Guarding against collective amnesia? Making significance problematic: and exploration of issues

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A nation’s collective consciousness relies on the traces of memory collected by institutions such as libraries, archives and museums. Such institutions have a responsibility to preserve documents and objects that reflect individual and collective endeavors and that have had an impact on culture and society at national, regional and local levels. Institutions need to assess documents and objects against criteria that, in effect, ‘name’ these items as significant. Most institutions claim that this process is objective, failing to acknowledge that it is underpinned by ideological, political, economic, cultural and social influences. The position adopted in this paper is that the process of naming a document or object as significant will always reflect the directions and consciousness of a society’s dominant groups, and that this will shape interpretations and narratives of the past. Thus the voices of a community’s minority or special interest groups will be silenced. This paper suggests that neither the concept of significance nor the process of assessing significance are benign; both should be seen as areas of tension and contestation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-65
Number of pages13
JournalLibrary Trends
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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