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”

“They don’t call it technology; they call it life.”

Social media and digital technology is no longer news; it’s part of the way we live our lives, how we communicate, how business is conducted. Kids use technology to learn in school, to get their entertainment, to compete in the world. They don’t call it technology; they call it life. Saying “I don’t get it, so I will just skip this part of a global revolution” is like saying “I don’t know how to drive a car so I’ll keep riding my horse and buggy to work.” Technology is not something we can choose to ignore.

If this critique of the Today show, posted in an Op-Ed by Andrea Smith on, applies to to any organization or professional you know, try to make 2013 a year of change for them.

Honest tips for wannabe archivists out there

This post was inspired by an exchange on Twitter last week which followed up on a tweet regarding something said at #rbms12 (that’s this year’s meeting of ACRL’s Rare Book and Manuscripts Section).  A conference attendee summarized a speaker as saying:

If you love “the stuff,” you’re closer to getting a job in archives and special collections.

This kicked off a wave of responses about how it’s more important to love people and helping people than it is to love “the stuff.” And following on from that were observations about how some people still want to become archivists because they 1) don’t want to deal with people or 2) don’t like using technology. And for some reason they see archives (and special collections) as safe havens in which they can escape from pesky people and annoying computers. So I’m here to burst your bubble if you happen to be one of those people. Here’s  my advice for you (as shared first on Twitter):  Continue reading “Honest tips for wannabe archivists out there”

Applications for QR codes in archival settings?

This week I’ve been participating as a guest in Kim Anderson’s online course, “Archival Outreach: Programs and Services,” offered through the School of Information Studies
at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The class has been using A Different Kind of Web as one of their core texts, so it’s great for me to see how the book works in the classroom. (Short answer: apparently very well.)

In the discussion board, Susan Garwood mentioned attending the AAM meeting recently and hearing a lot about the use of QR codes. So I asked her about how she thought they could be used in archival settings, and here’s her answer:

We’ve been exploring all ranges of archival outreach including exhibits so, although traditionally a museum function, QR codes can help augment archives outreach in an exhibition as well.  Another area could be on a take away piece.  A brochure or bookmark that might link to the archives on Facebook, a map to the institution, or the museum’s website or blog.  Or perhaps on the outside of the archives (below the hours sign that might link to a contact form).  Within an exhibit, as you know, you can’t put a full transcription of a document within the exhibit and a QR code could link to that.  Anywhere that visitors interact with a document or artifact. I suppose, however, it could be an internal management tool.  I’ve heard of some artifacts being barcoded and having a reader allows you to scan the object and see its documentation which might be helpful in collection retrieval and management within the storage space.

Some of those applications sound very promising. I’ve been skeptical about QR codes, so I thought I would throw it open to the readers. Have any of you used QR codes or know another repository that is using them? What has the response been?

UPDATE: It has been called to my attention that I neglected to cite an important resource in the discussion on QR codes in archives, so here, with my apologies for the omission is: “Put a QR code on it!” Thanks, Rebecca!

Video available from Emory University: “Salman Rushdie Discusses Creativity and Digital Scholarship with Erika Farr ” (and also his archives)

Last Friday I learned on Twitter that Salman Rushdie was about to speak at Emory about the donation of his personal papers to the university archives. And due to the energetic livetweeting of Roger Whitson (@rogerwhitson) and Brian Croxall (@briancroxall) I was able to see that Mr. Rushdie had some very interesting things to say about his archives. Well, as promised the video is now posted on YouTube, and it’s worth a watch: Salman Rushdie Discusses Creativity and Digital Scholarship with Erika Farr. Here’s the description from YouTube:

University Distinguished Professor Salman Rushdie and Erika Farr, digital archives coordinator in the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) discuss how computers and other technology affect Rushdie’s writing and creative process. This builds on previous conversations and addresses new developments such as Rushdie’s acquisition of an iPhone and the ways in which mobile computing has an impact on his work. In addition, given Rushdie’s work on his memoir and his use of his paper and digital archives in MARBL, the discussion turns to the ways in which archival science and archival access changes the way he uses his own archives.

It’s about an hour long, and as I was watching it I took some notes on the parts of the discussion that might be of interest to archivists. I did my best to make my quotations accurate but it’s possible there may be some minor errors and of course I am only attempting to quickly summarize or characterize a much more complicated dialogue. If you have time, watch the video. If you don’t, here are some of my personal highlights:

Continue reading “Video available from Emory University: “Salman Rushdie Discusses Creativity and Digital Scholarship with Erika Farr ” (and also his archives)”

Making “History & the Web” more concrete

Thanks to all for your excellent comments on the previous post about the possibility of a new History and the Web conference. I’m happy to report that conversations are taking place or will soon take place with a couple of professional organizations to begin the process of defining what such a event might look like. To help gather information, we’re asking people to provide between 1 and 5 short statements in each of the following areas:

  • The objectives or goals for a History & the Web conference should be . . .
  • I think we need a new conference because . . .
  • The audience for a History & the Web conference would be . . .
  • I want to see these activities at a History & the Web conference . . .
  • I would like a History & the Web conference to achieve these outcomes . . .
  • I think the most important thing for the planners to keep in mind is that the event  . . . (for example, be affordable, have an online virtual component, attract international participation, attract diverse participation, have opportunities for informal collaboration, attract as many participants as possible, be small and regional, etc.)

