Behind the Gate: challenges facing archivists in academic research libraries


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  • MLIS from UCLA, CA by ACA Key challenges facing archivists in academic research libraries in the next 5 years
  • What are these challenges?
  • A continuing challenge for archivists in academic libraries is how to become more user-centered in our work. How can we attract users instead of expecting them to find us? What do our users want from us, anyway?
  • Archivists positioning themselves as facilitators, not as gatekeepers More info literacy and faculty outreach, embedded in classrooms Archivists as evangelists, creating relationships and spreading the gospel of archival resources Continue to create new users via K-12 learning objectives (Calisphere; Digital Forsyth lesson plans) Metrics as next way to demonstrate commitment to users User studies are big research area right now Don’t know what a finding aid is Majority find us through Google Don’t know jargon of our field Continued studies of individual repositories to help improve interfaces Web analytics will be used more Archivists will need to continue to position themselves not as gatekeepers, but as facilitators. One of the ways to do this is through more info lit classes and faculty outreach. Archivists are the evangelists for archival resources and we can find ourselves more embedded in undergraduate and graduate courses as well as faculty work through more relationships with university users. We can open up our digital resources for access by K-12 students by matching items with learning objectives, such as with Calisphere as well as in North Carolina with the Digital Forsyth project, which brought in a team of K-12 teachers to help us develop a curriculum-matched set of lesson plans. In addition, I see metrics as the next way archivists will be demonstrating a greater commitment to user expectations. User studies are a big research area right now in the archives field. These focused studies have shown that most users do not know what a finding aid is, most of them are finding our resources through search engines (primarily Google), nor do they know jargon-y terms like provenance, series and subseries, or scope and contents notes. Archivists will continue to perform user studies on their own finding aid repositories and use information from user feedback to help improve our interfaces. Web analytics services such as Google Analytics will be used more frequently as well. Chris Prom has a piece in the newest issue of American Archivist describing some of the questions archivists should ask themselves when measuring and collecting data about web usage of archival finding aids and digital objects. Archivists will need to find out “what parts of our website are most heavily used?” “how long are people on our site?” “what are the most popular searches on our site?” I think in the next few years we will be using statistics like these to help inform appraisal, which is the process used by archivists to evaluate historical/research value. If we have all of our finding aids and digital collections available in similar ways online, our usage and reference statistics will help us make better decisions about what to acquire, digitize, and keep in the future.
  • User studies have also shown that users expect to be able to find our materials digitized, not just described, online. Another key challenge for archivists is to use the information we gather from our users to create better strategies for management of born-digital collections and digital surrogates.
  • To meet the challenge of digital expectations, archivists must have in place what Mary Clobridge calls a digital repository program. Much of the work is the same in terms of collection, curation, assessment, and preservation of information; however, archivists will find themselves working more closely with management systems to organize, store, and retrieve digital assets. More traditionally, there will continue to be a need for creation of digital surrogates for analog material through digitization. Successful digitization is informed by a digital projects program that includes workflows and an understanding of the digital project life cycle, which includes project selection, metadata specifications, timelines, testing and configuration, digital production, post-production, assessment, and digital preservation. I have formed a digital projects team at my current library that includes representation from special collections and archives, technology, cataloging, and instruction librarians and staff to address these issues as we develop a digital repository program. I see the potential for continued emphasis on mass digitization for the purpose of making our resources available more quickly and on a large scale. This push to GET IT OUT THERE also requires more understanding by archivists of copyright in order to make informed, if IMPERFECT, decisions about what to put online. Liberal take-down policies for digitized material appear to be a growing trend, as shown in this statement from ECU.
