Raising the Visibility of Archival Collections

Margot Note

Margot Note

January 04, 2021

An essential component of collections management system (CMS) success is visibility. Related CMS advantages are multifold, including enriched searching across collections, expanded user access, and increased research opportunities. 

Archival professionals use systems to reveal collections and connect with sources such as library catalogs, museum records, Wikipedia entries, or social media. Greater prominence of collections, enabled by technology, promotes the archives both externally (through increased user awareness) and internally (through institutional buy-in). There are many benefits of an archival CMS, but its most significant contribution is to expand online access. A 100% web-based system helps raise the profile of archival collections because a broader group of patrons can more easily find and search holdings. 

Because of the enhanced discoverability a great CMS offers, archival repositories see significant increases in the usage of their holdings. Archivists using collections management systems discover more research requests and questions from users. Importantly, a CMS can gather metrics related to this increased engagement that can be used to advocate for the archives department internally, especially related to funding. 

Lifting Boundaries

Archival access suspends geographical and temporal boundaries through digital collections and revitalizes collaboration between archives and users. Using a collections management system for visibility, an institution eliminates the barriers of distance by providing access to a wide variety of materials. The coronavirus pandemic has pushed virtual research boundaries, pressing archival institutions to offer selections of their collections in creative ways. Users can approach the archives looking for sources found online through the CMS and later, when it is safer to do so, can access other collections through traditional methods, such as a visit to the institution’s physical location. An archival CMS positions archivists to add value to collections more efficiently, introduce new or underutilized materials to users, and enhance the organization’s competencies for scholarship, pedagogy, and recreational learning. 

With collection management systems, archivists make their materials accessible 24/7 and interpret their collections more vividly. In response to limited physical access to collections during the pandemic, leaders in archival organizations have published more collections online. Digitization, managing digital access, and describing materials present challenges—but these activities are worth the effort. 

Inspiring Interactivity

Digital collections raise an institution’s profile, increase awareness, and deepen knowledge of the treasures they contain. As the digital revolution gains pace, there are opportunities to engage both virtual and physical visitors with collections. Technology improves wayfinding along with inspiring storytelling and interactivity through online displays, mobile guides, and other means of access. Archivists harness the power of collections management systems to increase engagement in online collections, while enhancing awareness and insights into physical collections. 

For some research subjects, the physical artifact, such as a handwritten journal, a beautifully cased daguerreotype, or an ancient, oversized map, can never be replicated by viewing images on-screen. However, archivists do not intend online collections to replace the physical. Instead, they enhance them by providing treasures on a broad scale, enriching knowledge, and uncovering objects which would otherwise remain unseen. Researchers find online archives useful; they may subsequently wish to visit and view the original materials, providing even more artifactual information to enhance their scholarship. 

A Global Reading Room

Archives are increasingly transforming into more inclusive organizations, focused both on user needs and new ways to present collections. Online collections allow institutions to enhance their visibility and serve their communities. The improved visibility helps promote the value and importance of digital assets. Today’s institutions reflect the expectations of a changing world, promoting collections, and reaching out to the broader community. In the past couple of decades, archival organizations have moved beyond their physical spaces’ confines to share their collections online. 

Margot Note

Margot Note

Margot Note, archivist, consultant, and author is a guest blogger for Lucidea, provider of ArchivEra, archival collections management software for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities. Read more of Margot’s posts, and register here for her upcoming webinar, “CMS Essentials for Success #1: Visibility and Access” on January 20th.

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