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  • Sep 2, 2014
  • Updated: 7:02pm

There's no easy way to set the records straight

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 September, 2011, 12:00am
 

Name: Stacy Gould
Job: Head archivist, University of Hong Kong

How early did you know you wanted to work as an archivist?

There's no undergraduate path to archival work; it's post-grad only, so it's best to take a degree that is a good fit, like anthropology or history. I did anthropology.

I never intended to be an archivist, even in graduate school [in the public history programme at Wright State University in the US]. The programme concentrated equally on museum studies and archive studies. But I had an internship in an art museum, in the archives, and another at the Biltmore House Museum's archives and libraries - in a huge old home in North Carolina, and I mean huge, 255 rooms. I lived in the north wing for six months. I felt like a princess.

Where did you go from there?

I did my internships, taught history at a state college while I was sending out my resume and did another job on top of that - I was the manager of the men's furnishings section of a big department store. I was working my rear end off. I interviewed at a number of places, including the Smithsonian, but I ended up taking a job at Michigan State University as the university records manager.

It was a huge university - 42,000 students. A lot of the training was on the job. I had a crash course in management. I made a point of joining as many professional organisations as I could and cast my nets wide. I learned an awful lot from colleagues. After that, I took a job at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, the second-oldest university in America. I was the assistant university archivist. After about a year, I became the acting university archivist, and eventually they gave me the full title and salary. I was there for nine years.

So, how did you end up in Hong Kong?

I came here to establish the university archives and records management programme at the University of Hong Kong.

What is the archives situation like in Hong Kong?

It was a bit of a shock to me. In Hong Kong, there is no archive law [requiring public organisations to maintain archives], so the government and institutions, like universities, have less than effective archive management.

HKU is not to be faulted in any way for not having archives. They realised in the run-up to their 100th birthday the seriousness of the idea that, hey, maybe we should be taking care of our records in a centralised, professional manner.

When there are no professionals involved in record management, what generally happens is, you'll have one core part of the central administration that keeps fabulous records; everything else pretty much goes to hell in a handbasket. You'll have some departments that keep very good care of their records, but to the point where they keep things they don't need to. And then you have some people whose records end up in parking garage closets.

There is a lack of understanding of preservation and conservation here - like understanding that turning off the air conditioning at night invites tiny micro-organisms and mould, and causes a significant build-up of sulphuric acid in paper.

Why are archives important to Hong Kong?

It's best for us as a society to say that, yes, our history is important, and this is important to document. This is our [region] now; it's not a colony any more. We have a unique position in the world, and it's our responsibility to document what we are doing.

Learn more

Gould recommends taking an undergraduate degree in history or anthropology and then pursuing archival studies afterwards. HKU Space (http://hkuspace.hku.hk) offers an executive certificate in archive management, but to become a professionally certified archivist, you must study overseas.

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