Monday, January 28, 2008

Cultural Heritage and the Status Quo

Karen Gracy's Film Preservation

I'm currently reviewing Karen F. Gracy's Film Preservation: Competing Definitions of Value, Use, and Practice for The Metropolitan Archivist.

I was struck by this passage, emphasis mine:

My analysis of film preservation and film archiving is heavily influenced by the work of social theorist Pierre Bourdieu, particularly his work on cultural institutions. In his discussion of “the field of cultural production,” Bourdieu pointed out that an institution defines itself through its authority to “consecrate a certain type of work.” By consecration, he means having the authority to define and control the activities that take place within the field. Thus, in the field of cultural production, institutions such as libraries and archives in part perform this consecrating function and serve as legitimizing agents, deciding, for example, which institutions qualify as archives, what qualifies someone to be an archivist, and how preservation should be practiced. These cultural institutions tend to be particularly occupied with the maintenance of the status quo (also known as the “hierarchy of relations”) among participants in the field, as the power to control cultural heritage stewardship is embedded in this hierarchical structure.

In my quest to become a better, more informed archivist, I've been working my way through the Archival Fundamentals Series II as well as going on archival site visits throughout Manhattan. The purpose of these efforts is to build my personal knowledge about archival theory and archival practice.

Often, I get a vague sense from my colleagues in the field that I don't have enough pedigree or cultural cache. To some, my MLIS should have been advanced work in archival management. Gracy's passage reverberated with me because the consecration of the field of cultural production is subjective and undefined. If you want to advance in the field, there are few standards to follow.

I have taken my frustration and have used it to my advantage. I take every opportunity I find to attending meetings, participate in workshops, write reviews, and read publications.

Information Professionals need to hustle! We should be constantly be learning new skills, while knowing our important history. We need to get excited about the valuable work we do!

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