I’d love to have your contributions on these ideas. You can either leave them here in the comments, or if your thoughts get too lengthy, you can email them to me at Please try to get them in by the end of May.

New tool to investigate: Recollection from NDIIP

A new tool some archives might want to take a look at–Recollection: “a free platform for generating and customizing views (interactive maps, timelines, facets, tag clouds) that allow users to experience your digital collections.”

The Recollection project is sponsored by the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP), a program of the Library of Congress.  If you’re not familiar with them, NDIIP’s mission is to develop a national strategy to collect, preserve and make available significant digital content, especially information that is created in digital form only, for current and future generations. As stated on the Recollection site: “In 2008, the NDIIPP partners shared content through a simple web page. In order to explore more useful tools and processes for sharing diverse content across partners’ collections, the Library began a pilot project in 2009 with Zepheira to develop an environment that can be used to collect and explore information about digital collections. The result is a software platform that we are calling Recollection.”

It looks pretty cool. You can learn more on their FAQ page, including how to get started, what kind of data you can import, how to get your data out, and what the system requirements are for using it. There’s also a screencast you can watch to learn more.



More from Ignite

The lovely people who sponsored the Ignite Smithsonian event have now made it possible to view most of the individual talks, including of course, mine, which I wrote about in the previous post.

It’s impossible for me to pick out any favorites from the rest of the talks, because they were all truly inspiring, but here are a few that I think give you an idea about the kind of content at the event. Watch them. Seriously, watch them. The will make you think. And laugh. And isn’t that the best combination? Note that the lively gentleman giving the intros is the ultra fabulous Michael Edson, Director of Web and New Media Strategy at the Smithsonian.

UPDATE: Sorry, the embed function isn’t working for me with these videos. So you have to make the effort to click on the links for yourself. To compensate, I’ve added one more video to the list.

Koven Smith
What’s the Point of a Museum Website?

Carmen Iannacone
Hello, I’m a knowledge worker

Simon Sherrin
Giving everyone a bite of the Apple

I’ll leave it those two for now and post more later. If something really valuable for archives jumps out at you from those two videos, the comment section here is open for your musings. I’ll leave you with one of the cool videos Mike selected to insert between the talks–enjoy!

“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 Digtial 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

Starting the AT/Archon Integration Project

As was posted yesterday on the AT site:

On behalf of the Archivist’s Toolkit and Archon projects, we wish to announce several activities related to the proposed development of a next-generation archival management tool. These activities will be undertaken this fall:

1. Based on an initial assessment of features in current and planned future release of the Archivists Toolkit and Archon, we will draft a set of high-level functional requirements for the new system, ensuring that essential features derived from each existing tool are included in the proposed new tool

2. On or about October 19th, we will disseminate a draft set of high-level functional requirements to the archives community via the same venues used to communicate this message. We will seek comments from the archives community about the proposed high-level functional requirements, as well as requests for other features not initially identified in the distributed draft of high-level requirements. The results of this process will be carefully considered, especially in regard to the anticipated scope of the integrated application and resources expected to be available for its development. We anticipate the comments will be due by November 20th.

3. We will conduct a migration analysis and recommend to the technical team potential strategies for migrating all data in current versions of Archon and the AT to the new application that will be built.

4. We will host a Webinar on or around December 9th, in order to discuss the proposed high-level functions and the data migration. Thirty preselected members from the AT and Archon communities, as well as from the larger archives community, will be invited to participate in this session. The Webinar will be led by a facilitator who is not formally affiliated with either the AT or Archon projects. Date, duration, and other details for this Webinar will be communicated as they become known.

5. We will use the comments and feedback from this Webinar to develop a final list of high level functions, prioritized as either required, preferable, and optional for the new application. This list and the recommended migration strategy will constitute a final report to be completed by December 31, 2009; it will serve as the starting point for the specification and technical teams, which have not yet been constituted.

At this point, we strongly encourage all AT and Archon users and other interested members of the archives community to participate in this process.

Please note that the activities being undertaken this fall serve as track one in a proposed six-track planning and development process. Track one is self-funded by the host universities for the AT and Archon projects (University of California San Diego, New York University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign) and is undertaken in anticipation that further funding may be received to complete the planning process and development process.

We look forward to working with you in this endeavor,

Brad, Chris, Scott

Bradley D. Westbrook
Head, Metadata Analysis and Specification Unit
UC San Diego Libraries

Christopher J. Prom, Ph.D
Assistant University Archivist
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Scott W. Schwartz
Archivist for Music and Fine Arts
Sousa Archives and Center for American Music
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Brad, Chris and Scott will be sharing more updates on the status of the integration project as there’s more to report. But please share your thoughts or suggestions about how they’ve scoped out this process in the comments.