Future of Access
Due to the costs associated with digitization, it is often only used for preservation of materials. The labour and money involved in the digitization of entire collections is often too much for an archive to manage. Though there is often little money left for digitization projects, they greatly increase the ability for people to be able to access archival collections when they are posted online. Patrons can view documents or images online without having to visit the archives, or they can search the archives holdings online. Through digitization, the archives spreads its reach to a more varied audience and does not limit itself to the confines of the building it inhabits. Though digitization is a difficult task to complete individually, I see archives collaborating more and more on digitization projects (Ritzenthaler and Vogt-O’Connor 2006). There are already partnerships being forged between organizations now, and I only see these partnerships increasing in the future so that both organizations can offer better services to their patrons as conveniently as possible.
Much of what I see in the future regarding access to archives involves the use of technology. Archives seem to lag much further behind other organizations offering access to information with regards to the adoption of new technologies. Digitization was already mentioned as a very useful tool for broadening a user’s access to archival records. In conjunction with digitization, the holdings of an archive should be available online and be able to be searched online. I think that people are more inclined to visit an archive, or any information institution, if they know that the information they need will be located there. This is why the ability to search archival holdings online is so important; not only does it improve users’ access to information, but it also increases the use of archives. Users generally prefer electronic access to information above in-house access, especially younger generations. I can see archives information being much more widely accessed, if its contents are available online. People are becoming used to having information accessible almost immediately; many will find another source for the information needed if it is not immediately available.
Another method of increasing users’ access to archival records is through the adoption of web 2.0 technologies. Perhaps, in the future to increase access and allow users to have some interactivity with the records archives will adopt these technologies. One web 2.0 technology that could be adapted for archival use is allowing users to tag documents or images in a manner similar to Flickr. This means that archives can post digital photos or documents online even if they are not fully described, and users will still have access to the records through subject tagging done by other users. Users will often describe materials at a much more detailed level; they also are looking at the materials from a user’s perspective and can provide new insights or describe materials in ways that other users may also approach the material.
To further augment a user’s ability to apply subject headings to materials, allowing them to create folders based on subjects would also be a valuable tool for the user themselves and other users. A web 2.0 technology similar to Digg would be a helpful tool for archives. A web 2.0 technology that allows users to create folders of similar items that would be searchable and accessible to all users would help them access records since they would be able to view users search results that are relevant to theirs.
The final web 2.0 technology I could see an archives using is virtual reference. This would allow users to get reference services online to help them access the records. This being said, all of the web 2.0 technologies that could be adopted by an archive are not at the stage where they could be put into effect. In order for an archive to be able to adopt any of these technologies, they must have some digitized material available online. Before an archive can adopt these web 2.0 technologies, they must first ensure that they have basic web functions available for their online users. An online, searchable catalogue is a very important first step that many archives have available. Also, digitization projects must be underway, so that there are materials online for people to apply the web 2.0 technologies to. Archives are not at the point right now where they are able to apply much of these web 2.0 technologies; however, if digitization projects begin and more materials are posted on the Internet then perhaps in the future they can be applied to archives. Many libraries are beginning to adopt these web 2.0 technologies and offering them to their students as a resource. One such library that is on the cutting edge and offering the web 2.0 technologies I have listed above is Penn State (“PennTags”). This library has actively incorporated new technologies and promoted them to help students navigate the library.
Aside from technologies that an archive can adapt, another way to provide better access to resources is by better understanding the patrons that use an archive. There has been very little research on the information seeking behaviour and information needs of users of an archive (Yakel 2000). In order to provide better service for the users of an archive, there needs to be more research done on their needs and behaviours within an archive. In the future, this may be a research project attempted by archives to better understand their patrons.