Subject guides for archives - Eva Guggemos


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About experiences creating subject guides for archival research using the LibGuides platform. Recommendations for topics to include and brief review of LibGuides.

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  • I was asked to answer the questions:  Should subject guides be more than annotated bibliographies? Are these types of guides helpful to researchers? As you might have suspected, since I'm up here in front of you, I think the answer to both of these questions is "yes."  But before I show you what these "more than annotated bibliographies" look like, I'd like to elaborate a little on the problems that they address.
  • In 2009, Jennifer Schaffner from OCLC Research summarized the findings of multiple studies stretching back over 30 years to underline some of the major findings about how researchers discover archival material. 
  • Schaffner concluded that researchers are much more interested in looking for the "aboutness" of an archive ... rather than what formats it includes or who created it.  Ideally -- from the point of view of how researchers typically search for material, our finding aids would include a lot more information about subjects. (Example: correspondence series ...)  The more information we can give about topics within our archival collections, the more likely our researchers' topic-based searches are going to work. The problem of course, is that this tendency of researchers to search by topic conflicts with the More Product Less Process approach, which so many of us have adopted. 
  • Moreover, her observations really inform  processing  standards. When we think about  educating researchers,  we need to help them deal with present realities. How can we teach researchers to  get at  their topics when our descriptions are so oriented towards provenance and format? This is the problem that subject guides are addressing: Helping researchers figure out what  search strategies are most likely to work, and how to interpret what they are seeing once they find a collection. 
  • Now let's move on to looking at the subject guides.  So, as Maureen said, I recently changed jobs from being the research services librarian at a major research library to being the archivist for a small liberal arts college.  I've had the chance to create subject guides for both institutions -- the first one at Yale, created specifically for historians, and the one at Pacific created for a more general audience.
  • The archives subject guide for Yale is embedded  within  the guide to doing European History research.  So, it's just one page. It covers:   (Very briefly) What archives are; How they are usually arranged/described; How to put together a good search;  Where to search; How to get access once you've found something
  • The guide for Pacific covers many of the same things, but with a different presentation. Since this one is my second pass at writing one of these guides, I think it's turning out to be a little more successful. Now why did I structure the subject guide in this way? Well... I based this arrangement on my experiences answering reference questions, doing research consultations and teaching classes on archival research methods.  What I've found is that for novice researchers who have never dealt with archives before, they have some very basic questions. Just about all of us have been working with archives for years. It can be hard to remember how alien they are to most undergrads. These are the types of questions that I try to address in instruction sessions:
  • People don't know what archives are.  They don't know where we get them from, or why old books are in one catalog and old records are in another catalog ... they just don't know. So I like to give some examples.  (Show "What are archives?)
  • People don't what finding aids are -- I think most of us are aware of that. But what's more, when a novice researcher comes across a finding aid for the first time, they don't know what they're looking at.  (Show "arrangement" page.)
  • Subject guides for archives - Eva Guggemos

    1. 1. Subject Guides for Archives Eva Guggemos
    2. 2. <ul><li>&quot;The Metadata is the Interface&quot; </li></ul><ul><li>-Jennifer Schaffner, OCLC Research (2009) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Most people start their research with Google </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Most people look at finding aids without encountering the archivist or even the home page of the archive for help </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Most people want to search by topical keywords -- not by provenance or format of material </li></ul></ul>
    3. 3. <ul><li>Aboutness </li></ul>
    4. 4. <ul><li>How do we help novices become adepts? </li></ul>
    5. 6.
    6. 7.
    7. 8. &quot;What are archives exactly?&quot; (good question!)
    8. 9. &quot;I'm looking at the finding aid...&quot;  (and I am still confused about what I am looking at)
    9. 10. &quot;I only found one item on my topic.&quot; (I wonder if I'm searching for the right thing?)
    10. 11. <ul><ul><li>What are archives? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How they are usually arranged/described </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How to put together a good search </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Where to search (the annotated bibliography) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How to get access once you've found something </li></ul></ul>Included:
    11. 12. <ul><ul><li>Take advantage of its modularity: re-use and share what you make </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>For best results, be prepared to do some light coding and Photoshopping </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Simplify your advice down to the essentials  </li></ul></ul>Some advice on the LibGuides platform:
    12. 13. <ul><li>Eva Guggemos </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul>