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?

And the award goes to . . .

Yeah, I know, that post was too long. So this one will be short.

To try to help raise the visibility of archives actually doing good work with web technology, I’m going to do two things next week.

1) I’m going to contact the editors at American Archivist and volunteer to do regular reviews of archival resources on the web. (Note that this doesn’t appear to be within their current editorial policy: “The Reviews department evaluates books and other archival literature as well as the tools and products of archival activity such as finding aids, microfilm editions, audiovisual materials, exhibits, and computer software.” Nothing about web resources. Wish me luck!)

2) I’m going to contact the chairs of the SAA Awards Committee and propose a new award to recognize excellence and innovation in delivering information about archival materials or programs on the web. (Similar to the “Best of the Web” awards that get given out at the Museums & the Web conference.) I’m not too optimistic about this one, but I’m going to give it a shot. I’ll volunteer to do any work they need done to get it going. If anyone has any words of advice on this, let me know.

Why It Matters, or Comments on the A*CENSUS Call to Action

The point of having a community of archival people talking to each and sharing information via blogs is not just to keep up with the librarians or to give people like me something to do. It can be a way to move forward our profession and the goals we support.

As a demonstration, I will respond to some of the specific points in the “Call to Action” published in the latest American Archivist (Victoria Irons Walch, “*CENSUS: A Call to Action,” American Archivist. Fall/Winter 2006: vol. 69, no. 2, 310-326.). As I was reading it, I was struck by how many of the action items related to (or should relate to) an increased use of technology and specifically new web technologies to increase communication and share information. I am by no means saying that these are the only ways to address the action items, I am just saying that I think many of the actions items cannot be adequately addressed without the use of technology.

I think it is not an uncommon opinion that many (or most) archivists are not comfortable with using technology; I cannot say whether that is true or not, although I think it is certainly part of the stereotype. I can say that I think identifying archivists who are knowledgeable and willing to share their expertise with others in the profession would be a good thing. I think that having archivists who can conceive of creative ways to use technology to achieve our goals would be a good thing. If we can get them to contribute their time and knowledge toward building the tools we need, that would be a great thing. But on to action items . . .

This particular section of the report begins with a discussion about the” generational turnover” in the profession. As Baby Boomer-era archivists retire, Generation X-era archivists (born between 1965 and 1976) will need to replace them in senior management and other roles. However, there may not be enough Generation X-era archivists to replace all the retiring Boomers. This may force archives to place even less experienced Generation Y archivists (born between 1977 and 1989) into positions with more responsibility than they might normally get so early in their careers. The article lists seven broad headings with action items for each. I’ll address each section below.

Recruiting to Replace Retiring Archivists

Three of these action items relate to promoting the profession as a career option through public awareness and education campaigns to various groups. Use of web resources is an ideal complement to the personal involvement of archivists in National History Day and history camps. Web tools about the profession can serve as a follow-up resource for teachers or a substitute when personal involvement isn’t possible. (See the American Library Association’s www.librarycareers.org.) In addition, providing high-quality web resources that are products of archival work (for use in school and home settings) can reinforce for students what archivists do and show how satisfying that work can be.

Another action item calls for seeking out ways in which to make room in the archival profession now for new workers so that we do not lose a large cohort of potential archivists to other fields. These “new workers” are part of the generation that uses technology instinctively. They are ideal candidates to combine their love of archival work with technology to produce tools and capitalize on progress being made in related fields.

Recruiting to Broaden Diversity

Two of these action items again relate to outreach activities, public awareness and education campaigns so the same rationale stated above applies here. Another action item calls for creating new institutes that” focus on advancing archival education and training within other racial and ethnic communities.” While there is no substitute for face-to-face interactions, technology can again supplement or follow-up on these institutes. It can also be used to share the products and as much as possible the experience with those who cannot attend. Web 2.0 technology such as blogs, wikis, and social networks are the ideal means to address the action item relating to facilitating “ongoing networking opportunities among graduates of these institutes and establish similar networks for others.” Having archivists who have used these tools themselves and can help set up these networks and keep them active would be crucial to their success.

