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archives Archivists Records management webcomics

Evil Anna and How I Learned to Love Archival Manipulation

Anna’s manipulation of the archivist begins

In the most recent issue of My Dictator Boyfriend, a webcomic by Teo and Guy on Webtoon, Anna, the mother of the protagonist, Immanuel “Manny,” the dictator of Taugilia, and wife of Gyorg Yvan, causes even more problems they shouldn’t exist, this time by literally manipulating archival records. She sees an ultrasound showing that her child will be a boy, at least as stated by the doctor, and goes immediately to the Hall of Records. She is told by the archivist, sitting behind a desk with a computer, that this won’t be possible because isn’t born yet. When confronted with this, she declares that as the future first lady of Taugilia “everything is possible.” She fills out the birth certificate form, with Manny’s birth-date as “TBD,” and says this should remain private. The archivist agrees to that condition. But, when she says that only the parents will have access, Anna declares this it can only be accessible to her alone and that if she doesn’t comply she will be fired! So, the record is filed away into the archives, to go from a paper form and become an electronic record within a database presumably. Not only is this bad because the protagonist is named after her ex-girlfriend (Margo), who she discarded like useless trash in an effort to get power, but she is literally manipulating archival records here and threatening someone! In the comments below the comic, only one person mentioned the archivist, when they wrote they were “pissed with that interaction between Anna and the desk lady.” I agree, but I wouldn’t call the archivist a “desk lady.” As you can probably tell, the title of this post is a joke mimicking the title of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove and How I Learned to Love the Bomb if you didn’t get that by now. Anyway, I’d like to talk about the significance of this in a broader context of archival manipulation. When I say manipulation, I do not mean translation of records from paper to digital, information processing, online analytical processing, data processing, markup, all of which are justified for reasons of archival accessibility, but rather what Wikitionary calls the “usage of underhanded influence over a person, event, or situation to gain a desired outcome.” [1]

Throughout history, there are many examples of societies where powerful groups manipulate records and information, with the records themselves perpetrating the influence of those groups, even in societies which are said to be democratic. [2] Furthermore, public agencies in various countries, have manipulated records in order to further their goals, while restricting access to those records, including, in the U.S., the deletion of thousands upon thousands of email messages during the Iran-Contra Scandal in the 1980s, or the information system in apartheid-era South Africa, to give two examples. Corporations and bureaucracies, archivist Kenneth Foote wrote, sometimes seek to “keep secrets…lie, and…distort information to control others,” accompanied by destroying incriminating records and employing methods of secrecy. [3] This leaves historians having to ask themselves if records, like oral history records, were not “deliberately manipulated” to leave behind a biased record.

This circles back to the story at hand. With Anna’s manipulation of the record, how authentic is it? Can it be fully trusted as it is not “free from tampering“? This matters because the authenticity of records in archives depends on them not being subject to substitution, forgery, or manipulation, even as archives and their recordkeeping systems may, obviously, be suppressed, misinterpreted or manipulated. [4] This is even easier now, than ever, with certain groups or individuals gaining monetary or political advantage by altering records for their benefit, or perhaps even when using the “right to be forgotten.” In the case of this webcomic, the unnamed female archivist is fulfilling a social role that former SAA president Randall C. Jimerson wrote about in 2007. He argued, in an article on the subject, that archivists and record members must speak out against manipulation of records, limits to information access, and abuses of power. [5] He also warned that archivists can manipulate the past deliberately or subconsciously when engaging with the archival record. He further noted that control through “manipulation of the archival records,” abuses of power, and limited access to “vital information” shows the dangers of misusing power of records and archives. [6] He added that archivists should commit themselves to prevent the profession from “explicit or implicit support of privileged elites and powerful rulers at the expense of the people’s rights and interests.” Whether this has been fulfilled since his article or not is up to the reader, but there appear to be more community archives and more archivists aware of their social role than there were in 2007.

Anna’s final threat to the archivist

There is a possibility that the Hall of Records will make a reappearance in a later issue of the webcomic, although recent issues have mostly been a flashback to fill out the backstory, which helps deepen the story that much more. In any case, it was fun to do a little research, although not comprehensive, on this topic, about actual manipulation of archival records, the role of archivists, and connect it one of my favorite webcomics! Since I have so many webcomics I’m reading now that there is a distinct possibility I will come across archives once again. This has become a common topic on this blog as I;ve written about 180 Angel, Always Human, That Awkward Magic!!, and Lore Olympus in the past. I may end up using some of these concepts in my ongoing fiction series too, especially the one which features a non-binary archivist of color named Mx. Lawlor, who heads the Steamland Archives and Museum (SAM), or even the related series about the magical land of Avalor, which has a thriving archives! Anyway, I look forward to your comments and look forward, hopefully, to some other posts on here soon!


Notes

[1] Dictionary.com calls manipulation “skillful or artful management” and Merriam-Webster calls manipulation changing something “by artful or unfair means so as to serve one’s purpose,” synonymous with doctoring (altering something deceptively). The Merriam-Webster definition is closest to the Wikitionary definition.

