Moving Forward and Making a Difference in Archival Institutions Through a Multifaceted Approach to Public Programming

Moving Forward and Making a Difference in Archival Institutions Through a Multifaceted Approach to Public Programming

Patrick Ngulube (University of South Africa, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7429-3.ch005


Traditionally, archival institutions neglected building relationships with their constituencies and focused on other operational functions. There are number of strategies that can be used to build such relationships, including public programming. Effective public programming strategies depend on sound public programming planning, appropriate research strategies, and ethical principles. It is evident that attempts to build relationships between the archives and their constituencies are a recent phenomenon in Africa. In fact, it seems to be an afterthought both to practitioners and scholars. Building relationships with users will make memory institutions visible and successful. Public programming, with its focus on the public that the organisation serves, is one of the tools that may be used by memory institutions such as archives to bring the archives to the society and the society to the archives.
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Archival institutions are operating in a changing information environment that places a high premium on the user. Having archival materials in their custody is no longer enough as there is an added concern of facilitating the use of the materials in their custody (Cushing, 2018). Consequently, archival institutions are re-examining and reconfiguring their operations, and adjusting their business model to suit the changing environment. Archival institutions are under pressure to change their mission and the way they interface with their users and potential users. This implies that archival institutions are increasingly moving away from the custodial approach and creating “a place where people can meet each other, discuss, talk, use information from archival materials” (Czajka, 2018, p. 40). Building relationships among users of archival materials on one hand and between users and the archival institutions on the other hand, seems to be the current thrust of many archival institutions, both in the North and the Global South. This entails building an understanding with potential users and users.

However, many archival institutions in the Global South seem to pay more attention to organisational functions such as appraisal, acquisition, accessioning, arrangement and description than communicating archives to their constituencies. No lasting relationships between the public and the archival institutions can exist if the focus of archives is on traditional custodial functions with little attention being paid to taking the archives to the people and taking the people to the archives (Ngulube, 2018a; Ngulube et al., 2017). Promoting archives is important because all the archival processes are geared towards the noble goal of usage. It was not until the 1980s that archivists and scholars in North America became concerned with the communication of archives (Blais & Enns, 1991; Dionne, 2002). Although the classic Glossary of archival and records terminology defines the term “outreach”, it neglects to define related terms such as “advocacy”, “public programming” and “promotion”. These terms obviously have a contextual meaning when it comes to their application to unique heritage assets such as archives. Public programming is not even an indexing term in key bibliographic databases (Onyancha, 2016).

Coming closer home to Africa, the situation is not different. One can trace the genealogy of these terms and the concerns to put the user at the centre of archival functions to the writings of Harris (1997) and Ngulube (1999). This might be indicative of the fact that communicating and positioning archives in relation to the public is considered of the lowest priority in the profession generally. Ericson (1991) underscored this point in the following words:

Outreach and use come last; inevitably they become afterthoughts – something to be undertaken only when all the rest of the work has been done. But for the past fifty years the rest of the work never seems to have got done.

Communicating archives using strategies such as outreach and public programming should not come to archivists as an afterthought. There is a need to balance the traditional activities of the archives with communicating archives. Communicating archives should be integrated with other archival functions such as appraisal, arrangement, description and preservation. That implies that it is high time archivists moved away from the custodial mindset and promoted the exploitation of archives by the public. They have a responsibility to communicate archives so that they are better known and accessible to users and potential users. However, Cook (1991) cautions archivists against being carried away by passionate embrace of public programming at the expense of other necessary functions. He stated that preoccupation with public programming, with its focus on the user and use, might “reveal the tip of a deep and dangerous theoretical iceberg” (p. 124).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Outreach: The process of identifying and providing services to constituencies with needs relevant to the repository’s mission, especially underserved groups, and tailoring services to meet those needs ( Pearce-Moses, 2005 ).

Public Programming Audit: A systematic and comprehensive examination of the memory institution to determine if the promotional and outreach activities meet the objectives of the organisation with a view to recommending changes.

Ubuntu Theory: Derived from the Nguni Bantu word “ubuntu”, meaning “humanity”, the theory covers morality, having a positive disposition, empathy and other aspects related to being humane towards others.

Batho Pele Theory: The underlying ethos is that in delivering public service, delivery people must come first, as espoused by the ten principles of the model.

Promotion: Making the content of archives more widely known and accessible to users.

Public Programming: Public programming activities aim at creating a positive relationship between the user and the services and products of the institution.

Advocacy: The act of influencing decision making and planning through suggesting or supporting an idea guided by professional standards and a code of ethics. Both individuals and groups can undertake advocacy work in a wide range of fields.

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