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”

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”

Horrors! The archives have been hacked! Wait–that’s a good thing.

This post is written in response to the call for submissions to a new kind of publication, Hacking the Academy, “a book crowdsourced in one week, May 21-28, 2010.”

In keeping with the spirit of hacking, the book will itself be an exercise in reimagining the edited volume. Any blog post, video response, or other media created for the volume and tweeted (or tagged) with the hashtag #hackacad will be aggregated at [. . . ] . The best pieces will go into the published volume. The volume will also include responses such as blog comments and tweets to individual pieces. If you’ve already written something that you would like included, that’s fine too, just be sure to tweet or tag it (or email us the link to where it’s posted).


Yes, the old-fashioned, traditional academic archives/special collections is fading into obsolescence. Any one who works with archives knows they’ve fundamentally changed in the last decade or so but how do these changes affect the relationship of the archives with “the academy”? In the spirit of the publication, here are some quickly-written footnote-free thoughts, presented for your consideration and discussion.

Getting access

In the “old days,” how did access work in academic archives/special collections? Scholarly researchers worked hand-in-hand with experienced archivists to locate materials of interest and spent time sitting in our reading rooms, reviewing page after page of materials. Of course, this wasn’t the way it worked at every archives all the time for every user, but really, how much thought was given to expanding usage beyond the community of historians and scholars? Were genealogists, family historians, and casual researchers encouraged? I don’t think so.

Now? As much as possible, archives and special collections are digitizing materials and putting them online, via their own websites and commercial sites. Which means anyone and everyone has access to those materials. No mediation or guidance by the archivist, no travel expenses. Access has been democratized. Which is great, right? More access is better, isn’t it?

Yes. Of course. But what comes along with that? Some collections are being digitized in their entirety, which means no selection, editing, or footnotes–good for scholars perhaps, but not for all kinds of users. Do we still need edited collections of documents anymore? Other collections are being digitized selectively, and selection is not always good for scholars. And what about the hordes of collections and materials that aren’t being digitized? Good for scholars because these “hidden collections” provide potential new material for publication, but is it bad for scholarship because many students (and perhaps some scholars) will tend to reference only the materials they find online?

And this democratization is connected with a shift in how most archives and special collections are measured and assessed by their institutions. Greater importance is being placed on measuring results and outcomes, rather than solely on the amount of material collected and processed, or the number of publications that reference the collection. This is good for most users, but it surely displaces providing a high level of service to scholars as the primary focus of the academic archives/special collections.

In short, archivists and special collections librarians are no longer the “handmaidens of historians.” We serve more users, of different kinds, and our success is measured by how broadly our materials are used.

Sharing findings

Just as access has been democratized, so has publication. A research discovery doesn’t have to wait to be announced in a peer-reviewed publication. If policies permit, users of archives can create their own digital copies of materials and post them on their own sites. Clever researchers can re-use and re-purpose digital images they find on the web. More and more archives are creating their own forums for sharing information about their collections.

Anyone with an interest can publish their thoughts about what they find in the archives. Good for the archives, good for most users . . . good for “the academy”? I’ll leave the question about whether expanded publication options are good for the academy to the experts. My interest is archives, and the relevance of this shift for our discussion is that the archives doesn’t need scholarly publications any more. Well, that’s a bit extreme. Let’s say we used to have an almost exclusive relationship, and now the archives is free to date around and see other people. The academic archives and special collections are not reliant on traditional academic publishing to get word out about our collections or raise our profile. We can do that ourselves. We love it when your publications use our materials (and we love it even more when you send us a copy), but they’re not the only, or even the primary, means of gaining recognition for our collections.

So, yes, the relationship between archives and scholarship has changed, and I think that’s a good thing for the archives. What do scholars think of this change? In a way, it doesn’t matter because the clock isn’t going to turn back. But still, I’d be interested in hearing your responses to this argument. I’ve never worked in a special collections or college/university archives, and so I’m open to being corrected about my assumptions. What about the implications for scholarship? And remember, just as this post is a candidate for publication, so are your comments and tweets in response to it, so be smart and share your opinions.

New Approaches to Archival Publishing

This substantial guest post was contributed by Peter Hirtle, one of the archival and library community’s leading experts on copyright and an all-around smart guy. Once I found out about how he and his co-authors had approached the publication of their new book on copyright, I knew it was something that more people should know about. So, take it away, Peter!

Kate was kind enough to ask how best to purchase a print copy of my new book, Copyright and Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for U.S. Libraries, Archives, and Museums. She also suggested that a description of the options and decisions we faced would make for a good guest blog entry. I am happy to oblige.

