Thursday, July 30, 2009

Is Appraisal a Science? Part 1 of 2

Ham (1984) discusses problems with the age of abundance when administrating modern records, such as bulk, redundancy, and impermanence. The growing preservation demands of modern records coupled with the sacrifices made by pursuing less effective alternatives, Ham argues convincingly, require archivists to ensure optimal use is made of scarce resources through effective planning and evaluation of archival options. Ham cites six important elements in archival collections management—interinstitutional cooperation, documented application of appraisal procedures, de-accessioning, pre-archival control, record-volume reduction, and analysis and planning—which he maintains, while by no means all-inclusive, will, if applied judiciously, rationalize and streamline archival acquisition and appraisal. He states that archivists need to create practices that work for their repositories, rather than following past practices blindly.

Craig (2004) agrees with site-specific practices, as she discusses the history and uses of macro-appraisal, documentation strategy, and the Minnesota method. She compares the three types of appraisal and seeks common elements between strategies. She also stresses the need to create appraisal policies by committees, so that holdings cannot be skewed by an individual’s viewpoint.

Duranti (1994) offers a theoretical approach to appraisal, rather than methodological or practical one. She asks, “Should appraisal be made an integral and necessary component of archival science and, as such determine a revision of all its accepted methods and practices?” (330). She examines concepts of perpetual memory and public faith, ideas that originated from Roman law, and states that archivists are mediators between creators and users. Duranti follows the tradition set down by Jenkinson: the archivists’ primary duty is to preserve the evidentiary nature of the archives, known as the “moral defense of the archives” (337). Archivists would betray their primary responsibility “if [they] did not try to preserve the societal archive in its integrity, with its characteristics intact, and do so impartially…and as objectively as…possible” (343). For Duranti, archivists are not documenters, interpreters, or judges of societal deeds because they have “a responsibility to future generations of letting them…judge…society on the basis of the documents it produced” (343).

Monday, July 20, 2009

Does Archival Selection Shape History? Part 2 of 2

Kaplan (2000) examines the role of archives and archivists with identity, because archivists preserve “the props with which notions of identity are built. In turn, notions of identity are confirmed and justified as historical documents validate their authority” (126). She traces the roots of the American Jewish Historical Society, founded by a diverse group of American Jews, with a common purpose to collect records to show their patriotism and value to American society. We are lucky enough to have the stenographic record of their founding meeting. Kaplan writes, “The archival record doesn’t just happen; it is created by individuals and organizations, and used, in turn to support their values and missions, all of which comprises a process that is certainly not politically and culturally neutral” (147).

Sauer (2001) reports on a survey of 80 manuscript repositories to see if they have collection development policies or cooperative collecting activities. She wanted to demonstrate the benefits of using both and to discover why some repositories did neither. She writes, “Although based on a small sample, the survey results clearly demonstrate the usefulness of written collection development policies (especially in dealing with one of the most unpredictable and untamable forces in archival collecting—donors), while engaging in cooperative collecting understandings was shown to increase the degree to which referrals for collections are made to, or received from, other repositories” (331).

Although the phrase “collection development” (and perhaps some of the theory) originated from libraries, the concept is important for archives because it guides acquisitions and the scope of the collections.

I admired how Phillips applied collection development concepts from library science to the archives, especially examining the present strengths of the collection, present collecting level, present identified weaknesses, and desired level of collecting to meet program needs.

Works Cited

Endelman, J. E. (1987). Looking backward to plan for the future: Collection analysis for the manuscript repositories. American Archivist. 50, 340-355.

Kaplan, E. (2000). We are what we collect, we collect what we are: Archives and the construction of identity. American Archivist. 65, 126-151.

Phillips, F. (1984). Developing collecting policies for manuscript collections. American Archivist. 47, 30-41.

Sauer, C. K. (2001). Doing the best we can?: The use of collection development policies and cooperative collecting activities at manuscript repositories. American Archivist. 64, 308-349.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Review of Digital Consumers: Reshaping the Information Professions

Digital Consumers: Reshaping the Information Professions

My review of Digital Consumers: Reshaping the Information Professions. Edited by David Nicholas and Ian Rowlands (London: Facet, 2008).
Published in New Library World, 110(3/4) 2009.

In Digital Consumers: Reshaping the Information Professions, editors David Nicholas and Ian Rowlands, both from the School of Library, Archive, and Information Studies, University College London, create a manifesto for survival in a “ubiquitous information environment, where information professionals and knowledge providers are no longer the dominant players nor, indeed, the supplier of first choice” (5). An international group of contributors discusses how the Internet’s massive information access has affected information professionals and how they must respond to remain viable. Topics include digital consumers in the information marketplace, libraries in the digital age, information consumption trends, and the psychology and behaviors of digital consumers with a special emphasis on Generation Y.

The authors consist of members of the Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research (CIBER), University College London, including Maggie Fieldhouse, Paul Huntington, and Peter Williams, and their associates: Tom Dobrowolski of Warsaw University, Hamid R. Jamali of Tarbiat Moallem University in Tehran, Iran, and Richard Withey, former global director of interactive media for Independent News and Media.

