Survey: Archives & preservation of social media

If you are an archivist or special collections librarian, please take a few minutes and complete this survey, which part of an academic study by a postgraduate student at the University of Dundee:   It is designed to establish to what extent literary authors use social media and have considered its long term preservation, and to what extent archivists are actively or considering preserving an author’s social media content.


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Deadline for case study proposals

As you might expect, since today was the deadline I set for case study proposals for the new books on appraisal/acquisition and instruction, proposals are coming in nicely. If you had a great idea but need just a few more days, please get in touch me and let me know to expect something from you.

Here’s a link to the post with all the information, in case you missed it the first time, or any one of the gazillion times I posted it on Twitter, listservs and Facebook.

Thanks to everyone who has submitted a proposal so far. These books are shaping up to be just as good as the first four in the series!

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Is any archives working with writers to preserve their social media content?

I’m posting this great question on behalf of Kirsty Lee, a student in the master’s program at the Centre for Archive and Information Studies at the University of Dundee.

Does anyone know of an archives, special collection department or other repository which is actively engaged with a working writer to capture and preserve his or her social media presence?

And if not an author, anyone know of any examples of archives working with individual people, rather than organizations, to proactively preserve their social media content?

Please pass this question along to your colleagues. I’m sure we’d all be interested in learning about efforts of this kind.



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The role of “the professional discipline” in archives and digital archives

Why this discussion matters: part one

Everyone knows words can be slippery things and language evolves. Words mean different things in different contexts and people adopt and adapt words to suit their own needs.  So in some ways, my ongoing effort to discuss the meaning of the word “archive(s)” seems rather like a fool’s errand. But then I see news stories like this one about the failed BBC project that cost the British public 98.4 million pounds:

 It added that confusion about the technology and problems with getting the system to work had also been to blame, including “confusion within the BBC about the use of key terms such as ‘archive database’ and ‘digital archive’.”

Last month in Toronto, I gave a talk in which I debated with myself “Everything is an Archive Now: Good Thing or Bad Thing for Archives?” My conclusion was, naturally, that it’s both. One aspect of the downside is that groups who have to work together—like archivists, scholars, and information technology professionals—often mean different things by the same word and may not know that they are talking past each other (often assuming that their meaning is the commonly understood one). I also talked about this a bit in my remarks at the AHA about the problems with historians and archivists not necessarily sharing the same vocabulary when it comes to “digital archives.” Trevor Owens will be posting an excellent piece on The Signal blog about the many meanings for different professionals and I think it will go a long way to starting a discussion about how these meanings relate to each other (UPDATE: Trevor’s post is now up.)

But I want to dig a little deeper into the “archival” meaning of “archives” and how that relates to the various ways in which we see “digital archives” used. In a follow-up post I’ll discuss some other reasons this discussion is one that I keep returning to.

What is an archive or an archives?

In the definition of “archives” in A Glossary of Archives & Records Terminology (2005), Richard Pearce-Moses noted that the word (either “archive” as a noun or “archives”) can refer to:

  • a body of materials that is being preserved
  • an organization or part of an organization
  • a physical place

It is this first sense in which I think we see the term being used in broad sense in the media and in everyday usage. Any collection of stuff that people are keeping can be an archive or an archives. Any place where such stuff is being kept may be referred to as an archives. The organization or group who brought it together and is preserving it may also be called an archives. That all seems reasonable in a broad, common sense way.

And so this extends logically to the usages of “digital archives,” which we see used to mean:

  • a body of digital materials that is being preserved
  • an organization preserving that digital material
  • the place in which the digital material is stored

One interesting twist in the broad usage of “digital archives” is that the emphasis is often not that the digital materials are being preserved, but that they have been gathered together and are being made accessible on the web. Thus, those adopting the term may be thinking more of their “digital archives” as a virtual place in which materials can be accessed or as the organization (even if only an organization of one person) responsible for gathering the materials and making them accessible. But often in “digital archives” it is digital copies of non-digital materials that are being assembled and made available in the “archives” while the original non-digital copies are being preserved (and made accessible) in a variety of physical libraries and archives and by a variety of archival organizations.