  • This brings us to the challenge of born-digital material. Archivists will need to incorporate born-digital records and papers into existing collection development programs but pay special attention to the unique qualities of born-digital materials. We cannot simply add “and we accept born-digital records” and call it a day. Ben Goldman presents practical steps for handling electronic files in the Spring 2011 issue of RBM (the Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage) such as inventorying and making estimates of bytes, implementing a storage solution, and transferring records to better storage than disks or hard drives. Most archivists are just being introduced to the concepts of authenticity and digital curation, while these have been areas of study in computer science and informatics for a number of years. Digital curation and preservation may not be a norm within the next five years. Some archival literature reminds us that much of what we create digitally is essentially ephemeral – we tweet, post updates on Facebook, delete and change drafts of the same file, and store our work in many locations without much concern for re-discovery or preservation. Archivists will need to learn more about what tech folks call “backups,” capturing checksums for documentation of provenance and file integrity, and forming new policies for future acquisitions. Emory and UC Irvine have made great progress in this area, demonstrating that born-digital archives cannot be ignored or treated in the same way as analog archives. At my current institution we are developing a CD policy for electronic and born-digital records while moving electronic university records to Dspace as we receive them. I consider the challenge of born-digital materials to be one of the largest and most transformational for the archives field in the coming years.
  • Among the questions resulting from the challenges of becoming more user-centered and digital, archivists face the challenge of revisiting our ideas of description for archival material. With the need for greater and faster access comes a need to re-vision our traditional methods of describing these materials.
  • These Duke archivists in 1954 would have done archival processing and created typed finding aids to summarize the scope and contents of archival collections at their university. They were likely taught, as many American archivists were, that archivists are objective, neutral selectors of material of evidential or informational value. Archival processing is a process of physically arranging and describing collections based on the principles of original order (which is that any existing sequence of materials should be kept) and provenance (materials of differing origin should be kept separate). These archivists would have made decisions about the best way to describe and organize these materials. Archival theorists criticize the “science” of archives. As Joy Palmer says in her seminal piece on Archives 2.0, traditional archival science is positivist in its approach, and this is incompatible with the postmodern premise that nothing and no one is neutral or objective with regard to history. Another essay by your head of special collections pushes for transparency on the part of archivists, suggesting that archivists describe their backgrounds and areas of expertise as supplements to finding aids they create. In my own research interviewing archivists-in-training, one of the most repeated challenges is how to separate one’s feelings and beliefs from the neutrality expected of an archivist doing description. I can see, in the next few years, archivists detailing their decisionmaking process and personal stories as a way to step out from behind the curtain of objective archival science.
  • I see archivists in universities becoming more involved with the establishment of shared standards, avoiding the pitfalls of local practice. DACS is the descriptive standard for finding aids in EAD, the encoding standard for putting finding aids online. With an increased emphasis on context, I see more archivists becoming involved with the SNAC or EAC project, which is an effort to create robust, linked names to connect collections with similar creators and personal/family/corporate subjects. On a related note, I see the ripples of change from Mark Greene and Dennis Meissner’s article MPLP continuing to influence archival processing. MPLP has come to stand for minimal processing, collection-level over item-level, and overall consideration for making collections available as quickly as possible. I have come to believe that EAC and MPLP can coexist because, with the emergence of electronic (and therefore searchable) finding aids, the guiding principles of arrangement (provenance and original order) become less important. MPLP is about less PROCESSING, but there is still much room for robust description and context, as EAC could provide. In David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous, he points out that organization becomes less important in the digital realm. By making every item described (and describable) and identified with information about its origin, there is less need to keep things “in order.” I would rather call this EVERYTHING CAN BE FOUND. I think in the next few years archivists will have to take a good look at things like catablogs, which list new accessions or un-processed collections as they are, or posting more digitized material online with minimal description for greater accessibility and better descriptions over time.
  • This of course brings up the challenge of revisiting discovery. We are going away from being omniscient gatekeepers with a linear research process. How can we help users find what we have?
