Reading Archives

With this blog, I am planning to offer, as regularly as possible, critical observations on the scholarly and popular literature analyzing the nature of archives or contributing to our understanding of archives in society. I hope this blog will be of assistance to anyone, especially faculty and graduate students, interested in understanding archives and their importance to society.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Outside Looking In

A colleague, Eric Ketelaar, sent out copies of Heejung Kim and Jae Yun Lee, “Exploring the Emerging Intellectual Structure of Archival Studies Using Text Mining: 2001-2004,” Journal of Information Science 34, no. 3 (2008): 356-369. Here is the abstract of the study: “Archival science, like other disciplines, is evolving into more specific interdisciplinary subfields. To determine this intellectual structure of archival science, the text mining method was used. The data were 432 articles from 2001 to 2004, and we produced 43 clusters of documents using the within-group average method in SPSS. Then we generated pathfinder networks of 43 clusters and grouped them into seven subject categories: digital libraries and digital archiving technologies, online resources and finding aids, archives and archivists, legal and political issues, electronic records and technical issues, records and information management, and e-mail and information professionals. Finally, these seven subject categories were merged into three sectors: digital library, archives and RIM (Business). This study describes dynamic change in the
2001–4 research themes from traditional single-subject areas to emerging, complex subject areas. These results also show that research areas in archival sciences have much growth potential and will continue to expand.”

The Kim and Lee essay is a harbinger of things to come, and it is a useful external perspective on what the archival field looks like to others. We have much to learn about such perspectives, but we also have to be cautious. Let me provide some examples why we need to be careful with how we use such studies.

“Research themes in archival studies, a sub-section of archival science, have diversified to include neighboring subject areas.” I have NEVER seen a clear definition of archival studies or archival science or an analysis of this form of relationship between the two. In fact, many from within the field use these phrases loosely or prefer one over another; I prefer archival studies because it provides a wider net for catching all relating to the archival process and mission. Or, perhaps more importantly, I know there is no consensus about this, at least in North America.

Information Management Journal and Ariadne are scholarly journals with specific scholarly foci and international journals produced by members of professional archival associations in North America. Therefore, one might reasonably expect them to have a more diverse, practice-oriented content contributed more heavily by their regional or national membership.” Information Management Journal is not a scholarly journal; it is more like a trade journal. There was a brief moment when there was an effort to transform it into a research-based publication, but it was abandoned very quickly, based on a lot of resistance from the membership of the Association of Records Managers and Administrators. This is not to argue that IMJ is a poor publication (it provides a lot of useful essays and news of value to practitioner and educator alike), but it is to suggest that it is not an outlook to go looking for research about records and information management.

My point is that these are some basic, critical issues – definitional, conceptual, and pragmatic. If they are handled incorrectly, how can we be confident that the analysis such as done here is relevant or reliable? For example, for the purpose of analyzing the intellectual foundation of the archival field, I would not include IMJ. Furthermore, there is a huge disparity in purpose between Archivaria and Archival Issues, and it is really unclear if these researchers understand enough of the subtleties in the discipline to sort all this out. Perhaps, some stronger collaboration between individuals knowledgeable about the field and such external researchers might help. However, this essay is an interesting effort to visualize the intellectual dimensions of archival work and the knowledge supporting it.