The Future of Archives is Participatory: Archives as Platform, or A New Mission for Archives

This is the talk I gave this morning—by phone rather than in person because of the Lufthansa pilots’ strike—at the Offene Archive 2.1 conference in Stuttgart. It’s also similar to the talk I gave in Oslo a few weeks ago at the #arkividag conference. While I also made a recording of it as a backup, since I have it all more or less written out I thought I would post it here too. (I’ve inserted a few images from my presentation but not all the transitional slides or ones that are just repeating things in the text or showing screenshots.) There are some interesting ideas in it, I think, and I’m sure some readers will have comments and additional food for thought. Please remember, it’s a talk, not a journal article. The intent is to give people some big ideas to think about. So I might as well do that here on the blog as well!

UPDATE: If you’d prefer to listen rather than read, the recording I made of me reading the talk over the slides is now available at I was reading very slowly and carefully, so I think I sound a bit like a robot, but it’s available if you’d rather listen and see all the slides as they were presented.


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Continue reading “The Future of Archives is Participatory: Archives as Platform, or A New Mission for Archives”

Examples of collecting event or topic-based social media material?

I just asked this on Twitter, and suggestions are coming in fast, so I’ll use this post as a way of documenting them and re-posting the question. I’m looking for examples of repositories actively collecting social media material (that is, things posted on Facebook, blogs, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) regarding a specific event or topic. I’m also interested in following up to learn whether or not the repository asked permission from those who create the material or not. In some cases it appears that people were asked to contribute (as in the UVa site) but in most others it looks like the creators were not contacted.

This is what people have suggested so far–I haven’t look yet at the content of all of these to see if are what I’m looking for, but they’re all interesting. It would also be interesting to learn to what degree these collections have been “accessioned” into the repository’s holdings and what plans are for long-term preservation, etc. Or are these just online platforms for access (as The Texas Collection by Baylor University on Storify seems to be).

National Library of Ireland, collections documenting the 2011 general and presidential elections 

University of Virginia, materials relating to the resignation and reinstatement of President Teresa Sullivan 

The Tamiment Library, Sites with the topic “Occupy Wall Street”  (“No advanced permission, but we honor robots txt exclusions and have a take down policy.”

Queens College’s Archiving Occupy Project collected “digital traces” with the permission of the creators (see their Collection Development policy in the About section).

Syracuse University, Boston Marathon Tweets (not clear if those are actually part of an accessioned collection or not)

Our Marathon, Northeastern University (not sure if it has social media, not to check)

@MuseumofLondon captured tweets around the Olympics #citizencurators–Life in London during the Games 

UK Web archives captures blogs and websites around events (presumably also including some blogs)

Arab American National Museum, many collections on Archive-It, but see for example Arab America on Social Media

Bentley collected #bbum tweets related to the Being Black at University of Michigan campaign (no link yet, still ongoing)

Minnesota 2.0, a student project with an interesting model, and regarding permissions: “each image in this archive has been “scrubbed” of directly identifying information: last names and personal photos have been blurred.”





Exploring the Participatory Archives

I’m happy to back from this year’s annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists in Chicago. I was part of a great session, “What Happens After ‘Here Comes Everybody’: An Examination of Participatory Archives,” along with Elizabeth Yakel and Alexandra Eveleigh, moderated by Robert Townsend. We were lucky to be selected by the online publication CMSWire as a session worth highlighting, and so you can read a full summary of our remarks in their article. Below is my presentation (via SlideShare).

The purpose of my presentation was to introduce the concept of participatory archives and propose a definition. That definition is:

An organization, site or collection in which people other than archives professionals contribute knowledge or resources, resulting in increased understanding about archival materials, usually in an online environment.

As you can see from the slides, I think it’s important to make a distinction between engagement and participation. This distinction is not intended to create a hierarchical system in which participation is “better.” Rather I think it will assist us, as a profession whose experience with both types on online activity is relatively new, to think more clearly and have more focused discussions about what makes each type of activity successful.

