This is the second of a two-part blog post describing how the right archiving software can address H. Thomas Hickerson’s Ten Challenges for the Archival Profession. In Part 1, we covered the first five challenges, on topics such as accommodating documents generated in electronic form, supporting global access, and making holdings more accessible while expanding the audience. Read on for more archiving challenges and technological solutions.
Recent technological developments have made it possible for archives with modest budgets to acquire state-of-the-art archiving software. The most important capability of these next-generation systems is the ability for archivists to adapt their systems to fit unique requirements as easily as modifying an Excel spreadsheet. This unprecedented agility empowers archivists to tackle a broad range of challenges without incurring extra costs or waiting for custom programming. Let’s continue our look at Mr. Hickerson’s challenges with numbers 6-10 and see how advances in technology can help respond to them.
6) Expand the scope of Collection Development priorities
Mr. Hickerson asserts, "We should always be striving to document the under-documented. The spectrum of human experience and human interest is always expanding..." This can present technical challenges for archivists using software not easily adaptable for new collection areas and new record types. Next-generation archival solutions, however, can be configured “on the fly"—even by nontechnical staff. New classes of records and new metadata field descriptors can be quickly and easily created, without additional expense or lengthy development efforts.
7) Generating more basic and applied research
Per Mr. Hickerson, archival priorities associated with such issues as "…security, privacy, authentication, authenticity, distributed networks" and more, need to be investigated and addressed. A key component of both basic and applied research is the concept of modelling or prototyping problems and solutions. Archivists equipped with agile technology providing the functional capabilities to address this challenge are in a position to not only theorize, but also test, new approaches to these problems.
8) Strengthening the SAA (Society of American Archivists)
"A growing, dynamic, diverse, and dedicated membership is fundamental to the SAA’s strength. We need more members," states Mr. Hickerson. One way to grow the SAA is to increase the visibility of its members’ work. Modern archiving systems dramatically increase the visibility and accessibility of content—and therefore increase the potential for people to enter the profession. If the work of archivists is easily accessible via the Internet, discoverable on Google, and shared via social media, the public will be more appreciative of the archivists’ mission to illuminate the past and preserve it for the future.
9) Bringing diversity to the archival endeavor
The right archiving technology functions as an enabler. It empowers not only archivists, but everyone associated with the archival experience. The ability to tailor the look, content, workflow and controls provides the opportunity for a broad range of skills, knowledge and resources to be incorporated in the archival process. Conversely, the wrong technology is often a blocking factor that results in long delays and frustration, when people are thwarted by the tools intended to support their core mission.
10) Maintaining the credibility of the archivist’s role
In today’s world, credibility requires visibility. To be perceived as a trusted agent of society who is acting on everyone’s behalf, the work of archivists must be seen, easily accessible, and address an ever increasing range of objects and artifacts, taking many forms and used for many purposes. In choosing archival technology that directly supports the capture of all information—which can be easily accessed by all people—archivists, without question, have fulfilled their societal commitments and honored their profession.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these posts; please watch for others in our occasional series on the powerful meeting of technology and the archival profession.