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Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest
Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest
Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest
Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest
Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest
Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest
Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest
Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest
Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest
Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest
Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest
Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest
Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest
Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest
Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest
Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest
Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest
Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest
Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest
Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest
Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest
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Paying Attention to that Archivist Behind the Curtain: An Investigation of User Interest

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This presentation was part of session 104, "The Real Archives 2.0: Studies of Use, Views, and Potential of Web 2.0" at the Society of American Archivists 2009 conference in Austin, TX (August 13, …

This presentation was part of session 104, "The Real Archives 2.0: Studies of Use, Views, and Potential of Web 2.0" at the Society of American Archivists 2009 conference in Austin, TX (August 13, 2009). The presentation was based on research I conducted as an MSLS student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the summer of 2007 (advisor: Dr. Cal Lee).

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  • This presentation is based on research I conducted for my master’s paper at UNC-Chapel Hill in the summer of 2007. My presentation, and the study, should be considered an “Archives 2.0 topic ,” more than a “Web 2.0 topic,” although I will consider the findings in the context of “Web 2.0 implications” – meaning, how we can combine some of the findings of this study with Web 2.0 technologies to create our brave new Archives 2.0 world.
  • Kate talked about what’s meant by the term “Archives 2.0” in her intro. This study will focus on the four particular aspects of “Archives 2.0” that my research really touches on: Transparency. Particularly, being transparent to our users. Keeping the user in mind. Letting our users’ needs shape the way we develop things. Being open to new ways of doing things , and showing a Willingness to take risks. I’ll touch more on these ideas later.
  • This is what I set out to answer: How much information about us, and about our decision-making in appraisal and processing, do our researchers really want? Do they want to know our names? Our titles? Our past processing experience? The type and extent of our education? What about our genders or our political affiliations? And do they want to know what I’ve done to a collection when I’ve processed it? How I’ve rearranged it, what I’ve removed from the collection for any reason, etc.? Do they want to know what’s in our control files?
  • The study was inspired by Tom Hyry and Michelle Light’s 2002 paper in American Archivist entitled “Colophons and Annotations: New Directions for the Finding Aid.” Here is the basic argument from them and others about why transparency matters. Terry Cook and Elizabeth Yakel said that in appraisal and processing, objectivity is impossible . Terry Cook said, “The traditional notion of the impartial archivist is no longer acceptable—if it ever was,” saying it’s “inevitable” that archivists’ biases will affect most of the their major job functions. Beth Yakel said it even more simply: “archival representation processes are neither objective nor transparent.” Eric Ketelaar, Richard Cox, and several others said that (in part because we can’t be objective), we need to at least be transparent . We need to document our decisions and be open to revealing how we made them. About a month ago, David Weinberger published a blog post called “Transparency Is the New Objectivity,” ( http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/2009/07/19/transparency-is-the-new-objectivity/) in which he says that “Objectivity is discredited these days as anything but an aspiration” and that “Transparency brings us to reliability the way objectivity used to.” Tom Hyry and Michelle Light thought that being more transparent about appraisal and processing decisions may remind researchers of the archivist’s existence , “self-consciously alert[ing] the researcher about the subjective and mediating role of the processor in appraising, arranging, and describing a set of records.” Finally, if we’re more visible, then we’re more relevant to the world. Beth Yakel argued that “visibility of information professionals is key” and quotes Bonnie Nardi, who said that “much of the work of librarians is invisible and therefore undervalued and unacknowledged, thus threatening their existence.”
  • How can we be more transparent, visible, and maybe even relevant? Well, Hyry & Light suggested putting a “COLOPHON” in our finding aid. A colophon is defined by David C. Weber as “the inscription at the end of a book which gives its production information, with the names and roles of its chief physical creators, sometimes including personal comment from the craftsman who made it.” This is a colophon from the British Library’s Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. http://194.66.233.23/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMINBig.ASP?size=big&IllID=21658 They suggested that the colophon be part of the collection-level Processing Information. It would be a space to record: What archivists know about the history or provenance of the collection Appraisal and processing decisions; and even Biographical information about the processor.
