A question for researchers with experience in the pre-Internet era

I’d like to confirm what I think is a pretty logical assumption about the driver for changes in archival practice. To do this I would like the input of people who conducted research in archives before the glorious age of the Internet. (I am thinking primarily of people conducting scholarly or subject-oriented research rather than people interested in family history and genealogy.)

  • Do you think it’s accurate to say that before the widespread use of the Internet historians and other researchers did not have an expectation that descriptions of all an archives’ holdings would be accessible via the available research tools?
  • Was there an accepted expectation that discovering collections with relevant materials might involve several stages of discovery? If so, what were those stages? Looking in printed sources (like NUCMC), asking colleagues, following references in footnotes, contacting archivists?

As is probably clear from the questions, my hypothesis is that it is the easy and seemingly all-encompassing nature of information available on the web that has driven archivists to seek to provide online access to some level of information about all the holdings in their collections. My assumption is that prior to the Internet there was no assumption that such access would be possible, and that it was expected that there would be what we now call “hidden collections” which would have to be “discovered.”  (As opposed to today when archivists believe that our users expect that some level of intellectual access will be provided online for all materials, and that our users have an expectation that one easy search tool that reveals to them all the relevant materials across archives should be possible.)

Are my assumptions about research practices in the pre-Internet age accurate? Many thanks.

NOTE: There is a different question for archivists with experience in the pre-Internet era posed in the next post.

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