I have been wrestling with a question that as a professional historian, and researcher for hire, I face on a regular basis. Why do you need to hire a professional historian, or more importantly why should I pay that much for the services of a professional historian. It is a matter of justification. After all lots of people do history, it is a pastime or hobby as well as a profession. if you can do it for free, why shouldn’t others do it for free for you.
I get a lot of requests for research assistance for work at Library and Archives Canada. In this time of increasing fiscal restraint- closing of archival services, hour cuts, and the cancellation of interlibrary loan, the services of private researchers has become important for those wishing to access the collections at LAC. It is not always economical to come to Ottawa for research purposes, and so instead many have decided to hire someone to do it for them. Which is great. But the experience only is positive for them until they hear how much we charge. Actually it is quite reasonable, and for that price they get not only the researcher in the Archives for them, but they also get the benefit of the years of historical research experience accumulated at LAC and other repositories. Professional historians work faster, and more efficiently than someone not familiar with the records. Potential clients don’t see it that way. Sticker shock often sees the project dropped. Often they just fail to answer the email with the quoted price, other times they just say- changed my mind. I am guessing that a lot of the companies in Ottawa offering research services have the same problem.
So how do we justify our expertise? I found this image in the archives yesterday, and for me it summed it up. It was a letter written in 1817. It is not unusual to see the letter writer first write from left to right, then up and down, in order to maximize the amount of things they can say in the penny post. Wouldn’t you rather have someone who knows what they are doing going through this kind of stuff?