The discussion continues . . .

This morning a “friend of the blog” and I were having a conversation about how to help get a conversation going on my blog. Someone else had suggested that I should not post too often–I need to give people time to mull things over and formulate comments. If there’s a new post up already, they may not feel like commenting on an old one. This morning, my friend suggested that instead of replying to people’s comments in another comment (as I usually do), I should reply in a post, to highlight the conversation for others. So, I’m giving that a try.

The intrepid Peter Van Garderen (of has written several comments lately. When I saw his name, I admit, dear readers, that I was worried. In a reply to a comment on this blog I had written:

And I do like archivematica’s blog–but he seems so smart that he kind of intimidates me.

It turns out, not only is he smart, he’s nice too. In responding to the “What do archivists want?” post, he concluded based on his experience:

. . . I can’t speak for more traditional archivists and what follows is a gross generalization but I would venture to guess that the majority, if they stop to think about it, feel some sort of ethical responsibility to the records themselves, as witnesses or voices from the past. They are motivated by some subconscious urge to impart order on the volume of information which they are preserving. They are driven by this idea that one day their collections will finally be properly organized, if only they could waste less time on the reference desk! Therefore, I think the motivation is more inward that outward. I taught as an adjunct at archives school for six years and I can say quite confidently that almost all people who end up at archives grad school, myself included, have some obsessive compulsive traits, we just need to use our powers for good :-)

What do you have to say about that, readers? I agree that most of the archivists I know love to organize the things in their lives–and that tendency could account of some of the stories one hears about obsessive rusty-paper-clip removals. And I know that most of the archivists I know do feel a kind of “ethical responsibility to the records themselves, as witnesses or voices from the past.” The question is–do most archivists feel it is their primary responsibility to preserve those voices or share them? Or both? (And, yes, it isn’t a simple black or white decision. They’re related, obviously. The question is, is there a tendency to favor one over the other? If given complete freedom, which activity would most archivists rather spend their time doing? And does that have an impact on how fast they’re willing to interact with users in a 2.0 fashion?)

Peter also commented on the last post about the discussion about change in libraries–I won’t try to summarize it–please read it and go to the link he posted. But, he concluded with:

However, after researching, presenting and discussing about this topic for the past year and a half with archivists in both North America and the Netherlands, my impression is that archives administration/bureaucracy will actually be less of a hurdle (to opening up archives systems to include Web 2.0 technologies) than the technical capacity to enhance existing systems, project funding and copyright will be. In fact, I think copyright is the largest elephant in the herd.

Leaving aside copyright (would that we all could!), I still see the issues of enhancing existing systems and funding as related to prioritization of resources. How do managers make their decisions about how to allocate resources? Should a staff member spend time trying to figure out how to do a podcast or processing a collection? If publishing that podcast is going to require more server space, is that more important than—something more traditional and tangible?

Yes, there are technical challenges, and certainly no one I know of has all the resources to do everything they’d like to do, but I’m interested in hearing if there are other reasons archives aren’t moving forward with 2.0 efforts. Maybe I’m wrong, and everyone out there is just champing at the bit to move forward, and technology and money are all that is standing in the way, but I really suspect that there is more to it.

Any thoughts on that, readers, or as Paco Fernández Cuesta wrote on archivista, “El debate está servido”!

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3 thoughts on “The discussion continues . . .”

  1. I found your site through and it appears as though you are looking to inspire some conversation. Max Weber described three forms of legitimacy– tradition, reason and charisma — that allow men to allow other men to dominate based on violence. Weber’s ideas must be roughly 75 years old, but still has more to say about civilization than any computer network allow to pass. ‘Web 2.0’ might create forums for people to express themselves through the creation of online personalities or in conversations, such as this one, a poor substitute for anything previously considered communication, but no matter how excited I get about having to use a colorful computer instead of a typewriter, I do not understand how technology alone is going to change anything about archival research, let alone academic debate. Or are archives just a place for ephemeratic playthings? In my opinion, the photocopying revolution of the 1950s has yet to be fully exploited, that is, unless you’ve memorized Richard Hale’s ‘Guide to photocopied historical materials in the United States and Canada.’

    Perhaps the blog is more suited for the teen center of one’s local branch? Perhaps 2.0 technology, the brain child of internet investers seeking to rebubble their portfolios has been emerged in other spheres such as the archive/library because young people desire to have themselves be heard even if it means being duped. Of course scanning has some use, especially for preservation digital images are quickly rendered into just ‘interesting’ or ‘neat’ and completely lose their historical meaning as they pass from one set of blurry eyes to the next in megabyte form. You can tell every person in the world that there are lost letters from Rousseau in an archive in Montreal, a great newspaper story, but the only person who needs to find these letters is the person who is equiped with the knowledge to know how to understand them. And this person will find them. I think archivists/librarians should focus more on developing frameworks which ensure people know how to understand history, rather than to just trust historians, and to avoid advertising historical resources as some kind of cure-all for the Google sickness.

    And just for the record: For all you 2.0 folks out there who love British Naval History, and I know you’re out there. Don’t get caught in the cold without Roger Morriss’s ‘Guide to British Naval Papers.’

    Keep blogging,

  2. Thomas, I have to agree and disagree with you at the same time. I agree that archivists need to spend time helping people to understand history through the materials that we preserve. BUT, I also believe that we need to spend time utilizing the latest technologies to reach new audiences in new ways. While it is worthwhile to develop more meaningful archival experiences for some of our users through education, it is also worthwhile to make material more accessible for the “hit and run” user. If someone visits my website and makes use of something that I have digitized, someone who, in a non-digital world never would have thought to visit an archives to look for information, then I consider that interaction a success even though I may be deprived of the opportunity to place the information in a fuller context that I would be afforded if the user visited my archives in person. Web 2.0 technologies, admittedly commercial and particularly geared toward a self-promoting kind of interaction, are ideally suited to enhance visibility. Why not take advantage of that? I consider that increased visibility to be just one more step in the process of helping people to “understand history”.

  3. “obsessive rusty-paper-clip removals.”

    As a student worker at an Archives, this is what I was ordered to do for the whole first day. I removed over 130 staples, and quite a few paper clips. I do wonder about it. There are some preservation tasks that may be menial, but does this help? The rust stains from these metal things appear to have already stained the paper and it seems unlikely to get worse.

    I wonder if it was simply a move to assert hiearchy within archives. “Even though you are capable of doing almost any task here, here is the most menial, thought-free task, so you know your place.”

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