H. Thomas Hickerson, in his turn of the 21st century address to the Society of American Archivists, described “Ten Challenges for the Archival Profession”. Since his presentation, information technology has achieved significant advancements that empower archivists seeking to address these goals.
In addition to helping archivists successfully address Hickerson’s ten challenges, recent technology advances have dramatically reduced an archiving solution’s total cost of ownership. Software as a Service and Software Subscription models now put these powerful archiving systems within the scope of even the most modest budgets. Furthermore, their embedded user-friendly configuration capabilities completely eliminate the need for custom programming and its associated costs.
Here are some thoughts on how technological advancements address the first five of Mr. Hickerson’s challenges for the Archival Profession:
1) Accommodating documents generated in electronic form
Today, most documents are created in an electronic format and may in fact never exist in print form. Thankfully, the cost of storing electronic documents has dramatically decreased. Up-to-date archiving software solutions now provide for describing archival documents within the context of the collection hierarchy as well as offering both the capability and the capacity to store electronic copies or electronic images of documents. The challenge then is to capture, codify and appraise these items. A few systems can now automatically harvest electronic documents, greatly simplifying the process of identifying and capturing them, as well as facilitating online appraisal.
2) Non-textual holdings
Text based communication is not as dominant as it once was. Other forms of communication and preservation including sound, images, and video must be considered and enabled, identifying and sharing the experience of art, architecture, music, ritual, dance, and theater. Recent innovations in archiving software make it possible for a broad range of non-textual holdings to be captured and preserved.
3) Supporting global access
Locally generated documentary materials are often valuable from a global perspective and should be accessible well beyond their place of origin. State of the art web-based archival systems can now easily make materials discoverable by search engines such as Google, as well as via mobile devices that allow virtual visitors to engage with—and be inspired by—archival collections.
4) Devising new methods of description and user access
With increasing digitalization of almost all records and documents, there is a growing expectation that everything that is available should also be easily accessible. There is also the challenge of describing materials so that they are accessible to those outside the profession. Archivists have recognized a need to increase the visibility of their holdings and their contribution to society. The best archive management solutions allow archivists to use both traditional and more populist approaches to ensuring their collections are described and discoverable—using terms and techniques like Meissner & Greene’s “More Product Less Process” (MPLP) that both professionals and the general population understand.
5) Make holdings more accessible and expand the audience
As stated by Elsie Freeman Finch, in Advocating Archives, “Use is our reason for being”. Current archiving systems can make holdings accessible via the web, and enable discovery via Google and other search engines. The most advanced of such systems include mobile and social capabilities, allowing researchers and the public to look for items on their smart phones, and then share items of interest with their friends and associates via social media. These types of capabilities not only simplify search and serendipitous discovery—they also expand the audience for archives.
Please stay tuned for the second of these posts exploring how technological advancements and improved archiving software solutions answer Mr. Hickerson’s ten challenges for the archival profession.
As part of archival collections management, archivists continue to use the traditional five levels of arrangement which are still useful; a primer.
Archival collection development, appraisal, arrangement and description, preservation, and research services have been transformed by technology.
Technology has changed archival collections management, with dramatic but gradual impact.
Many archives use proprietary archival collections management systems; open source can provide an alternative but be aware of hidden costs and risks