Epilogue, or, Choose the Bigger Life

As many of you know, I’ve been pulling together selections from this blog for a published collection. I started writing ArchivesNext in 2007, so a decade seems like a nice round number to celebrate. There will be about 70 posts collected in the book, which will be available shortly via Amazon in traditional and e-form. This post will not be the last one to be published here, as I’m sure I’ll be doing some book promotion in the coming weeks, but it’s the post that I’ll use as an epilogue to the book. Perhaps my outlook won’t be as bleak after attending the SAA meeting in Portland this week, but this captures my feelings as I finished up reviewing a decade’s worth of posts from ArchivesNext. I’ll still be around, here and in other forms, and this post sums up what’s next for me. 

 

Looking back over these posts, what strikes me most powerfully is how much the world—and I—have changed since I wrote them. I don’t have the ability to describe how disheartening it is to be living in the United States in 2017. I only hope that we don’t look back on this time and reflect on it as the beginning of the end of the world we knew. But I suspect we will. On most days, I feel overwhelmed by how little I think there is that I can do to make any kind of difference. I have lost the optimism and energy I had in 2007, when I thought—justifiably—that one person with a little blog could have an effect on the archival profession, and by extension, in some sense the world. The work I did did make a difference. I helped a lot of people. I wrote useful things. I made connections that inspired people think more creatively and contributed to building a community. It’s difficult to remember how fresh and necessary a lot of this was at the time.

But different times call for different actions. ArchivesNext was a blog about what was next for archives, focusing primarily on technology and social structures. What’s next for archives, and much of the world many of us value, is a slow extinction unless we do a better job of communicating outside our comfort zones. It’s been some years now since I made a resolution to shift my focus from writing about archives for archivists to writing about archives for non-archivists. With the completion of this book—a summary and celebration of the first phase of my writing career—I feel able to bring that part of my life to a close and move on.

In 2014 I proposed as a new mission statement for archives that they “add value to people’s lives by increasing their understanding and appreciation of the past.”  It’s a mission statement I also decided to adopt for myself, although at many times since then I’ve succumbed to the temptation to crawl back into my shell and focus on the problems of everyday life. But, the reality is that, at least for me, not engaging with the world doesn’t make me feel any better. As I write this, I am reminded of one of the resolutions recommended by a writer I admire, Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project (among other things). Gretchen uses as one of her life-guiding rules to always “choose the bigger life.”

And that’s what I’m going to try to do next. Writing the ArchivesNext blog was a wonderful experience for me, and at the time, it helped me to live a bigger life. But the world and I have changed. I need to move on, taking what I learned from that productive decade of my life, and try to tackle bigger problems and try to make my voice heard on a larger stage. I may not succeed, and I certainly won’t realize the vision I have for myself, but I hope I can achieve in my next decade of writing as much as I did in my first.

My thanks again, with all my heart, to those who helped me on the journey this book represents. One of the most rewarding parts of building ArchivesNext was the connections and friendships I made with people around the world. You continue to inspire me every day, and I hope I can return the favor in the future by inspiring others to appreciate the richness and complexity of archives.

 

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