Recruiting to Broaden Skills

This area of recommendations applies largely to broadening skills in the area of technology, and recognizes that in this area all archivists will have to continuously be broadening their skill set as technologies continue to evolve. While the action items refer to formal graduate education and continuing education programs, I suggest these can be supplemented with more informal peer-to-peer learning experiences as well. For example, in another context I’m developing a series of podcasts. After I’ve got that project up and running, I would be happy to serve as a resource–either formally or informally–to archivists wanting to learn how to podcast. I’m comfortable getting on the web and figuring out how to do something. Some people aren’t. Those who have skills should be connected with people looking for a helping hand. Local or regional associations would seem to be ideally positioned to set up these kinds of networks. I’m sure many of our student organizations have members comfortable with technology who would be willing to trade their knowledge for hands-on experience with archival projects (as many I’m sure already are).

I have another suggestion in this area which will probably be controversial to some people, but I think it has some validity. One of the action items is to “Reach beyond library schools and history departments to recruit individuals who can bring advanced technological skills to the profession.” I couldn’t agree more, in fact, I think this item should be expanded to include bringing people with advanced skills not only into the profession but into our archival community, in a larger sense. What I have in mind is being more aggressive about partnering at every level with those groups or individuals with the technology skills we need. As Ken Thibodeau of NARA’s ERA program has often said about his interactions with computer scientists, we bring them interesting problems, and they love interesting problems. We also bring them interesting stuff to work with. We may not be able to woo a computer programmer away from his high-paying job, but we may be able to convince him to donate some of his time to help his local historical society put a database on line. In order to do this, archivists have to be knowledgeable enough about technology to know what to ask for and make sure we get it, and we have to be comfortable enough to interact with people in these communities. We have to be excited about what we can accomplish by working with them, and I am not sure that is always the case with some of our colleagues. Again, this is where I think peer-to-peer mentoring can help.

Transferring Critical Knowledge to the Next Generation

Since this section’s recommendations focus on tacit knowledge rather than explicit knowledge they are naturally a bit fuzzier. This kind of knowledge transfer could be facilitated through web 2.0 tools, but only if the more experienced archivist was comfortable with using them (and the younger one too, but I think we can assume that more easily). But, I have some questions about this issue, which again may be controversial. I agree with the assumption that it is important that the “core values” of the archival profession need to be transferred to new archivists. But, (and I’m bracing for the rotten tomatoes) how much of the “way we do things” that the older generation of archivists has mastered does need to be transferred to the next generation? I think it’s a question worth asking. Again, the core values–the “what” of what we do, yes, definitely, but how much of the “how” of how we do it? The actual action items refer to providing “leadership retreats,” training and knowledge-transfer activities within institutions, and greater leadership opportunities for younger professionals in professional associations. To me, these seem like good opportunities for transferring knowledge about leadership and management (and core values), as well as explicit knowledge within repositories.

 An interesting flipside to this set of recommendations would be to increase the transfer of critical knowledge about technology from younger archivists to older ones. Even if it’s only from Generation Y to Generation X archivists. But it could also be to Boomer-era archivists who want to stay active after retirement through volunteering or mentorship (or who don’t want to retire quite yet).

Greater Access to Continuing Education Opportunities Through Collaboration

These action items are mostly concrete and organizationally related, although the references to distance learning and online courses of course touch upon the use of web-based technologies. Again, I think these action items could be complemented by more informal modes of learning, but of course formal continuing education sources should be expanded. The last action item, however, does seem like one that could be supported directly by direct participation of SAA members (and all archivists) using technology: “Monitor technological innovations as they affect the records themselves as well as archival practices, and develop new continuing education offerings in response.” I would expand that to explicitly include technological innovations that affect how we provide access to our records and information about our holdings and programs. In this area, I can see active archivist blogs carrying out the “monitoring” and discussing how they affect our work and what kinds of education resources might already be available.

Nothing particularly leapt out at me from the last two sections (Shortage of Qualified Faculty to Provide Graduate Archival Education and A Coordinated Archival Statistics Program).

 It is heartening that one of the three suggested follow-up items was “Explore the place of technology of archives.” Since that is part of the stated purpose of this blog (and part of my personal mission, if you will), then you should expect to see more on that subject in this space.