[2] Jimerson, Randall C. (2007) “Archives for All: Professional Responsibility and Social Justice,” The American Archivist, 70(2): 254-5; Jedlitschka, Karsten. (2012) “The Lives of Others: East German State Security Service’s Archival Legacy,” The American Archivist, 75(1): 94, 99; Cox, Richard. (2009). “Secrecy, Archives, and the Archivist: A Review Essay (Sort Of),” The American Archivist, 72(1): 218; Kaplan, Elizabeth. (2003). “Reviews,” The American Archivist, 66(2): 326; Craig, Barbara. (2002) “Selected Themes in the Literature on Memory and Their Pertinence to Archives,” The American Archivist, 65(2): 280; Harris, Verne and Christopher Merrett (1994). “Toward a Culture of Transparency: Public Rights of Access to Official Records in South Africa,” The American Archivist, 57(4): 681.

[3] Foote, Kenneth. (1990) “To Remember and Forget: Archives, Memory, and Culture,” The American Archivist, 53(3): 384; Moss, William. (1977). “Oral History: An Appreciation,” The American Archivist, 40(4): 435.

[4] Guercio, Maria. (2001) “Principles, Methods, and Instruments for the Creation, Preservation, and Use of Archival Records in the Digital Environment,” The American Archivist, 64(2): 251; Panitch, Judith. (1996) “Liberty, Equality, Posterity?: Some Archival Lessons from the Case of the French Revolution,” The American Archivist, 59(1): 47; Wallace, David. (1993) “Archivists, Recordkeeping, and the Declassification of Records: What We Can Learn from Contemporary Histories,” The American Archivist, 56(4): 796; Skemer, Don. (1989). “Diplomatics and Archives,” The American Archivist, 52(3): 382; Vavra, Ashley. (2018). “The Right to Be Forgotten: An Archival Perspective,” The American Archivist, 81(1), 100-111.

[5] Jimerson, Randall C. (2007) “Archives for All: Professional Responsibility and Social Justice,” The American Archivist, 70(2): 270, 274, 277-278.

[6] Ibid, 281.


Update: In a recent issue of the webcomic, Gyorg claims that the birth of Manny drove a wedge between himself and Maxwell, even though it wasn’t Manny’s fault, as he wasn’t born yet, and he is resentful toward Gyorg, with Manny facing challenges ahead. Commenters noted that Anna and Margo caused the wedges, not Manny.

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archives Archivists Archivy Fantasy Film Records management

The secret files and mystery in “The Crown”

Churchill looks at archival file, part of the Marbury Archives, in the first part of the episode

While I don’t usually watch live-action series these days, I came across an episode of the British Netflix drama series, The Crown, which focuses on archives. When I saw the episode “Vergangenheit” (s2ep6) and I saw the records, I squeeled in glee at the archives shown.

As Wikipedia summarizes, the episode, set in 1958, centers around a box of classified documents found by U.S. soldiers in 1945 which belonged to the personal translator of Adolf Hitler. British translators learn about damning information in the files, with Winston Churchill getting the go ahead from the royals so suppress all knowledge of these files. Then, in the present of the show, Queen Elizabeth gets a request from the Duke of Windsor, Edward VIII, to re-enter Britain and he starts convincing former supporters to support his restoration to the throne. However, one thing stands in the way: The Marburg Files, which show his past links with the high command of the Nazis. Elizabeth confronts Edward about this, and he defends his actions as wanting to be make peace between Germany and England. She is torn between the idea of forgiveness and what she knows. Then, she learns from a long-time government official of the extent of Edward’s betrayal and traitorious action. Learning this, she denies the request by Edward, betrates him for his betrayal, especially for a plan where the Germans would take over Britain and return Edward to the throne, and even seeks spiritual counsel from the awful Billy Graham, but stands by her decision to ban him from returning to England.

As it turns out, In 1946, the US, France, and UK agreed to work together to process these files, but the British suppressed the truth until 1957 when the Americans released documents, forcing the British to do the same thing. More files were later released in 1996 by the UK National Archives, with George Kent writing (see the discussion of this starting on pages 45 and 46 of his article) in 1961 about how microfilms of the original documents were made available to students. Anyway, there are a few reviews of the episode in British publications, with The Telegraph noting that the episode ends with “archive footage of Edward and Wallis chinwagging with the Führer” and the British tabloid, Express, calling the Marburg Files “a series of top secret records from the Second World War made up of over 400 tons of foreign minister archives from Nazi Germany.” There were reviews of the episode in other publications, but none of them mentioned archives. [1]

I was excited by the scene in the records room, reminding me a bit of the scene in Joker which I wrote about on this blog, in the past. But first, we get microfilm machines, as we see people in the British Foreign Office analyzing the records. So, that was something I enjoyed. Here is an image of that, about 4 minutes into the episode:

In this image, analysts look at the records, and one man, shown in the foreground, is about to put microfilm in a machine allowing him to view it

He is looking at the original German translation and typing it into English, so can be understood by those reading it. Learning what the document says, he talks to his superior about its contents, and theytake it to their superior, who then contacts Churchill. He then agrees to suppress the report so no one knows about it. The royals and others agree to this at the time. Later we see archival boxes in the Captured German War Documents Publication Unit and more archival work inside this publication unit.

