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Chapter 6: “Embracing New Technologies,” pp. 319-328 March 1, 2010

Posted by Kate T. in Chapter 6.
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Well, as you’ve seen, I’m quoted in this section and I gave Rand some advice about it, so I was a bit anxious to see how it turned out. This topic is near and dear to my heart so you’ll have to indulge me if I write about this at one at greater length.

After observing that fundamentally electronic records are no different from non-electronic records, Jimerson provides a brief discussion about the new requirements electronic records bring to traditional archival practice (need for involvement at the beginning of the life cycle, new skills needed for digital archives, etc.), He then provides some useful reminders about a few of the realities of “Web 1.0”–increasing user expectations and demands (well, most of us don’t need to be reminded about that one), and also:

Despite these signs of progress toward greater access, however, “web pages are nonetheless a very powerful form of mediation and gatekeeping,” according to archival educator Helen Tibbo. For many researchers the website may replace the physical archives as the repository of information they will access. This means that content made accessible on a website is privileged over the vast majority of archival records.  (322)

He then gives a pretty good overview of Web 2.0 tools and how they are being used in archives, concluding: “the central thrust of using Web 2.0 for archival purposes focuses on enhancing access, particularly for researchers who have not previously used archival collections.” (325) He then references two recent Archives 2.0-related articles, Max Evan’s “Archives of the People, by the People, for the People” (American Archivist, 2007) and Elizabeth Yakel’s “AI: Archival Intelligence and User Expertise” (American Archivist, 2003). He notes that both articles describe collaborative efforts between archives and the users, taking advantage of the inherently interactive nature of Web 2.0 tools.

What I question in this section is the assertion that “in order for users to use archival sources effectively, however, researchers need to understand archival systems, principles, practices, and institutions–what Yakel calls ‘archival intelligence.'” (325) I don’t question Dr. Yakel’s findings in her study (although it has been a long time since I read it), that this kind of “archival intelligence” is currently required for successful use of archival resources on the web. What I challenge is that this is an assumption we should continue to hold moving forward. How can we expect to successfully expect to attract new users to archives when we require such a high level of commitment from them? Should we not be looking for ways to create systems or methods of access that make implicit this kind of “archival intelligence” or perhaps be re-examining our own methods of practice. Is it a good thing that users need to understand “archival systems, principles, practices, and institutions” in order to successfully use our holdings?

Jimerson then talks about “An Archivist’s 2.0 Manifesto,” which I posted over on ArchivesNext back in August 2007, and uses a quote from me talking about the culture that Web 2.0 promotes, observing that this development supports archivists and archives interested in achieving “democratic goals of inclusiveness, diversity, and community.” (326) Naturally, I’m on board with this part, but you don’t have to be. Did you have any issues with this rosy view of Web 2.0?

Well, speaking of clouds on horizon, Jimerson then raises some valid points about potential pitfalls: the continuing disparity in Internet access among different geographic regions and socioeconomic groups, the risks posed by information presented without “gatekeepers,” manipulation of social media by governments and corporations, and risks to personal privacy, as well as reminding archives to be wary of entering into contracts (such as digitization agreements) that limit access to archival materials on the Web. Jimerson ends this section by concluding:

However, in the applications thus far employed by archivists to enhance their services and empower archival users, such dangers seem relatively distant. With a wary eye on the horizon, archivists can embrace these new technologies as part of a reorientation toward a user-centered approach to archival practice.

I agree, but would also add that there are many issues to consider as we gain more experience using social media, and that it’s important for the profession to begin reflecting on what we’ve learned. I think Jimerson was wise to include a discussion of the potential presented by Web 2.0 for enhancing “archives power.” Social media present unprecedented opportunities for archives to create engaged communities of users which may cross geographic and other boundaries, but these tools also allow groups of users to create their own communities without our sponsorship, or even participation. This is perhaps an area for Jimerson and others to consider in future works on the relationship between archives, social justice, and social media–how archivists can (or should) participate in and document online activities that relate to their collections in a manner that supports the goals of social justice. Are there new issues to consider, or do the “rules” remain the same?

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Comments»

1. Alison Stankrauff - March 2, 2010

I think that I’m comfortable in sharing Jimerson’s overall rosy opinion of Web 2.0 and its connections to archives… I think that it does indeed offer us all-new ways of interacting with who have been our researchers – and to reach out to various publics that we arguably could not have reached previously… Further, that it encourages a closer relationship between archivist and researcher…

Also that it has the potential to empower users by offering them the ability to add content to finding aids, images, etc., etc.

And I share Jimerson’s convictions on the possible problematics of Web 2.0.

I know that as a lone arranger, I personally feel the squeeze in being able to put forward such content – and get all my other work done, take care of researchers, and also wear the hats of “librarian” and “instructor” that my job entails… But I know that this is something that all institutions battle on various levels…

2. Elena Danielson - March 3, 2010

So what is happening with commercial vendors, Proquest etc, taking on digitization projects? Are the vendors using the same “gated community” models they used for microfilmed archival collections and for journals? I never liked the commercial licensing agreements.

3. Lincoln Cushing - March 3, 2010

These are challenging topics!

First, the overall context. Above, Kate offers this clip from the book:
“This means that content made accessible on a website is privileged over the vast majority of archival records.” True, and we need to live with that reality. There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. The consequence for archivists is twofold. We need to push for more, cheaper, mass digitization of content. And we need to make sure that finding aids are accurate indicators of the depth of material _not_ digitized, drawing in the more serious of researchers.

The practicalities of this means that we need to be wary of proprietary software and web-served content outside of our control (I’ve got a great horror story of an RLG project that pulled the plug on a massive online catalog, leaving the institution suddenly unable to offer public access).

And finally, the interactivity of Web 2.0. In some ways, this discussion group is an example of the strengths and weaknesses. A pile of people signed up, few engaged. As a way of “getting to know each other,” once past the intros (which were informative) almost no one linked face photos or websites. Was it that they were shy, or busy, or didn’t care? It’s hard to know. In the long run, I’m most excited about the ways that web community feedback can enhance collection data.

Alison - March 3, 2010

Actually, I’d tried to post a photo of myself – about 3 or 4 times – before I gave up to post a photo of myself… Honestly, I’m just too tech-unsavvy and too time-strapped to do much more than that…
If you know a fast and easy way for a tech-dummy like me to do this, Lincoln, please do share…

That being said, I was able to successfully link to my Archives website – you’ll find it when you hover over my name on any post of mine, etc.

4. Lincoln Cushing - March 4, 2010

Alison-

Your website link _was_ very useful, helped me see your work and contact you off-list. As for ID photos on WordPress, they are called “avatars” and can be added to your profile, link instructions attached.

Usability note for Kate – I strongly support posting a “FAQ/User help” link to these blogs to bring all users up to speed (for example, I wish this blog had an “edit your entry” function). I learned programming on a mainframe computer with punched cards, and the learning curve for these cool media makes my head spin. Don’t feel bad, Alison. When I see a splotchy blue patchwork at an SAA conference I’ll know it’s you.


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