Debate: “Although digitization is useful for accessibility, detailed online item-level cataloguing is even more so”

I remember seeing that tweet from the “‘Democratising or Privileging: the Future of Access to Archives” conference at University of Dundee last week and thinking that many in the U.S. might find it a controversial statement. I was reminded of it  this morning when Jane Stevenson retweeted it and linked to Amanda Hill’s blog post summarizing the conference sessions. To put the claim in context, here is Amanda’s summary:

Chris Paton is a professional genealogist and his pleas to archivists included a request for free wi-fi in archives, permission to take digital photos, longer opening hours and simpler user registration and photocopying policies. He also thought it was important for archives to make use of social media tools like Facebook and Twitter. Both Chris and Alan emphasized that although digitization is useful for accessibility, detailed online item-level cataloguing is even more so, especially in a time of financial constraints for researchers (and everyone else!), although they both recognized that this is much harder to get funding for than ‘sexy’ digital imaging projects.

As you can see this claim is being made from the perspective of an archives user. So I put the question to you, archivists, historians, researchers and users of archives: do you agree or not? Which is more important? I expect many of you will say that both are equally important, because of course, most people want it all. But most archives can’t afford to invest in everything so, for the purposes of this debate, which is more important, digitizing materials or providing item-level cataloging?

(And if there’s some nuance to this that we’re missing on this side of the Atlantic, please enlighten us.)


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