  • Here’s an example of what a finding aid colophon might look like. This would be for the University of Texas at San Antonio College of Business records. This would be the collection-level Processing Information. “ Processed and encoded by Angela McClendon Ossar, University Archivist. Angela is a full-time professional employee with an MSLS and certification from the ACA. Previous processing projects have chiefly included the official archival records of the University of Texas at San Antonio. Other processing projects, etc. etc. The processing of this collection revealed some materials that were determined to be unfit for long-term preservation: Ephemeral financial records such as purchase vouchers, telephone bills Personnel records such as time sheets Course-instructor surveys were destroyed, because another office on campus keeps them, Research reports of individual faculty members were separated from the collection to be cataloged individually and placed in the Library's Special Collections stacks.” Well, this is transparent, but is it “user-centered”? Would a researcher care about all this? After I read Hyry & Light’s article, I thought, sure, I’m definitely going to do that when I get a job. But then I had to wonder: can I justify spending the time on that? To myself, or especially to a supervisor? More importantly, would other archivists go to the trouble? Well, I thought they might go to the trouble, but only if they had users telling them that they wanted that information.
  • The users I surveyed were current UNC faculty with experience conducting primary source research. I would have loved to broaden the study to students, journalists, genealogists, other faculty, etc., but my scope was limited by the amount of time I had to write the paper. Data was collected through an online survey (Qualtrics)
  • The survey had 28 respondents : a pretty low response rate, but a diverse group. I certainly hadn’t expected to see Applied Physics represented. The respondents were largely Proficient and experienced in archival research: 93% had visited at least 3 repositories. 85% rated themselves as having at least a “competent” understanding of archives 86% reported “frequent” or “very frequent” use of finding aids All had used archives for research on book, article, or report; but some had also conducted research for class assignments, dissertations and theses, genealogy, administrative or work-related tasks, and a website. They reported some experience requesting control files, and some experience asking to speak to the processing archivist : GO TO NEXT SLIDE
  • I asked them if they’d ever requested to speak to the processing archivist, defined as “the archivist who organized or wrote the descriptions (for example, the finding aid) for a collection. Their options were YES, NO, and NOT SURE. Almost half, 46%, of respondents answered YES . In most of these interactions, it appeared that the processing archivist was utilized in a specialized reference capacity, providing details about a collection that are typically considered too specific for inclusion in the finding aid. One person stated that interacting with the processing archivist “proves particularly helpful if finding-aid descriptions remain too generic.” Another person echoed this, noting, “I’ve sometimes asked archivists for help in finding information in a collection that would not come up in the finding aid. For example, I might ask if the archivist knew if certain topics came up in the course of someone’s correspondence, journals, writings, etc.” Another respondent had pointed out some incorrect information in the finding aid, and another had asked the processing archivist for help locating uncataloged materials. Half the respondents hadn’t ever asked to speak to the processing archivist, and one respondent said they were not sure.
  • Next, I asked, “In the process of doing research, have you ever requested to see any of the following materials?” These would be things you’d often find in control files. They were asked to answer YES/NO/NOT SURE to whether they’d requested each of these types of records. 29% of them had requested to see records relating to the acquisition of a collection—for example, a curator’s research into the notability of a person, or notes she took in meeting with a potential donor, 25% had requested information pertaining to materials separated from the collection for a variety of reasons, and 25% had requested to see notes regarding the original organization. This was pretty amazing to me since I had sort of assumed that the records in control files wouldn’t be on most researchers’ radars at all. Only 32% of respondents had never requested any administrative records.
  • Then they were given that same list of common control file or “administrative” records and were asked: “ The following are examples of information about a collection that most archives keep apart from a collection, sometimes inaccessible to researchers. If these materials were made available to you, how interested would you be in seeing them?”
