a series of categories, including the Bayou Magic brand. "Bring me some Bayou Magic, please, "I politely request. Soon a cart arrives laden with several boxes. My food must be inside. I open one box at a time- correspondence, reports, financial ledgers. In the last box are recipes. Gumbo. Crawfish étouffé, Jambalaya. The waitress recommends Gumbo. She brings me a box filled with okra, cayenne peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and other primary sources of nutrition. After all this, I still have to cook my own meal.

Changing images of the archives, as sites of power. The temple reflects the power of authority and veneration. The prison wields the power of control. The restaurant hols the power of interpretations and mediation. These represent the trinity of archival functions: selection, preservation, and access. The archives is a place of knowledge, memory, nourishment, and power. Archives at once protect and preserve records; legitimize and sanctify certain documents while negating and destroying others; and provide access to selected sources while controlling the researchers and conditions under which they may examine the archival record. As Eric Ketelaar has state, both architecturally and procedurally, archives often resemble temples and prisons, two seemingly opposite sites of power. Archives embody these contradictions, and more.

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The American Archivist





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Source: The American Archivist, Vol. 69, No. 1 (Spring - Summer, 2006), pp. 19-32

Published by: Society of American Archivists

Courtesy of JSTOR

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Subjects - Topical (LCSH)

Archives--History; Archives--Access control