Archival institutions work hard to preserve treasures for later generations, and the future is digital. Opportunities abound to break down barriers and reach new audiences.
Online collections combined with the emerging technology offered by a collections management system (CMS) can transform a visit to a physical collection into a personalized adventure.
Online collections not only disseminate information about history, they also invite everyone to share in it by engaging audiences and allowing them to travel through collections at the pace and direction that suits them best.
An Easy Introduction
An online archival collection usually offers less detailed, simplified descriptions for users who are only initially engaging with materials. More serious researchers who seek more informed narratives may access deeper layers of content depending on their interests. Archivists should strive to meet their audiences where they are; archival collections should be accessible, at least in part, online—and be usable to audiences in a way that suits them. Doing so requires archivists to balance the best practices of their field against common digital behaviors. Digital technology allows online visitors to forge their path through a collection and easily explore those aspects relevant to their interests.
Blending physical and digital collections impacts cultural heritage. Current circumstances require users to prepare for a different world of work, which demands the ability to navigate massive amounts of information and think critically about the world around them. Archival institutions can support this experience by delivering immersive, multimedia storytelling, multifaceted interpretations of history, art, and culture, and facilitated discussions to develop critical thinking skills. Through technology, users can conduct and enjoy more immersive research.
One way to drive engagement is to provide materials online together with interpretation. Layered storytelling can appeal to serious historians and casual users. A CMS display offers unique opportunities to share more in-depth histories and connections across collections and helps users navigate what may have previously been a confusing or overwhelming presentation of materials or finding aids.
Telling Stories about Collections
Seeing a historical document and reading it is only part of the experience. A key element of bringing a collection to life is in creating context. Technology takes storytelling a step further by offering users multimedia content, nonlinear pathways, and the chance to guide their experience. (The advent of smartphones has opened a world of possibilities.)
Researchers have their areas of interest. Digital techniques offered through a CMS may allow patrons to plan their unique journey through a collection. Taking a comprehensive approach to collections allows archivists to create narratives that work both online and offline. However, this is dependent on having tools that allow metadata, item descriptions, and narratives pulled from the CMS and pushed to online tools.
Publishing online collections is not a one-time activity; it is an ongoing process, in much the same way as managing a physical collection within a building’s walls. By setting objectives and ensuring their systems work smoothly together, organizations can leverage the wealth of knowledge they protect. When an institution publishes a collection online, it enhances the physical collection, expanding the knowledge and understanding of the items it contains. As collections-institutions continue to innovate through online publishing and digital techniques, more users will enjoy, understand, and appreciate the wonders of both digital and physical collections.
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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