Why archive?

For outdoor communities, archives form an enduring record of the individual and collective memory of their members. Fond memories and knowledge hard won can easily fade if they aren’t kept current, or recorded and stored carefully.

Thank you to Belinda Battley from the Auckland University Tramping Club for her considerable assistance writing this resource, as well as providing links and reviewing the finished product.

Archiving is not just about keeping really old photos and newsletters, it is an ongoing and vital task if we are to preserve our histories effectively in this digital age. As Shaun Barnett explains below;

“At present I am co-writing a book about the Tararua TC to mark its centenary in 2019. What has been striking is that while written records and club publications are quite well preserved in the club’s physical archive, it is the photographs and other ephemera that are sorely lacking from the last 20-30 years.

Ironically, the best photographic coverage is from the 1920s, when the club made its own albums. Now, with individuals taking their own digital pictures, and rarely printing them, there is a real dearth. Of course, I have the advantage of actually being able to contact members from recent years and ask for photos, but I’m often surprised that it takes a long time to get the image (people have poor catalogue systems for images) or they can’t even find them. The other issue is of course names, dates and places for captions. Without these, many images are useless. So many digital images simply have a file number like NEF4567.

I suspect that historians of the future are going to find a real ‘digital black hole’. Sure, pictures may be held on social media sites or other places on the internet, but these are usually very low quality compressed files.”

In its widest meaning, archiving is preservation for future reference. Although the word conjures up images of piles of old papers sitting in special boxes in special places, these records can only ever be a small snapshot of the full memories and knowledge held. These can only be kept alive within a club through human interactions. So keeping up club trips, meetings and camaraderie is preservation of club culture, and is preservation in its broadest sense.

The more common understanding of archiving relates to the preservation of artefacts. These artefacts record the foundation of the club culture, and can provide a way to help re-invigorate and celebrate the culture in the present and into the future.

They could be used to find out information about an obscure route in a long forgotten valley, or to recall an old agreement with a landowner, or simply to gain an insight into the way it was before you were a member. A number of club newsletter editors have a column “from the Archives”, which are popular glimpse into the past, and often a reminder of once popular club trips which deserve a repeat.

Archives are of great value to historical researchers and authors, as well as to members themselves. Not only is archiving very useful, but it is legally required in some instances by the National Library Act.

In its essence, it is of most use to people who aren’t aware of its contents, and that is where we will start when considering how to archive.

Get committed, get organised

Make no mistake; to do archiving well can take quite a lot of time, effort and determination, especially if keeping up to date with archiving has been neglected for a while.. It can be a somewhat thankless task, especially when you consider that any one artefact could sit there for many years before someone does reference it. And that could be long after you’ve left the club, or even left this earth….

Like so many of the great achievements in many organisations, it will often boil down to the determination and passion of one or two key individuals.. As a club, it’s in your interests to support and assist that individual as much as you can. Generations to come will thank you for it.

Many clubs already have archiving systems and processes in place, from simple collections at a trusted members home, through to detailed deposits in the national archives, or even a dedicated club library, such as at the NZ Alpine Club’s Home of Mountaineering in Christchurch.

Archiving is a very complex topic once you begin to learn about it. Here we try to offer some simplified suggestions for archiving strategies for outdoor clubs or groups looking to start or improve their archiving. We’ll do this by guiding you through the creation of an archiving plan.

If you or your club wants to add to this resource, or assist us building resources about any topic for the Outdoor Community, then drop us a line!

Last updated: 4 June 2018

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