Why do kids write on bathroom walls and
spray paint messages on buildings? Part of the reason is that
they want to leave their mark on the places they pass
through. None of us wants to be anonymous and unimportant.
We should harness students' desire to have an impact on
their place by inviting them
to contribute gifts of scholarship to local archives. The
message, "You can do important work that will be preserved for as long as this
school exists" can be a powerful motivator, if it is
When a school adopts as a central project
the creation of an archives, containing the school's and the
community's shared memory, with the understanding that
materials entered into it will be there forever, the work
students do takes on an importance and a dignity not often
associated with school assignments.
The decision to create a school or community archives is a
decision to make something that will continue growing forever. To
understand its value, one has to believe that twenty, or fifty,
or a hundred years from now, people will still be adding to it,
still using it.
communities understand themselves as including those who are here
now, those who were here yesterday but are now gone, and those
who are not yet here but will be tomorrow. The most powerful way to forge bonds
of understanding between the generations is to take up the long-term
project of gathering, interpreting and presenting the community's
history. Such a project combines symbolic power with a host of daily,
weekly, and annual practices that develop a historical
A school archives will best function as the center of a
community's living memory when using it and adding to it is
incorporated across the curriculum, and when students in many
classes collaborate with various people and agencies in the
community to research and interpret local history, local science,
and local folklife.
Science classes often do small projects, such as estimating
the frog populations in a local creek. This can be of great value
to students, helping them understand how scientists gather and
interpret data. Imagine how much more useful such a project would
be if the students had similar data on that creek, going back
fifty years. Not only could they interpret their snapshot, but
they could also "see" what was happening in a way that
would not be possible without such data. It would trigger many
other questions, which only they could answer.
Their work would be valuable not just as a classroom activity,
but for the larger community. The most significant way that
modern biology differs from classical biology is that biologists
now know that nature cannot be understood without history. That
is, they focus upon processes occurring in time rather than upon
static categories. Every locality has many questions that could
be answered by scientific research that is well within the scope
of high school students.
As we teach students to gather such data, and to label it accurately
and completely to preserve its value, and then to save it for future
researchers, we are teaching not just the techniques of science but we
are initiating them into its larger meaning: the ongoing collaboration
involving millions of people across centuries working together on the
great project of human knowledge.
Similarly, good history
teachers understand that students are unlikely to understand how
historical understanding is developed by historians if they don't
do research in primary sources. Though students would have
trouble doing original research on, say, the rise of Christianity
in Fourth Century Rome, they find an abundance of sources and
unanswered questions at the local level.
The frontiers of human knowledge in both history and science
are close at hand on the local level. High school students are
well positioned to ask and answer real questions for which
answers cannot be found in textbooks or other published sources.
In doing so, they can provide real service to their communities
while tasting the adventure of the quest for knowledge. At the local level,
students can become the world's leading authorities on all sorts of
Questions to research are inexhaustible. Some of the work, especially at the beginning,
may be purely
organizational. Does a list of each superintendent and his or her
tenure exist? Is there a list, election by election, of who has
served on the school board? Are existing records organized and
filed along with adequate finding aids? At the community level, are obituaries
in the local newspapers indexed? Are cemetery records accessible?
Developing finding aids often triggers questions as research
possibilities come to light. Examining census records may lead a student
to wonder where immigrants to the community came from, which may lead
them to wonder why they came. Who started various businesses and why did some succeed and
some fail? What social clubs and organizations were formed
and for what purposes? When did various churches begin
and what are the key events in their histories?
questions are researched, the papers should be added to the
archives. As the collection grows, so does its value. Just as with other bodies
of knowledge, new students will begin a research project by examining
the collection to see what has already been done, and to see where gaps
still remain. In time, the archives may become the school's most
valuable learning resource, as important to the community as a photo
album is to a family.
As the work grows, classes will find new ways to contribute.
Perhaps freshmen will contribute life histories of community
members. Sophomores could frame questions about social changes,
such as how the community adapted to the introduction of
electricity or automobiles. Juniors could look into local
responses to national events, such as the Great Depression or
World War II.
A senior civics class might focus on political
processes, recognizing that one of the best ways to understand
current issues is to study similar issues from the past. People disagreeing about whether or not to build a new
school may suggest a research project into how things happened during a similar debate in
the past. When the school gymnasium was built thirty years ago,
what groups opposed it and what groups supported it? What were
their reasons? How did the debate unfold? What happened?
Some basic responsibilities can be considered. Many towns have rest homes for
community elders. Each year, new people move into them. Perhaps a
junior English class could take responsibility for seeing to it
that every elder in the rest home has a chance to tell his or her
story for the record.
If each elder knows that his or her
experiences are valued by the community enough to be collected
and preserved forever, who knows what reflection this might
promote among the elderly? Who knows what is being lost now? Young people feel the poignancy
of assisting old
people to provide a legacy no one else can provide.