The editors specifically employ the term “digital consumers” because all information users “…are fundamentally consumers, and learn their habits in the wider marketplace—a whole new level of expectation is being established through instant access, downloadability, the ability to time-shift consumption and involvement in the creative process” (30). Online shopping has so significantly affected how information is utilized that consumers have started to demand that information be presented similarly to online stores. Given the phenomenal success of Amazon, why don’t more library catalogs look and perform like the online giant?

In the introductory chapter, Dobrowolski, Nicholas, Rowlands, and Withey write, “Because the internet is an encyclopedic, multi-purpose platform that people use, rather like a superstore, to obtain a whole range of things…it is now almost impossible to say what information is and what it is not, what is information seeking and what is not” (1). The boundaries between information professionals are also becoming less defined, and traditional gatekeepers of information are no longer needed as digital consumers undertake information-seeking work themselves. The essayists warn, “Disintermediation has triggered an information-seeking frenzy on a truly massive scale” (5). The absence of information professionals to vet sources along with a lack of information literacy skills creates an environment of information overload.

In “The ‘Google Generation’—Myths and Realities About Young People’s Digital Information Behaviour,” Fieldhouse, Rowlands, and Williams cite that increased technology has not improved information retrieval or evaluation skills. The authors find that young people are not more digitally savvy than older people. Information literacy throughout school may relieve this problem, but for many consumers, “convenience and user satisfaction will triumph, even over content, any day of the week” (214). Consumers will satisfice, a portmanteau of “satisfy” and “suffice,” rather than search for an optimal solution. The authors add, “What we know currently about the information-seeking behaviour of today’s young people and how their practices may impact on the role of information providers and the delivery mechanisms they put in place” (159).

A pivotal chapter, “The Information-Seeking Behaviour of the Digital Consumer: Case Study—the Virtual Scholar” by Dobrowolski, Huntington, Jamali, and Nicholas, is based on the 2001-2008 Virtual Scholar research program conducted by University College London’s CIBER group. Based upon eight years of deep log analysis techniques, the researchers gauged user satisfaction and information-seeking outcomes. The team analyzed the number of page views, downloads, journals used, repeat visits, and sessions of research; time spent viewing a page and in a session; content and format type; site penetration; and searching style. The study focused on “emergent, strategic digital information communities” and found that digital scholars act more like online shoppers and characterized their information seeking activities as “frenetic, promiscuous, volatile, and viewing in nature” (114). They found that users tend to enter search terms into Google, jump around a variety of sites, scan content and abstract pages, and leave. This contrasts established literature on information seeking. For instance, the study showed “bouncing,” a form of behavior where users view only one or two pages of a site, never to return again, which may be the result of poor information literary skills and lazy searching by users and poor content and design from content providers. As content choice and routes for finding content increase, bouncing will increase as well.

Digital Consumers: Reshaping the Information Professions provokes information professionals, especially librarians, to change their mindset regarding new information-seeking behaviors. The last chapter ends with the stimulating statement: “…never forget that [digital consumers] have choice, remember that we are all part of a much bigger information universe now…the information community must stop thinking that it knows best, otherwise it will be in danger of becoming irrelevant. The consumer knows best” (216). Knowledge workers should respond to this book as a call to action if they want to stay germane and adapt to the evolving digital environment of information production, categorization, management, distribution, and consumption.

Does Archival Selection Shape History? Part 1 of 2

Collection development and accessioning interests me because it is the starting point of all archival collections. I was also surprised that many institutions do not have collection policies, as noted in Sauer (2001), even though they could create drafts of their broad scope.

Sauer (2001) notes eloquently, “Written collection development policies are advocated as a way to ensure that collections have coherent and well-defined focus, while cooperative collecting practices are seen as a way to ensure that related materials are not scattered among far-flung repositories and that repositories’ scarce resources are not needlessly squandered on unnecessary competitiveness for collections” (308).

The archival profession has advanced enough that archivists have transitioned from collecting everything to choosing what to collect, given the abundance of 20th century materials. Archival selection shapes history because diplomatic choices must be made to represent the historical record.

Phillips (1984) notes collection policies seek to “eliminate future problems, lessen competition, and provide an avenue for deaccessioning,” and edits the ALA’s “Guidelines for the Formulation of Collection Development Policies” to use with manuscript collections (30). Phillips (1984) remarks that an archives acts unethically when the collecting policy is so vast that papers cannot be processed in a timely manner, effectively blocking them from research.

Endelman (1987) writes, “Use of the collection analysis methodology takes archivists away from their traditional role as custodians of the past and moves them toward a more active one as shapers of the historical record” (353). She reflects on collection analysis at Minnesota Historical Society, Sate Historical Society of Wisconsin, and Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. The studies revealed that even when archivists believed subjects were adequately covered, they were not. She mentions SAMDOK, a contemporary documentation program that led to a coordinated effort of all Swedish history museums to collect material representing the full spectrum of their national identity, which could be replicated in regional repositories in the United States.