Saturday, May 30, 2009

Annotated Bibliography of Archival Description Part 3 of 6

This post is part of an annotated bibliography about archival description. Please click below to read further:

Part 1
Part 2
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Part 5
Part 6

Duff, W. M., & Harris, V. (2002). Stories and names: Archival description as narrating records and constructing meanings. Archival Science 2(3), 263-285.

Duff, Professor, Information Studies, University of Toronto, and Harris, Archivist, South African History Archive, advocate descriptive standards that allow for a plurality of representation. Archivists must relinquish their control of access to and interpretation of records through description. Although the authority of archivists remains an obstacle for implementing descriptive architectures that allow user annotation, the authors believe that the benefits of presenting a more complete historical record outweigh the costs. User-created annotations in archival description provide opportunities for the marginalized to be heard in addition to authoritative, standardized archival-provided description. Duff and Harris demonstrate the importance of balancing the integrity and authority of archivists, while allowing for alternative voices in description.

Hadley, N. (2001). Access and description of visual ephemera. Collection Management 25, 39-50.

Hadley, Senior Archivist, College of William & Mary, states that description of ephemera varies between institutions, depending on the types of access points and the levels of description required. Using examples from the Houston Metropolitan Research Center of the Houston Public Library (HMRC), she notes that description is determined by the aesthetic and artifactual aspects of the materials, as well as if the ephemera collections are provenance based, artificially created, or within larger collections. Descriptive systems should explicitly reflect the presence of ephemera, be firmly linked to other description systems in the repository, be consistent across holdings, provide the type and level of description appropriate to the nature of the materials, and anticipate their likely use.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Annotated Bibliography of Archival Description Part 2 of 6

This post is part of an annotated bibliography about archival description. Please click below to read further:

Part 1
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Part 6

Beattie, H. (2008). Where narratives meet: Archival description, provenance, and women’s diaries. Libraries & the Cultural Record 44(1), 82-100.

Beattie, Archivist in Description and Client Services, Hudson Bay Company Archives, discusses how archivists can improve description of personal papers and diaries by expanding provenance to include the writer’s motivation, intended audience, custodial history, and the archivist’s representation. Although archivists tend to remain neutral custodians of the historical record, Beattie urges using description methods and aspects of provenance taken from the humanities, which offer richer portrayals of diaries—women’s diaries, in particular. Deeper contextual information, rather than literary, overly subjective interpretations and descriptions, will assist users to better understand these intimate records. Beattie illustrates her points with passages from three women’s diaries at the Hudson Bay Company Archives and the Archives of Manitoba.

Chaudron, G. (2008). The potential of “function” as an archival descriptor. Journal of Archival Organization 6(4), 269-287.

Chaudron, Assistant Professor, Manuscripts, Mississippi State University, notes that while functional analysis has been used for appraisal methods, such as documentation strategy, the Minnesota Method, and macroappraisal, it can also be used for description. Influenced by records management practices, functional analysis allows archivists to examine the structures, processes, and activities of the organization beyond record creation, providing users with a broader view of how records reflected, and were part of, the functions of the organization. However, function cannot be applied as the principal descriptor for all records; while it works for institutional records, it has limited use with manuscripts. When used with traditional descriptive methods, however, functional descriptors can enhance information quality and access.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Review of Information History—An Introduction: Exploring an Emergent Field

Information History—An Introduction: Exploring an Emergent Field

My review of Information History—An Introduction: Exploring an Emergent Field by Toni Weller. (Oxford: Chandos, 2008).
Published in Journal of Documentation, 65(5), 2009.

Information History—An Introduction: Exploring an Emergent Field investigates how the values of our contemporary information society have guided scholars to examine our data sensemaking throughout history. Emergent is a key word, as the field has only begun to formulate itself. Author Toni Weller, associate lecturer and honorary fellow at City University, London, creates a historiography, exploring how different schools of thought have investigated the social, technological, economic, and cultural constructs of information. Using an interdisciplinary approach of historical and information science research, the book is aimed at undergraduates, graduate students, and professionals in History and Information Science.

The first chapter introduces the concept of information history, tracing its development and the current dominance of British, Nordic, and North American scholarship. Weller writes, “Information history is the study of information in past societies—how it was understood, used, organised, managed, collected, censored, feared, revered, published, disseminated, presented, displayed ... [It is] strongly related to the disciplines of library and information science, which emphasise the role of information in contemporary society and from which the first movements of the field of information history emerged” (4). Although a fledgling field, information history has validity as an area of study.