 As I said at the outset, this discussion was just focused on the action items in those seventeen pages, not the entirety of the final report, or even the other articles, and was done as an example. I think it begins to show what we, as a network or community of archivists interested in technology, could do if we chose to. I don’t think necessarily that the action items called out here are the most crucial for those of us in the blogosphere to address. The top five issues identified by archivists in the survey as among the three most important that archival organizations should address in the next five years (Table 3.8.1) were:

1. Electronic records
2. Access, arrangement & description
3. Advocacy
4. Funding
5. Preservation

 Although the breakdowns of the data by age group and region aren’t yet on the web, an article states: “Technological issues, in general, were mentioned as being of greater concern among younger archivists.” (p. 340)

This is good food for thought, to be sure. I look forward to hearing what reactions others have to the report and exploring more ideas on the top five issues, and of course others.

Previous conversations about archives blogs

I should pause and acknowledge a previous conversation about archives blogs that took place last September between Thomas G. Lannon on Documenting Sources and Mark Matienzo on thesecretmirror.com–with comments from others. In his post “Archive Blogs,” Lannon considered “what is an archive blog?” and “what is the role of blogs in archivists lives?” He came to a rather negative conclusion, I’m afraid, and in response to a comment by Jeanne from Spellbound.com expressed a more general skepticism about the use of so-called 2.0 technologies among archivists as a whole.

Mark replied in a post on his blog–explaining how he determined what blogs to include in his ArchivesBlogs aggregation. He makes some interesting observations about the lack of adoption of 2.0 technologies in the archives community (which I agree with, and if you read my introductory post, this is part of what I want to address in this blog). He also responds to Lannon’s comments about the value of blogging for archivists.

Mark received a number of comments on his post, including a thoughtful response from Lannon that included this:

The power of blogging is evinced when communities or networks occur in which people participate in open debate, and share ideas about which they harbor thoughtful care. It is at this precise moment however, when unsettling aspects of our 2.0 identities arise, as bloggers become more than strangers firing missives off into the ether. We become known to one another through our written thought

Coincidentally, while writing this post, two things occurred to me. I was referring to Thomas Lannon as “Lannon” and Mark Matienzo and Jeanne Kramer-Smyth by their first names. Why? Well, I know who Mark is–I mean, I’ve seen him at conferences although I don’t think we’ve actually met. And I think I might have met Jeanne, but even if I haven’t, she’s at Maryland and she’s got her picture on her site and she looks familiar. So somehow they didn’t seem like total “strangers” but somehow Mr. Lannon did. I just thought that was kind of interesting. Since I’m a new blogger, I don’t really know what the etiquette is here. Any tips?

The other thing I noticed is that all of these people were identifying themselves, while I chose to remain anonymous on my blog. I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule about this–I don’t know if it’s considered rude to be anonymous. I suppose it is if the “missives” you fire at people are incendiary. I suppose there’s really no reason to be anonymous, but I think I’d prefer to remain so at the moment. But, just for the record, if you want to refer to me, you can call me Kate. Everyone does.

And I should say, as Thomas (or Tom) did, that I hope no one — particularly Mark — takes any offense at my making distinctions about archival blogs or commenting on the state of what’s out there. I kind of think that it’s a good thing that “We become known to one another through our written thought” — anything that helps people who are interested in similar topics known to each other is a good thing in my book. We need more conversations and connections–but wait, that’s supposed to the topic of the next post!

Wait – was that – it almost looked like . . .

Ok, having said yesterday, based on objective evidence, that there was no archivo-blogosphere (again, I don’t like that term–come up with a better one and post it in a comment), I spent part of today looking more closely at the content of some of the blogs I liked as I was adding them to my blogroll.

Well, it looks like around SAA 2006 (in DC) there was a small and hardy band of archival bloggers (all, I am sure, extremely good-looking) and if it hadn’t been for the lack of connectivity in the Hilton (and maybe the extreme heat–I was there too) they might have gotten more momentum. But it looks like they kind of lost steam–many of them altogether–shortly after that meeting.

