A day in the life of an archivist

Ever wondered what an archivist does? One of our archivists gives you the lowdown on the job…

An old European Commission archives storage facility near Brussels. ©EU

Assessing, describing and organising important documents, to help researchers find relevant information and to communicate — these are the three axes of my daily life as an archivist. You might come across our work in your favourite history book or novel, the article that you read this morning, or even the document that you drafted earlier. It’s our aim to bring the past, present and future together.

Documents telling the story of the European Commission are preserved in microfilms at the Historical Archives in Brussels. ©EU

Every day, we receive documents from different European Commission departments and services. But not every document we receive is archived. Only useful, important and legally binding documents are preserved. This is why when the files arrive, we open them to examine their contents and verify and improve their description.

Is it tedious? Yes, a little bit, but it is all worth the effort. We are in daily contact with researchers from different corners of the world from Japan to Canada to Poland. They write to us, come to our reading room to consult the archives, where they can find the primary sources for a court case, academic work or the books not yet written which will in future help us understand the geopolitical considerations of our time. Gradually we are also making digital copies of archives available online to make them more accessible to people.

Documents analysed, described and organised by an archivist. ©EU

When we look into our history, humans have always left written traces — drawings in caves, notches on stones to count livestock, wax tablets, papyrus, parchment, paper and today we have documents that are purely digital. We, archivists, are adapting our methods to preserve not only the digital files but also the rich metadata surrounding it. We are now using new storage infrastructure, tools and procedures to guarantee long-term preservation so that we can archive the information and data the e-administration produces on a daily basis.

Visitors at the archives booth during the EU Open Days Exhibition in Brussels. ©EU

We also need to communicate with our colleagues and wider society. We make our colleagues aware of their part in this great chain of knowledge sharing. It is important to communicate well with all the different people involved in the whole process — from those who send us the documents to, those involved in transportation, preservation and even those working on various aspects of digitisation. It is also important to communicate with the public. This year the European Commission archives unit participated in the EU Open Days at the Berlaymont building in Brussels which welcomed about 15 000 visitors. An exhibition was also organised on the International Day of Archives, 9 June. And now we are communicating about our shared European history and archives through the #Archive30 challenge on Twitter. It is vital to remember and understand our past in order to secure a better future for Europe.

By Elodie-Cecile Marrel, an archivist at the European Commission Historical Archives in Brussels, Belgium.

This blog post is part of the European Commission Archive 30 challenge on Twitter.