Notes from Spring MARAC meeting: Web 2.0 and Archives

The third discussion session was dedicated to Web 2.0 and archives, and was led by the illustrious Arian Ravanbakhsh. Since Arian and I co-taught a pre-conference workshop on the same topic, it makes sense to talk about these two sessions together.

I was very pleased by the outcome of the workshop. I don’t know why I would have expected otherwise, but our audience was engaged and enthusiastic, and it was a pleasure to share our experiences with them. We only had three hours for the workshop, so it was really like preparing a dessert sampler platter–a yummy little taste of a lot of different things to encourage you to come back and order more next time. On the sampler were:

  • RSS: makes it all possible
  • Blogs & microblogs (such as Twitter)
  • Podcasts (video and audio)
  • Image sharing sites (such as Flickr)
  • Video sharing sites (such as YouTube)
  • Wikis
  • Tagging and social bookmarking
  • Social Networking sites (such as Facebook and LinkedIn)
  • Second Life

Our presentation is available on SlideShare .

Arian and I discovered that we had different philosophies about the use of PowerPoint for the workshop. He wanted a clean, minimalist approach with very little text (which would have been lovely), but I thought our attendees would appreciate having a bit more spelled out for them. So don’t hold Arian responsible for the retardaire use of text on our slides.

Among the points I was trying to make in the workshop was that these are all different tools with different requirements that are good for different things. In my parts of the presentation, I tried to give examples of ways archives had been using the tools, or might be able to use the tools. I drew a lot of my examples from the ever-growing list on this blog. In preparing for the workshop I found even more sites to add, so I’m a little behind in updating this site, but I still think it’s a pretty good resource if you want to get ideas about how you might use 2.0 tools. If you’re a newbie, I highly recommend the “in plain English” series of videos you’ll find links for at the top of that page. They explain things very well, and once you’re in YouTube, take a look at the other videos this group has created. I just noticed that they’ve got a bunch of new ones that I don’t have links for, so look around while you’re there.

The two tools that I think have the most potential right now for the largest number of archives are blogging and Flickr. You don’t need any technical expertise or internal infrastructure to use them. Blogging is writing with the ability to embed links and digital files. If you can write, you can blog. To blog well, on the other hand, you have to have a clear understanding of why you are writing and a commitment to keep posting consistently. In the workshop I encouraged people to take a look at some of the theme or event-based blogs out there, like Abner Jackson Journal 1858-1867 and WW1: Experiences of an English Soldier. These are good examples of sharing chronologically-organized information in your holdings (although the WW1 letters are being blogged by an enterprising private citizen). Blogs like these, or ones celebrating an event or anniversary (like Mary Comes to the College with William) have the advantage of having a distinct endpoint. I’m a fan of the processing blogs and the more general institutional blogs out there too, but I think the topical model has the most unrealized potential.

I’ve written about Flickr here before (13 times, judging from my tags), so I’m not sure there’s much to say except that I think more and more places are doing it and getting results. Please take a look at the ArchivesOnFlickr group, and in particular at the conversations that are going there. The key to success on Flickr, I think, is good tagging, and this is an area where we can really help each other. You might also take a look at what the National Archives of Australia is doing (per their comment in the Flickr group):

The page on our corporate website embeds a SlideFlickr slideshow which draws the images from Flickr, see:

This provides visitors with the chance to browse all the images in a way which would have been rather time-consuming to set up on our corporate site, and enables them to comment on the images.

Very nice. Anyone else doing something similar? Someone in the discussion session asked a question about watermarking photos or otherwise protecting them, and I think the Flickr group would be a great place for this kind of discussion.

I think sharing digital audio and video content (via podcasting, YouTube, etc) have a lot of potential too, it’s just that fewer archives have that digital content readily available now and there’s a bit more technical expertise required to get that up and running. I also think wiki tools will end up being very valuable for archives both in sharing knowledge with our user communities and with each other. Again, that learning curve is just a bit steeper and I think the community needs a few more demonstrations to get things going.