You’ll see more from me about this in the future, but for now I’d be interested in feedback on this first iteration of the definition, which I know doesn’t necessarily conform to the way others have used those terms.

UPDATE: You can read Alexandra’s own posts about her SAA experiences on her blog, Around the World in 80 Gigabytes, and about our session in particular here. Her slides are up on Slideshare too.

Why are effective use of social media and participatory technologies critical? Winners of the book giveaway contest

Last week I posted a small contest to give away some copies of the recently-published book I edited, A Different Kind of Web: New Connections Between Archives and Our Users. The challenge was to answer this question in a few sentences: “Why are effective use of social media and participatory technologies critical to the success of archives in the future?”

I said I would pick two winners, but there were so many great entries that I couldn’t resist picking three. And they are . . .

From Amanda Hill, currently residing in Canada:

Using the web effectively is just one strand in the outreach work of an archive. It’s a critical one because of its potential reach. Community initiatives (also highly important) reach a local audience but the online presence of an archive stretches beyond that to engage a much wider pool of potentially interested (and interesting) people. If that online presence encourages user participation in the work of the archives then the relevance of that work becomes more obvious and demonstrable to both the users and (crucially) the funders of the service. It breaks down the barriers between ‘expert’ and ‘user’ so that archivists are seen by their public as more ‘us’ than ‘them’. In a future of uncertain funding, an engaged and relevant archive service will be in a strong position when it comes to mobilizing support.

From Yvette Hoitink in The Netherlands:

Just like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a crowd to understand an archive. Different people will value different aspects of documents. A genealogist may recognize a family member, a local historian a location and a journalist a good story. Similarly, all of them may have knowledge that can contribute to an understanding of the document. Tapping into that wealth of knowledge out there will make archives far more usable and relevant to the public. If we do it well, we can create a snowball effect by making the collections more accessible, thus attracting more people, a portion of whom will pitch in.

So that was the ideological answer, here’s the mundane one: because we have way too many records to ever be able to describe them on all on the level that answers our users’ questions. We simply lack the funding. We can only hope our visitors will help us, if we provide the tools.

At the Nationaal Archief, the National Archives of the Netherlands where I work, we’ve just put registration cards online of Japanese internment camps in the former Dutch East Indies during WWII. The feedback has been incredible, and some of the stories behind the ‘dry’ names on the cards just chilling. It shows the power of a simple new function like a reaction form on all our archival description pages.

And last, but not least, from Josh Zimmerman in our United States:

Social media and participatory technologies provide widely accessible spaces where the public can creatively and meaningfully engage with, use, translate, mashup, comment on, re-envision, manipulate, describe, and ultimately add context and value to our collections and repositories.  They offer room for inviting the public into discussions of the overall societal importance of archives, which will strengthen the archival profession internally, while improving the public perception of our profession.  It will allow archives and archivists to finally realize their role not as guardians or gatekeepers, but as facilitators of relevant and valuable information. They also offer opportunities to lay wide open our decision-making processes for all to see, thus educating users and promoting transparency, accountability, and democracy.

There were at least four people who gave these people a run for their money (or in this case free books), and I’ll be highlighting them as well next week. There were several interesting answers which also argued that, in fact, this was not critical, and I think we can have some interesting discussions about that. But, for now, from Chicago, congratulations to the winners and I hope their responses give you some inspiration. If you didn’t win and want a copy of the book, if you’re here at the SAA meeting I’m available to sign it for you Thursday night in the exhibit hall or any time you see me.

What is the Meaning of Archives 2.0? (Article available)

In case you missed it, I’ve taken all my musings about how I think Archives 2.0 should be defined and put them into a proper, formal, peer-reviewed article in the American Archivist. “What is the Meaning of Archives 2.0?” is available in the current issue (Volume 74, Number 1 / Spring/Summer 2011). If you’re an SAA member you should have it hand now and also be able to access it on the SAA website. Here’s the abstract:

At first glance the term “Archives 2.0” might refer to the use by archives of Web 2.0 applications, such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr. This article proposes a broader definition of Archives 2.0 that includes a comprehensive shift in archival thinking and practice that is related to, but not dependent on, the use of Web 2.0 tools. The article develops this interpretation and explains why this concept provides a useful starting point for conversations about future directions for the archival profession.

