blog: A New Role for Professionals

In her speach, Kate Theimer, the author of the ArchivesNext blog, gave some thoughts about reimagining the role of the archivist.

Language evolves very fast; the term “curating” covers a lot of different meanings that are connected with a selection as an activity. Also the term “archive” is very broadly used. Rather than fight against the broad use of these words, these terms should be appropriated according to their use.Archives could be seen as institutions that are functioning as platforms. They collect, preserve and make cultural heritage accessible. Their goal is to add value to people’s lives by increase their understanding of the past.

Kate pointed out three characteristics about archival process in present day:

–  Access used to be scarce, now it is not.
–  Most people are looking for some things, not one thing
–  Relatively few people need access to what archives have.

As a result archives have to change their content based goal to people based goal. That means archivists should engage people outside the archive: a participatory archive where people outside the archive can contribute. One option is to use crowd sourcing in order to get the archival content described. Besides providing the descriptions, it is also a possibility for individuals to get engaged with the archival content. Engagement should be seen as a dynamic and meaningful activity.

How could archives encourage people to become engaged with archives? It is important to emphasise that an archive is collecting the present as well as the past. Archives should become places for personal enrichment and they should operate as forums for discussions.

The websites of archives could be seen as places for different activities, not only for search but also for amusing experience.

We are living in evolving information ecosphere. There are two possibilities for archives and archivists: to evolve or to become extinct! Therefore there is a need for examining the mission of an archive and archivist. The user should be kept in mind throughout the archival process.

In order to stay relevant in evolving information ecosystem, the archives have to focus on:

–  The importance of digitisation. If the content is not online, it does not exist.
–  Collaboration
–  Context; for example the facilitation of information and context via Linked Open Data.

Besides staying focused on the users needs and providing access to its content, archivists have to provide a warm, guided and nurturing learning environment. Archival material needs professional guidance for its interpretation.

by Annika Raïm

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