Archives 2.0?

There has been an abundance of discussion by our librarian colleagues about what the phrase “Library 2.0″ means or what it should mean. It’s been debated so much that I think the topic might be rather passé over in Libraryland, but I want to introduce it here because I think we haven’t had enough discussion in our profession about if we need (or already have) “Archives 2.0.”

I won’t attempt to summarize the discussion about what “Library 2.0” is about. There are probably thousands of things you could read about it, and they would possibly offer you just as many definitions. Personally, I liked the post Meredith Farkas wrote (The essence of Library 2.0?) back in January in response to Jonathan Blyberg’s post, Library 2.0 Debased?. You should read the posts yourself, but I think the takeaway for the purposes of my argument is that “Library 2.0″ doesn’t equate to the adoption of Web 2.0 applications in libraries; it is a set of values, perhaps new, perhaps not. Those values include being open to new ideas, flexible, user-centered, technology-friendly, and willing to take risks. To me it appears that the heart of Library 2.0 is a simple acknowledgment that we live in a time of change on many levels, and that the right response is to try to understand our environment and adapt as best we can while continuing to carry out our missions. It means not hiding your head in the sand and handing out old tired excuses (“We can’t afford to do that!,” “This is the way we’ve always done it,” “We tried that once and it didn’t work,” “We’re a library not a [fill in the blank],” etc.).

I’m not aware of any parallel discussion of “Archives 2.0″ in our profession. Yes, the phrase has been used–I’ve used it myself. But from what I can tell, it has always been used to refer to the implementation of Web 2.0 technologies in archives, not to the kind of change in perspective that Meredith describes.

So, how about it? What do we think about having a profession and repositories that are open to new ideas, flexible, user-centered, technology-friendly, and willing to take risks? Are we ready for Archives 2.0?

Continue reading “Archives 2.0?”

Back to work

Well, we’ve swept up the confetti and put the empty champagne bottles out in the recycling bin, so I suppose it’s time to get back to work. This is going to be another post that recommends things for you to check out — sorry if you’re a fan of the more extended thoughtful posts, but there’s just a lot of interesting stuff out there at the moment.

  • Scholarships are available for the Metadata for You & Me workshops being offered in person in Indianapolis and in two online sessions. (Registration for the online workshop is $150, which seems pretty reasonable to me.) This workshop will “address the needs of library, museum and cultural heritage professionals in the creation, development and use of inter-operable or shareable descriptive metadata.” And who doesn’t want that?
  • If you haven’t already seen it, Matt Raymond reported last week on the LOC blog that they’ve added 50 more images to the Bain Collection of news photographs on Flickr. He also writes: “I’m told that we can now expect new batches of 50 photos to be uploaded on a fairly regular basis. . . . And because we government-types love to talk about results, there are some tangible outcomes of the Flickr pilot to report: As of this writing, 68 of our bibliographic records have been modified thanks to this project and all of those awesome Flickr members. To see those results, simply go to the Library’s Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC) and enter the search term ‘Flickr.’ “
  • If you’re interested in processing blogs, “Processing the Chew Family Papers” from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania provides another model for using a blog to share your processing finds with the public.
  • The Association of Research Libraries has made available their report on Preservation Statistics for 2005-2006. This report “presents data from 123 U.S. and Canadian research libraries that were members of the Association of Research Libraries during the 2005-06 fiscal year. The ARL membership consisted of 113 university libraries and 10 independent research libraries (public or private) in 2005-06.” The survey documents significant trends in investment of staff and funds toward preservation in research libraries, but of possible interest to those tracking preservation trends in archives is the data beginning with Table 3 on page 27. This shows the breakdown for each ARL member of what preservation actions were taken on “entire bound volumes,” “single unbound sheets,” and “non-paper items.” The actions taken include photocopying, microfilming, and digitizing.
  • The blogs of Libraryland provide food for thought, as always. The LibrarianInBlack linked to a great article in Educase by Peter Brantley, Executive Director of the Digital Library Foundation, called “Architectures for Collaboration: Roles and Expectations for Digital Libraries. You should read it. To whet your appetite, here are his “Library Mantras”:
    • Libraries Must Be Everywhere
    • Libraries Must Be Designed to Get Better through Use.
    • Libraries Must Be Portable.
    • Libraries Must Know Where They Are.
    • Libraries Must Tell Stories.
    • Libraries Must Help People Learn.
    • Libraries Must Be Tools of Change.
    • Libraries Must Offer Paths for Exploration.
    • Libraries Must Help Forge Memory.
    • Libraries Must Speak for People.
    • Libraries Must Study the Art of War.

How much change would be needed to turn those into Archives Mantras? How much of what he writes is true for us too?