  • Along with the movement toward standards in description and processing, I see discovery being facilitated by participation in subject-based repositories and consortia like HathiTrust, ArchiveGrid, the CDL, and WorldCat. The goal is to facilitate discovery by linking our collections to places where users search. Right now, user studies are prompting archivists to supplement EAD finding aids with clearer interfaces, with notes like “What is this document?” or “To search this document, use Ctrl + F.” I see the challenge of better discovery being addressed by a redefinition of the linear finding aid into a modular, nonlinear, deconstructed, and flexible set of groupings. New interfaces could allow for re-sorting and rearranging content, allowing users to create new and unexpected contexts. This re-use of description would require a breakdown of the EAD structure, while at the same time depending on these modules to be identified. At ZSR library, we have moved around aspects of the finding aid, prioritizing the abstract, biographical and historical note, and collection inventory. But I think we can go even further than this, allowing users to repurpose content on their own, adding comments and saving pieces to help with their research. The emerging research within digital humanities presents a new challenge for discovery, because many of the projects within “humanities 3.0” require lots of data or lots of digital objects. There is a great deal of interest in patterns, visualization, and aggregates of massive quantities of data. I love this example from the University of Richmond incorporates statistical information from historical elections and historic maps with scholar commentary. I see archivists collaborating more with scholars to create unique digital projects and providing lots of new descriptive content for scholars to use as they provide their expertise to supplement the historic record.
  • Tools to store and share information are widespread and individuals are documenting their lives and those of others more than ever. Online social media allow for tagging and remixing of new and old documents and allow specialists and hobbyists to shine. How will “professional” archivists deal with amateur archivists?
  • As our archives and special collections become more available, there are more opportunities for scholars and the public alike to enrich our resources through their own expertise. Some would consider the idea of “citizen archivists” as a challenge, but I see it as an opportunity. By decentralizing knowledge production through user-contributed metadata, comments, and tagging, we promote new voices in the realm of archival authority. Elizabeth Yakel calls authority a “ nonrivalrous ” good. Breathing is a nonrivalrous good – it does not take away from your ability to breathe if I am breathing at the same time. “ Citizen archivists ” or scholars with specific areas of expertise can provide deeper meaning to our materials. With Digital Forsyth, we continue to get corrections and additions to local history photographs. We also provided archival training and digitization equipment at local libraries throughout the county, creating a larger community of local history authorities. I was trained as a fellow of the CFPRT at UCLA, where graduate students are matched with archival collections that are relevant to their research and areas of expertise. Similar knowledge bases can be built through outreach to faculty and students.
  • As information is being created in so many new forms of media, archivists are challenged to question how and what to document in the archives. What will be preserved?
  • Regardless of the format, our challenge is to document functions, events, and issues while being inclusive of multiple perspectives. While some of his other theories are being questioned, T.R. Schellenberg’s call for ACTIVE SELECTION OVER PASSIVE COLLECTION stands true today. Of particular interest will be representation of the experiences of underdocumented communities, such as those being recorded as part of the collections within the Southeast Asian Archive. From the university archives’ perspective, digital scholarship including faculty research, drafts, and data sets, as well as student papers and ETDs can be included in an institutional repository such as eScholarship and UCISpace. Current literature suggests that lack of awareness and lack of understanding of the value of these services can hinder growth of IRs. An example of trying to spread awareness is Yale, which has created guidelines for authors wanting to preserve digital archives as an educational tool. Other forms of campus and community life such as student publications and cocurricular activities help document life outside of the “official” record. Web archiving services will also provide a method for archivists to curate specific, ephemeral web content and document moments and event as they occur on the Web. Most importantly, however, I believe that human relationships and outreach will continue to be the greatest source of new forms of representation in academic research libraries. Human relationships will continue to matter.
  • Now, because I’m a librarian, I also care about attribution, so here are my photo credits…and a bit of a re-cap of what I’ve discussed this morning. My goal has been to discuss what I see as the key challenges facing archivists in academic research libraries in the next five years. I feel that understanding users and the discovery of resources by these users are imperative to successfully addressing these challenges.
