Monday, 14 September 2009

They're my archives!

A number of papers at the recent Society of Archivists conference referred to the functionality of Web 2.0 in providing new ways of access to archival collections. There are many blogs actively discussing this including Archives 2.0 and ArchivesNext as well as the wiki Archives 2.0. One of the things that interests me is the idea of control of the archives. Many of the functions that archivists carry out - appraisal, arrangement and description - involve ensuring control of their collections and then allowing access to them. This control is challenged by Web 2.0 - users can potentially add descriptions to records, by tagging them they create their own index terms, they can view them online and create links and contexts that are personal and pertinent to them.

At the conference George Oates and Fiona Romeo gave two very interesting presentations about the Commons on Flickr successfully demonstrating that by democratising access to our collections, by loosing our 'control' over them we can successfully make our collections richer and improve the community's, and our, knowledge of our archives. Fiona spoke about the impact of the National Maritime Museum's presence on Flickr, see their pages here. She acknowledged that to ensure the most rewarding and effective use of Flickr you need to be prepared to input staff time to upload and monitor the images and respond to comments but felt that this was worthwhile.

Whatever the benefits of increasing access, what about the loss of revenue if you surrender your control of images? Many repositories rely on this revenue to supplement their core funding and would be very reluctant to give it up. I found an article by Paula Bray from the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney useful here. As well as looking in general at the issues involved in allowing greater access to images from collections she specifically addresses this issue of revenue and demonstrates that, for the Powerhouse Museum at least, joining Flickr Commons had no negative impact on sales. The whole article is available here.

We're not on Flickr just now, although Museum Services here at Dundee is, but it is something we will be thinking seriously about in the months to come.

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