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?

One thing I’ve been struck with in the discussions surrounding the implementation of MPLP is how often I hear people say that this is nothing new. I hear people say that this approach is what they’ve always done. For many archives, perhaps that’s true. But it can’t be true for all archives, given the hubbub that the publication of the article created. I think people may react in the same way to a concept such as Archives 2.0. You may think that you and your archives have always been open, flexible, user-centered, etc. But do you think that our profession as a whole is? Do most archives and archivists demonstrate these qualities?

Some people may be looking for a more concrete definition of what I mean by Archives 2.0–I’ll have to work on that some more and submit it to the American Archivist! But I think for me the two key components would be: user-centered and open. Perhaps it’s the approaching election that’s doing it, but I think we need a mantra along the lines of It’s the users, stupid! (I thought I’d better add the Wikipedia link to that phrase–some blog readers out there might not be old enough to remember the original!)

In my previous post (Archives are a luxury), I made the argument that for archives to compete for users’ attention and for increasingly tight funding they must become fundamentally and transparently user-centered. My concept of Archives 2.0 has this argument as a foundation but also acknowledges that our users’ expectations have changed and that the way that we interact with them must change accordingly. Concepts such as what constitutes authority and community and audience must be reconsidered and revised.

I identified my second characteristic of Archives 2.0 as openness. And what do I mean by open? Open to new ideas, new partners, new technologies, new ways of doing things, to diverse kinds of people, to new kinds of records, to new outreach opportunities, to working with people with different educational backgrounds, to embracing change . . . All that sounds very good. It’s Mom and apple pie, isn’t it? I kind of feel like I should insert a graphic of a rainbow and a pony here. So, let’s bring in another idea, which is somewhat contradictory: Rigor.

Meredith closed her post by reminding people of the importance of assessment. I agree, but I’d like to broaden the concept a bit by talking about this need for more fact-gathering that I’m lumping under the term rigor. Do you have quantifiable data about your users? Have their patterns of usage changed over time? Do you know which parts of your collection are accessed most and least? In person? Online? How much do we know about users of archives nationwide? Do we know who our potential users might be? What do we know about changes in national usage trends? What do we know about costs? Can we quantify benefits? What are the archival business models? If we want to compete effectively and be taken seriously we have to roll up our sleeves and gather this kind of data. Appeals to funders can tug at the heartstrings, but they’re even stronger if they’re backed up with hard data.

I said in the opening paragraph that I don’t think we’ve had enough discussion in our profession about if we need (or already have) “Archives 2.0.” Now that I”ve given you a broad definition of what I’m talking about, I’ll start things off.

Do we need Archives 2.0? Clearly, yes, I think we do. It isn’t just that the world is not the same place it was twenty years ago, ten years ago, five years ago, or last week, it’s that the pace of change has itself changed. Old patterns, systems, and ways of reacting to change (such as ignoring it until you retire), are no longer valid. Users’ expectations keep pace with the latest technologies. But you don’t need me to go through a litany of reasons why archives need to change to keep pace with our users, our collections, and our parent institutions. You probably know all about that.

Do we already have Archives 2.0? Well, I think a lot of archivists and archives are already on the road, don’t you?

And I know at least one reader who will roll his eyes at yet another use of “2.0” label–but what about the rest of you? Are the changes that our profession is undergoing profound enough to warrant a new version number?

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26 thoughts on “Archives 2.0?”

