One of the takeaways I got from the recent SAA meeting in Chicago was the value and importance of “Participatory Archives.” I was fortunate to have the opportunity to hear Kate Theimer (of ArchivesNext) talk about Exploring the Participatory Archives. Kate was kind enough to post her slides and comments on her blog (http://www.archivesnext.com/?p=2319). Beyond making the obvious point that we need more participation, I was intrigued by her idea of the difference between participation and engagement.
In Kate’s definition, a participatory archives is one where “people other than the archives professionals contribute knowledge or resources resulting in increased understanding about archival materials, usually in an online environment.” I really like this idea and would expand upon it to say that I think participatory archives is the only way we will be able to continue to provide the kind of artisanal description of highly granular pieces of our collections.
It ties into another theme of the conference that I mentioned in my last post, mass digitization and metadata creation. Can we move toward getting lots of stuff out there and rely on the wisdom of the participants to add additional value? This question has really been answered in the affirmative already. I think the next question is “how do we make this available in ways that make it possible to people to effectively participate?”
Participatory archives assumes access to collection material, but at what level can we make this available and useful for participatory archives? Most participatory projects begin with essentially item-level access to digital content. Yet mass-digitization/rapid capture projects often look to folder level, or larger groupings.
Is there a common ground for these two trends that makes them mutually supportive rather than mutually exclusive?