Doing More With Less: Application of Soft Power Theory to Enhance Visibility and Accessibility of Public Archives in a Resource-Strained Environment

Doing More With Less: Application of Soft Power Theory to Enhance Visibility and Accessibility of Public Archives in a Resource-Strained Environment

Jonathan Mukwevho (Auditor-General South Africa, South Africa), Mpho Ngoepe (University of South Africa, South Africa) and Patrick Ngulube (University of South Africa, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7429-3.ch001

Abstract

Providing access and usage are the reason for existence of memory institutions such as archive repositories. Despite the importance of the visibility and accessibility of public archive repositories, various scholars concur that these repositories in eastern and southern Africa are not known and are accessed by few people. This chapter utilises the concept of soft power as a framework to examine the visibility and accessibility of public archives repositories in South Africa. A quantitative research approach utilising questionnaires, interviews, content analysis and the observation of landmarks were employed as data collection tools. The findings revealed that collaboration, especially with civil societies, is a key for successful public programming at the lowest cost. It concludes that the concept of soft power can provide deep insight and better understanding on how to develop inexpensive visibility programme, yet capable of attracting a large number of people in a sustainable manner.
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Introduction

The importance of promoting and maintaining the visibility and accessibility of archival holdings to the public by archives repositories, especially in the digital era cannot be overemphasised (Blais & Enns, 1991, p. 103; Maidabino, 2010, p. 1). Accessible public archives enhance an institution’s image; facilitate research and education; enhance service delivery to citizens and other stakeholders; foster accountability and transparency; as well as promote justice (Arko-Cobbah, 2008, p. 181; International Council on Archives, 2012, p. 8; Wamukoya, 2012, p. 121; Ngulube, Sibanda, & Makoni, 2013, p. 135). This will in turn help the archival institutions, as Parliament will continue to invest in archives and users will continue to recommend to other potential users (Ngoepe & Ngulube, 2011). Visibility is viewed by Treem and Leonardi (2012, p. 150) as situations, means, methods and opportunities for making new products and services known. Accessibility is the characteristic or right of citizens to easily access public archives with minimum barriers, which is the ultimate goal of any archive policy (Ketelaar, 1995, p. 456). In most instances, archival institutions are not visible and accessible due to a lack of resources.

A survey of resource allocators in the USA in 1984 concluded that archives failed to win financial support over other institutions because of a lack of visibility of the archive repositories (Goerler, 1991, p. 379). In other words, archivists must seek ways to justify and validate their existence, including expanding their customer/user base as it is no longer enough to point out the value in the safe keeping of old documents (Chute, 2000, p. 33; Mason, 2016, p. 1). For example, user groups need to know that:

  • Public archives materials have value, both to themselves and to the larger communities to which they participate and belong;

  • Archival materials are accessible and are relevant to what they do; and

  • The archive is an important resource (Chute, 2000, p. 33).

Public archives repositories, including those in East and Southern African Regional Branch of the International Council of Archives (ESARBICA), have failed to foster, among the population at large, an appreciation for the importance of archives in society and their relevance in individuals’ daily lives. Ngoepe and Ngulube (2011, p. 17), Saurombe (2016, p. 149), Venson, Ngoepe and Ngulube (2014), Archival Platform (2015), Njobvu, Hamooya and Mwila (2012), Ngulube and Tafor (2006) as well as Ngoepe and Ngulube (2014) concur that archives repositories in eastern and southern Africa are unknown to and accessed by few people. With all the different resources (for example, financial, human, information resources) that are currently available, public archives repositories should develop a programme and fight for a piece of the market by increasing their visibility as much as possible (Mason, 2016, p. 1; Saurombe, 2016, p. 126; Morgan, 2010, p. 20). This study utilised the concept of soft power as a framework with which to examine the visibility and accessibility of public archives repositories in South Africa, with the view to suggesting ways to enhance it. In this study, soft power is defined as an ability to set the agenda, persuade and bring forth positive liking in order to attain a desired outcome or change the preference of others.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Public Archives Repository: A place where documents and records of national, historical significance were acquired, organised, stored, maintained and made available for use by the public.

Public Programming: A function performed by public archives to communicate and create awareness of archives to the member of the public, educate those who fund the programme and others on how to use them through harmonisation of various activities, with the aim of developing an effective and efficient archival service.

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