When people think of an archive, they usually conjure up an image of a dark dusty room filled with scrolls and ancient artifacts. A room that is usually guarded by someone who looks an awful lot like the Crypt Keeper. You know, a pale man with thinning hair hunched over a book written on papyrus leaves with ancient text scrolled across it. Or maybe they think of a dashing man a la Indiana Jones who travels to the ends of the earth to save precious artifacts from the hands of evil doers. Either way they picture it, people know one thing about archivists, we are the guardians of the cultural past and without us we would be a people without a documented history.
But we need them to know more about us and what the archives has to offer. We need people to know that the archives is here for them to use to find out not just where they came from but where they’re going. And the only way for them to do that is for us to increase access to the archives through the use of Web 2.0 technology.
Imagine that you are sitting at home and you decide to do some research on your alma mater, back in the day, you would actually have to visit the campus. This may not be feasible for all individuals do to finances, family circumstances or what have you. But people should be able to have access to primary documents without the restrictions of geography. Granted, viewing a document online cannot equate to actually seeing the document in person but it is better than not seeing the document at all.
For example, Duke University is making their yearbooks available online using Flickr. These are photographs that document the history of the University which would otherwise be unavailable to the general public. In being innovative in their usage of Flickr, Duke has not simply embraced their local community but they have embraced the global community and are sharing their history with all of us.
Another Web 2.0 application that can be invaluable to archivists is tagging, which would allow for the identification of previously unidentifiable materials. Previously, archivists would have to set material out and then ask people if they could identify the time, location, people etc. Now a picture can be posted on the web and, literally, within hours the photograph can be identified and annotated. This also opens up a whole new world of creating histories.
People can use tagging as an opportunity to share memories of events and people. This is especially important for archives like mine which is dependent upon the memories and memorabilia of its alumni for the creation of the university’s history.
Although I’ve only touched on two major Web 2.0 applications, I hope to cover more in the future. I also hope that as I go forward in my career, I am allowed to use some of these applications to increase access to our archives.