Research is the process of discovery that any individual undergoes in order to find out more information about something, including trying to understand a problem or phenomenon and/or trying to answer a question. It involves asking many questions, and when research is complete, it may pose further questions. Research should make a contribution to the field in which it is situated, whether that means proposing a new theory, conveying new information, or suggesting a new application for something. Research should be undertaken ethically, and researchers should be transparent about their research methods and processes, especially if human subjects are involved. Additionally, researchers have the power to use their research for social good, investigating inequalities and proposing ways to encourage equality. While social justice work is not imperative to every research study, it is something that I would like to incorporate into my own evidence-based practice as an archivist.
For me, research and evidence-based practice do not need to be broadly generalizable, nor do they need to seek one absolute “truth.” (What is “true” depends on who is defining truth, so it is always in flux.) What is more important to me is understanding the ways different groups of individuals experience the world, and more specifically, how they experience and use archives. This constructivist approach to research will better inform my work as an archivist, as I gain a clearer understanding of what different user populations need and feel, and it will also provide me with a better understanding of how different populations represented in an archive’s holdings experience the world. Knowing how a group experiences the world can meaningfully inform how we choose to preserve, describe, and make accessible memories of them. With this goal in mind, my evidence-based practice necessarily incorporates some transformativist philosophy into my constructivism—as keepers of memory, archivists have an incredible amount of power, and we can use that power for good. Through our choices of which materials to preserve, how to describe them, and if/how to make them accessible, we can contribute to a more equitable representation of all groups of people in our society’s collective memory.
Delving more deeply into methodology, I believe that both qualitative and quantitative methods of collecting and analyzing data are valuable. Qualitative methods such as interviews may be more useful for my research, as they would allow me to truly hear from individuals about their experiences, whereas quantitative methods such as surveys may be useful in establishing some “baseline” data about very general topics. Given that these methods provide different angles of approaching a resarch question, as well as different types of data, I can imagine combining the strengths of both qualitative and quantitative methods into mixed-methods research for my archival work. Approaching my research question from a mixed methods perspective would ideally allow me to gain a more wholistic understanding of what I am studying.
As an archival professional, I will be working with a diverse population of researchers, from students to scholars to hobbyists, but I also hope to work with underrepresented populations to enhance their visibility and presence in archival memory. In working with these different groups, but especially with marginalized populations, I will need to very thoughtful in negotiating the power dynamics between myself, a preserver of memory, and those wanting to access or preserve memories. Ultimately, I may not be the right person to interact with certain groups, such as marginalized populations, because I myself come from a position of great privilege. If I cannot build a trusting, respectful relationship with those groups of people, then I will step aside to allow a better person—ideally someone who identifies with that community—to build relationships and conduct their own research.
Ultimately, the evidence-based practice in which I engage should directly inform the work that I do as an archivist, providing transferable, actionable results that can help me better serve users of archives and populations wanting to have their memories preserved.