I love the part in the scene after this when the woman shown above (apparently a historian) finds a closed, secret file, and we see her working inside the room. This spoke to me in the sense that a lot of the records I index for my jobs are unclassified or secret records, and I can understand that excitement at looking at records like that. So, I loved that part of it. Even so, the room she is sitting in seems awfully dark to me, with only one light illuminating it all, a bit like what the room where Jules did her work in Carmen Sandiego. It falls into the stereotypes of a basement archives too, which is bad as well.

After this, she takes this file to her supervisor, letting him know about the secret file. They all look at the file together and decide to tell their supervisor about it, saying they want to publish the file in order to tell the truth to the British people. Later one of the historians talks to the Prime Minister about the files. Then, the Prime Minister talks to the Queen about it and the file is put in front of a number of people as more and more in the government, and there is discussion of how the Germans destroyed many of their records, as there is a scene that shows Germans burning records a bit like that scene in Read or Die of a book burning, but that the ones in the files were some of the ones that were saved. We also see more scenes of microfilm being reeled by analysts in the British Foreign Office.

Honestly, I think its cool that this whole episode is basically all focused around a set of documents and how to deal with them. But, I wish the archivists and historians had more of a role. Even so, this episode does treat records and archives relatively well.


Notes

[1] See reviews in Vanity Fair, The A.V. Club, History Extra, Newsweek, and Vulture.

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archives Archivists Fantasy Records management short blogs webcomics

Two webcomics focus on archivists, secure archives, and “soul records”

Although I mostly write about animated series on here, apart from past posts about Always Human, That Awkward Magic!!, and Lore Olympus, I come across some archivists in some of my favorite webcomics, specifically Power Bollad and 180 Angel, the former of which I mentioned on Twitter back in December.

Let’s start with Power Ballad. In the fourth episode, Meera mentions her ex, Sydney “Syd”, to her boss, Carina Peterson, who worked as an archivist at her art collection in the past. They later meet with Diane and find the art paintings they are looking for in her vault in the basement of her house. Then in the seventh episode, Meera meets with another one of her exs, Emmy, and comes with Carina. Emmy, an assistant curator at the museum, shows them around an exhibit that had been vandalized recently, noting that the real pieces the thief wanted to steal are in their “secure archives” only accessible to museum staff, with high-quality reproductions on display. Finally, in the 13th episode, they talk about an art piece stolen from the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art) archives and of course, Meera knows someone who works at the crime lab, another one of her exs.

Then we get to two episodes of 180 Angel. In episode 39 (“Discovered”), protagonist Chloe Samael “Sam” Heavenwood goes to the Hall of Soul Records in order to get directions to the office of Sereph Celeste. She talks with her about becoming a Seraph and there is a list of “unregistered soul records” which have a label saying they shouldn’t be filed. Then in episode 40 (“Calm Down”), Celeste tells her that no one can know about how her hair changes colors with her emotion and that she has to learn to control it. Apparently, her dog stole a record from the Hall of Records, and she calls it a library. Unfortunate that this comic lapses into the library=archives idea.

Even so, these webcomics continue the long tradition of fictionalizing archives, which dates back to Graeco-Roman times. As Sharon Wolff pointed out in 2018, due to the lack of public exposure that archivists and professionals in the archival field have, it means that “fictional representatives” of archivists become an “important way to give people an idea of what they do.”

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Animation archives Archivy Fantasy short blogs

A decrepit cataloging machine and archives in “Equestria Girls”

Screenshot from an Equestria Girls episode, taken from this YouTube video

Recently I was watching the animated series, Equestria Girls, which is part of the My Little Pony franchise. And, of course, libraries come up, but so do archives! In the final episode, titled “Unforgettable,” of the special “Forgotten Friendship,” Sunset Shimmer writes to her friend Princess Twilight about adding information to the archives, since the memory stone, which erased the memories of her friend is “no more.” Sadly, archives never come up again in that episode. However, this is not the only episode that archives appea.

In the episode “Homecoming,” of the same special, Sunset visits the library in Equestria with Princess Twilight, Princess Celestia, and Princess Luna. While there, they come across the restricted section of the library, which could be called an archives. It is not in good shape and is undergound in some sort of cave, or something. Princess Celestia warns them that the “archives mechanical catalog” is not working, and she turns out to be right, as it falls apart right in front of them after Sunset pulls a lever! This is not looking good for archives. It reminds me a lot of the “inner library” in She-Ra: Princess of Power which is an utter mess. On the plus side, the archives seems well-organized at least!

The archives catalog before and after Sunset pulls that lever; image from this video on YouTube

They continue to pour through the information in this archives (which is called a library), looking over a scroll made by someone (Clover) who tried to catch the person who had the the memory stone in the past. At one point, in the episode “Wiped Out,” Twilight declares that she will search the archives (called a “restricted section”) from top to bottom to help Sunset. She then says she will reorganize the whole archives (called a library) either by subject or chronologically! She also says she will fix the cataloging machine, which Sunset looks at with dismay. Sunset proceeds to leave, while Twlight, going through books, finds the missing page and writes to warn Sunset of the imminent danger to her. This reminds me a bit of what Myne said in Ascendance of a Bookworm about organizing the library in her world.

That’s really about it at this point. So, how the episode describes this is a mixed bag, unfortunately, sad to say, as it perpetrates the archives=library idea. They could have been distinguished, but sadly they were not. There’s not much more to say about the archives, as it is not shown very often and is confused with libraries, just like the Mystic Archives of Dantalian and the Star Wars series.

