What’s the best book about archives you’ve read lately?

I asked that question on Twitter and Facebook and here are the responses:


Big Data – A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think

Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance

Extensible Processing for Archives and Special Collections: Reducing Processing Backlogs

Ephemeral Material: Queering the Archive

The Boundaries of the Literary Archive: Reclamation and and Representation

Collecting, Curating, and Researching Writers’ Libraries: A Handbook

Dust: The Archive and Cultural History 

Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India 

Big Pharma 

Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art 

Microfilm: A History, 1839-1900

Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala 

Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa 

The Newton Papers: The Strange and True Odyssey of Newton’s Manuscripts 

The Hermit of Peking: The hidden life of Sir Edmund Backhouse (“he starts Bodlian Library with counterfeit books and archives from Chinese Imperial Court…”)

Epistolophilia: Writing the Life of Ona Simaite

Basements and Attics, Closets and Cyberspace: Explorations in Canadian Women’s Archives

and of course

Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice

Any other recommendations?


New suggestions:

All this Stuff: Archiving the Artist

Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents

If you like this list, you might want to check out this older post, when we throwing out possibilities for the archivists’ book club. Lots of good ones there too.




Posted in Fun stuff | Leave a comment

Examples of archival & special collections being used for current scientific purposes?

Perhaps inspired by the fantastic session on the recent CLIR Hidden Collections Symposium featuring uses of scientists’ field books (including the Smithsonian’s Field Book Project), I’m interested in hearing about examples of archival and special collections materials being used to support current scientific research. “Current scientific research” can be framed broadly–really anything interesting that’s not history, fiction, art, etc. If you’ve got an example, even an anecdotal one, please share in a comment or send me a message, if you’d prefer. I expect the people of Twitter will be contributing as well–the Royal Bank of Scotland Archives already has:



Posted in Advocacy | 25 Comments

Opportunity to be an ambassador for archives outside the usual venues … CFP for MLA session

Here’s an opportunity to talk about archives outside the usual venues most of us attend: the Modern Language Association (MLA)’s 2016 meeting in Austin. There’s a call for papers out for this session (http://www.mla.org/cfp_detail_8175):

Archival Practices

Special Session

Roundtable bridging “the archive” as concept and the labor of archivists: arrangement and description; exclusions; institutional power; grassroots efforts; literary collections; non-paper materials; access. 300 word abstract and short bio by 15 March 2015; Anne Donlon (adonlon@emory.edu).

That’s all the info I’ve got, but if you can be in Austin January 7-10 of next year, it seems like a great opportunity to both talk about how archivists think about archives and learn more from academics about how they view “archives” as a concept. I hope some of you will follow up and consider putting in a proposal!

Many thanks to Roxanne Shirazi who shared this on Twitter.

Posted in Advocacy, Conferences | Leave a comment

What’s next? A slight hitch in the proceedings

I’m somewhat torn about writing this update, but since I advocate transparency for others, I feel as if I should follow my own advice. A while back I announced that I’d be kicking off a new project (well, actually two), but I haven’t made much progress with them. So, what’s up with that? Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

“The Hidden Curse of Automation” & archives

A friend on Facebook posted a link to this Los Angeles Review of Books article by Clive Thompson about Nicholas Carr’s book The Glass Cage: Automation and Us. The review raises many issues, but as usual I was reading it with archives in mind. Specifically, this discussion made me think about the possible problem of historians and scholars relying too heavily on keyword searching of digitized archival sources rather than pursuing more old-fashioned (and time consuming) practices. I say “possible problem” because I do not know, of course, that this is what’s being done, but I have certainly heard chatter that leads me think it’s worth considering.

This also brought to mind a long-ago tweet from Patrick Murray-John, who asked “Would archivists accept topic modelling on OCRed items as a collection level description?” As I recall my response was something like, “No. But it would be a very useful resource or accompaniment to such a description.” Just as Carr (according to Thompson) is not opposed to technology, neither am I. But I think both authors raise points that are worth injecting into our discussions with all of our users about the extent to which they use–and rely on–the time-saving features that technology supports, and what information they may be missing if they are relying on it exclusively.

Posted in Archival description & finding aids, History & related professions | 2 Comments

Gender, “making,” and archives and libraries

Recently Richard Urban shared a link to the Atlantic article “Why I Am Not A Maker.”  The  author has the perspective of an educator, but as I was reading it I could not help but think how this also applies to many archivists and librarians, many of whom also do not “make” anything. In what regard does this contribute to our fields being undervalued? The relationship of our fields to many digital humanities projects also came to mind–how often are our skills and contributions marginalized or glossed over in favor of those scholars and technologists who “made” the project? And to what extent are many of the projects we ourselves undertake done so with the very real motivation that we have to “make something” in order to prove our value and the value of our holdings?

Some interesting food for thought?

Posted in Archival profession | 7 Comments

What’s next?

I’ve been contemplating a change for quite a while now, and hinting at it for some time, but I think it’s time to put out there what I’ve got in mind for my next project. I enjoyed all the work I’ve done here on this blog, which branched out on to Twitter and speaking engagements around the world, as well as editing a whole lot of books and serving on SAA’s Council. I’ve been very successful at observing and commenting on the world of archives and I enjoyed doing it. And I don’t want to leave that role behind entirely, but I need to tackle something new.