This is already a pretty long post, and I could go on and on, but let me just add one idea that I think I forgot to mention in the workshop. In my opinion, you’re looking at one of the biggest potential uses of Web 2.o technology for archivists–using it to talk to each other. Most of us don’t work in places where we get to talk regularly to a wide variety of other archivists and many people can’t go to conferences all that often. Blogs, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, LinkedIn–all of these give us the ability to talk with our colleagues. Ok, sometimes that conversation is pretty silly (as the crowd on Facebook can attest), but even that has value for making us feel more like we’re part of a community. There are people that I know better because of our interactions on Facebook, and I love how some people’s blogs give you a real sense of what’s going on in their lives. Anything that strengthens the archival community is a good thing in my book, so any of these tools that make talking to each other easier (whether it’s about electronic records or 80’s movies) gets my support.

That said, I must admit to not having dipped into the Second Life pool. I just haven’t had the time and haven’t seen a pressing need. Arian, on the other hand, is a convert and even wrote about attending a conference in Second Life. What about you, readers, any other Second Life fans out there? And do you see it more as a way to connect socially or for your institutions?

I think this post may set a record for length, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise. I’ve got two more to come on the Chautauqua conference, and then it’s on to other topics. I’m getting these out pretty quickly but I hope that doesn’t stop people from commenting on the earlier posts. I’m writing about these discussion sessions in part to keep the conversation going (as one commenter already pointed out), so don’t feel shy about going back and putting in your opinion even if it’s a couple of posts back.

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6 thoughts on “Notes from Spring MARAC meeting: Web 2.0 and Archives”

  1. A good post, as I’ve read many of those before on your blog. So first of all, thanks for always sharing your thoughts!

    By now I have quite a bit of experience in Second Life (SL), although I don’t spend that many hours online anymore, as I did before.

    On my blog ( I wrote many times about my “second life” as an archivist, from different perspectives. Please follow the “Second Life” tag: Translations — not all posts are translated though — can be found below the Dutch text.

    It would take me some time to dig into them again, and pick out the best ones for you to read, but if anyone is interested, please let me know, and I’ll be happy to select some “quality” posts.

    I find SL at least very interesting from the perspective of meeting up live with archivists from all over the world. Besides that, I think SL — virtual worlds in general — have great opportunities for reference (which is my daily job). Think, for example, about how wonderful it would be to conduct your genealogical research to emigrants, with the live help of oversea experts! (It will even become better, once the current web, and virtual worlds merge more and more.) And then you have the ways for exhibits, and events.

    I have little time to spend in-world, even less technical skills, and I’m in the “wrong” timezone — SL is still very much an American world, which is as far as an ocean.. and a minimum of six hours away for me — but once you look around in SL with the eye of an archivist, you’ll see great potential, I find.

  2. I was checking the long list again, mentioned at the beginning of your post. Maybe you could add my employer for it’s rss feature, which I think is a pretty cool one.

    The BHIC (, the Brabant Historical Information Center, has a page where people can get a custom made rss feed, for the items that they like best. We have news from our organization (“nieuws”), stories about local history (“verhalen”), posts on local forums (you could choose to see updates on all forums, or just for a specific municipality, a “gemeente”), and posts for our forums on genealogy (“stamboom”), and general historical research (“onderzoek”). Also you can specify a period.

    Anyway, we’re trying to do many more things on the field of Web 2.0. I write about them on my blog sometimes, but need to do more of that, actually. (Please check the few posts with the “South Land” tag — the name for my project — for some more information:

  3. Thank you for the very kind words. I think we make a good team and I agree – I could not have asked for the workshop to go any better. I really hope that the attendees got as much out of it as we did putting it together. About the only thing I would add to your discussion about the slides for the workshop is that I understand why and agree with your notion to provide more text. It was a good balance. It’s just my minimalist Apple fanboy side coming through.

    There is much potential in Web 2.0 and obviously I think archivists should take advantage of it. We’ll keep pushing forward. Thanks again.

  4. I agree with your point that RSS is really what binds all of the Web 2.0 tools into a manageable whole. Unfortunately, this appears to be the tool that is hardest for people to rally behind. I think that Pew survey on Internet Behavior found that a rock-bottom number of people use RSS, even though it would make their lives easier. I wonder how we market this tool to our colleagues and beyond?

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