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archives Archivists Archivy Fantasy Records management

Theoda, Pothina, and archives at the “Savior Institute”

In August of last year, I wrote about Cleopatra in Space on this blog, talking about the special collections room shown in one of the episodes (“Clubbing”). Another episode, in fact, has a lot of archives within it, or at least archives elements. I’m talking about the Savior Institute, a museum dedicated to studying the story’s protagonist, Cleopatra “Cleo,” as shown in the episode “School Break.” The fandom page (written by someone this author knows well “smiles guiltily*) defines it as an institute, shown above, which examines the “prophecy of Cleo as the savior of the galaxy,” adding that it includes “present information on her and her fighting tactics,” and a statue of her which was commissioned by Theoda and Pothina, researchers working there who engage in archivy duties, and can be considered archivists in a sense. It is in a desert environment on the planet of Chios, near a creepy forest, includes indoor and outdoor spaces, and a museum ship which sells items which look like Cleo. It also includes public areas an those set aside for scholarly study, examining documents and stone carvings. In the trivia section, it is compared to the library/museum/archive in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power series run by George and Lance, that it seems to be permanent and non-profit institution which easily fiys the definition of a museum, and likely has a “mission statement, a code of ethics, a strategic institutional plan, a disaster plan, and a collections management policy,” continually expanding its collections. However, it could also be considered an archives, with the secton of the page pointing out:

…the Institute could be considered an archives, based on the definition outlined by the Society of American Archivists, because it is collecting archival records relating to Cleo, maintaining records of continuing value, which are inactive even though it is gathering more all the time and the records there seem to permanent. The Institute could more accurately be considered a form of a manuscript repository, as it is collecting/studying historically valuable records of Cleo from sources other than P.Y.R.A.M.I.D. and its collection of Cleo records can be considered an archive.

There is much more to this than this one paragraph. In fact, documents are examined by Theodra and Pothina in the episode itself, as shown in the screenshot below, to give one example of a rare document:

I would say that the Institute itself constitutes a shrine to Cleo (which makes her freak out the first time she sees it). Even though Merriam-Webster defines it as a “place in which devotion is paid to a saint or deity,” and Cleo is definitely not a deity (a god, supreme being or someone “exalted or revered as supremely good or powerful”), she does fall into one of the definitions of saint in Merriam-Webster: one eminent for piety or virtue. Now, putting that aside, they do examine a document using an electronic scanner while Theoda and Pothina talk about stuff like the “hypothetical syntax cluster” (what even is that?). Unfortunately, they talk about making a “discovery” of a scroll on the planet of Chios. Now, that wouldn’t be a big problem, except “discovery” and “archives” do not have a good history. As B. M. Watson, PhD student at the University of British Columbia’s School of Information, explains,

…Over the course of my archival training, however, I came to share my new colleagues’ frustration with “the archive.” Over and over again, journalists report breathlessly about a historian who has “discovered” or “uncovered” or “found” something exciting. Most of these articles leave out the fact that the researcher only found something so exciting because it was appropriately described by a cultural heritage institution and made accessible to them—description and access being just two of the services cultural heritage professionals provide. There was the case in 2019 of a researcher “stumbling over” a Sylvia Plath story—a story that has been catalogued and available for decades. Last June, sources gushed that the original Juneteenth order was “unearthed” in the National Archives, and then described the archivist going to the shelf to locate it based on its cataloging information. While researchers may discover previously unrecognized or unknown content, or make new connections, the documents and books themselves are rarely newly “discovered.”

Of course that’s not what Theoda or Pothina are referring to here, but using the word discovery shows a lack of understanding of the archival field. This sadly, isn’t surprising coming from the world of animation, as those in the field seem to not get archives on a fundamental level and often, and wrongly, equate them with libraries, even though they should know better!

Cleo is the one that gives Akila the idea to translate the prophecy stone, but she ends up touching the stone, but is not punished. So people, please do not touch the vital records when NO ONE is around! There isn’t really much to expect for a show where characters take scrolls out of their hair (literally), talk about cyrptic “prophecy thingys,” although Akila does show that she knows how to read an ancient language, even if she doesn’t know what the “Golden Lion” is, a bit like Adora able to read the First Ones writing. There is hope for her yet!

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Animation Anime archives Archivists Film Manga Records management Romance webcomics

Popular culture and the duties of archivists

Peel Archives has written about archives and archivists in popular culture before, and as such, I’ve listed them in a bibliography page on this website. I recently came across two posts by archivist Samantha Thompson in April 2018 and July 2015 about the duties of archivists and what information they keep. In April 2018 post, where she notes that in film, archives “are generally mysterious places,” hiding and revealing secrets that move the plot forward, with one of the biggest mysteries is “how all that stuff got into the archives in the first place,” with old documents somehow ending up in the archives, but it’s never shown how this happens. That’s definitely true. I mean, there are even series where characters literally set the archives on fire and there are no consequences for their actions. With that, I’d like to compare what she says to the archivists that I’ve found in popular culture up to this point.