  1. In the Netherlands Christian van der Ven ( started a community about Archief 2.0 in juni 2007. I was the first to join him in his quest for supporters of the web 2.0 cause in archivesland. In the meantime we have reached the respectable number of 145 members of the community and have organised a one day conference about archives and web 2.0 next monday, October 27 2008. Look at the website for specifics,of course it is in Dutch… We will present archief (=archieves) 2.0 for dummies and a lot of examples from around the world and the first few projects Netherlands.
    We got a massive response, whereas we expected around 50, 120 collegues would like to come. There is only room for 80.. so the rest will have to depend on the presentations on slideshare and the movies we will make and put on our community website of each presentation.
    So I just want to let you know that we are making some progress over here, but the road islong and hard…

    Archivists are not the most experimental people around and to adapt new technologies and keep an open mind about our own job, that is hard for everybody. But we have to be honest and recognize that “the public” has sometimes more knowledge about parts of our archives then we will ever have…
    And we will have to let them to take part in describing our collections, our pictures and our archives.
    And we have to create open structured databases that users can tap into to use our information on their own websites, weblogs or study projects. There is a lot of work to be done. So maybe you should find a partner in crime and start a community where every archivist in the US that wants to, can find information about what is happening in the field of web 2.0 and archives…

    Just an idea that worked very well so far on the other side of the ocean 🙂

  2. Call me conservative, but I think that Archives 2.0 implies some basic embrace of, or literacy in, Web 2.0 technologies like blogging, tagging, social networking, and RSS.

  3. Kate, why do you do this to us? Just when we were accepting the reality that you were heading on a sabbatical, you hammer out more thought-provoking blog posts. 😉

    Seriously, this post highlights several strong ideas, each of which could be commented on in at least three or four comment blocks.

    I believe in this post lies a sturdy enough platform to begin more discussions on Archives 2.0. By setting aside Web 2.0 technologies for the moment, which often confuses the cautious archivist and sets us up for failure in our pilot projects or efforts, the discussion should and must focus on the values inherent in Web 2.0 and their transformational impact on Archives. By Web 2.0 values, I mean community, collaboration, participation in addition to the elements the post mentioned such as user-centered, tech-friendly, transparent, and openness.

    I hope Russel over at Records Junkie comments here because he has been asking some profound questions on his blog about Archives and Leadership and Archives and Public Relations.

    Overall, the theme of change or being open to change, to new and perhaps even unorthodox ideas and ways of doing things are recurrent. The stream of voices in the archives blogosphere talking about real concrete change based on progressive values and the adoption of technology is personally refreshing.

    As our colleague in The Netherlands commented, the road towards effective change is long and difficult. But what is the alternative? Slow decay? Eventual disappearance?

  4. My thoughts . . .

    Access vs. Preservation . . . I am all for users, but I have to be the cautious conservative here and say that the collections also need to be protected while we allow users to have more access. I am all for Web 2.0 technologies being used in archives. Although the Library of Congress may disagree if I call them an “archives,” I feel their use of Flickr to post photos in their collections is a big move in the right direction. They are digitized so well that most researchers won’t need to see the original, which protects the collections while increasing access potential.

    Potential . . . That is also a key word in my thinking. All archival collections are important for posterity and history, but do using Web 2.0 technologies to highlight them or make them more available mean we are increasing access? Do all collections have the potential for greater access if they are digitized. I know some archives that have digitized photograph collections that are rarely, if ever, accessed. So the collection must have a potential user base.

    Public relations . . . But a good public relations program in an archives is essential to promoting the Web 2.0 technologies we use as we try to increase access and invite collaboration in the Archives 2.0 world. We need to promote what we have to those who care. Which bring up . . .

    Users . . . the traditional users of archives are historians, history graduate students, and chronolically advanced genealogists. How do we market these Archives 2.0 uses of Web 2.0 technologies to these groups that may not (or may) use Web 2.0 technologies rarely or very little? How do we market to new users? Is it public relations? Is it promotion of our collections through education? How do we get more users?

    Access and preservation, potential use, public relations, and users . . . my thoughts.

  5. Hello Kate,

    As this is my first time to post to your blog, I’ll start by saying ‘thank you’ for providing such a stimulating forum for thought and discussion.