If anyone would like a copy of this issue, let me know. I was given a big stack of them and have no idea what I’m going to do with them, so I’m happy to give some out to deserving people. You can see the whole table of contents here. Continue reading “What is the Meaning of Archives 2.0? (Article available)”

The new book is now available: A Different Kind of Web

It’s been a long time in the works, but my new book is now available for purchase from the SAA Bookstore (SAA Member price $49.95; everyone else $69.95). I say “my book” because I conceived the idea and lined up many many smart people to contribute. Don’t believe me? Here’s the table of contents:

Continue reading “The new book is now available: A Different Kind of Web”

Winners: Best Use of Crowdsourcing for Description

Next, the spot light turns to the winners of the Best Archives on the Web awards in the category Best Use of Crowdsourcing for Description. This is the definition of the category:

Whether through Flickr, wikis, blogs or allowing users to comment on descriptions in their online catalogs, many archives are starting to harness the power of their regular researchers as well as experts around the world to help augment or create descriptions for their collections. This award will recognize crowdsourcing efforts that have resulted in a significant exchange of information for the institution.

The judges selected one winner and singled out one nominee to receive an Honorable Mention. And they are . . .

Winner: Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid (Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision)

The description of the project from the nomination statement:

“To explore the impact and success criteria of social tagging in the audiovisual heritage domain, a large-scale video labeling pilot, Waisda?, was launched in March 2009. The goal of Waisda? (which translates to ‘What’s That?’) is to collect user tags that can help bridge the semantic gap, to collect time-related metadata, and to offer people a new way of interacting with television programs, thus creating a connection with the television archive. Waisda? is the world’s first operational video labeling game in the cultural heritage field.

Waisda? invites players to tag what they see and hear. They receive points for a tag if it matches one their opponent has entered within a time frame of ten seconds. The underlying assumption, based on the ‘Games with a Purpose’ by Luis von Ahn, is that tags are most probably valid if there’s mutual agreement. Waisda? introduced three innovations: Using gaming as method to annotate television heritage, actively seeking collaboration with communities connected to the content, and using curated vocabularies as a means to integrate tags with professional annotations.

From the launch in March 2009 to November 2009 (period of the evaluation, the website is still operational, see the WebScience paper by Oomen et al. for more information), over 340,000 tags were added, of which 40.3% consists of matching tags (added by different players within the ten second time frame. In total, 42,068 unique tags have been added.

Waisda? was executed by the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision and KRO Broadcasting (Dutch public broadcasting organization). The Business Web & Media Group of VU University Amsterdam performed additional research on topics such as game play and tag quality. (They carry out research in light of their involvement in the PrestoPRIME European research project.) The software company Q42 built the application.”

Waisada? received a lot of love from the panel of judges: “Looking through the site I just wished that I knew Dutch, so that I could play. In some ways it reminded me of the Google Image Labeler game, but its application to video content was novel. Based on the nomination form and the accompanying papers, it appears that the data gathered through the game has in some cases been very useful to enhance the description of the videos. I also appreciated the work that the project team had gone through to market the site to their desired audience, including their use of social tools such as Twitter.” The rigor of the evaluation and documentation, as well as the sheer fun of the project, were key in helping snag the win for Waisda?. Also, it’s not every nomination that gets this response from a judge: “I also very much enjoyed watching the Dutch reality show about the farmer.”

Resources in English:
– Background on the game and an English summary of the evaluation can be found on the Images for the Future blog.
– Also, two papers on Waisda? were presented at the WebScience conference this year in Raleigh, N.C..

