19 June 2017




The summer edition of Museum Mondays will be a three-part series focusing on the convergence of libraries, archives, and museums (LAMs). Convergence has been a popular topic in Canada since the early 2000s. While the three fields have somewhat different histories, values, and methods, LAM institutions are all involved in collecting and preserving materials for the benefit and use of the public. Kara and Maeghan will bring their perspective as students of both Museum Studies and Archives & Records Management to publicly visible areas of overlap and interaction between LAMs.

Students at U of T’s Faculty of Information have the opportunity to become informed professionals in convergent theory and practice by taking courses across the LAM fields. As students in the combined archives and the museum program, we came to the iSchool seeking a convergent education. But what about students pursuing a degree in a single LAM field? What do they see as the role of convergence in their professional futures? To answer these questions, we spoke with two of our fellow students about their experiences taking a course in a LAM field outside of their program.

Heather is a student in the Master of Information program, concentrating in Archives and Records Management, who took Museums and Cultural Heritage: Context and Critical Issues, a first-year museum studies course.

Photo courtesy of Heather.

Bretton is a master’s student in Museum Studies who completed Archives Concepts and Issues, the introductory archival theory course.

Photo courtesy of Bretton.

Why did you choose to take a course in another LAM field? Were you hoping to get any particular benefits?

Heather: I am really interested in where archives and museums meet. My experience with archives before I came to the iSchool had been in places that had records but also had objects. I managed to get into the program without quite knowing the exact line between archives and museums, or at least the way it’s drawn here. So I wanted to take a few classes to learn about the other side, how you work with objects.

Bretton: I looked at the options in the MI [Master of Information] and saw this archival class and thought it would be of value. Going in, I didn’t know exactly what would be the takeaway from the class, but I think taking this particular course definitely set me up better, both professionally and academically, for the rest of our degree.

Examples of the diverse items in the Calgary Stampede Archives where Heather visited before moving to Toronto to do her MI. Source: left, centre, right.

Were you surprised by anything you learned?

Heather: Before this, I don’t think I was thinking critically about museums at all when I was visiting them. This course opened my eyes to what a museum can do to shape what you see and how something is presented.

Bretton: It was interesting to see a different perspective on the heritage industry and the information field, and to see not only how archives differ from museums but how they can benefit each other. What surprised me most was how defined the archivist’s role is on paper but in practice it’s so case-by-case. Because you can say it’s the archivist’s role to collect, preserve, and make available for use records of enduring value but then it’s like, “okay, great, what does that look like?”

This. This is what it looks like. Source.

What do you think is the biggest difference between archival theory and museology?

Heather: That’s a hard question. But I’d say that the main difference I noticed was that for museums there’s more about making meaning with the objects whereas the archives are more like, “here are the materials,” and then the visitor can take the meaning they want from them.

Bretton: The biggest difference I think has to do with access and presentation of the collections. I also find it very interesting as well in terms of doing research on the collection. The provenancial research for a museum collection is there but it’s maybe not as accessible as it is in terms of archival provenance. With that being said, I recognize that my bias in museums falls more toward the front-end interpretation side, so I see archival theory as being more in line with collections management theory.

Is there anything you learned that you think you’ll apply to your work as a professional in your field?

Heather: I’m still not certain how I would apply what I’ve learned to archives, but it will help. I would love to work in a position that involves archives and museum work, as an archivist in a museum or something like that. So I’m thinking about that in a future job sense. I think it’s one of those courses that I’ll keep coming back to even if I didn’t quite understand everything at the time.

Bretton: Absolutely. I’m working at the CBC this summer in their library and archives, so as a museum professional working in a library and archives - convergence is all around me.

Photo of Bretton at work.* Source.
(*not actually)

Any final comments?

Heather: I think my view of museums has definitely changed because, like I said, I wasn’t really thinking critically. Now I have a lot more context, even about the history of museums, to think about how and why they’re explaining things the way that they are. I see the differences between LAM institutions more than I did before.

Bretton: If I have one takeaway regarding convergence, it’s a great respect for the [LAM] institutions as they function independently and a big question mark as to what is responsible convergence. What will that look like? We’ve seen it all over the country: when things converge, something has to give. What has to give? Is that the right thing to give?

Thank you to Heather and Bretton for your enthusiastic responses to our questions.

Have you taken a course in another LAM field? Share your experience in the comments.

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