This next post was supposed to try to discuss why we don’t have a blogosphere of archivists. In thinking about what to write, I was coming up with a lot of possibilities that ended up sounding like a list of gripes about our profession. And I said was going to try not to be negative in my blog, so I think I’m going to skip that topic. I will say that I think perhaps one of our problems is that we have a lot of ground to cover. We could use good blogs on many different issues, for example–different aspects of electronic records, EAD (for those who use it), nuts and bolts issues about processing, copyright, advocacy issues, developments in available software, etc. Just a thought. I’ll try to follow up with that in a future post of why I think archivists need to get more involved in their own blogosphere.

No. There is no archivo-blogosphere. At least not now.

After doing an unscientific survey, I still don’t think there is an archivo-blogosphere. This is probably not news to any reasonably technically savvy archivist, but I thought I should uncover some actual data before jumping to that conclusion. Besides, it gave me a reason to look at all the other archival blogs I could find.

I started with the ArchivesBlogs site, which lists 72 syndicated blogs. I looked at each blog and began a process of defining a set of sites which would, in my opinion, constitute part of blogosphere (if one existed). Since I am interested in an American community of archivists, I retained only those sites that post messages in English. This left 58 candidate blogs.

After looking at the remaining sites, I determined that those blogs belonging to repositories–often associated with special collections in university libraries–consisted almost exclusively of “bulletin board”  posts (events in their repository, information about recent acquisition, processing updates, etc.) Although this information is valuable to that repository’s users, it didn’t seem to be contributing to a larger conversation about the archival profession or professional issues, and so I removed those blogs, leaving a group of 43 blogs.

Out of the remaining 43 blogs, five had not been updated within the past six months (well, since September 1, 2006). These I considered inactive and took off the group under consideration. (There was some cheating here, as I will explain later.)

The next phase of weeding was somewhat subjective, but I believe it was valid. I removed blogs whose content was primarily personal or social rather than professional. (Although many of the remaining blogs also contain occasional posts that are more personal than professional.) I then removed blogs that were associated with either related professions or narrow aspects of the archival field, such as blogs on ephemera, rare books, and television archiving. There are several blogs related to the subject of digitization in general, and I left those in because their appeal seemed more general. I then removed the four sites that that did not originate in the US or Canada. Again, this was subjective; their content was very good and of interest, but if a blogosphere is a community, then it seemed reasonable to define that, as I said, an American or North American community (but more on that later).

Twenty-three blogs remained in the running. Just to make sure I (and the ArchivesBlogs site) hadn’t missed anything, I did some Google and Bloglines searches for things like “archivist” and “blog.” I also searched for blogs that mentioned the Society of American Archivists. Given the recent uproar over the Archives and Archivists listserv archives, I thought that if another relevant archives blog existed, it should come up in such a search. I found no archives blogs that were not already listed by the ArchivesBlogs site. Actually, even after weeding out the sites that weren’t in English, I looked at all the sites listed in all the sites’ blogrolls to look for additional archives blogs; again, didn’t find any specifically archival sites references in blogrolls that were not already part of the group.

I then looked at how many blogs were linked to by other blogs (this was actually done, again, back with the 58 blogs in English). There were nine blogs that had five or more links in other blogs. These all remained in the final group of 23. (Incidentally, being linked to is no guarantee of linking back-5 of the top 9 sites contained no links out to any other sites.) As far as linking out, 5 of the final group of 23 blogs contained no blogroll or any other links to other archival blogs.

I then looked at the frequency of postings since September 1, 2006. Three sites had over 100 postings; one site had between 75 and 50 postings; three sites had between 50 and 25 postings; and the remaining sixteen sites had between 25 and 1 postings. Of the three sites with over 100 postings, two were in the most linked-to group. Of the other most-linked-to group, three had between 50 and 25 posts, and the remaining four had between 25 and 1 post.

(I should note that ArchivesBlogs site itself is linked to nine times. Since it is a site that automatically compiles the postings of other sites, I did not consider it as a unique archives blog. This is not to say that it isn’t tremendously valuable–I just didn’t include it in my statistics.)