Another aspect of this usage may also be that people perceive a key aspect of archives to be selection (or curation) and therefore a group of materials that has been deliberately selected and brought together qualifies as an “archives.” In this sense, it’s really the function of the archives as an organization that selects what materials to add to its holdings that’s being invoked, although perhaps unconsciously by those creating these “digital archives.” (I included some discussion of this in my article “Archives in Context and as Context” in the Journal of Digital Humanities if you’re interested.) And, of course, there are also “digital archives” in which copies of born-digital materials are being preserved as well as being made accessible. As I noted in my AHA talk, the term is applied to a broad range of uses. And very possibly many of those using it have never actually given much thought to in what sense their collection, site or project is an archives. If the moniker seems to fit, why not use it?

But what this broad usage of the term means is that it is often difficult for a user to know whether or not a digital archives also adheres to one additional aspect of the Pearce-Moses’ definition:

  • “the professional discipline of administering such collections and organizations”

Archives and digital archives—collections, organizations, and places—that are administered in a manner that adheres to the professional discipline of archives are different than those that do not.   (For anyone who”s not familiar with the basic tenets of that professional discipline, I also gave an overview of them in the “Archives in Context and as Context article.) Note I did not say that they were better, but different.  It’s arguable whether the word “archives “ was ever commonly understood to be synonymous with a collection, organization, or place administered in adherence to the discipline of archives, and I’m sure evidence can be produced to show the word has always been used in a broader sense. However, I also feel sure that the broadening of the usage we have seen in the digital age has diminished whatever common understanding there was.

So that is the world we live in, as you all know. The world in which archives and digital archives are used to refer to virtually anything, and are sometimes used by people who believe their usage is consistent with professional practice in their field—and it may be—but that usage has nothing to do with adhering to the professional discipline of archives. This means, as I concluded in my remarks in Toronto—that archivists and all related professionals need to be very clear in our communications with each other about what we mean when we talk about “archives.” (And Trevor Owens’s post on The Signal will help facilitate that.) In my personal experience, the burden for initiating that communication falls primarily on archivists. More often than not it is the archivist who must query and probe to determine what a scholar or IT professional means by “archives,” usually in the course of a discussion about what requirements or functionalities an “archives” needs to have. Not every archives or digital archives needs to adhere to the “professional discipline” of archives, but it’s a discipline that has much to offer in this field and one which we as archivists should continue to promote actively and vocally.


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Call for papers: “Archiving Activism and Activist Archiving” in Archival Science journal

This call has been making the rounds, but it’s a great topic and am very much looking forward to seeing some thought-provoking contributions. Please share widely and considering proposing a paper if you have something to share. The deadline is May 16.

