More Consensus; Less Controversy

A graduate student in history from UIUC told an audience of archivists at SAA that, because she begins her research on the web, she wants to know all the collections we have, and what we archivists did to them. Historians have not abandoned material archives, rather they are instilling a critical analysis of primary sources. Attention in the archival profession seems to me to be shifting toward focus on use and research. “Let’s be honest about what people want.” A well-known author and champion of archival description remarked that “our users don’t care about our precious standards.”

The annual gathering of archivists surprised me with more consensus and less controversy. EAD finding aids are traditional; many archivists experiment with much-admired minimal processing; let’s digitize as much as possible and never mind item-level description; we want EAC to share expertise; the public and scholars may be nearly one and the same.

Both archivists and researchers value the “stuff,” and want to find out about it on the web. We and they are calling for us to provide both context and content.