Information professionals will be interested in reading about the significance of information history in their vocations in the second chapter. Weller writes, “Although information history is academically attractive as a field of historical, sociological or philosophical enquiry, it must also be shown to be relevant to students and funding bodies in a climate that often emphasises and values the skills and ‘usefulness’ of degree content” (50). Universities must respond to the marketplace by teaching “economically valuable skills,” as the Leitch Review of Skills (2006), a study of the UK’s optimal skills mix for 2020, recommended (30). These competencies include retrieving and filtering information, judging provenance, organizing and analyzing content, and evaluating information design and presentation. She writes, “Not only could the profession itself, and those working within it, benefit from having a more holistic sense of its own development and history, but also such an understanding could affect in a very real and positive sense the way in which information professions contribute to the debate and policy of the contemporary world of information” (47-8).

Key schools of thought in current scholarship are discussed in the third chapter, the highlight of the book. Library and book history, one of the oldest academic traditions of the five discussed, is the area where the first movements of information history materialized. Information systems and infrastructure history has an overly technological interest in history. Much has been written about the cultural impact of the telegraph, what science and technology journalist Tom Standage termed the “Victorian Internet.” Some scholars believe information systems appeared as recently as the 1990s with the popularization of the Internet. Others, such as Daniel Headrick, Professor Emeritus of Social Science and History, Roosevelt University, Illinois, argue that it emerged in the Age of Reason with the communication, display, and storage of information through maps, dictionaries, and graphs. History of the information discipline is the practical history of how information is used, understood, and developed in social and professional capacities, as the disciplines matured and created bodies of professional literature. It explores the work of those in libraries, museums, and archives, with growing interest in female information pioneers. Social and cultural explorations of information considers how information affects and is affected by human society and culture. Weller notes, “While exploring the infrastructures of information and the history of information technologies and disciplines is important and necessary, we must not become blinded by technology and forget that these aspects of information are all essentially part of humanity and its development” (73). The origins of information society concentrates on fundamental characteristics of the modern information society, with specific focus on its economic origins. For example, in 1870, English, French, and German news agencies Reuters, Havas, and Wolff agreed to pay today’s equivalent of £15,000 pounds per month for telegraphed information—an astonishing amount that points to information’s value.

The fourth chapter reviews the practice of information history. Essential questions to shape study are “How can we look for information in the past?” and “How do we avoid imposing modern understandings of information on past societies?” Since information history allows interdisciplinary approaches, professors can adapt its study to their expertise. The field will mature through teaching, and Weller offers several exercises for class discussion.

The final chapter forecasts the next ten years of scholarship, understanding that only in the last decade of the 20th century did information history begin to be theorized and conceptualized. The future will see more scholarship on information history from regions beyond the Western world. Assisting the next generation of information discourse, new topics of study, and issues of the information age that have not yet surfaced will also be studied.

Information History—An Introduction: Exploring an Emergent Field
is an accessible overview of information history. The book is an amuse-bouche; it provides just enough satisfaction, but leaves the readers craving more. Scholars will be interested in exploring the references section, which includes many contributions from Alistair Black, Professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois, formerly of Leeds Metropolitan University, a vocal advocate of information history as a theorized field of study. It is surprising that the field has only recently developed, and this book is the first solely dedicated to its historiography. Here’s hoping for many more.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Annotated Bibliography of Archival Description Part 1 of 6

This post is part of an annotated bibliography about archival description. Please click below to read further:

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

“Description…captures and communicates knowledge about the broad administrative and documentary contexts of records creation within an organization as a whole as one moves further away from the original circumstances of creation. Its purpose is to preserve, perpetuate, and authenticate meaning over time so that it is available and comprehensible to all users—present and potential” (MacNeil 1995, 22).

Principles of original order and provenance aim to achieve the objectives of archival arrangement and description, which preserve the context of the archives and safeguard their evidential value and historical authenticity. Most archivists agree that descriptions of collections are often inadequate to capture the complexity of the records. Both an expanded understanding of the provenance and function of records and an acknowledgment that archivists are co-creators of the records could greatly enhance current description practices.

The articles discuss the universal theoretical underpinnings of description, rather than specific descriptive standards. Representing current scholarship in the field, the articles were written in the 1990s and 2000s, with a majority published in the last few years. Articles, rather than monographs or websites, were chosen for their timeliness and their international perspective on description.

The following countries’ perspectives on description were represented by the selected journals: Australia (Archives and Manuscripts), Canada (Archivaria), the United Kingdom and Ireland (Journal of the Society of Archivists), and the United States (American Archivist, Collection Management, and Libraries & the Cultural Record). Archival Science and Journal of Archival Organization are considered international journals by their editorial boards.

Descriptive systems for institutional records, digital records, personal papers, diaries, and ephemera are discussed. The intended audience is archivists at all experience levels, as the articles discuss theoretical approaches that may influence current practices at archival institutions. Archivists informed with current research can create descriptive systems with expended contextual information to assist users to better understand and interpret records.