Archives and Manuscripts Week 4

This week for class we discussed reference and access, two very important aspects of archives. This is because if the archives are not used by researchers then what is the point of preserving the material. Thus archives must always have as a goal openness for the users. Furthermore, the archivist must find a balance between preservation and availability. These topics were reflected in our readings, such as “The Illusion of Omniscience”, which stated that archivists need to do more to help users. Indeed, Mary Jo Pugh believed that there is a tension between how archives are organized and how users research. This is because by following provenance, archives are usually arranged by names, while researchers usually think in terms of subject. Thus Pugh called for subject based guides in addition to traditional finding aids to better assist users.

This idea of assistances user research was further seen in the Next Generation Finding Aid Project on the Polar Bear Expedition. This online project made use of online communities to create forums for discussion as well as links that show what others had viewed based on what you were currently viewing, not unlike links on amazon that show what other people bought. This is an important tool because it can help users make connections to other parts of the collection that they may not have seen otherwise. Furthermore, it is this type of digital outreach and use that archives must continue to pursue if they wish to better connect and make an impact on users. Thus the key take way from this week was that to be a successful archives, one must strive to conduct outreach so that the material that is saved and available for use is actually used and consumed by the public.

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