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Past isn’t a career

Archiving is still not taught as a subject in our schools or colleges

Past isn’t a career

A private organisation had an interaction with students of the University of Peshawar recently regarding research and archiving to store data and history in digital form. During the interaction with students of history, the organisation came to know that students did not have even basic knowledge about archiving and data storage. They had no exposure to qualitative date collection and research methodologies.

Despite the need of storage and preservation of documents in different fields, our schools or colleges do not offer archiving as a subject or degree course. Currently, archivists have degrees mostly in history, library sciences, or social sciences, and have knowledge of computer and information technology skills.

In Pakistan, archiving focuses on collection and preservation of records, reprography of records in other mediums, maintenance of research library for scholars and students, and publication of source material on history and culture.

The National Archives Act of 1993 gives responsibility for the storage and preservation of public records to the National Archives. In Sindh, archives department was set up in the mid 1970s.

National Archives Pakistan is considered as a reservoir of government records. However, it has very limited staff and an outdated website. Working under the Cabinet Division of the federal government, the organisation works on archiving public records. However, “from time to time, the National Archives has also offered training courses, internships and seminars to promote archiving in Pakistan,” says a senior official at the NAP. “There is need to expand this field and make it part of university courses, too.”

“There is no formal institute in Pakistan where archiving is formally taught as a subject or proper training courses are offered. Also, this is not introduced as a subject in universities,” says Aaliyah Tayyebi, senior project manager with The Citizens Archive of Pakistan, a non-government organisation.

“Unless we have trained people in this field we cannot save it properly, especially, when paper is no longer a tool for correspondence or communication. This means data storage has moved to another degree”

The CAP is dedicated to cultural and historic preservation in Karachi and Lahore for the past few years. It focuses on history projects with nearly one hundred thousand images preserved. It has a team of 10 archivists who have a degree in social sciences and have got some training for archiving from the organization.

Tayyebi, who has done a few online courses on archiving from abroad, says, “I think archiving is the future. This is the only way to preserve history at the moment when everything is becoming digital. In Pakistan, if we don’t have history preserved in modern forms we will be lost.”

“Unless we have trained people in this field we cannot save it properly, especially, when paper is no longer a tool for correspondence or communication. This means data storage has moved to another degree,” she adds.

She believes “archiving must be introduced as a proper subject at the college level and students should be taught modern research and data storage methodologies from the school level.”

“I don’t think enough is being done by the government on the new technology. We have to invest in this particular field because research storage is as important as research conducting. Advanced countries are specifically focusing on the new technology,” she maintains.

“Currently, we use people who have degrees in library science and history for archiving in libraries,” says Muhammad Azam Chaudhry, director general National Library of Pakistan in Islamabad. “There is a need for introducing archiving as a proper subject in universities,” he seconds Tayyebi.

Read also: A library of sound

Archiving is becoming a profession across the world. It was 1936 when the Americans founded the Society of American Archivists (SAA). It is North America’s oldest and largest national professional association dedicated to the needs and interests of archivists. SAA represents more than 6,200 professional archivists employed by governments, universities, businesses, libraries, and historical organisations nationally. The SAA enables archivists to ensure the identification, preservation, and use of records of enduring value.

Efforts are also underway in the west to prepare Commonwealth countries for modern best practice archival legislation principles which archivists could draw upon when modernising records and archives legislation. Australia and New Zealand are already far ahead in legislation for archiving and making it a proper subject and career.

Waqar Gillani

waqar gillani
The author is a staff reporter. He can be reached at vaqargillani@gmail.com

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