  • This chart breaks down the users’ responses: their interest level in each of these types of records, from Most Interested to Least Interested. So, What do users want to know? Overall, they want to know two basic things: what’s missing, and why do we have what we have. They want to know about ANY material that’s missing from a collection – materials transferred to other repositories (perhaps because of de-accessioning), discarded materials, materials returned to the donor, and materials separated from the collection to be cataloged separately (a common practice with books). They also want to see documentation of our decisions to acquire a collection – our notes on the acquisition of a collection and our appraisal criteria What are they not so interested in? They’re really not interested in prior uses of the collection (call slips or prior copy/duplication requests) They’re neutral about old, superseded versions of finding aids. They’re neutral about contacts with the donor, such as correspondence or the deed of gift. They’re also neutral about the original order and condition of a collection. This is interesting since the primary intention of the colophon is to disclose processing information. Of course, most users might not realize that we often re-organize things when we process. Or, of course, that might just not interest them.
  • Next I asked, How much do our researchers want to know about US? Participants were given a list of information about the processing archivist that might be recorded in a colophon, and asked to mark all the ones they’d be interested in.
  • 86 percent of the respondents answered the question and selected at least one type of information. Three-quarters of respondents who answered the question wanted to know the NAME of the processing archivist. 21 of the 24 people who responded wanted to know the job title of the archivist. 13 of 24 wanted to know if the processor was a Full- or part-time employee, an intern, or a volunteer, and the same percent wanted to know if the processor held any degrees, and if so, what type. 10 of 24 were interested in any other collections the processor has processed. Very few people were interested in the political affiliation or gender of the processing archivist. One person seemed to detect the motive for the question, stating that the question “seems to assume a political/gender/educational bias on the part of the archivist that, in my experience, I have never encountered.” (Of course, bias in processing probably wouldn’t be immediately obvious, if at all.) Other respondents’ comments on this question suggest that they made distinctions between the information that interests them and the information they feel entitled to. One respondent said, “I’d like to know more about political affiliation but believe it would violate their privacy to ask for more than what is publicly available.”
  • And that concludes my findings. As far as ideas for future research: I’d love to see the study done with many, many more participants. As I mentioned earlier, I’d also like to see the user pool broadened to all those other non-faculty researchers—genealogists, students, journalists, etc. I think the study would have been more effective if I’d only sent it to known users of archives. I’d like to see someone study whether users even look at the Administrative Information section. One respondent said that something they’d like to know is when the collection was processed. This is something that I assumed pretty much everyone put in their finding aids, but for our own purposes, not for users. What do they use it for?
  • So, what is the state of transparency in archives today? In the two short years since conducting the study, the means for archivists to freely increase their visibility has exploded. Archivists create processing blogs and wikis, they Twitter, they sometimes use Facebook professionally. You can find me on my unprotected Twitter feed, my Facebook page, our archives’ website and blog, etc. Here are three of MANY examples of processing blogs. A nice directory of all these blogs is being developed by Kate, on her Archives 2.0 wiki. A View to Hugh, at UNC, documents the processing of the very large collection of photographer Hugh Morton. http://www.lib.unc.edu/blogs/morton/ Ashes of Waco , at Texas State University, documents the digitization and exhibition of materials related to the 1993 raid of the Branch Davidian complex in Waco. http://alkeklibrarynews.typepad.com/ashesofwaco/ CMC Archives Processing , the processing blog of the Computer Music Center at Columbia, documents the processing of a range of audiovisual and other materials. http://cmcarchives.blogspot.com/
  • Here are some archives and archivists on Twitter. These are some tweets from archives and archivists that somewhat related to processing or appraisal. I’ve been urged to point out that the “blame Nixon” one is a JOKE, but pretty funny.
  • Some archivists are using Facebook professionally, to network with their users, faculty, and people interested in the projects they do. Could we link our finding aids, or our staff directories, to our Facebook pages? The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on a session at this year’s ACRL annual meeting called “Beyond the Buzz: Planning Library Facebook Initiatives Grounded in User Needs.” Two librarians from George Washington University talked about a survey they did last year on students’ use of Facebook and how the university’s library could tap into that space without scaring students off. That presentation is available via SlideShare. Presentation via SlideShare: http://www.slideshare.net/brixton/beyond-the-buzzplanning-library-facebook-initiatives-grounded-in-user-needs Article about their presentation: Howard, Jennifer. “Librarians Confront New Uncertainties Over Training and Jobs.” Chronicle of Higher Education, 16 March 2009. Retrieved July 3, 2009 from http://chronicle.com/temp/email2.php?id=J8mmQk2fSXR9Q4yrBZmBwfxvb9DjbpyK.
