Nov 01

Collaboration in the archives / archiving blogs

I have two separate lines of thought that I will explore briefly here.  They both emerge from thinking about blogs and social media in the archives, but go in very different directions.

When I was blogging about archival processing for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania as a project archivist, I began to see the real potential of blogs as a way to connect the archives with the classroom.  More and more professors invited me into discussions about the ways that the study of history is changing to become more collaborative.  They asked me about ways that archives were inviting users to add content to finding aids, and spurred me to think deeply about my own role in creating an historical narrative with every finding aid I produced.  I had hopes of implementing some format that would provide users a platform to add content, link to other sources, and create layers of understanding beyond what I was able to do with my limited descriptive tools.  I envisioned an archival space that was less fixed, more open.  Because of the nature of project work, I was never able to bring these ideas to fruition, but I continue to think about how to make the institutional walls a bit more permeable and welcoming to new ways of working.

So, one question that lingers for me as an archivist is how to better present finding aids so that they can become more inclusive, more collaborative, and actually grow over time?

Another area (which I think Seth Bruggeman will touch on) that bears some exploration is how to forge viable collaborations between educational institutions/the classroom and collecting institutions/archives.  How can those of us stewarding historical sources speak to historians, future historians, and other users to invite collaborative knowledge-sharing?

The other issue of interest to me as a collector and steward of historical objects is how an institution might begin actively “collecting” social media as archival sources.  (There are some thought-provoking articles here and here that briefly explore this topic.)  While I am aware of larger projects to archive the web, and efforts to capture status updates and tweets, I am thinking about smaller collecting–on the scale of a diary or someone’s personal papers–and how institutions can create a collection of social media sites relevant to their collection development policies (or add social media to a larger collection of author’s papers).

Like most archives, the Maine Women Writers Collection has a fair number of diaries that have been acquired over the years as individual items.  As I began looking at our collection of singular volumes, I was thinking about the decline of this form of production and the rise of the diary’s online counterpart, the blog.  As blogs become increasingly mainstream, the use of journals that can be held in your hand or carried in your pocket will fade.  While the ease of publication and ability to share contents freely and quickly is a definite gain for the user, as an archivist, I see the challenge of collecting becoming much more interesting.

I recently put out a call for Maine women bloggers, and have gotten some response.  This is a preliminary step to thinking about how to actually add these items to our collection, if authors give their permission.  For now, I have added blogs to our blogroll while I come up with a longer-term collection policy.

I would be interested in hearing about what other institutions are doing with social media output–both their own and others’.  A larger discussion could include the overall value of social media as an historical source, privacy, copyright, and all of the other issues involved in collecting this particular type of ephemeral data.

1 comment

  1. Susan Kline

    At the Society of American Archivists conference in August there were several presentations from governments about how they collect data from the social media sites their governments have a presence on. It seems that governmental archives are ahead of the rest of us because of their specific mandate- to preserve the records created by that government. For academia, the challenge may be to not only collect your own presence but how others interact with your content; the latter isn’t always readily apparent, IMO.

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