Archival Science
Call for Papers
Special Issue on ‘Archiving Activism and Activist Archiving’
Guest Editors:
Ben Alexander, Queens College, City University of New York
Andrew Flinn, University College London, University of London
Although archiving the records of political activism, particularly grassroots activism, is not a new practice, it has often been a controversial and contested process resulting in informal and autonomous activist archival endeavours as well as collections in more orthodox higher education and other local and national specialist archival repositories. In recent years the collection, preservation and the promotion of the use of activist collections for historical research and for ‘social justice’ or ‘human rights’ struggles has become increasingly prevalent in the formal archival sector as well as amongst the growing numbers of independent and autonomous archival endeavours. This explicit alignment with political activism and social justice objectives is not without its critics within the recordkeeping profession, but the archiving of activism and an activist archival approach goes beyond notions of the ‘active archivist’ and instead embraces an understanding of archival practice as (by its very nature) a form of social, cultural, and political activism. Although not necessarily synonymous, these developments come at a time when notions of a more active, collaborative and participatory archival practice are gaining currency in the professional archival world, sharing perhaps an understanding of the power of the democratisation of the production and creation of knowledge.
Accordingly, this special issue of Archival Science “Archiving Activism and Activist Archiving” will explore the varied connections between contemporary archival practice and activism in many different contexts (national, political, socio-economic, technological, autonomous and formal). This special issue will be guest edited by Ben Alexander, Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at Queens College, The City University of New and Andrew Flinn, Department of Information Studies, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University College London, Questions about the special issue can be direct to Drs. Alexander and Flinn.
Suggested topics for papers may include:
 how do mainstream archives and archivists work to preserve activist struggles of the past (such as the civil rights movement in the American South, struggles for equality and against discrimination, radical political movements of the left and right as well as across divided and antagonistic communities);
 how the constitution of archives and the active ‘use’ of the past history is considered by archival activists to be a core component of their political activities;
 how global moves to ensure preservation and use of the documentation of social and political atrocities (including genocide, human rights abuses and repressive regimes) in Truth and Reconciliation, criminal tribunals and other social justice processes has increasingly involved archivists as key active participants in on-going struggles for Human Rights and
 the impact of technology in promoting the collection, sharing and use of activist histories and for promoting a sense of a more collaborative and participatory approach to the production of ‘useful’ knowledge
 the implications of a social justice or human rights orientation to archival practice for the traditional professional adherence to political neutrality
Key Dates
Submission Deadline for completed papers: May 16, 2014
Submission instructions
Papers submitted to this special issue for possible publication must be original and must not be under consideration for publication in any other journal or conference. Previously published or accepted conference/workshop papers must contain at least 30% new material to be considered for the special issue (for workshops 50% new content is required). Submissions should be made online via the Editorial Manager System at
During submission please select article type “SI: Archiving Activism”. All manuscripts must be prepared according to the journal publication guidelines which can also be found on the website Papers will be reviewed following the journal standard peer review process (double-blind).



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Guest Post: CurateGear 2014

You never know what a tweet will lead to … one from Tanya Zanish-Belcher about her experience at CurateGear led to this great guest post by Tanya and two of her colleagues. I’m pleased to be able to share this overview with you, and I know that all three authors would love to answer any questions you may have. If you know of other resources that might be of interest to other archivists, please share them in the comments.

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Time to nominate publications & colleagues for SAA awards–Feb. 28 deadline

Everyone likes to be recognized for the work they do, and you can help your colleagues and the profession by submitting nominations for this year’s round of SAA awards. Here are just a few categories for you to consider, and you can see a full list of all the awards on the SAA site. The deadline for nominations for all awards is February 28.

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“Now is what matters”: My first official appearance as an “agent provocateur” at the Canadian Archives Summit

I was very honored to have been invited to present as one a group of “Agents Provocateurs” at the Canadian Archives Summit last week. It was an exciting line-up of speakers, as you can see from the program. My remarks, along with those of the other presenters, will be made available by the conference organizers, but I wanted to post them here as well. And I wanted to give some context for them. (I believe “context” may be my word for 2014.)

When I was invited to speak, I was assigned my topic (“The Role of Archives in a Digital Society”) and give a strict time limit of seven minutes. In coming up with my remarks I tried to write something genuinely “provocative” around that theme that could be effectively delivered in seven minutes. My task as I saw it was to give people something that would get them thinking and talking. Here’s what I said:

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Posted in Archival profession, Conferences, Electronic records, Outreach | 1 Comment

Call for proposals for case studies for next books in innovation series: instruction & appraisal and acquisition

I hope you got so excited by seeing the contents of the first four books in this series in the previous posts that you’ll want to contribute to the next two!

