I’m working on a writing assignment about archives and technology and, as is so often the case, I need to discuss how archives and libraries are different. I thought this might make an interesting topic for discussion, so I’m throwing up my draft list here for your comments and additions.
Two caveats–First, I’m defining “libraries” here as just public libraries because I think that’s what comes first to most people’s minds when they think “library.” Second, the differences I’m primarily interested are those that affect how archives and libraries use technology, so if you see some gaps in my list, that might explain it.
My draft list, in no particular order:
- Libraries collect primarily published materials. Archives collect primarily unpublished items or unusual or rare published materials.
- Most materials in libraries can be removed from the library. Materials in archives do not usually circulate.
- Each item in a library collection is usually cataloged. Archival materials are usually cataloged at a higher level of aggregation, such as the collection or series.
- Libraries share common cataloging data about the objects in their collections; almost no library materials receive original cataloging. Archives cannot usually benefit from shared cataloging data; virtually all archival materials must receive original cataloging.
- Most people learn how to use a library as part of growing up, either from their parents or in school. Unless they have a specific research need or take a particular class in college, most people will never learn how to use an archives.
- The purpose or value of most library materials does not require interpretation. The purpose or value of many archival materials can only be understood when their function and historical context is understood.
- Libraries welcome children and teenagers and may not require adult supervision. Most archives have strict guidelines for the use of materials by children or teenagers.
- People use libraries for many purposes that don’t center on books–for example as public gathering spaces, for free Internet access, to pick up tax forms, to obtain music and video entertainment, and as resources for educational experiences for children. People rarely use archives for purposes that don’t center on archival materials.
- Most librarians have formal training in library science. Many people working in archives have limited or no formal training in archival science.
- Most libraries are part of larger regional systems, which often provide technical or logistical support for all the libraries in the system. Many archives are small independent organizations with no larger organizational support system.
- The library community has a large marketplace of vendors who understand their needs and supply many well-developed technology products to meet their needs. The archival community has few vendors who understand their needs and very few technology products designed specifically for their needs.
- Many people come to a library with a simple information need that can be met by a simple interaction with a reference librarian. Most people come to an archives with complex information needs that require more extensive interactions with one or more archivists.
- To help their customers, librarians rely primarily on their skills at using information discovery tools rather than their own knowledge of the library’s collections. To help their customers, archivists rely primarily on the knowledge about their holdings they have developed in working with them rather than on searching information sources.
I could probably come up with some others, but the list seems to be getting a bit long. What do you think? Are my statements accurate? Do you have others to add?