    I know that you deliberately choose not to focus on electronic records management issues, but you might be interested to know that here in the UK there is considerable interest in developing thought, principles and working methods under the banner of ‘RM 2.0’ – like you, taking our lead partly from the librarians. Steve Bailey, whose recent book ‘Managing the Crowd: Rethinking Records Management for the Web 2.0 World’ (Facet, 2008) has generated a lot of interest here and elsewhere, is leading some of this discussion, which will be released into the wild as it is formulated.

    What interests us most pressingly on the RM side is not just the way in which Web 2.0 facilitates collaboration and access, but also the fact that Web 2.0 technologies are increasingly being used to carry out core business functions – government and organizational archives of the (near) future will need to understand Web 2.0 not only to publicize and allow access to their material but also to work towards ensuring the capture, management, and preservation of records generated in such formats.

    As you note, the challenge to the recordkeeping professions is to be receptive and adaptive to the changes taking place, and to respond to the needs and expectations of users (whether researchers in archives or employees in the workplace) as they increasingly turn to the Web 2.0 tools available to them. And not only to adapt, but take the lead: we are, after all, supposed to be the professionals in records / information / archives, and it would be a curious profession that lags behind its clients in keeping abreast of its subject area.

    Following on from Luud’s post, it would be interesting to see how the various intiatives currently in existence could at least interact, if not integrate, in proper Web 2.0 fashion!



  6. You can’t be “open to new ideas, flexible, user-centered, technology-friendly, and willing to take risks” without embracing Web 2.0, IMHO.

    That said, I reiterate Marty Levitt’s excellent rhetorical question he posed to you at the Manuscript Repositories section at SAA: what are the implications in applying the remix culture of Web 2.0 to archives, whose core allegiance is supposed to be to the preservation of the original context, not the fashioning of a new one?

    Doesn’t mean you have to throw the Web 2.0 baby out with the bathwater. It’s just that it’s something I honestly hadn’t thought about until he asked it.

  7. I’ve always loved the quote below by Rubashov in Darkness at Noon. It never fails to give me hope that we can forge a new and better future by connecting to each other. To me, that’s what Archives 2.0 as a philosophy and Web 2.0 as it’s most immediate application are about. The ability to bring disparate sources, ideas, users, providers, professions, etc. together in ways that allow them to transcend what they could do alone.

    Of course Rubashov said this just before getting capped by a Soviet apperatchik. No a warning, Kate, just saying . . .

    “Perhaps later, much later, the new movement would arise — […] Perhaps they will
    teach that the tenet is wrong which says that a man is the quotient of one
    million divided by one million, and will introduce a new kind of arithmetic
    based on multiplication: on the joining of a million individuals to form a
    new entity which, no longer an amorphous mass, will develop a consciousness
    and an individuality of its own, with an ‘oceanic feeling’ increased a
    millionfold, in unlimited yet self-contained space.”

  8. Thanks for the great comments, everyone! Yes, I am supposed to be taking time off from this blog to do some writing–including writing about the concept of what I’m calling Archives 2.0. But how could I resist trying to get some feedback from all of you as I’m formulating these ideas?

    I’ll post a follow up as soon as I can, but in the meantime, keep those comments coming–this is a great conversation for us to having and I’m thrilled that other people find these ideas interesting.

    As an example of the kinds of approach I’m talking about–you might want to take a look at Sarah Houghton-Jan (LibrarianInBlack)’s summary of the sessions at Internet Librarian 2008 — in particular today’s notes on “Crafting the User-Centered Library” by Cliff Landis at


  9. Wow, so much good stuff, I hardly know where to start. Will try to be brief, but clear.

    To Jordon (or Mr. Levitt, I suppose), how is the remix culture of Web 2.0 any different for us? We’ve always kept the original materials and provided context. But if copies were made for a scholar and then perhaps published, and then maybe the published material was quoted elsewhere (and potentially quoted completely out of context), that didn’t change the fact that we still preserved the originals with their context and that those originals were available for anyone who wanted to confirm the veracity of what they saw in these various publications. In short, Web 2.0 technologies allow users to remix things much more quickly and easily, but the underlying process is really no different. The same dangers exist for materials to be used inappropriately, but the opportunities for MORE people to engage with the materials interestingly and creatively far outweigh the risks. And, quite frankly, the ability for users to ADD VALUE to materials was traditionally quite difficult and seldom done. Think of how much more might be gained through future user interactions with materials and with one another about the materials.

