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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.

By histhermann

Marylander with MLIS who loves archives, libraries, genealogy, reviewing pop culture, and writing fictional stories. UMD '19 & SMCM '16 grad. I've been running various WordPress blogs for a while now, about genealogy, libraries, archives, and more.

2 replies on “So… where are the archivists, anyway?: Abandoned archives and absent archivists”

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