In 2014 I will be editing two new books of case studies for the Rowman & Littlefield series “Innovative Practices in Archives & Special Collections.” The new volumes will focus on:

– Appraisal and Acquisition

– Instruction

If you have experience with an effective or innovative approach in these areas, or if you have encountered a challenging situation that you think would be useful for other practitioners to learn from, I encourage you to submit a proposal for a case study.

The book on instruction will cover working with K-12, undergraduate and graduate students, as well as any instances of providing instruction to the general public. The book on appraisal and acquisition is intended to cover a wide range of activities related to those functions, including de-accessioning and re-appraisal. If you want to propose a case study but are not sure your experience is appropriate, please contact me and we can discuss it.

Proposals should consist of a narrative of no more than 1,000 words with the following sections:

 Introduction: describing the problem, process that needed improvement or opportunity that sparked what you’re going to talk about.

Planning and Implementation: discussion of possible approaches considered, why one was selected, and how the project or effort was implemented.

Results: how the implemented project/effort was received by archives staff, management and users and how the archives assessed the success of the project.

Lessons learned: any changes to be incorporated into your own iterations of project, observations about anything you feel was very successful or not successful.

Conclusion: any reflections on your experiences and describe any planned next steps for your organization.

Proposals are due by Friday, February 28. Decisions regarding the proposals will be made in mid-March.  If you have any questions about the specifics of the case studies or the schedule, please contact me. Proposals and questions should be sent to kate.theimer at

The scope of these two new topics should allow for varied and exciting collections highlighting the diverse range of approaches being explored in the profession today. I’m happy to answer any questions about the series, and I look forward to working with many of you on these new projects.


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Innovative Practices in Archives & Special Collections: Reference & Access – Table of Contents now available

As many of you may know, I’m editing a series of books on “Innovative Practices in Archives & Special Collections” for Rowman & Littlefield. The first four books are scheduled to be available this May, and I’m pleased to be able to share the list of case studies and contributors for the book on Reference and Access:

1) Building Bridges: Closing the Divide between Minimally Processed Collections and Researchers
Emily Christopherson and Rachael Dreyer, American Heritage Center

2) Managing Risk with a Virtual Reading Room: Two Born-Digital Projects
Michelle Light, University of California, Irvine

3) Improvements on a Shoestring: Changing Reference Systems and Processes
Jackie Couture and Deborah Whalen, Eastern Kentucky University

4) Twenty-First Century Security in a Twentieth-Century Space: Reviewing, Revising and Implementing New Security Practices in the Reading Room
Elizabeth Chase, Gabrielle M. Dudley and Sara Logue, Emory University

5) Talking in the Night: Exploring Webchats to Serve New Audiences
Gary Brannan, West Yorkshire Archive Service

6) A Small Shop Meets a Big Challenge: Finding Creative Ways to Assist the Researchers of the Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages
Leanda Gahegan and Gina Rappaport, National Anthropological Archives,
Smithsonian Institution

7) The Right Tool at the Right Time: Implementing Responsive Reproduction Policies and Procedures
Melanie Griffin and Matthew Knight, University of South Florida

8) Going Mobile: Using iPads to Improve the Reading Room Experience
Cheryl Oestreicher, Julia Stringfellow and Jim Duran, Boise State University

9) Beyond “Trial by Fire”: Towards A More Active Approach to Training New Reference Staff
Marc Brodsky, Virginia Tech

10) Access for All: Making Your Archives Website Accessible for People with Disabilities
Lisa Snider

11) No Ship of Fools: A Digital Humanities Collaboration to Enhance Access to Special Collections
Jennie Levine Knies, University of Maryland

12) Websites as a Digital Extension of Reference: Creating a Reference and IT Partnership for Web Usability Studies
Sara Snyder and Elizabeth Botten, Archives of American Art

You can access more information on this book and the others in the series and read some enthusiastic early reviews from Sharon Thibodeau and Kathy Marquis on the Rowman & Littlefield site:

Thanks to all the wonderful contributors and I’m looking forward to seeing all the books in print in May!

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