I want to, as they say, “be the change,” so very soon I’ll be launching a new project devoted to sharing what I know about the world of archives with the general public. I don’t know how successful I’ll be at reaching beyond an audience of records professionals, but believe me, I’ll try. On Tumblr or Twitter or whatever platform(s) I end up using I’ll share stories that I think will show the public what archives are about today as well as some history of how the profession developed in the U.S. and the challenges we face.  As I write original content I’ll be learning some new things and re-learning others to try to demystify a field which can apparently be intimidating or opaque to many people. (And I’ll also be moving forward with the Helping History site I wrote about last month.)

I hope I can use the new blog as a starting point for a mass-market trade paperback, suitable for the front table of your local Barnes & Noble (and for easy download to your e-reader of choice) and the top of the New York Times bestseller list, but if not that, at least I hope I can do some good by opening up the world of archives to as many people as possible and blowing the dust off some outdated stereotypes.

In the course of working on the new project, I’m sure I’ll run across information more suitable to share here on ArchivesNext, and I also suspect I will continue to use this blog (and Twitter account) to ask questions and get feedback from my fellow professionals.  So ArchivesNext will continue on, but change is good for all of us. And I’m excited about moving from talking amongst ourselves to trying to reach out to promote archives to the world.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

For non-archivists: What aspect of archives do you wish you knew more about? What’s a mystery to you?

As noted in the previous post, I’ve got a another new project in the works, scheduled for an early 2015 launch. It will be about archives (of course) and targeted at the general public. I’m working on finalizing the scope and project goals at the moment, and I want to make sure I’m aiming for the right goals and including the right content, so last week I posted on Twitter:

Unlike the previous question (aimed at archivists) I didn’t get a lot of responses to this one, so I’m throwing it out there again. Historians, scholars, family history researchers, and all “civilians”! What do you want to know about archives? What should I make sure I cover in my new project?


Posted in Advocacy, History & related professions | 8 Comments

Archivists: What do you most wish people knew about archives?

I’ve got a another new project in the works, scheduled for an early 2015 launch. It will be about archives (of course) and targeted at the general public. I’m working on finalizing the scope and project goals at the moment, and I want to make sure I’m aiming for the right goals and including the right content, so last week I posted on Twitter:

Here are some of the responses I received:

That people know how much work “just scanning a photo” really is.

That archivists aren’t trying to hide interesting sources from researchers; that we WANT them to use the archives!

some don’t get the ‘point’ of what we’re doing, who we are serving, who has archives.

That it’s not all digitised, nor should it be.

Keen to find out about entry-level graduate jobs in archives & where to find them, as well as the transition from library work

That there’s more than meets the eye. Treat archives like an adventure. Adventures take time/effort/risk but are rewarding.

How we get our materials; that our collections grow rather than were given/purchased all at once; that we have contemp. stuff!

I find ppl are shocked when I post pics of tours I’ve been on (IE Recent tour of Hockey Hall of Fame Archives!)

that they are entitled to access the records. And frequently people don’t know how to do that. Or how to ask

That knowing the collection s/t was in doesn’t mean I can find it. Some collections are 300+ boxes! &How finding aids work.

That we can’t catalogue and/or index the contents of everything. Searching takes time and effort.

most archives are publicly owned and are a societal resource

that is pronounced Ar-kiv-ist :-) And no, putting a whole bunch of things on the web is not ‘archiving’.

I wish people knew archives are applicable to many disciplines, not just folks interested in “history.” My favorite recent illustration of this is Thomas Piketty’s use of historical financial records to in his econ book “Capital”

Would like to see archivists more involved in, benefitting from popular discussions about archive/archives [example: http://flavorwire.com/479261/david-bowie-is-the-movie-doesnt-do-david-bowie-is-the-exhibit-justice]

that we don’t just have ‘old stuff’ but are busy swiping history as its made.

that archivists don’t necessarily work in “archives” all the time-can be Inst. Repository,data curation, etc.

Also, we cannot digitise everything, digitisation is rarely preservation, digital preservation is more than storage

How do you decide which new materials to keep, and which to get rid of?


Anything to add? What do you most wish people knew about archives?


Posted in Advocacy | 11 Comments

Looking for history-related crowdsourcing projects for new site

I’m in the first stages of putting together a new site, helpinghistory.com, intended to help connect history lovers with online history-related projects in which they can participate. I’m currently looking for suggestions for projects to include on the site. Projects must have activities (such as transcribing, tagging, or adding comments) that take place entirely online. Project sites must also be available in English, although translation projects are welcome. I would prefer projects that do not draw upon specific local knowledge (such as identifying local residents), but rather ones in which people from anywhere in the world might be able to help.

I have already populated the site with many of the most prominent crowdsourcing projects, but I’m sure there are many great opportunities that should be included. If you know of one, please let me know and I’ll add it. The site is still under development, so the design is still in flux. I am hoping to give it a more formal launch in 2015.

Posted in Crowdsourcing | 1 Comment