Evidence-based practice is important to the archival profession because at our core, we are collecting and preserving information so that people can access it, whether now or in the future. With this mission to collect and preserve for use comes a daunting task: determining who we are preserving for, as well as what those people will be seeking from archives. Given the heterogeneous nature of today’s society, archivists have potentially dozens, if not hundreds, of groups they should be collecting and preserving materials for. However, with this heterogeneity comes an even more diverse set of needs and uses for archival records. Predicting all of the possible user populations, and those populations’ needs, of archives is nigh impossible. However, evidence-based practice can provide a fruitful avenue through which archivists and their institutions can better understand their user populations and needs.
As an archival professional, I plan to pursue evidence-based practice as a way to understand and work with the user populations of my institution. I can especially see this taking place through user surveys and interviews. Surveys can be a valuable way to gauge opinions and needs before users come to an archive—especially if they decided not to visit an archive—while interviews, particularly exit interviews, can provide valuable data about collections, how they are represented physically and digitally, and what visitors’ post-archival plans are. Having this data would better inform archival work, particularly description and preservation, ultimately making archival materials more accessible for future generations of users.
Additionally, as stewards of memory, archivists have a responsibility to ensure that we are collecting and preserving the memories of many groups of people—not just the dominant groups of society. To this end, evidence-based practice would be extremely useful in reaching out to marginalized and underrepresented groups of people, if possible, and surveying their perceptions of how archives currently represent their groups’ memories. Because I overwhelming represent hegemonic society (with the except of identifying as female), the power dynamics of this situation would be difficult to negotiate. However, if I was able to establish a trust-based relationship with marginalized groups of people, their feedback about how they are currently represented in archives would be invaluable information that would inform future description and preservation work, ideally making archival collections more inclusive and representative of society.