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Archives: the final frontier

Most people assume–if they think about it at all–that the primary users of archival materials are historians.  You could argue that easily, since archives generally hold non-current records and hence anyone researching there is wearing a historical  hat of some sort.  But professional historians or even amateur historians aren’t a huge percentage of our user base.

Take today, for example.  We had two researchers do in-person visits.  One is doing background research for a play he’s planning to write.  Yes, historical, but the product isn’t going to be traditional history, it’s going to be fiction and specifically fiction for the theatre.  The other was seeking some digitized images of photographs to use as part of an art piece she’s creating for the 50th anniversary of Alaska statehood: again, technically history, but the result is better classified as art.

We see scientists, anthropologists, artists, and just about any type of researcher that might spring to mind.  One summer a few years ago we had a run of Trekkies: turns out that Kate Mulgrew (she played the captain on Star Trek: Voyager) had done a brief stint in a production of The Philadelphia Story in Anchorage in the 1980s and we have production photos as part of the Alaska Repertory Theatre records.  It’s a long explanation as to why we were briefly inundated with requests relating to this, and probably not all that interesting to anybody who isn’t a Trekker, but the short version was that a few fans discovered that we hold these photographs and requested copies of a number of them to be placed on websites.  Historical research?  That’s probably stretching the definition a little.

So what’s the point?  Well, we also received a few emails today from people interested in donating their own papers to an archives and were asking about our collection policy.  And the truth is, if we collected papers solely thinking of historians as an audience, we’d be doing a huge disservice to all those other types of researchers who use us regularly who don’t consider themselves historians.  Having a good perspective on historical research is an important part of making the appraisal decisions we do when we choose to take in collections, but we do have to keep a lot of potential uses in mind.

Including, apparently, fandom.

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