Revisiting Archive Collections and the chimera of definitive description

Newman, Jon (2009) Revisiting Archive Collections and the chimera of definitive description. In: Archives 2.0: Shifting Dialogues between Users and Archivists, 2009-03-19, Manchester.

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Recent postmodernist theory has questioned previously secure assumptions about the archivist's ability to provide single, neutral yet authoritative narratives in authoring archival descriptions and of the value of such narratives. New theoretical approaches have explored conceptualisations such as 'Participatory Archiving' and 'Liberatory Descriptive Standards' which suggest that "we who are on the inside of the information structures must create holes... that allow in the voices of our users. We need descriptive architectures that allow our users to speak to and in them."(Duff and Harris, 2002) Yet to date little of this theory has engaged with archive practice. This paper moves beyond Geoffrey Yeo's overview of new currents in archival thought, to explore the particular cultural contexts that have given such prominence to calls for incorporation of user generated content within archival description. These include the current social agendas around inclusion, access and multiculturalism as well as strands in postmodernist thinking. It also considers specific Web 2.0 developments in technology that both facilitate and drive collaborative knowledge sharing - a sharing which also implicitly questions the value and ability of the single, generalist archivist when confronted with the growing diversity and complexity of, particularly cultural, collections. Finally and specifically it considers the 'Revisiting Archive Collections' [RAC] methodology that has emerged in part as a response to these broader cultural imperatives, and which provides a practical approach to exploring and incorporating the demands for multi-voiced and democratic narratives. The author was one of the team who developed RAC by working with six UK record offices to trial approaches to collecting data from different community groups which were asked to comment on the content and add to the descriptions of selected record collections. This data was then tested to establish the most effective ways of incorporating this user comment into the existing ISAD(G)-compliant archive descriptions. There are many issues that still need refining: methods of identifying and reaching potential contributors; the relationships between user contributions and institutionally-authored descriptions; and challenges relating to the ownership, reliability, and traceability of user contributions. Nevertheless, opening up descriptions to user input through RAC can create the 'hole' that Duff and Harris call for through which the voices of the disempowered, marginalised or excluded can be head: voices that can supply additional perspectives and expertise and differing opinions, and which suggest that final or 'definitive' descriptions are never possible. Descriptions are, or should be, 'always beta', always responsive to new understandings and further development.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: ArcQual
Subjects: 3. Data Quality and Data Management > 3.1 Data Management
3. Data Quality and Data Management > 3.1 Data Management > 3.1.1 Data archiving
Depositing User: NCRM users
Date Deposited: 22 Nov 2022 22:11
Last Modified: 16 Jan 2023 12:30

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