  • One of my favorite library blog writers, Karen Schneider at the Free Range Librarian, has gotten into an interesting argument about what kinds of technology are most useful for conference attendees and speakers. Her latest post is titled “Stuff Costs Money” and it considers a wide range of topics that should be of interest to anyone planning, attending, or writing about professional conferences. I wish we had this kind of public dialog about what was available at our SAA conferences and how we could best promote what happens there.
  • And, I don’t know if this qualifies for my “Fun Stuff” category, but the American Historical Association blog has an amusing post titled “From the Archives: Why Can’t Historians Write?” It begins: “A review in the Washington Post last Sunday reiterated the now tired claim that postmodernism in its various guises is responsible for poor writing in the discipline. While the constellation of methods gathered under that label rarely promote lucid prose, the latest addition to our online archives–a 1926 report about The Writing of Historyshows the profession mulling over many of the same issues 80 years ago.” Ah, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, n’est-ce pas?

An Archivist’s 2.0 Manifesto?

The most recent issue of American Libraries has an article by Laura B. Cohen called “A Manifesto for Our Times.” Ms. Cohen is a library blogger, and last November she published “A Librarian’s 2.0 Manifesto” on her blog. The article itself is short, but interesting, as is the manifesto.

So, fellow archivists, below is the librarian’s manifesto, shameless copied and modified minimally for us. I ask you, can we adopt this? What changes would we need?

  • I will recognize that the universe of information culture is changing fast and that archives need to respond positively to these changes to provide resources and services that users need and want.
  • I will educate myself about the information culture of my users and look for ways to incorporate what I learn into the services my archives provides.
  • I will not be defensive about my archives, but will look clearly at its situation and make an honest assessment about what can be accomplished.
  • I will become an active participant in moving my archives forward.
  • I will recognize that archives change slowly, and will work with my colleagues to expedite our responsiveness to change.
  • I will be courageous about proposing new services and new ways of providing services, even though some of my colleagues will be resistant.
  • I will enjoy the excitement and fun of positive change and will convey this to colleagues and users.
  • I will let go of previous practices if there is a better way to do things now, even if these practices once seemed so great.
  • I will take an experimental approach to change and be willing to make mistakes.
  • I will not wait until something is perfect before I release it, and I’ll modify it based on user feedback.
  • I will not fear Google or related services, but rather will take advantage of these services to benefit users while also providing excellent services that users need.
  • I will avoid requiring users to see things in archivists’ terms but rather will shape services to reflect users’ preferences and expectations.
  • I will be willing to go where users are, both online and in physical spaces, to practice my profession.
  • I will create open Web sites that allow users to join with archivists to contribute content in order to enhance their learning experience and provide assistance to their peers.
  • I will lobby for an open catalog that provides personalized, interactive features that users expect in online information environments.
  • I will encourage professional blogging in my archives.
  • I will validate, through my actions, archivists’ vital and relevant professional role in any type of information culture that evolves.

I think the only addition we may need is a point about exploring the issues related to including records produced by 2.0 in our collections.

What issues do you see here–or are you ready to sign on right now?

Contrasting attitudes toward 2.0 technologies – observations from ALA

After thinking about what to write in this space about the two sessions I attended this morning at ALA I’ve come to the conclusion that my approach may be a bit different from people who usually blog from conferences. I think the practice is to summarize the sessions you attend, to inform those who cannot be there. I went to a session on “Information in the World of Digital Natives” and one on “Participatory Networks: Library as Conversation.” The content of both these sessions was quite good, I thought, although neither contained any particular revelations for me–and probably would not have for most of this blog’s readers.

The first session gave an overview of the differences between “digital natives” and “digital immigrants.” For a discussion of these terms, see Marc Prensky’s 2001 article here. The presenter gave some interesting statistics supporting what I think we all intuitively know, that “digital natives” (those who grew up immersed in technology) approach research and locating information very differently from “digital immigrants” (who did not). He then presented examples of the kinds of sites that appeal to digital natives (Face Book, MySpace, My Yahoo, Flickr, Wikipedia, etc.) and contrasted them with the kinds of web 1.0 sites that digital immigrants are often more comfortable with. The relevant question for archivists, I think, is: is the way we are presenting information about our collections compatible with the information-seeking behavior of these digital natives? They are our next generation of users (and a large percentage of our potential current users). Are we making ourselves approachable and relevant to them?

The second session featured speakers on Second Life in general and on Info Island specifically, use of gaming in public libraries, and use of My Space in public libraries. The speakers gave many impressive statistics about the prelevance of use of these sites and tools in the total population, and among younger people in particular. But the median age of both gamers and residents of Second Life is about 35, so it’s not all digital natives. In this session, as in the first, the presenters stressed how libraries could take advantage of these social networks to reach out and engage users who might not otherwise connect to library resources. More and more, these kinds of social networking tools are the means around which users have the conversations that give their lives meaning. Libraries can either became part of the fabric of the conversations, or be left out of them and so become, in some ways, increasingly irrelevant to those users.

These kinds of observations are not new to most regular readers of the blogs out there–which is not meant to be a criticism of the presentations, which both were excellent overviews of their issues. I did learn some new things about the tools, and the questions and conversations following the presentations in both cases showed how well-versed many librarians already are in these areas.

