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A Spotlight on Academic Archives with John Moran

29 Apr 2024 6:00 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 featuringuniversity archives. In today’s post, the In the Field blog chats with John Moran, Digital Archivist at the University of British Columbia. 

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

John: I studied History back home at the University of Galway, Ireland and spent some time as an intern in the James Hardiman Library. When the archivists in James Hardiman heard that I was going to work in Canada they told me to consider studying archives there, as Canadian archivists have a world-wide reputation. I was fortunate to be accepted into the iSchool at UBC. 

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

John: When I was an intern, I worked specifically on a Library project. Still, I became fascinated with what the archivists did with their boxes and how they arranged the textual records. They put such time and thought into the process. It was something that grabbed my interest, and I couldn’t let it go until I learned what, at that time, were these strange archival rituals. 

John Moran, University Archives. Photo by Phoebe Chan of UBC Library Communications. 

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

John: Busy! In my current position, I am a Digital Archivist. I report to the University Archivist. I also work with colleagues in the Records Management Office, Rare Books and Special Collections, and with Digital Programs and Services within UBC Library. I am lucky to have so many great colleagues to learn from and to work with. My average day combines meetings, working on backlogs, working with students on projects, meeting with donors, and assisting researchers. 

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

John: One of my favourite aspects is the opportunity to engage with donors and listen to their stories. Whether they're sharing tales from their own lives or recounting the legacies of their loved ones, being a part of these conversations is truly meaningful. It connects you directly with the human behind the records.  

University libraries across Canada are facing significant budget challenges. I think that one of the most commendable characteristics of our profession is that we do so much with so little, however, the current situation raises concerns about sustainability. With our broadening responsibilities at the university, we face an ever-challenging workload. 

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

I think that the potential for research in university archives is sometimes underestimated. When you are looking at the records of a department you are getting an up-close look at not just a university unit’s struggles and triumphs within a larger institution but you get to know about all the people that passed through, the personalities, the dramas, the intrigues, their successes that shaped the unit over time. One university unit can be so different from the other. They are like family members, all differentin their own right, sometimes engaged in conflicts, but ultimately part of a larger academic family. I think other archivists might be surprised how many amazing stories are buried within university archives. 

Department of Athletics and Recreation fonds, Glenn Bailey UBC Gymnastics, 1982-83 – UBC 4.1/451. Photo by Phoebe Chan, UBC Library Communications. 

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

I am sure many people reading will be aware of the InterPARESresearch project on the preservation of electronic records which began in 1999 at what was then the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at UBC. It is still led by Professor Luciana Duranti and in its current iteration is InterPares Trust AI. We are excited to be acquiring InterPares records from the last 25 years and looking forward to making them available to researchers from around the world. 

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