Are there buildings that can have their histories researched
for a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places? Can
local artists or writers be interviewed? Have the histories of
local organizations such as women's clubs, volunteer ambulances and fire
departments, food pantries, and libraries been researched and
An art class might accept
responsibility for contributing a photograph of a mountain or
creek or the city park, taken from the same point on the same
day, each year. The value of this record would increase each year
that it was taken, and future researchers will be able to ask the
collection questions that no one anticipates today. Scientists attempting to
understand the carrying capacity of the land in Yellowstone Park pored
over old photographs, ignoring the tourists in the foreground to study
the vegetation in the background.
A journalism class might undertake any number of cultural journalism
projects: documenting a day in the life of a dairy farmer or the
practice of a traditional folkway, such as setting up a hunting camp. An industrial arts class might commit to
photographing new buildings in town to add to the community's visual record of
its built environment. A
home economics class might collect traditional family or ethnic
recipe along with oral interviews for a foodways collection.
Organize a School Archives?
A community's history is a tapestry of thousands of
threads, including what happens both to its individuals and its
institutions. Because schools involve a cross-section of
community members and because they are governed in part by local
politics, the record of their discussions and activities is
important history. It is a resource for researchers in the
development of educational or community history and practices.
Creating a formal archives program can provide a focus for school and
community relations while increasing public
awareness of the school's importance to the community. It can
preserves the community's identity and while nourishing the school's associations
with the community.
Started - Decisions
A bit of planning at the beginning can save major headaches
down the road. Several questions should be considered. For
example, who will be responsible? Where will the materials be
stored? How big should the archives be: a file drawer or a
separate room? Should the materials be stored off-campus, at a
historical society or museum? How will the community have access to the
What will be collected? What
organizational materials, minutes, publications, and photographs should be
Will an oral history program be instituted? Oral histories can
be an important history-gathering activity and can give depth to
the program. But such programs are labor intensive. In addition
to making the recordings, researchers need to do background
research, develop questions, create transcripts or indexes after the interviews,
and make arrangements for preservation and public access to the
Shall portions of the collection be digitized and uploaded
to the internet? When will this happen in the acquisition
and and maintenance cycle? Who will be responsible for
maintaining the digital collection?
When an archives is established, the intent should be to keep
the collection forever. It becomes part of the formal
infrastructure of the institution, and it should be regulated by careful
policies. Issues as such privacy and copyright are
governed by federal and state rules and should be addressed
at the beginning of forming the archives.
An Archives Advisory Committee might be appointed by the
school board. This committee's chief duty is to protect the
collection by ensuring continuity of care by seeing that specific policies are being
This committee should appoint an individual to
work with the collection: an archivist, curator, director,
librarian or other person who will be responsible for carrying out necessary
activities. This person should have a basic understanding of
archival principles. Depending on the scale of the program, this
position could be filled by a teacher or librarian on a part-time
basis. It could also be done by a community volunteer.
The best source of volunteers may be the school's retired
teachers, administrators, and other staff. They are familiar with
the institution and a part of its history.
Both volunteers and students can perform a multitude of tasks:
cataloging, indexing publications, preparing exhibits, inputting
data, and doing research.
Policies are a form of institutional memory, helping
keep programs coherent and while assisting individuals to see the
big picture. Policies should be written to govern what the
archives will collect, how it will collect, who will use the
information under what circumstances, and how materials will
be removed from the collection.
One way to integrate an archives program into a school's
management is for it to be part of the school's Record Management
Plan. If this approach is used, the Records Management Plan
should include policies for managing the archives.
If the archives is not a part of the Records Management Plan, there
are several other policies that could be considered.
First, an Enabling Resolution passed by the school board to establish the archives through a public statement of record.
This resolution gives the archives legitimacy and communicates
Second, a Mission Statement sets out the scope and rationale
for the archives and its activities in identifying, preserving,
administering, and using historical materials. Such a statement
defines the archives' purpose and makes planning and development
Third, the Collections Policy Statement provides more detailed
procedures for each clause in the Mission Statement. This
statement defines various responsibilities, establishes the
limits of the collection as well as describing the methods of
collecting, preserving, and removing materials.
statements may also be useful.
For example, a Collections Policy Manual can define the
Collection Policy Statement by detailing the procedures for
handling the collection. Written procedures provide a
step-by-step plan for handling each acquisition to ensure
continuity and standard practices in managing the collection.
A Strategic Plan can be based on the Mission Statement to give
direction to the archives in one-, three-, or five-year increments.
This plan can establish the current and future goals and direction
of the archives.
An Access Policy determines how the collections will be used
and by whom and under what circumstances.
An Accessions Register is a permanent record of all materials
added to the collection. It lists the donor or department, the
items entered into the collection, and it assigns a unique
control number to the item.
Online Photographic Archives