“Accessing Archival Information in the 2.0 Digital Age”
The title they gave to the presentation was “Collective Collection: discovery and delivery in a collaborative context.”
Brian Bell, Loren Fantin speaking on the services Alouette Canada and OurOntario.ca.
These systems they refer to as discovery systems, useful primarily to help the end user discover new materials through browsing and casual searching, rather than being dedicated to the purposes of archivists themselves or experienced researchers.
They spoke on:
~ A shift of environment or context between 1998 and today, resulting in a much more digital world. These systems are a response to the new environment.
~ Referred to the sector as GLAM, or Galleries-Libraries-Archives-Museums. (I think I like “GLAM”; hope it sticks.)
~ As the networked environment becomes much more important, the “user” becomes a combination of “consumer” and “creator.”
~ Able to use new digital technologies to study the way searches are performed and the success of their results, which allows for the continual improvement of the way searching is done.
~ The definition they give of the ubiquitous “2.0″ is a combination of content creation, interaction, and assembly and sharing of content. The thing is not about the tools, and it’s not about the content: it’s about the act of collaboration and the result for the end user.
~ As previously separate institutions are brought together as one sector, the challenge becomes finding a way to bring together many different types of data. Thus, they refer to the systems discussed as being in “perpetual beta.”
~ “Discovery is global” — they want to move towards more global search capabilities, more akin to Google than to searching a single institution’s catalogue.
~ “Power of the network” — the more information that you have, the more can be done with it — able to use observations of prior users to assist newer users.
~ “Endless sharing” — the data is out there and can be used in many ways. “The power of the network will take over.” It is important to not just store information about collections on one’s own website, but also share it widely enough with other groups so that it is discoverable. From this stems the huge importance of standards.
~ A community may have more knowledge, collectively, than the institution. There should be a way to access this body of knowledge.
~ The software and metadata of these two systems are standardized. OurOntario is a subset of Alouette Canada, containing those records that are from Ontario or about Ontario. (This is superior to having the larger portal built up of smaller, regional portals — which would restrict the Ontario subset to institutions contributing to it directly–probably institutions from Ontario only.)
~ There already exist many excellent digital collections — the need is to enable discovery of those collections.
~ The national portal (Alouette) is not a replacement for strong provincial, local, or sectoral portals; it builds upon and depends upon their work. The large network improves sustainability of the project.
~ The attitudes of researchers are changing: they are beginning to expect that all material will be available digitally. This means that organizations that fund digital programs expect that there will be successful networks between projects.
~ Now a need to deal with user-created metadata, as well as that provided by the creator or archivist. There exists a large amount of information about digital objects that is not stored in the system.
~ These systems have a function that allow the archivist to ask questions about the digital object provided, in order to solicit particular community contributions. So far, this has worked fairly well.
~ Presented the notion of the archivist as a custodian, where the true story of the document belongs to its users.
~ A significant challenge is how to present the finding aid. New ways of doing so would be welcomed.
~ Users do not care much about the differences between libraries, archives, and other institutions. It is best to reduce the appearance of silos, of differences — to the end users, at least. Interfaces integrating data from multiple institutions should not go to effort to distinguish between types of institutions.
~ Very emphatic that they were not repackaging institutions’ content — that local brands are maintained. The portal points to existing sites.
~ Includes use of Google Maps to site geographic metadata — users can see and work with locations of photographs.
~ “At the heart of digitization lies collection management.” The digital collection/exhibit is (perhaps?) just another way of dealing with existing collections.
(At this point, I was not keeping a record of who was asking and answering each question.)
~ How to help people understand that digital content is only a small portion of available content? –> Provide a blend between finding aids for digital and non-digital collections –> catalogues and finding aids should be digitized –> design towards a goal of “someday it will all be digitized”
~ How to simplify ordering of prints of photos? –> not solved yet –> Picture Australia currently working with Flickr
~ Sustainability is a problem: how to keep all this from disappearing? –> multiple copies, multiple hosting of metadata
~ Dealing with variety of standards? –> try to be un-dogmatic about the types of standards they accept –> handle a variety of formats –> working towards a METS solution –> each sector will standardize at lower levels –> though yes, standards are very very important.
As much as I love “2.0″, I’m also always skeptical about it — particularly how long these systems are expected to last. Sustainability is a real problem, exacerbated by rapid change: while something like this is really neat, it’s hard to tell if it’ll still seem as useful or important in five years.
I do agree with the basic premise that the user interface is hugely important. The more it looks like Google, the more people will come back to it: the ability to “search everything at once” is that important.
To be perfectly honest, I haven’t spent any time actually using Alouette or any of its subsets. Everything in this post is based on the presentation alone. This is certainly a topic I’d like to return to at a later date.