Arrangement

Thompson writes about how archivists organize and store records, engaging in an arrangement of records in a way that doesn’t disturb “important connections, clarifies how the records were used, related, or collected,” while making it easier “to navigate the records.” This includes physically processing records based on the organization established, when sorting, filing, labeling, and rehousing them in specific archival containers. This connects to Lore Olympus, where, at the end of episode 111 (“You Tell Me”), the two of the Fates (Atropos and Lachesis) talk about how they need to refine their filing system for records. This is alluding, I would argue, to the arrangement that archivists engage in, as these records, memories stored in a videotape format akin to VHS, have to be stored and organized in a specific way. And yes, unlike Steven in Steven Universe, these tapes are stored correctly.

Lachesis grabbing a tape from the shelf

This contrasts with the infinity archive, confused with a library, in the Mystic Archives of Dantalian. How, in the world, are all those records arranged, described, and selected? That is, of course, never explained.

Description

That connects to description, which are ways to systematically summarize descriptions, giving “researchers snapshots of what they can expect to find in collections,” with these descriptions forming finding aids or guides to the collections themselves. As she puts it rightly, not every individual item can be listed, but a description can help see if a collection is good for research. It could be said that Futurama touched on this with the Physical File Archive, although there is some debate as to whether that is an archive or a records center since it has semi-active records. However, no archivists were seen in the episode. There is implied description by archivists like Filis in Tri-Squad VoiceDrama, Destiny in the X-Men comics, and Robert Nicholas in Vatican Miracle Examiner. The same can be said of the books and materials collected in the family library, or more accurately a library-museum-archive hybrid, in the Whispering Woods in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.

Preservation

In one of her posts, Thompson talks about the preservation and conservation of records, whether older records or newer ones. Related to that, perhaps, is the underground newspaper archive of Nathan’s grandfather in Stretch Armstrong. Are the newspapers really being preserved correctly? It’s hard to know. The area may be dusty, but none of the newspapers are moldy from what I remember.

Newspaper archive as shown in “Harkness General”

You could also say that Abigail Chase, a NARA archivist, in the National Treasure franchise is focused on preservation, especially in the first film, despite the stereotypes in that film. The same could be said about the Yale University librarian in Can You Ever Forgive Me? who gives Lee Israel access to historical letters. Sadly, she does not know that Israel wants to exploit the institution for her own financial gain and ego. However, Seiya in Tsurune sees himself as “Minato’s archivist, his preserver and protector” and in the manga series, Children of the Whales, Chakuro is the “Archivist for the Mud Whale, diligently chronicling the lives and deaths of his people,” to give two examples.

Appraisal

In her July 2015 post, Thompson notes that a lot of what archivists do is “behind the scenes,” using unique terminology, obtaining and assessing records. For the latter, this means selection, appraisal, and acquisition. Appraisal, as she defines it, means:

Visiting potential donors of large collections to see if and how much material should be saved…Studying individual documents as we organize them…Researching the background history and context of collections [.] Writing reports documenting our reasons for accepting or declining records [.] Reviewing documents to ensure privacy legislation is observed and copyright status is clear.

In an episode of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, titled “The Lost One,” Madame Jocasta Nu, the archivist of the Jedi Temple archives, who embodies many stereotypes about archivists and librarians, says that a record is sealed by the Supreme Chancellor. This isn’t appraisal, obviously, but can be assessing the records and providing access to them. I’ll talk more about Madame Nu later in this post. When it comes to George and Lance in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Samantha Cross put it well, that you have to “squint and imagine George and Lance appraising, selecting, arranging, and describing their First Ones collection.” No doubt about that. There had to be some appraisal when it came to the special collections room in Cleopatra in Space, within the PYRAMID school library, as they couldn’t have been organized so well without it, I would argue. Still, I haven’t seen, in any of the animations or popular culture I’ve read, archivists engaging in appraisal. I’d like to see it, but I’m not going to hold my breath and assume it will happen.

I haven’t mentioned appraisal directly in any fan fictions I have written which mention archives, but I have talked about accession numbers, only transferring inactive records to archives and the difference between archives and libraries.

Reference, collaboration, outreach, and administrative tasks

Thompson writes about the ways to connect people with records, whether through reference activities (helping people use the records), collaboration, outreach, and administrative tasks. She is undoubtedly right that “taking care of archives can be a surprisingly busy occupation.” Now, we actually do have an example of collaboration and outreach. In the comic Leif & Thorn, Broiny, the archivist, gives information to the President about people named “Thorn”:

In later comics, she gives information on Thorn and describes his achievements. She acts as a presidential adviser. In any case, she is helping people with outreach and collaboration. What about reference and administrative tasks? I believe that Nathan’s grandfather in Stretch Armstrong would be engaging in reference, as he points to Ricardo and Nathan to the newspapers he has organized, where they can look for information. The newspaper archives seem like his personal hobby.

What about administrative tasks? Well, I haven’t seen an archivist engage in that in any of the media I’ve seen as of yet. Despite the stereotypes in Attack of the Clones, as I’ve talked about time and time again, especially confusing libraries for archives, Madame Nu is shown helping Obi-Wan with his inquiry before her infamous line, which is talked about later in this post. We do see her, in the animation, trying to serve as a mentor to Ahsoka Tano and help her with her studies. So, that’s a positive. Additionally, in Hilda, the librarian definitely engages in reference and outreach by helping Hilda in various episodes. She isn’t an archivist, but she is very close to it because she runs the special collections room in the town library. Perhaps Arizal will engage in some administrative tasks if the Recorded by Arizal series moves into a full season, but I kinda doubt it, because that would be seen as “too boring” for animation.