  • Behind the Gate: challenges facing archivists in academic research libraries

    1. 1. Behind the Gate: Challenges Facing Archivists in Academic Research Libraries Audra Eagle Yun, MLIS, CA August 10, 2011
    2. 2. Key challenges in the next 5 years Becoming more user-centered Managing digital expectations Revisiting description Revisiting discovery Everyone is an archivist Represent and document
    3. 3. Becoming more user-centered
    4. 4. <ul><li>Classroom presence </li></ul><ul><li>User studies and web analytics </li></ul><ul><li>Metrics as means of appraisal </li></ul>
    5. 5. Managing digital expectations
    6. 6. <ul><li>Creating digital surrogates </li></ul><ul><li>Mass/large-scale digitization </li></ul>
    7. 7. <ul><li>Born-digital material </li></ul><ul><li>Digital = ephemeral? </li></ul>
    8. 8. Revisiting description
    9. 9. <ul><li>Postmodern archival field </li></ul><ul><li>Transparency </li></ul>
    10. 10. <ul><li>Shared standards </li></ul><ul><li>More Product, Less Process (…More Description?) </li></ul><ul><li>Everything as miscellany </li></ul>
    11. 11. Revisiting discovery
    12. 12. <ul><li>Consortial digital repositories </li></ul><ul><li>Deconstructing the finding aid </li></ul><ul><li>Repurposing and reusing information </li></ul><ul><li>Digital humanities and data </li></ul>
    13. 13. Everyone is an archivist
    14. 14. <ul><li>Decentralized authority </li></ul><ul><li>User generated contexts </li></ul><ul><li>Citizen archivists </li></ul>
    15. 15. Represent and document
    16. 16. <ul><li>Campus and community life </li></ul><ul><li>Digital scholarship </li></ul><ul><li>Web curation </li></ul><ul><li>Human relationships </li></ul>
    17. 17. Photo Credits <ul><li>Becoming more user-centered </li></ul><ul><li>Return to Washington Square Park, Aug 2009 – 22 by Ed Yourdon at </li></ul><ul><li>LIB100: Second Round of Fall Classes by ZSR Library at </li></ul><ul><li>Digital Forsyth | For Teachers at </li></ul><ul><li>Managing digital expectations </li></ul><ul><li>Maxine Waters addressing participants of the Afrodisia conference on black womanhood, Calif., 1977 Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA Library. Copyright Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library, at </li></ul><ul><li>“ Article on Salman Rushdie's digital archives wins national award,” from Emory Libraries’ Headline , at </li></ul><ul><li>Chas. Emerson & Co.'s Winston, Salem & Greensboro, North Carolina directory , published 1879 and on OpenLibrary at's_Winston_Salem_Greensboro_North_Carolina_directory </li></ul><ul><li>Logo from “Time Will Tell, But Epistemology Won’t” at </li></ul><ul><li>Digital Project Life Cycle as presented by Suzanne Preate, NNYLN 2009 Conference: Choices & Challenges/Clarkson University, Potsdam, New York. File saved at </li></ul><ul><li>Rights statement from ECU Digital Collections portal pulled from </li></ul><ul><li>U.S. Ethanol Policy in the Clean-Air Free-Trade Era by Kevin Rask and Tiefenthaler, at </li></ul><ul><li>Revisiting description </li></ul><ul><li>Finding aids SPL by Lee LeBlanc at </li></ul><ul><li>The Archivist's Life, 23 May 1954 by Duke Yearlook at </li></ul><ul><li>Revisiting discovery </li></ul><ul><li>History department interior, Los Angeles Public Library, by Mott Studios, 1926, from </li></ul><ul><li>Maya Angelou Film and Theater Collection finding aid from </li></ul><ul><li>Voting in the Civil War by Dr. Edward Ayers, from Voting America at </li></ul><ul><li>Humanities 3.0 logo from Tooling Up for Digital Humanities, at </li></ul>
    18. 18. Photo Credits, continued <ul><li>Everyone is an archivist </li></ul><ul><li>Belo House photograph from Digital Forsyth on History Pin, located at,-80.242342/zoom:13/ </li></ul><ul><li>Lewisville -Preserving Forsyth's Past by ZSR Library at </li></ul><ul><li>Exposing Hidden Collections: the UCLA Experience by Victoria Steele, at </li></ul><ul><li>Comment from photograph on Digital Forsyth, at </li></ul><ul><li>“ What’s Grandpa Doing on Flickr?” by Elizabeth Weingarten, Slate article at </li></ul><ul><li>Represent and document </li></ul><ul><li>Geek anteater, UC Irvine by Mathieu Marquer at </li></ul><ul><li>September 24, 2009, UC Irvine walkout at the first day class begin to protest increasing tuition and stopped services that make UC as UC by EvenLee at </li></ul>
    19. 19. Questions or comments? Audra Eagle Yun, MLIS, CA [email_address]