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A Question Of  Interpretation: the role of archivists in an online age
 

A Question Of Interpretation: the role of archivists in an online age

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Presentation given at the Association of Canadian Archivists' Conference, 23 June 2007

Presentation given at the Association of Canadian Archivists' Conference, 23 June 2007

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A Question Of  Interpretation: the role of archivists in an online age A Question Of Interpretation: the role of archivists in an online age Presentation Transcript

  • A Question of Interpretation The role of archivists in an online age Amanda Hill University of Manchester, UK
    • “ How others see us”
    • Do others see us?
    • Does it matter whether they see us?
  • Role of archivists
    • Same as it ever was…
    • To provide access to information
    • To interpret our records for users through descriptions and exhibitions
    • To keep things safe
  • So what’s changed? Technology Expectations
  • Technology
    • Rapidly changing
    • Opening up new audiences
    • Taking us out of our comfort zone
  • Expectations
    • Users expect to be able to find everything on the Internet (preferably through search engines)
    • New audiences have their own requirements for interpretation, which may be different from those of traditional users
  • Archives Hub
    • Developing since 1999: a union catalogue for archives held in universities, colleges and other organisations throughout the UK
      • Funded by the JISC
    • Now holds c.20,000 finding aids from 150 institutions
    • Funded for UK academic community, but free for anyone to use
  • Rapid change in role for archivists
  • Relationships with users
    • Small staff in many archives
    • More contact between archivists and users than there often is in, for example, libraries and museums
    • We know our traditional users and their needs well
  • Gatekeeper
    • Users had to talk to archivists before finding aids were available more widely
    • We interpreted our finding aids for them, within the repository
    Duke Humfrey’s Library, Bodleian, www.visitbritain.com
  • Gatekeeper
    • Users had to talk to archivists before finding aids were available more widely
    • We interpreted our finding aids for them, within the repository
    Duke Humfrey’s Library, Bodleian, www.visitbritain.com There is a vast amount of information available at the Bodleian concerning its manuscripts, but only a tiny fraction is currently available online; we intend progressively to make more information available at this website, as and when resources permit . http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/dept/scwmss/wmss/medieval/medieval.htm
    • Work we’ve done in putting finding aids and digital versions of archives online has changed that gatekeeper role entirely
    • Our knowledge and expertise has to be transferred into the finding aid or metadata – many existing finding aids not up to the job
    • The user no longer ‘sees’ or is aware of the existence of the archivist
    Online, things change
  • Users
    • May not need to know about archivists
    • … if they can find what they need online
  • Consequence of visit to Hub site Survey, May 2006, part of a JISC review of resource discovery services
  • We need to change what we do
    • Different types of users have differing requirements
    • New interpretative skills are required to meet their respective needs
    • Cataloguing needs to take new context (and users) of finding aids into account
      • Revisiting Archival Collections project
  • Interpreting users’ needs
    • Important to stay in touch with users
    • Some are easy to talk to – traditional users
    • Others more difficult – potential users, casual online users
  • Particular problem for Archives Hub as a purely online service
    • Lack of direct contact with users
      • Rely on online questionnaires or participation of contributing institutions
      • Difficult to get significant level of response (survey fatigue)
      • Bribery works to a degree
  •  
  • June 2005 (163 responses)
  • Target audience…
  • Current survey
  • Interpreting technology
    • Understanding technological developments and applying them for the benefit of users and archivists
      • Without implementing new technology for technology’s sake
    • Sometimes easier to get funding for the new and exciting at the expense of core work
      • … but some new developments are low-cost and easy to implement – so worth experimenting with
  • Interpreting jargon
    • 300 archival terms provided to interpreters at a recent European conference
  • More jargon
    • (Image of search interface featuring archival jargon)
    • Keep jargon away from end users!
  • Online finding aids
    • Jargon-free
    • Written with a general audience in mind
    • Available through search engines
    • All collections catalogued, if only at a minimal level
      • But the more detailed the better
    • Linking to digital surrogates or originals where possible
    • Capable of displaying contributions from people outside the repository
  • Best of both worlds Technology Expectations Satisfied users
  • Side effects…
    • In opening up resources online, archivists and other information professionals are becoming increasingly invisible…
    • … whilst reaching a larger audience than ever
  • Focus attention where it matters
    • Paymasters
    • Advocates
  • Must find
    • Meaningful ways of measuring:
      • Use
      • Impact
  • So…
    • If our users can find what they need and easily understand it
    • If our paymasters understand and value what we do
    • It doesn’t matter if our professional public profile is low or non-existent…
    • … as long as the value and importance of our records and archives is understood
  • Gatekeeper (Image of Sigourney Weaver as the Gatekeeper in Ghostbusters) Keymaster (Image of Rick Moranis as the Keymaster in Ghostbusters)