    To Rachel, it is interesting to think about the 2.0 culture invading everybody’s workspace. There used to be talk about how long it takes people to be accepting of change and able to adapt to change, and figuring that into the mix. I think people are being conditioned to adapt to change more quickly now, and so that is less of an issue. (Though, resolving issues with different rates of adaptation among different people is certainly still an issue.) The one thing I will say in defense of archivists and technology is that we’d probably be much quicker to adapt if we understood better, and we’d probably understand better if we were ever invited to the table when technology is being created. (How wonderful it would be if the IT team actually let me know when they were developing a new data model and database for some office within my organization so that I could provide input and not have to react after the need to preserve the information landed in my lap.)

    To Russell, I don’t think you’re talking about Web 2.0. Your concerns seem to be more about ordinary web accessibility of materials. But to address your comments in a lump, you needn’t be concerned about your users, public relations, or potential? These things, interestingly enough, will take care of themselves in an ever more connected world. I advertise only minimally to the groups I think would be most interested in my materials, but many, many more users learn about them through other means, and the more connected we get, the easier it is for anyone to find my materials. And the traditional users will be replaced by other users – and likely more of them and a wider variety of them.

    To T, I agree with the hope, and I daily push my skepticism of humanity deep down inside me and forge on in efforts to make connections in efforts to make our world a better place.

    My boss recently returned from several days of meeting with colleagues from like organizations, and she was delighted to be returning to a place where, she feels, her staff fully embrace Library/Archives 2.0. And I, for one, am blessed to have a boss who is not afraid of change of any kind and who is willing to support whatever new ideas we may have to connect to our users, to explore new technology when appropriate, to share our materials in creative ways without endangering their integrity, and to shrug off a well-meaning misstep and then try something else.

  10. Stephen, I am talking about Web 2.0 technologies. They are useless, completely and utterly useless, when used in an archives setting if you have zero users or not enough users to have justified the expense of digitizing the materials and making them available or contributing to a wiki or social networking site. In other words, if you cannot justify the time, then using Web 2.0 is useless and probably will not be further funded by your superiors. You need users to access Web 2.0 applications you utilize and if you do not consider the potential for access by users in your initial thoughts on a project, then you may crash and burn when you go three weeks after going public with only a dozen people accessing the application. Your boss is not going to like that.

    Web 2.0 may be great for social networking and providing opportunities for collaboration and communication, but if you cannot justify Archives 2.0 to your boss with statistics (like number of users), then you probably won’t get to use Web 2.0 again and your entry into Archives 2.0 will be a fast crash and burn.

  11. Russell, I think the issues you are talking about are not unique to using Web 2.0. That’s my point. They are general mangaement issues that are always a consideration (or, at least, they should be if someone does their job well). They have always been important in the purely physical environment, and they are no less (or more so, for that matter) in an electronic one. “Access and preservation, potential use, public relations, and users” – there’s nothing new here.

    And for that matter, regarding a concept of Archives 2.0, “open to new ideas, flexible, user-centered, technology-friendly, and willing to take risks” – there are probably some among us for whom there is nothing new here, either, and others for whom this is like a foreign language. I personally happen to think that an Archives 2.0 attitude or approach is the exception in our profession rather than the rule, but I do hope that someday the scale may tip the other way. As T noted, the one thing we can all share is hope.