In considering how almost reflexive this kind of approach has become for me, I wondered how many sessions at the SAA meeting in Chicago would address similar subjects from an archival perspective. I found only one session description that addressed these issues explicitly:

Signifying Nothing? Sound, Fury, and Mediated Access

New technology promises to expand the scope of institutional outreach. The array of blogs, podcasts, IMs, wikis, emails, listservs, and webpages, that define new modes of digital communication also create daunting problems: affording technologies, clearing rights, rendering resources, creating contexts, updating feeds, writing effective assessments tools. As the web and its derivatives enter a second decade of popular use, digital technologies require closer appraisal. Does digital payoff equal digital risk?

I was not encouraged by this program description–it references both web 1.0 and web 2.0 technologies as if they are the same, and the overall tone seemed to me to be one of skepticism, rather than embracing new ways to interact with our users (or, to put it another way, embracing the reality that these are the ways in which our users increasingly expect us to interact with them). Perhaps I will be wrong and this session will end up concluding that these new ways of communicating do not “signify nothing.” Or perhaps I am being too sensitive and this session was intended as more of a “lessons learned” about the challenges presented by different kinds of communication, rather than as a discussion of rejecting them. I should add that there are other session descriptions about interacting with users that give me hope (reading between the lines of descriptions) that there will be some positive discussions about application of new technologies to reaching our users.

But the content of these two conferences (at least as they present themselves in their programs) reveals a contrast between a profession that is actively engaged in learning about how their users’ communication patterns are evolving, and one that approaches these changes with skepticism, if it acknowledges them at all.

Discussion about barriers to change in libraries–fasten your seatbelts!

I almost didn’t publish the post I wrote a few days ago about “What do archivists want?” but now I’m glad I did because of what I’ve been reading over in the biblioblogosphere. I think this post is going to be a bit long and full of links to other blogs, so fasten your seatbelts.

Jill Hurst-Wahl over on Digitization 101 has written some good things lately about using 2.0 technologies in cultural contexts. But after reading her posts, specifically Digital collections & Web 2.0, I was brought back to where I was when I asked the question about what archivists want. I think that most archivists and their managers are aware of the possibilities these new technological capabilities represent. Many probably take advantage of them in other contexts. I don’t think the primary barrier (in the archival world) is ignorance. And I don’t think that the technologies themselves (most of them) are so complex as to be impossible. I think the barriers lie elsewhere; I think they lie (inasmuch as you can generalize about this kind of thing) in the answers to those questions: What do archivists want? What do they fear? What motivates them? How do they measure success? And, to add another, what do their funding sources care about?

I was getting caught up on reading the library blogs when I came across a conversation about a similar subject. I think I saw it first at Librarian in Black:

David Lee King has written an excellent piece entitled “How Can We Change the Unchangeable, or David’s Rant” in which he discusses the elephant in the room with all this wonderful Library 2.0 stuff. (No, not the “inadequate staffing” elephant–that’s the other elephant there in the corner to your left). His elephant is the issue of administrators often blocking change, especially technology changes, and sometimes even those changes that they have requested or initiated.

(As usual, go and read the whole post and the comments to get the whole discussion.)

So, I went and read the original: How Can We Change the Unchangeable, or David’s Rant, and the comments (30 as of today). In short, he gave a talk on change management at the Computers in Libraries conference, and:

First, I asked if attendees had learned something innovative or new at the conference that they’d like to take back to their libraries. Almost everyone raised their hands. Then I followed up with this question: how many will take that cool, innovative idea back to their libraries, and hit a brick wall with administrators when they try to implement that idea. ALMOST EVERYONE RAISED THEIR HANDS.

King then opened a discussion about how this situation can be changed, specifically asking for ideas about:

  • Steps to take to convince administrators that the library world is different than it was in the 1970’s?
  • How to convince administrators that constant change and innovation is good, and that it’s also a necessity in our new millennial world?
  • How can we become change agents in a field that’s apparently not used to changing?

In addition to the comments on his blog, King’s “rant” generated discussion on:

(Caught up yet? I can’t summarize all this.) All this is a fascinating example of the kind of conversation that is possible via blogs, which is a good thing, but, more importantly, what can we take away from this for ourselves? Does all this apply in archives too, or do we have our own twist on the problems? I still think that we who want change must 1) show demonstrable benefits that are relevant to the people we are trying to influence, and 2) must be able to successfully overcome organizational cultures grounded in fear of change and fear of risk.

I know it’s a lot to wrap your brain around, but what do you think? Are we also facing “changing the unchangeable”?

Why can’t we be cool like librarians?

[Up comes the rotten tomato shield again.]

I think this is a great thing:
Public Library Geeks Take Web 2.0 to the Stacks

1) Helene Blowers from a public library in North Carolina has come up with a pretty simple way to get her employees to try out new web technologies.

“Listed below are 23 Things (or small exercises) that you can do on the web to explore and expand your knowledge of the Internet and Web 2.0.”

And it worked. (Well, yes she did bribe them with nifty gifts. Not very many archivsts can do that, I grant you.)

2) It made Wired magazine. And according to that article, other places are doing it too.

So, if I posted a link to this on the Archives & Archivists listserv and asked people who were interested in doing this to contact me so we could get a group together to do it, how many responses do you think I would get? If I got enought people to do it, should I propose reporting the results at the SAA Research Forum in Chicago? (That’s sort of a joke, but, hey, why not?)

Any thoughts?