This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka interns working on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.
Everyone had a picture in mind when I said I’d be doing archival work for the DuPont library at Stratford Hall over the summer. Often, that picture included me amid stacks of dusty books and old documents, sitting in silence and solitude, frantically typing away with my glasses glued to the top of my nose. Each time I got a reaction to this effect, I had to laugh and ask, “Relying a little heavily on a stereotype, aren’t you?” Quickly, I would go into my spiel about why libraries are not at all antiquated, not realizing that there is a term for what I was trying to explain: “Archives 2.0.”
Partially out of necessity and partially out of nature, libraries and librarians have evolved, and currently, we are in the period of Archives 2.0, which Kate Theimer distinguishes from other periods of archival work by its “spirit of flexibility and the willingness to experiment and collaborate.” a spirit that has brought interrelated changes to the field. More than gathering information, modern archivists want to disseminate information. This desire has resulted in an (maybe unexpected) embrace of technology to create a more user-friendly experience.
Though technology is not wholly responsible for the adjustments archivists have made to their philosophy, it has facilitated them. Most notably, it has made the archives a social space. By digitizing their collections, archivists are able to reach a broader audience than was feasible with an “Archives 1.0” paradigm. You might find an article about the work going on at Stratford or another library/ museum on Facebook, where users can actively engage in the conversation with archivists and researchers. Archivists have also begun to ease up on the idea that they should minimalize their effect on their collections. Realizing their processes and descriptions impact the way their collections are used, they have begun to document their archival decisions. With this interactive component to archival work and this newfound transparency comes an important feature, revision. Users, by sharing information with each other and the archivists, help create more descriptive finding aids, more ideas, and better research. Also aiding research is a new set of shared standards between archivists. By espousing the standards of EAD and DACS, archivists are enabling research to be a more uniform, less daunting experience.
It has been truly enjoyable to experience and participate in Archives 2.0 at Stratford Hall. My work here will result in an online exhibit about the Lee family as federalists and anti-federalists. I am both excited and apprehensive to join the realm of what Theimer refers to as “collaborative archives” and to see how readers will begin the revision process with my research. Stratford Hall is also working on a really exciting way to enhance its tours. Along with the traditional tours given by trained guides, it hopes to soon offer a kind of electronic tour guide so visitors can spend as much or as little time in each room of the estate as they like and can learn more about the specific objects that interest them instead of receiving a more general group tour.
Archives 2.0 has greatly helped to reassure me of the relevance and accessibility of libraries and museums. They are not the stereotypical places of hoarded information that are solely visited by intense scholars, but they are social centers for anyone who might be curious. It has been a joy to be able to contribute to the sharing of information while furthering my own knowledge and to witness the symbiotic relationship between the researcher and the archives.
Theimer, Kate. “What Is the Meaning of Archives 2.0?,” American Archivist, Vol. 74, No. 1 (Spring/Summer 2011): 58-68