  12. Hi Kate,

    It was interesting to learn of your proposal for an Archives 2.0 manifesto. A group of records professionals who belong to a Ning Social Network that I established came to the same conclusion for records management and have come up with a Records Managers 2.0 Manifesto. Like you, we used Laura Cohen’s Library 2.0 manifesto and eventually ended up with 12 statements of our own. They are available now via my blog at

    I’d be delighted to compare notes and to work with you in taking these forward.


    Steve Bailey

  13. There is something very disturbing in what Russell said in his second point about Web 2.0 technologies being completely useless when an archives has “zero users or not enough users to have justified the expense of digitizing the materials and making them available or contributing to a wiki or social networking site.”

    In some ways, I agree. Without a user base or a large enough user base, the act of engaging in these Web 2.0 projects, let alone justifying costs to a supervisor, may turn out to be utterly fruitless.

    But this sad situation begs the following questions: How did the archives’ user base dwindle down to almost zero? Was this part of the supervisor’s master plan, to be like Scrooge, pinching pennies in terms of budgeting and saying “All mine, All mine” in terms of archival collections?

    Listen, I am the Unorthodox Archivist with the unorthodox archivist experience of working on some great Web 2.0-ish projects in archives. I have been working in the profession for almost eight years, and I have experienced the difficulties in trying to persuade supervisors about the benefits of exploiting Web 2.0 values and technologies. Even before Web 2.0 became a buzzword, I saw that using these emerging technologies and the values of communication, collaboration, etc, not in a technolust kind of way but cautiously and well-planned, would have tangible benefits. I had my share of successes and failures. But at least there was always a chance to take a risk.

    Once again, I am the unorthodox archivist. I don’t know everything there is to know about archives and archival theory. (But then again no one walking God’s green earth knows everything.) But what I do know through experience it is that the current status quo, following the same tired course of action, is not working. Sure work gets done. People collect a salary. But that’s superficial. Any company from Enron to WorldCom can do that. What makes the archives unique?

    As Stephen wrote, “‘Access and preservation, potential use, public relations, and users’ – there’s nothing new here.” That’s true. So let’s hang on to these principles and let’s start exploring how Web 2.0 tech and values can bolster them.

    If those who control the purse strings are not interested in Web 2.0, believe there is no justification, or cannot be bothered to try something new (and potentially costly) and favour business as usual, then maybe we should think twice about birthing Archives 2.0.

  14. @Russel

    Why do you keep and preserve archival collections if there is no user base? If there really is no interest in those collections, throw them out!!

    And on the other hand: Everything worth preserving is worth sharing. I am sure you will find a user base, however small, once the resources are put online. Don’t underestimate the people and their wisdom (and yes, also their stupidity!)

  15. Luud: you collect, maintain, and preserve archival collections to preserve history. The users come later, in my opinion. And having “some” users is not enough to justify a Web 2.0 presence. If all your users are elderly persons whose only exposure to the internet is reading webmail on Yahoo, Hotmail, or Gmail, then you are wasting your time digitizing your collections and otherwise bringing your archives into a Web 2.0 world. You must either 1) educate your current users to use Web 2.0 technologies or 2) develop a wider user base that uses Web 2.0 technologies. Even if you subscribe to the Archives 2.0 Manifesto (which I am sure is upcoming), having no one to see/use your presence in Web 2.0 means nothing; it becomes just an academic excercise.

    Stephen and David : I still content that you must have a public relations plan specifically geared toward Web 2.0 users and at least an idea of who your Web 2.0 users are and what they want before you can successfully enter into the Web 2.0 world. Venture capitalists don’t fund Web 2.0 projects for archives, the archives and their parent institutions do, so there is no room for failure; if you fail, you bow out of Web 2.0 altogether, usually. Have the plan then work the plan. If you don’t see Web 2.0 users as different than regular users and don’t see Web 2.0 public relations as different than regular public relations and don’t see Web 2.0 access as fundamentally different than regular access to materials, then you are barking up a tree that may fall on you if you don’t fall off the tree first.

