Tips for Archival Research #galicia

roe kard

Last Sunday (6/28/09) I gave a talk entitled: "Warsaw, Jerusalem,
Lvov: Adventures in Archiveland and Beyond" in which I described
(in an interesting way) how to use different archives and how to
integrte the esoteric material you find. I had been told to
expect around five attendees because it was summer, a Sunday, and
happening mid-day on a glorious day in San Francisco Bay.
Amazingly people came. I gave my talk and afterwards, in the Q&A,
one of the attendees pointed out and questioned the amount of
times I expressed gratitude to the different people who have
helped me or given me ideas, and especially the
archivist/librarians globally. Someone else remarked about how
challenging the experience with employees of archives can be.
Other people then made similar comments and the discussion
veered in the direction of the problems genealogists have with
employees of archives.

After folks finished what they had to say I reminded them of the
perspective >from the other side of the archivist's desk. I
pointed out that for many archivist/librarians, and especially
in the formerly Communist countries, the pay is fairly low,
the workload high and there may be little encouragement to work
harder than "a good day's" work.

What must it be like for them to have people show up at their
desk who don't speak the language, have no idea how to find
documents but are then insistent that they be helped immediately
to find their grandfather who came to America >from "somewhere" in
Russia, (for example). What must these archivist/librarians think
when some of these same people who come demanding help also
manifest behavior that is entitled, huffy and ungrateful? And we
can wonder if bad experiences with folks whom they identify as
"Jewish" then carry over to the next "Jew" who shows up
manifesting even slight amounts of impatience. You get the idea.

I pointed out that as a human, as the child of a
Chassidish-valued home with a Holocaust (refugee) Survivor
father, I learned the importance of acknowledging anyone who
helps me and/or behaves as my Rebbe, my teacher -- to give them
credit; that no one has to do anything to help me even if it is
their job; that I MUST express my gratitude both in my behavior
towards them in the moment (in material and non-material ways)
and afterwards, to their bosses and to others.

I believe that this moment-to-moment, day-to-day behavior
(spiritual practice) on my part is at least part of the reason
why I have had such incredible luck, ease and success in my use
of archives.

The participants in this discussion encouraged me to make this
point often and publicly; hence this note.

Some suggestions:
(1) I encourage you all to behave with grace and gratitude when
you visit archives this summer: bad and ungrateful behavior will
reflect badly on all of us and affect the experience we each have
in doing archival research;
(2) I encourage you to plan your visit to an archive beforehand -
have your guide/researcher do some archival research and order
records before you get there, any ones that they think might be
valuable or interesting for you to look at;
(3) I encourage you to leave enough time and have patience:
nothing will happen quickly no matter what you say and especially
if you get huffy - I have seen folks who acted badly get nothing
and be told that they could not be helped even as the same
archivist/librarians went to get me record after record;
(4) I encourage you to remember to watch what you say and follow
the Jewish path of avoiding speaking "lashon ha'rah" and
"rechilut" - gossip and tale bearing and honor the path of "right
speech" - English speakers are everywhere even if they don't let
on that they speak English. I once spent two weeks in an archive
and it was only as I was getting ready to leave that the
archivist/librarian started speaking to me in English!
(5) I encourage you to let your guide know that you understand
how overworked and underpaid archivist/librarians can be and ask
what an appropriate giftof gratitude for them might be - just as
you would bring when you visit someone's home (and then remember
to give a gift of gratitude to your guide, additional to what you
pay them: ultimately, they make or break your trip by their
attention to detail!)

The most basic and universal of spiritual practices is gratitude:
I encourage you all to take it on as your own. It will change
your life for the better... completely.

Thank you.

Shabbat shalom,

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