  • Part of Archives 2.0 is the willingness to take risks. So, if we start including colophons, do we risk offending donors? How do we feel about exposing, say, that someone’s grandma’s clippings that they donated got trashed because they had no research value? CLICK: What about revealing our decision to minimally process, or just encode without processing? What if this were expanded to say WHY more detailed processing wasn’t anticipated? And, from a simple usability standpoint, are we cluttering up the finding aid with more text, taking away focus from the stuff more directly related to the collection? Finally, do we risk wasting time? That could be our biggest concern.
  • But. I still argue that yes, we should try to expand on regular processing information. We should, if nothing else, include: The name and title of the processor. Most people do this. But what about linking to a staff member’s profile on the archives’ blog or website? Or even their Twitter feed? Documentation of anything removed from a collection for any reason. If you don’t have time to go into why something was removed, at least record that something’s missing. Researchers will have no idea, otherwise. Also document if you’ve significant rearranged the collection. If you processed it heavily, you probably have. Perhaps offer (in-house) an accession inventory, or the processor’s notes? And finally, document if you processed a collection minimally, and WHAT THAT MEANS. Does it mean you didn’t take out ALL the paper clips? Does it mean box-level descriptions only? And do you plan to go back and re-process it in the future, or is it done? So why bother? Who benefits from the colophon? Users, more than anyone. If you don’t tell them this information, they won’t know. I suspect that they do want to know, even from my small sample. Donors benefit. It could almost be considered “donor education” for donors who will continue to transfer more records (e.g., institutional archives, government archives, or very prolific living donors). It tells them what we want and don’t want. Your successors benefit. When I began at UTSA two years ago, the other new archivist and I were the only archivists there. We had to start from scratch. Colophons would’ve helped us deduce a lot of mysteries in collections. Other archivists. Particularly other archivists who are in the process of implementing MPLP programs and would like to look to other repositories to see how they’re doing things. Or new archivists who are looking for processing or appraisal guidance. The colophon can really be an educational tool. And…YOU. Most people have no idea what we do. We’ve got to take steps towards making ourselves, and our work, more visible, if we want to remain relevant.
  • Thank you.
  • Transcript

    • 1. PAYING ATTENTION TO THAT ARCHIVIST BEHIND THE CURTAIN: AN INVESTIGATION OF USER INTEREST Angela McClendon Ossar University Archivist University of Texas at San Antonio August 13, 2009
    • 2. Archives 2.0 <ul><li>Transparency </li></ul><ul><li>User-centered practices </li></ul><ul><li>Open to new ways of doing things </li></ul><ul><li>Willing to take risks </li></ul>
    • 3. Research question <ul><li>How much information about us, and about our decision-making in appraisal and processing, do our researchers really want? </li></ul>
    • 4. Literature in brief <ul><li>In appraisal and processing, objectivity is impossible. </li></ul><ul><li>Because we can’t be objective, we need to at least be transparent. </li></ul><ul><li>Increasing our transparency might raise our visibility. </li></ul><ul><li>Raising our visibility increases our relevance. </li></ul>
    • 5. Origins of the study <ul><li>Hyry and Light’s “Colophons and Annotations” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Use the finding aid to tell users more about processing decisions that were made </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The “ colophon ”: a space to record: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>what archivists know about the history/ provenance of a collection </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>appraisal/processing decisions </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>biographical information about the processor </li></ul></ul></ul>Plutarch, Lives . “Copied in Florence in 1478 by the 'Omnium rerum' scribe”: colophon reads, 'Anno dominicae incarnationis M o CCCC o LXX o & vii a decembris opus hoc consumatum est: die autum veneris summo mane. Laus & gloria sit omnipotenti yhu xpo per infinita secula (f. 428); 'Omnium rerum vicissitudo est' (f. 428v).Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, British Library. Retrieved 3 July 2009.