    The best example of a good Web 2.0 business plan has to be what the Library of Congress did with Flickr. They formulated a plan (who knows how long that took) and then put the plan into place. They used Web 2.0 and standard public relations applications to publicize their entry into Flickr, recruited potential users who are different than regular users in many respects, and made sure any limitations to access (download free or thumbnails only?) were in place before they ventured too far. They also have amended their business plan in regard to Flickr as the project moves forward, I’m sure encountering mistakes and things that just did not work.

    I guess what I am saying is that just having a manifesto and subscribing to it are academic excercises and that is all. If it isn’t going to work, the manifesto and your application of it in your archives just isn’t practical.

  16. @Russell
    I think you are fundamentally wrong. Maybe practice is different in the US and the Netherlands, but putting your information online is not a matter of choice. If it isn’t digital, it is not there. Of course I cannot judge whether the collection you are talking about will have a big impact on users, but to be so negative about your users beforehand is a bad thing. You should give themmore credit and you should be aware that information shared will be used. You cannot sit there and say you know what every internet user wants, and that they certainly are not interested in your collections.
    And on the other hand, starting to work with it now, gives you more knowledge about the process and the use and effect of sharing information. That will be helpfull later on.
    You should give your collection (and yourself) a chance.

    I am not saying that everything digital or on the internet is the best thing ever. But you cannot deny the explosion of use of internettechnology and the chances it bring to archival information.

  17. Hi all,

    What an interesting debate this is. I’ve just given a training session on Web 2.0 to archive students – I wish I’d seen this debate beforehand.

    It seems to me that it’s more constructive to think of Archives 2.0 in terms of the mindset rather than specific tools. We’ve been thinking for some time about how the Archives Hub, a UK based cross-searching site (, might embrace this. I like to think that what we are looking to do is continue to build upon our open and participatory approach – both with repositories that contribute descriptions to the Archives Hub and with users (although we are much less advanced in that area!).

    I agree with Kate that we should think in terms of being ‘open to new ideas, flexible, user-centered, technology-friendly, and willing to take risks’ and ‘open to new partners, new technologies, new ways of doing things, to diverse kinds of people, to new kinds of records, to new outreach opportunities’. I see things like using EAD, exploring possibilities for interoperability and sharing date as being very ‘Archives 2.0’. For example, we are piloting a project where the Genesis portal for Women’s Studies ( searches the Hub using the SRU protocol. The data is in one place but there are two services providing access to it. Users will not be aware of this, but it will make life a great deal easier for archivists (not having to create different entries for different services). We are also looking at other areas of interoperability – in order to progress these we need to work collaboratively and implement common standards. This is an important part of what Archives 2.0 should be about. Archivists can work ‘behind the scenes’ to share and exchange data in ways that increase dissemination and benefit the users.


  18. The Web the 2,0 consumers of information have become, in producers of the information that they themselves consume. Web 2,0 puts at the disposal of million people tools and platforms of easy use for the publication of information in the network. To today anyone it has the capacity to create blog or binnacle and to publish his articles of opinion, photos, videos, archives of audio, etc. and to share them with other vestibules and internauts.The infrastructure of Web 2,0 is related to new technologies that have caused that is easier to publish information and to share it with other Web sites. On the one hand the systems of managers of contents have been updated, are software tools that allow to decentralize the workings of maintenance of the content of a vestibule, so that personal technician of the different departments from a company cannot add, to publish and to manage its own content in a Web being corporativa.haciendo that any person who does not know to anything on programming Web can, for example, to manage their own blog. On the other hand the technology of Web 2,0 has evolved until creating standardized microformats automatically to share the information of other Web sites

  19. Hi, I think the libraries 2.0 and archives 2.0 are very interesting. In the future the websites will be created the best posible way. So, we can said the websites 2.0 aren’t worse than the other webs because imitate’s the future webs with all posible contents. The problem of this websites is the few time to make them or others lack of resources. Therefore we must be tried, and demonstrate that we are able with the resources we have.

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