Selection

While the blueprint was prominently placed on the table is positive, while indicating the record is being used (the dragon is the only patron) the fact that Cedric cannot find the right document is a failure of selection and organization as shown in this episode of The Bravest Knight

In an April 2018 post, Thompson says that modern archives aren’t an accident are shaped by “the decisions of archivists working together with other professionals,” with more to archival records than their age, archives not keeping everything, and the fact that everything doesn’t need to be preserved. This is connected to the interrelated tasks of acquisition and appraisal, and the important responsibility of archivists to “help determine how the future views the past” through their judgment, making people uneasy. She also talks about the selection of records:

Archivists themselves don’t create the records they collect in archives…They are created in as many places and circumstances as people are found. A record can be as ephemeral…Records reveal events as they unfold…Because records are created for specific purposes, they don’t always survive beyond their initial usefulness…Some records, however, do survive…But no records automatically come into archives. For this to happen requires decisions and planning both outside and inside the archives…Archivists themselves have varying levels of control over whether records ever reach their doors…Some archives acquire records through the organization the archives serves…In contrast, records can also come to an archives from the wide world outside the archival institution’s organization…Over time archivists have devised ways to winnow down and control the deluge of records to those worth permanently saving. Archival records are a further small subset of all the records that survive. The act of making judgements about what records are archivally valuable and worth saving permanently is called archival appraisal…Archivists are always considering and reconsidering their role in shaping the historical and evidential record.

This runs completely counter to Madame Nu’s infamous line in Attack of the Clones: “if an item doesn’t appear in our records, it does not exist.” Before that, she had been questioning Obi-Wan and acting like he was bonkers, thinking the Jedi Temple archive is immutable, without error. Any archivist knows that is not true. An archive never has every record. It only has specific records. If even Yoda can recognize that someone can erase files from the archive, then why can’t Madame Nu? She is the lone arranger of the archives, as shown in the animation, so she should know about this, but she doesn’t for some reason. I actually talk about selection in one of my fan fictions, where one character becomes head of the archives, which I’d like to quote here:

George and Lance worked with Angella, Bow, and his other 12 siblings, to plan construction of a new building, atop the Fright Zone’s previous location, called the Archives of Etheria…As a kind gesture, Stevonnie gave the diary, The tale of Rainbow Quartz and Pink Diamond, back to Angella. She gifted it, along with other books and materials from her personal library to the growing archives, a new institution of knowledge, where she would serve as a special adviser, helping them choose the right items to add to their collections…Bow accepted her sword and promised it would be added to the growing collections of the new archives.

I admit I could have done more here, but it still served as an important method to represent archives positively. Apart from these, are some actions in terms of selecting records among some assorted films, video games, and novels I reviewed in October.


That’s all for this week. Until the next post!

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archives Archivists Archivy Fantasy Film Live-action short blogs

So… where are the archivists, anyway?: Abandoned archives and absent archivists

On September 27, 2011, academic librarian Rose L. Chou wrote a post explaining what an archivist does, an important reminder to librarians and library school students. She first explained that archival records document the “activities of its creator – whether that’s an individual, group, or organization – and these records serve as direct evidence of the creator’s activities,” meaning that they have enduring value. She further noted that archives can refer to archival materials, organizations that collect those materials, the profession, or the building which houses the materials. She further stated that the work of an archivist involves “many different parts of managing an archival collection” including appraisal, acquisition, arrangement, description, preservation, reference, and outreach. She concluded by saying that archivists do this to “enable public accountability of government activities” and a commitment to “preserving different aspects of history,” adding that archivists endure the “physical and intellectual control of records that have enduring value” for assorted reasons, all to make sure “people to access and use records.” In this post I’d like to build off that and look at a few series I have written about on this blog in the past, asking: where are the archivists? Who is managing the records?

Let’s start with Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, a 2005 film where archives are a key part of the film. At one point, the characters see a record from the archive of the planet of Magrathea, the home of a group of engineers who built planets. We see that the information is deleted:

This raises a couple of questions. We know that the Commercial Council of Magrethea is who publishes the archive. But, who deleted the information and why? It could be the programmers who turned into mice on Earth, but this question is never answered in the film. The archivists who made sure that this record, a tape telling of the history of a great computer named Deep Thought and the computer that computer created to calculate the ultimate question, are never shown. Perhaps the information was deleted to protect the project of the mice and the identity of Earth itself, but this is never stated specifically in the film or in the books.

With that, let’s move to Amphibia. In an episode, Anne and the other Plantars visit the out-of-the-way historic town archives, which is underground and no other people are present and could be called a repository more accurately. There are all sorts of stereotypes in the episode which I already explained in a post in July of last year, so I don’t want to repeat myself. But, I will say that no archivists are shown. Someone has to go in there and organize the books, the scrolls, and other artifacts inside. Why does it appear the archives is abandoned? The founder of the archives, Mycroft Newtback, is mentioned, as it was previously his house and turned into an archive after his death. Having an archivist who would have helped them find what they were looking for would have saved them a lot of time instead of them searching for it themselves! Just saying.