    • 6. Finding aid colophon example <ul><li>Transparent. But user-centered? </li></ul>Processing Information Processed and encoded by Angela McClendon Ossar, University Archivist. Angela is a full-time professional employee with a Master of Science in Library Science and certification from the Academy of Certified Archivists. Previous processing projects have chiefly included the official archival records of the University of Texas at San Antonio. Other processing projects have included the personal papers of UTSA faculty, two large collections of female poets, and various organizational records. The processing of this collection revealed some materials that were determined to be unfit for long-term preservation. Ephemeral financial records such as purchase vouchers, telephone bills, and receipts were destroyed in accordance with the university's records retention schedule. Personnel records such as time sheets and job search records for non-hired applicants were also destroyed per the RRS. Course-instructor surveys were also destroyed, as the Office of Institutional Effectiveness has been designated by the university as the office of record for those records. Research reports of individual faculty members were separated from the collection to be cataloged individually and placed in the Library's Special Collections stacks.
    • 7. The study <ul><li>Users: current UNC faculty in 11 departments with experience conducting primary source research </li></ul><ul><li>Method: online survey </li></ul>
    • 8. The respondents <ul><ul><li>28 respondents: Classics, Communication Studies, English/Rhetoric, Geography, History, Journalism and Mass Communication, Music, Political Studies, Sociology, Linguistics, Applied Physics, Interdisciplinary Philosophy </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Proficient and experienced in archival research </li></ul><ul><li>Frequent users of finding aids </li></ul><ul><li>Wide range of uses </li></ul><ul><li>Some experience requesting control files, asking to speak to the processing archivist </li></ul>
    • 9. Experience talking to the archivist <ul><li>“ Have you ever requested to speak to the [processing archivist]?” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Yes: 46% </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Specialized reference assistance </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Finding information in a collection that would not come up in a finding aid. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Input on the researcher’s chances of finding materials on a particular subject or particular type </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Correcting bad information in the finding aid </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Help locating uncataloged materials </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>No: 50% </li></ul></ul>
    • 10. Requesting administrative records <ul><li>“ In the process of doing research, have you ever requested to see any of the following materials?” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>25% or more requested: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Notes regarding the collection’s acquisition </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Records of materials transferred to other repositories </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Records of books removed and cataloged separately </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Appraisal criteria </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Notes re: the original organization </li></ul></ul>
    • 11. Interest in collection control files <ul><li>“ The following are examples of information about a collection that most archives keep apart from a collection, sometimes inaccessible to researchers. If these materials were made available to you, how interested would you be in seeing them?” </li></ul>Replace with image of Control Files
    • 12. Interest in collection control files 3=Neutral 5=Very Interested 4=Interested 2=Uninterested 1=Very Uninterested Most Interested Least Interested
    • 13. Interest in the processing archivist <ul><li>“ What information about the archivist who organized or wrote the descriptions (e.g., the finding aid) for a collection would you like to have?” </li></ul>
    • 14. Interest in the processing archivist
    • 15. Future research <ul><li>Expand the participant pool—more user types </li></ul><ul><li>Give to known users of archives (e.g., our patrons) </li></ul><ul><li>Do researchers even look at the Administrative Info? </li></ul>
    • 16. Transparency today <ul><li>Processing blogs </li></ul>
    • 17. Transparency today <ul><li>Archives and Archivists on Twitter </li></ul>
    • 18. Transparency today <ul><li>Archives and Archivists on Facebook </li></ul>
    • 19. Colophons: No? <ul><li>Archives 2.0: “Willing to take risks” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Offending donors? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Cluttering up the finding aid? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Wasting time? </li></ul></ul>
    • 20. Colophons: Yes <ul><li>Include in a colophon: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The name and title of the processor (with link to more information on website or blog?) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Documentation of destruction, separation, deaccessioning, and returns; with appraisal criteria </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Significant rearrangements of the collection </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Whether a collection was processed minimally. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Why? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Users </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Donors </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Your successors </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Other archivists </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>You </li></ul></ul>
    • 21. Thank you! <ul><li>Angela McClendon Ossar </li></ul><ul><li>University Archivist </li></ul><ul><li>Archives and Special Collections </li></ul><ul><li>University of Texas at San Antonio </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>(210) 458-2383 </li></ul><ul><li>http://twitter.com/angelaossar </li></ul>

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