Is the archive public? if it is how much of it should be public and how much of it shouldn’t be? Why should the archive be public or not?
All good questions to which of course there are varying answers to depending on the archive in question and the situation, which of course isn’t the most firm or hard line answer but when is any thing in terms of public history and its ethics really hard line? well okay some things can be hard line but most things really aren’t and all depend on the situation at the time. Personally I think most archives should be open to the public at least some degree, that doesn’t mean that the public can come in and check out the objects and books with out supervision of any sort of oversight at all but they should at least be able to view the objects if they ask and have a member of staff present to ensure the safety of the object in question. I believe the public has a right to at least some level of access to archives be they governmental, university, civil, or other wise because but that access comes at the price of having to be under supervision while in said archives.
Lets look at the Auburn Special Collections and Archive as an example. The Auburn Archive has some public aspects but it’s not fully open to the public. The public can’t just waltz in willy nilly and ask to be taken back in to the stacks or view certain collections and the public can’t take portions of the archive with out asking but there is still an open to the public face and the public is allowed in to view the archive and some of its material that is out in the open and they are allowed to request and view some of the objects so long as they are being supervised with the objects themselves. The biggest problem over all with the auburn archives is the lack of publicity in it’s existence. It’s in the basement of the library and there’s really not much directing traffic to it. I think a change that could help make that archive more public is just a little more publicity regarding its existence, how can the public make use of an archive if they don’t know it exists after all? the only other change I could suggest to the Auburn archives is perhaps a bit of modernization in the department itself, it is in the basement and it has that sort of basement feel to it, giving it that sort of stereotypical basement dwelling archival feel to it, thats probably not necessarily their fault given they need a good area with climate control and space is limited for both the university and the library but if they could manage a better location that would aid in making it more public