Sprig reaches for a scroll with a blueprint of their house in the archive

While I would talk about Futurama here, it is implied that Hermes Conrad, the bureaucrat at Planet Express, organizes the Physical File Archive, as it allows him to take out the file and later destroy it in order to hide his role as Inspector #5 that Bender hates so much. However, I can talk about Cleopatra in Space. While Khensu has access to the special collections room of the PYRAMID library, is he the one that organized the information? Is there a person specifically dedicated to the room like The Librarian in Hilda? The same can be said about the “special library” in Little Witch Academia, the various records in Steven Universe, or the scrolls within a tree in Tangled. The latter case is particularly significant. The Great Tree, where an evil spirit named Zhan Tri once lived, as noted on the fandom page. However, who organized the scrolls that are shown in two episodes? Someone had to put the scrolls, with incantations on them, in these wall organizers which you could call scroll boxes. Who was it and what form of organization did they use? The episodes these scrolls appear in this question is never answered. In fact, in the second episode, the scrolls are in even worse shape than before, lying on the ground due to the collapse of the tree. Neither Cass nor the Enchanted Blue Fairy (actually Zhan Tri) seems to care about the scrolls. These scrolls should be an archive!

Abandoned scrolls in “Rapunzel and the Great Tree”

 

Abandoned scrolls in “Islands Apart”

That’s all for this post, but it was important to talk about this, as archival records often come up in popular culture, but the archivists are never seen. In the future, I’ll likely write another post on this subject, but I think this is a good starting point.

Categories
Animation Anime Archivists Fantasy Live-action short blogs webcomics

The specter of…”snot-nosed archivists” and the value of archives in popular culture

Some time ago, I came across an old LISTSERV from June 2001. In it, David Miller of the Philadelphia Department of Records notes that Entertainment Weekly has an article about new summer shows in the U.S. including a character in The Chronicle named Pig Boy, voiced by Curtis “Booger” Armstrong, as a “snout-nosed archivist,” and says may have to “pass on this one.” In response, Russell P. Baker of the Arkansas History Commission and State Archives jokes that he happens to “know some other “snot – nosed” archivists in my time.” I looked it up and found, that yes, he literally has a pig nose! Oh no.

So much for a good representation of archivists! It brings me to a post by Cate Peebles in Issues & Advocacy back in January 2018. In the post, she notes the “omnipresence of records-related headlines” and the ongoing “relevance of archival work,” along with the proliferation of archives, archival documents, and “the archive” in popular culture, even as archivists are missing in these depictions. She specifically notes that the “true crime documentary” relies on archives, in films like The Thin Blue Line, Making a Murderer, The Jinx, Serial (podcast), OJ; Made in America, The Keepers, and Wormwood. She goes onto say that these series focus on the “visual power of records,” with archival footage and footage of those materials driving the action while providing the “viewer with access to potential answers and a satisfying resolution.” Peebles goes onto explain the use of records in three series. First is The Jinx, specifically in the form of crime scene photos, samples of handwriting, interview transcripts, and various paper media, along with oral history interviews. Second is Making a Murder, with the “importance of evidentiary records over time and the need for adequate stewardship of legal and public records” a major highlight of the series. Finally, there is The Keepers, which has the protagonists as “keepers of memory, truth-seekers and literal stewards.” Peebles, after noting how film can invigorate archival records, the value of those records in various series, the importance of ongoing stewardship and preservation of archival records, even when actual archives and archivists are absent from narratives concludes with some poignant lines about archives in popular culture which still ring true to this day:

“There is no “popular” image of an archivist and yet we are more present than ever, however unseen we may be. Without records and their keepers, there are no stories to tell.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself! This also highlights two pieces that I added to the Bibliography page on this blog. One is a 1993 piece by James O’Toole which talks about the “symbolic” aspects of recordkeeping and record making, saying that archivists should understand these aspects as they try to preserve their collections, and another by Gabriel Palatz, in 2011, which talks about archival material front and center in many documentaries at the present.

What Peebles writes about makes me think about the archivists I’ve written about on this blog before, which makes clear her point. Some, like Abigail Chase in the National Treasure franchise, are glamorous. Others are spinsters, old and stubborn, like Madame Nu in Attack of the Clones and the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series. Then there are those who are strict, run basement newspaper archives (like Nathan’s grandfather in Stretch Armstrong), or the 80s-style archivists in Lore Olympus. This becomes even more diverse if we consider George and Lance in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (although they call themselves historians), along with Khensu in Cleopatra in Space, Dantalian in Mystic Archives of Dantalian, and the Librarian in Hilda to be archivists or at least engage in some archivy duties, then it becomes an even more diverse group! Hopefully, this list is expanded further if Recorded by Arizal gets a proper season, as the protagonist, Arizal, wants to be a keeper, which means that she is engaging in some archivist duties. Additionally, fan fiction itself serves as a place where people can write about archivists, as I’ve done, along with various archivists in Hollywood films, and in other parts of popular culture. I’m not sure if I will reach a moment again like what I wrote about in September 2020, stating that it is becoming hard to publish posts on the blog because “of the lack of archives or archivists in any of the media I’m watching now,” mostly talking about animation, but also feature films. That was supposed to be a way to cover me if I end up putting this blog on temporary hiatus. I doubt that will happen at this point.