When it came time to think about how to publish the American edition of a manual first published in Australia by my co-authors, Emily Hudson and Andrew T. Kenyon, we knew we had some fundamental principles. Most important of all was that we wanted it to be available as a free PDF download as well as being available in print format. The Australian original was distributed this way, and it was because it was freely available that I could get my hands on a copy and realize how useful an American version would be. We thought the book would be useful to anyone in a cultural institution, and our primary goal was to make sure that they had ready access to the title. In furtherance of this goal, we licensed the text under a fairly generous Creative Commons license. We also wanted there to be a printed version, however, because we recognized that a print version might actually be easier to use. Continue reading “New Approaches to Archival Publishing”

Incredible presentation about the Amsterdam City Archives’ “scan on demand” program

Last Friday Ellen Fleurbaay and Marc Holtman of the Amsterdam City Archives gave an incredible presentation about their new approach to scanning. With their permission, I’ve posted their slides here and you can see more information on the “DVD extras” presentation here. You may remember that the web site associated with this project, Archiefbank, was one of our Best Archives on the Web award winners earlier this year. It was a pleasure to be able to meet Ellen and Marc in person, and almost everyone I know who saw this presentation in Jersey City was blown away by it and by what they’ve accomplished.

UPDATE: Dan Santamaria has posted audio, powerpoint, and supplementary files from the presentation by Ellen Fleurbaay and Marc Holtman at Princeton University on November 2, 2009 here. This is essentially the same presentation they gave at MARAC. Thanks, Dan!

Four “places” for archives to interact with users

So, building on the post from a few days ago with Clay Shirky’s observations about how to create a situation that will lead to fruitful collaboration with online users, I’m going to talk about four different “places” where archives invite user participation, and the kinds of implicit and explicit social contracts created by them. This is the first time I’m presenting these ideas, which need a lot more work and thinking through, but in the spirit of collaboration, I’m sharing them here in their raw form. Continue reading “Four “places” for archives to interact with users”

Vancouver Archives hosts “hackathon”

I saw something about this on Twitter and thought it was a great idea, for all the reasons you’ll see discussed below. Sue Bigelow, the Digital Conservator at the City of Vancouver Archives was good enough to write this guest post about the event:

The City of Vancouver Archives recently hosted a hackathon for open public data. A hackathon is an event in which hackers (open source programming enthusiasts) gather to work on projects collaboratively. About 20 people attended to discuss their open data application coding projects and ideas and do some work. Although our event was relatively short at five hours (more hackfest than ‘athon’),, an open-source app that reminds residents when to put out their garbage and compost for pickup, had City of Vancouver data applied to it, was debugged, and is now live. The hackers seem pleased: they would like another hackathon before the end of the year. For the Archives, it was a successful outreach event.

Here’s some background. Continue reading “Vancouver Archives hosts “hackathon””

Micro-volunteering, anyone?

If I could tag my own posts as favorites, I’d do that for this one. Today is a busy day so I’ll just share it without analysis, but I think you will all see the potential for archives to benefit from this kind of micro-volunteering, and the opportunity for a lot of you to contribute your own knowledge and skills for organizations who need help.

The company is The Extraordinaries, and I strongly encourage you to go and learn more on their site.

Good stuff

  • The term “Archives 2.0” is popping up all over the place these days–from the Society of Tennessee Archivists [UPDATE: STA Newsletter now available online.] to NEH-funded projects. The Samaritan Archive 2.0 project just got a nice write-up and interview in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Wired Campus” blog, including a link to a white paper describing the project. Some highlights from the interview:

    When an archive becomes a digital resource, it not only means that users can access it from all over the world. It also means that an archive transforms to become a place where interaction among stakeholder groups can take place. In many respects, this is quite different from a traditional archive, which is often characterized by tight control over the ways users can interact with artifacts and, perhaps less deliberately, with one another. Hushed conversations and gloved hands are no longer required in digital spaces.

    And, yes, how can I resist quoting: “The blog ArchivesNext has been a great source for us in tracking discussion of where archives may be headed within the field of archival studies and library science.” Glad to hear it!

  • From the L’Archivista blog, an excellent summary of a presentation given at the Best Practices Exchange by Fynnette Eaton on managing change. I think this is a very important issue for all of us in the archival profession (see this recent post), so I highly recommend that you read this one carefully.
  • For more on change management and new ways of connecting with each other–see these videos posted on David Weinberger’s “Joho the Blog.”
  • If you’ve been following the posts here and elsewhere about how SAA and its annual meetings could be improved, you may see some familiar themes in Larrry Cebula’s post “More Cowbell: My Plan to Revive the OAH” (great title) over at the Northwest History blog. I don’t think all these suggestions would work for our beloved SAA, but there’s food for thought there for us as well.
  • Lucky people with access to the journal Archival Science might want to read “Smithsonian Team Flickr: a library, archives, and museums collaboration in web 2.0 space.” The rumor on Twitter is that the authors are trying to make a copy freely available online somewhere. I’ll let you know if that materializes.
  • And, last but not least, from Robin over at Bookish Disposition (don’t be fooled by the title–she’s a records manager-type), “The Disposition Blues” (soundtrack not included).