What did this examination tell me? That we have a relatively small group (23) of active blogs that are addressing in all or part North American archival concerns. That of that group, only seven blogs had more than 25 posts in the past six months. That of that group, most contained no references out to other archival blogs and most were linked to by fewer than five other blogs. To me, based on statistics only, this doesn’t look like an active blog community. (And these numbers are skewed to be more generous; if I had removed Canadian bloggers, the total number would be 19 and two of the most linked to blogs would have been eliminated, as well as two of the sites with over 100 posts in the last six months.) One of the most linked to and linking sites has posted only once since September 1. If I had made it a hard six months, it would have been out.

So, without passing judgment on the value of any of the postings on archival blogs (which is a whole different analysis), but only on the type of content, interlinking of blogs, and frequency of postings, I conclude that we do not have an archivo-blogosphere. I welcome discussion of my findings, and in the next few posts I hope to discuss reasons why we don’t have one and ask if it really matters.

(P.S. Oh, and I will update my blogroll to include the archival blogs I found most interesting.)

Is there an archivo-blogosphere?

In checking out library blogs, I found a reference to the March 2007 issue of American Libraries, which has as its cover story “Mattering in the Blogosphere,” and came I across the term “biblioblogosphere.” (One article is an interview of ten prominent library bloggers. The first question posed was “What does it take for a blog to have an impact on the biblioblogosphere?”)

Which led me to wonder if there is a–what would we call it?–archivo-blogosphere? (Suggestions for a different term welcome.) I think not. Back in September 2005, Walt Crawford wrote an impressive post on Investigating the Biblioblogosphere. I’ll take his idea, but not his detailed methodology, and in my next post I’ll share my findings.

So, what’s going on here?

OK, friends, I’m jumping into the pool.

This is what I wrote for the “About this blog” page–and it seemed like a good first real post:

This blog will attempt to identify what might be “next” for archival institutions by:

1) Exploring Web 2.0 applications and discussing their applicability to archival institutions.

2) Identifying existing innovative uses of web technology in archives and related fields.

3) Discussing how applicable the existing archival business model is in the current and emerging information environment, and proposing modifications or a whole new model.

4) Hopefully engaging readers in a dialog about these issues. I am by no means an expert in any of these areas. I am learning and hopefully some of the four or five people who read this blog will share with me and the other readers what they know or raise questions. I can’t be the only one interested in this.

5) Probably doing some other stuff as well.

To do this I will be drawing heavily on our colleagues in the library community and from the blogs of more technically savvy people (including some archivists). I make no claims to any particular expertise (see below).

This blog will not (I hope):

1) Address issues related to the processing and preservation of electronic records. I am only interested (in this blog) on how archives make themselves and their holdings available.

2) Dwell too much on what is currently not being done or being done badly in archives. Let’s just say I think our profession has a lot of room for improvement.

3) Be afraid to be basic. I’m no expert, but I’m not a complete novice either. If there is something out there that I didn’t know when I started out, I’m not going to be afraid to write about it. You, gentle reader, may snort at my ignorance, but I hope there are some other readers who will learn something.

4) Be dull. This stuff is really cool. Archives have great stuff. They even have some fun, innovative, energetic people. Let’s figure out how to get all that together.

A brief biographical introduction. Feel free to skip this part:

I recently spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do next. I am, by training, an archivist, but unlike some of my colleagues I’ve also done quite a few other things. I spent the last few years working very intensely on a specific project at a very large archives. When I decided I wanted to make a change I took an inventory of sorts–what had attracted me to the archival profession, what kinds of work give me satisfaction, what do I think is wrong with the archival world, and where do I think I can make a contribution (and maybe even a living!)?

I determined that what I really wanted to do was to explore how archives (and related cultural institutions) can take advantage of emerging (well, in some cases already very well-emerged) technologies to broaden their audiences and increase their relevance in the coming century. In order to do this, I realized that I needed to crawl out from the under the rock I’d been under for the past few years. I admit I hadn’t really been paying a lot of attention to a lot of what was going on on the web. My job didn’t involve it, and I didn’t have a lot of free time to spend playing around with the toys. So, now that I have more time, my first task was to get out there and check stuff out. This blog itself is part of that task–and the series of podcasts I’m trying to develop on a different site. I want to actually use as many of these tools as possible so I have a better idea how institutions can use them.

That’s probably all you need to know about me. Maybe more. Let’s get on with it.