Archivists : a new performance lever

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Everything started with this note about Lille Business school and some talks with an archivist, a job I didn’t know at all, or, as a lot of people, a job I thought I knew things about. It gave me the idea to make a little poll around me about how this function was considered within their companies.

I think the result won’t be a surprise for anybody. I’ve been talked about “temple keepers”, the people who know “were information is”. With a strong “achive” connotation. It’s like people were talking about old relicts for those who want to learn about the past but without any use in the day to day job, noboday talking about topicality, intelligence, digital information (as if archivists only knew paper).

Nothing to do with the talks I had with the above mentioned person. Nothing to do with what is made in Lille. A the time when information is  becoming more and more strategic, when it’s the basis on collaboration between people, when 75% of the companies’ value is made of intangible assets, it’s somehow a worrying situation.

What do companies need ? Funneling and organizing information that’s pouring into an always increasing numbers of channels. Of course, there’s still “paper information” that’s about both topicality and content. But there are also feeds coming from business/competitive monitoring on the web, since more and more companies try to take the most of each employee as a point of contact with their ecosystem. Of course the number of sources can be reduced but it’s more about closing our eyes to reality than trying to face it.

It’s also about putting the right information at the right place. Structuring information we’ll be able to find when needed, liquid information that has to be redirected to people it will be useful to, since we are in a flow process and not a stock process.

It’s also about organizing interactions around information. Information is useless until it’s used, and sometimes it needs to be reprocessed, explained by a capable person. When giving someone the needed information, it’s also important to link him with someone who’ll be able to explain, to contextualize. We don’t only need to give people the right information anymore, we also have to connect them to the people who can give an added value to the information. The most accessible form of knowledge is discussion.
Of course we can rely on serendipity and wait for micro-learning behaviors to (slowly) happen. But we can’t always wait for luck to do nice things, something more voluntarist has to be made. The wisdom of crowd has its limits and we need people to organize and stimulate all that.

And who’s the best person in order to become the information hub  ? I think archivists have to take their part into that. You just have to look at what’s happening at Lille Business School : they don’t only care about information management but also about people and they stimulate new practices around information, being the driving force in exchange and co-thinking networks.
The good news, according to me, is that education begins to follow this way even if enterprises are far from having understood the benefit they can take from those people if they use them in a widened functional specter. Contrary to what a lot of people believe, we will still need information professionals. Of course, not only professional works with information, but the fact is recent surveys show even Y Generation  people don’t know how to make an efficient use of information. End users, even digital natives, will need to be guided by skilled professionals.

We also have to take into consideration the transition between today’s and tomorrow generations : information professionals will be key in teaching and guiding people  toward new information management and distribution models. An enriched job description for those archivists, with new concepts to master but, at the end, they’ll be key for their organizations.

I’m convinced that this function, often considered peripherical, will take its own place in the chain of value. Anywayn perhaps they’ll find a more appropriate name for this in this list of jobs for tomorrow.

PS : at the time you read this note, I’ll be meeting Lille Business School archivists team…really want to understand how they are leading change and what’s the strategy behind.