Honorable Mention: PhotosNormandie on Flickr

Longtime readers may remember that I wrote about the PhotosNoramandie Flickr group back in April 2009. Then, as now, the group exists because of the volunteer efforts of two people with the talent and the interest to make it possible-Patrick Peccatte and Michel Le Querrec-and because of the flexible and popular platform that Flickr provides. The purpose of PhotosNormandie is simple–to make archival images of the Allied invasion of Normandy more easily discoverable by more users and to attempt to correct and supplement their existing metadata. The fact that this takes place entirely outside the archival context makes it both more interesting and perhaps more threatening. Patrick and Michel represent no archives, but rather the kind of passionate amateurs who choose to devote their time to advancing knowledge about archival materials. The lack of a connection back to the original archival collections troubled the judges, but they noted that “this project does a lot of things right– in particular harnesses an existing community and tech infrastructure rather than trying to reinvent the wheel or try to get people to a website where they wouldn’t regularly go.”

And so, congratulations to our two notable European examples of using crowdsourcing for description!

“Anthologize” tool released by “One Week, One Tool” program

I’m scrambling like mad to finish up several things before leaving for SAA and so don’t have time to do justice to the release of the Anthologize tool. Essentially, it’s a tool that lets you turn a blog into a book. While it might sound at first to be just a tool for vain bloggers to self-publish, it has far greater potential for archivists than that, both for encouraging professional discussion and for the long-term preservation of blog content. On their “About” page, they suggest the following applications for libraries, archives, and museums:

* Publish research or processing activity on a blog and create the exhibition book from blog posts.
* Pull together blog posts across institutional divisions to create a topically coherent publication.
* Edit the proceedings of a professional workshop or conference to share expertise with new audiences.
* Anthologize a behind-the-scenes blog to offer as a gift to donors.
* Collect and preserve online publications.
* Document social media outreach programs.

Anthologize is the product of the One Week, One Tool program, run by George Mason’s Center for History and New Media and supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The process by which Anthologize was developed is itself interesting and might serve as a model for the rapid development of tools for archives.

Here are some links to more information, please feel free to suggest others in the comments, and I look forward to hearing more about how archives are implementing Anthologize:

Introducing Anthologize,” Dan Cohen’s Digital Humanities Blog

Digital Campus podcast, Episode 58 – Anthologize LIVE

Hello Anthologize,” Edwired

Lessons from One Week | One Tool: Part 1, Project Management,” Found History blog [this is a three part series of excellent posts about the process]

Digital Humanists Unveil New Blog-to-Book Tool, Chronicle of Higher Education

Announcing the winners of the 2010 Best Archives on the Web Awards

At long last, I’m happy to announce the winners of this year’s Best Archives on the Web Awards.

Best re-purposing of descriptive data

Winner: The Smithsonian Institution, Collections Search Center

Winner: City of Burnaby Archives, Charting Change: An Interactive Atlas of Burnaby’s Heritage

Best use of crowdsourcing for description

Winner: Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid, Waisda?

Honorable Mention: PhotosNormandie on Flickr

Most innovative archives on the Web

Winner: The Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin, Rich Media: Conservation History Association of Texas, Texas Legacy Project Records

Honorable Mention: HerStory 360, The HerStory Scrapbook

This week each of the winners in each category will be featured in a new post, so you can learn more about each of these terrific projects. For more information about this year’s categories, see the announcement post.

I’d like to thank everyone who submitted a nomination, as well as this year’s distinguished jury:

  • Christine Di Bella, Institute for Advanced Study
  • Cory Nimer, Brigham Young University
  • Lance Stuchell, Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research
  • Chela Weber, Brooklyn Historical Society

“The Semantic Web: What It Is and Why It Matters” and “Linked Data & Archival Description”

Via the great Mashable site, a video explaining the Semantic Web (sometimes referred to as “Web 3.0”).

Web 3.0 from Kate Ray on Vimeo.

Putting this in an archival context (although without any snazzy music), see also from the great Mark Matienzo:

If you find yourself wanting more, Mark has some other presentations available on Slideshare about the possibilities of linked data for archives.