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.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Convergence Dreams

Convergence, driven by new information technologies, was a major topic a dozen or so years ago, and then it disappeared. It is re-emerging as the technologies mature and new opportunities present themselves. Diane M. Zorich, Günter Waibel and Ricky Erway, Beyond the Silos of the LAMs: Collaboration Among Libraries, Archives and Museums (Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc., 2008) provides a window into how convergence is being discussed again. This is a report on efforts begun by RLG Programs “to explore the nature of library, archive and museum (LAM) collaborations, to help LAMs collaborate on common services and thus yield greater productivity within their institutions, and to assist them in creating research environments better aligned with user expectations—or, to reference this report’s title, to move beyond the often-mentioned silos of LAM resources which divide content into piecemeal offerings” (p. 8).

The report builds on the experiences of five RLG Programs partner sites were selected to participate in the workshops: the University of Edinburgh, Princeton University, the Smithsonian Institution, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Yale University. It carefully considers how collaboration happens, from initial contact to cooperative activities to coordinated ventures. Collaboration, a “process of shared creation,” is the next stage until convergence occurs, a “state in which collaboration around a specific function or idea has become so extensive, engrained and assumed that it is no longer recognized by others as a collaborative undertaking. Instead, it has matured to the level of infrastructure and becomes, like our water or transportation networks, a critical system that we rely upon without considering the collaborative efforts and compromises that made it possible.” In other words, the report provides a nice model for considering how collaboration and convergence across these disciplines can occur.

The report also reveals where there are particular promises in the Digital Era for such convergence. Here is one example: “The ubiquity of online access inspires a vision of a single search across all collections, without regard for where the assets are housed or what institutional unit oversees them” (p. 13). Here is another: “Users add their knowledge to information resources through mechanisms such as social tagging or community annotation” (p. 14).

Interesting report.