Hooligans in the Archives: Easing Restrictions and Partnering with the Users

Hooligans in the Archives: Easing Restrictions and Partnering with the Users

Laurie Gemmill (LYRASIS, USA) and Jane Wildermuth (Wright State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-308-9.ch018

Abstract

Archival reference has changed dramatically with the advent of the Web, which challenged archivists to rethink their role as gatekeepers of archival materials. Traditionally, archival reference tools and materials were difficult to gain access to or required meditation by archivists. Archivists moved from gatekeepers to innovators, by putting reference tools and digital surrogates of collections online. But as with any new step, there are challenges. The traditional archival tension in trying to balance access and preservation has morphed. As access has changed, preservation concerns have given way to control concerns. Archivists are now poised to take the next step by engaging the users, sharing control over collections, and potentially empowering the users to become true partners in the reference and research experience.
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Background Of Archival Reference

Prior to the Internet, archival reference was typically a one on one, personal interaction that was highly controlled. Archivists served as the gatekeepers of archival materials. While providing reference assistance to researchers, archivists knew who, when, and for what purpose materials in their repositories were being used. Those interested in collections were typically required to physically visit the repository. During a visit, access to materials was mediated by archivists through special appointments, strict security, and supervised interaction with the materials. Rules and regulations helped archivists strike a balance between preservation of and access to archival materials. It is the archivists’ duty to preserve archival materials to ensure our history can be researched and studied now as well as by future generations. The online environment has radically changed archival reference and the traditional role of archivist as gatekeeper by figuratively opening up the gates and allowing unmediated access to collections on the Web via digitization.

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