Monday, March 24, 2008

Several interesting studies on archives

Over the past few weeks, I have been introduced to a variety of new studies that strike me as incredibly fascinating. The academic crunch that is late March does not permit me to list them all let alone comment.

I will try to mention a few very interesting items that I have recently discovered. Today, I learned about this fascinating forum done by the OCLC: Digitization matters: Breaking through the barriers—scaling up digitization of special collections (and the summary essay that goes with it). This forum and essay argue that digitization has to be done and in high VOLUME. If this means compromising on an obsession with standards, then so be it. I like this idea but archives especially (libraries, as usual, are way ahead of archives) need to heed the message. There are still quite a few Archives' websites that simply provide contact information and a photo or two may have been impressive for 1994.

There is also
a British study that I should like to comment on. It does not directly concern archives but its analysis of information seeking behavior is of relevance to our field. Of the various sections, I thought the study on student information behavior to be of greatest interest.

The final item of today's post is something that I would love to see more of; research into users of archives. AX-SNet (Archival eXcellence in Information Seeking Studies Network) is a model that has good potential. It apparently grew out of a British project to understand users of archives better, particularly online users. The project's bibliography is a good starting point for anyone interested in pursuing research in this field.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A graduate degree to shelve books?

Some people misunderstand what information professionals do and that can be frustrating. For many people, "information professional" is an opaque term that quickly collapses into "librarian" which collapses into "item check-out clerk." A friend recently joked, partly seriously, that my university has rendered librarians obsolete by having automatic check-out machines and investing in tens of thousands e-resources. Part of the work of correcting this impression has to start with showing that research can be more complex than punching some text into Google or Wikipedia. Both of those resources are certainly very useful but they have certain limits one needs to be aware of (e.g. Google results can be manipulated for marketing reasons).

I have been thinking of ways to correct this impression. Allowing it to persist can have a definite impact on libraries and archives; why fund such lowly clerks well? Outreach needs to be seen as crucial. Reference services can always be better. The archival preoccupation with authenticity, preservation, and the like are certainly necessary but I think we have something to learn from the more user-centred approach that librarians often take.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

March Madness and Biographer Archivists

The big crunch of getting assignments done of various kinds is well upon everybody at my Faculty. Happily, the stress of this is somewhat mitigated by the stress of job interviews for summer employment. I'm hoping to obtain work in Ottawa this summer and that is looking increasingly likely.

This morning's class raised an interesting possibility for me. The class was concerned with the subject of authority control. It was mentioned that there is a kind of archival work that essentially involves composing short biographies. That strikes me as highly appealing. It would be great if I could have a position where contributions to publications such as the Canadian Dictionary of Biography were encouraged.