A Study into Environmental Sustainability and Archival Practice

by Georgina Robinson, UCL

I am Georgina Robinson, an Archives and Records Management MA student at University College London currently undertaking dissertation research to explore environmental sustainability within archival practice. My aim is to quantify levels of awareness and action in the UK. This investigation will form the basis of my dissertation and the results may be published as an article to encourage further discussion on this topic.

For the purpose of this study:

  • Those involved in archival practice are taken to be anyone (aged 18 or over) whose work involves the care and curation of archives, records or data, e.g. archivists, records managers, conservators or digital curators.
  • The practice of environmental sustainability is to ensure that the needs of today’s population are met without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. This is done through responsible interaction with the environment to avoid depletion or degradation of natural resources.

If you are interested, please follow or share this link to the online questionnaire: https://opinio.ucl.ac.uk/s?s=67873

There are 17 questions it total, which should take about 10 minutes to complete. The closing date for responses is the 22nd June 2020.

If you have any questions please contact me on georgina.robinson.18[at]ucl.ac.uk

Background to this study

In archival discourse, the term ‘sustainability’ has mostly been used in relation to the sustainability of running an archive service. This may seem understandable in a sector where many are subject to financial and practical limitations in their work. This study aims to explore whether costs are ever a contributing or motivating factor in the implementation of environmental sustainability. An example would be the assertion that decreasing energy consumption in an archive will save money and reduce fossil fuel consumption.

Although environmental sustainability has been less frequently explored in archival theory, significant literature exists on how to be a ‘Green’ Archivist[1] or how to build a ‘Green’ Archive.[2]

This project, however, seeks to explore current awareness of our environmental impact and what cultural heritage professionals in the UK are doing about it. Interest in this study has already shown that there is significant concern about the issue of Climate Change and desire to act upon it from within the Archive sector. In part this may have been accelerated by the recent waves of environmental awareness seen over the world with climate strikes and protests.

This is true in US as well as in the UK and Europe. Over the last couple of years, we have seen an increasing level of discussion on this issue from archive professionals in the US. Detailed papers, such as Harvard Library’s Toward Environmentally Sustainable Digital Preservation[3] and Ben Goldman’s It’s Not Easy Being Green(e): Digital Preservation in the Age of Climate Change[4] detail the impact of Digital Preservation and what Archivists can do to alter theory and practices to better reduce their collection’s toll on the environment.

The common theme of these studies is whether we, as archivists, records managers or conservators, have a duty to mitigate the impact of our work on the environment? Do we have any power in the struggle for Climate Justice? Why should we care?

I would like to hear about your experiences, thoughts and opinions on this issue. I am looking for UK based archivists, record managers and conservation professionals who are willing to participate in this study. Any support with this will be greatly appreciated.

Kind Regards,
Georgina Robinson

Department of Information Studies
University College London

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/georgina-robinson-90160bb1

Twitter: @georginarobin

[1] Heidi N. Abbey, The Green Archivist: a primer for adopting affordable, environmentally sustainable, and socially responsible archival management practices,
Archival Issues, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 91-115, 2012

[2] IFLA PAC, Library & Archives Facing the Challenges of Sustainable Development, International Preservation News, No 44, 2008.

[3] Keith L. Pendergrass, Walker Sampson, Tim Walsh, and Laura Alagna, “Toward Environmentally Sustainable Digital Preservation”, The American Archivist 82 (1): 165–206, 2019.

[4] Benjamin Goldman, “It’s Not Easy Being Green(e): Digital Preservation in the Age of Climate Change,” in Archival Values: Essays in Honor of Mark Greene, Society of American Archivists, 2019.

Image from page 141 of “The Canadian field-naturalist” (1919). Cortesy of Internet Archive Book Images.

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