Anyway, here are two favorite archivists from the above-named animations and comics: Nathan’s grandfather and Clotho in Lore Olympus. I love that Clotho is reeling up the magnetic tape here. That’s cool. I hope it stays in the upcoming animated series.

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archives Archivists Fantasy Records management short blogs webcomics

20-something archivists in two comics

Cortez Velasquez profile on the Heirs of Veil website

Some time ago, I learned about archivists in two series: Leif & Thorn and Heirs of the Veil. The first of them is Briony, a 24-year-old presidential archivist, is in a few different comics, and having a Feabhric ethnicity. The second is Cortez Velasquez, a 26-year-old who uses he/him pronouns. Cortez is described as an “archivist by day, supernatural social worker, called the Strayer, by night.” Sounds cool!

I can’t speak about Cortez, as I’d have to read the comic more, but I can talk about Briony, as there is much more information on her, in a comic that bills itself as a “sparkly queer cross-cultural fantasy comedy” by Erin Ptah. She is shown first in the background of an October 25, 2015 comic issue (“Homecoming 1/24“) focused on the capital city of Ceannis, the native country of Thorn and a superpower in the Gulf region of the world. Feabhric people are, interesting enough, a minority group in the kingdom, which means that she is a person of color and an archivist, which is even more amazing. It is a democracy that includes a “Senate and a President who serves for a six-year term.”  She is shown working in the office of the president, Olive Romarin, but has no lines. However, the next comic, on October 26, 2015, titled “Homecoming 2/24,” gives the archivist a line and she is referred to as the archivist, specifically! That’s cool.

Briony appears in some other comics in the background and with no lines, [1] she does appear in two other comic issues. The first is “Homecoming 3/24” on October 27, 2015. She gives information on Thorn, describes his achievements, to the “Lady President” (as she calls Olive), and reminds her that she gave a medal to Thorn the previous year! Ha! The final line she gets is in the comic “Leif & Thorn: IN SPACE #3,” set in an alternative universe where the characters of the comic are in space! In that universe, she is Chief Information Officer of the Zeerust, their spaceship. Sadly, she does not appear in the comic after that point.

That’s all for this post, and as always, I’m open to more suggestions.


Notes

[1] Specifically: “An Incredibly Platonic Shopping Day 7/14” (May 9, 2017), “The Show Must Grow On: Overture 6/21” (April 15, 2018), and “Party Processions” (May 17, 2020). Also, Briony appears in a character spread in February 2020.

Categories
Animation archives Archivy Records management Romance short blogs

Anne, the forbidden archives, romance, and research

Floating books in the “forbidden archives” in the episode, “Agony of Grea”

Hello everyone! I’d like to talk about two of my favorite anime series: Manaria Friends and Little Witch Academia. I wrote about Little Witch Academia before, but I haven’t mentioned Manaria Friends, so I saw this as an opportunity to do so!

In the Manaria Friends episode “Agony of Grea,” Anne travels to the “forbidden archives” of the library to get a book to help Grea. Again, this is a confusion of archives and libraries, just like in Lore Olympus, the Star Wars franchise, and Amphibia. The Wikipedia episode description doesn’t help in this regard, declaring: “Grea is suddenly struck with a high fever and Anne goes through the “forbidden” archives of the library trying to find a way to cure her.” Some said that this reminded them of their dreams.

The episode begins with a character coming in with “forbidden” books given to her by a librarian at the desk after she told the librarian it was an emergency. Then, Anne, a Princess, runs to the library to find an answer. She travels through the deep bowels of the archives with her servant, what one character calls “the forbidden archives of the library,” traveling down hallways, through floating books, magical forests, and stepping through the air with her magic, to continue and find answers, even jumping into the water. She tries to gather more and more information as she goes forward, as it flows through her hand. They get a shortcut to the library, blasting inside, and scramble to find the medicines to help Grea in whatever way possible.

Anne returns in time and looks at Grea with shock. She learns that Grea was just molting a new tail. While she says that she was unable to do anything to help Grea, and holds the skin of her tail, showing that she still loves her a lot. The final parts of the episode show people at the magic academy trying to fix the damage to the library caused by Anne’s entry and Anne tells that Grea’s tail looks great, which embarrasses her even more, causing her to leave.

Reference archives in “Blue Moon”

In another of my favorite series, Little Witch Academia, there are two episodes that focus on archives. In the first of these “Blue Moon,” Diana travels to the reference archives of the magic academy she attends to learn more about an important legend. The archives are in a hidden crypt and the book she looks at is dusty. The archives is deserted and she is the only one who is there, getting to the book by using her broom with a lantern at the end, as the room is dark. More awful stereotypes. I hate to see them. It makes me sad to see them in an animated series. Don’t those producing these series know better?

Reference archives in “Samhain Magic Festival,” with Ursula on a broom looking for the right item

Then, there’s the episode “Samhain Magic Festival.” In this episode, Prof. Ursula travels to the same reference archives, looking for a specific object in order to help Akko but has a hard time finding it. She goes back and finds out from a spirit that the monster is sad because of the Seed of Sadness. Go archives! So, that’s a positive!