Cardigan Continuum North West
We have always been aware of the London-centric nature of this group, so we are delighted that a sister group will start soon in the North West. Anyone interested in attending its first meeting should toddle along to The New Continental in Preston on Wednesday 26 September from 6pm for a 6.30pm start. The article under discussion will be AI: Archival Intelligence and User Expertise
The London group has already met face to face to discuss this text and the following write-up (thanks again, Nicole) gives a flavour of the discussion….
Most of us felt that the article was written like a shortened doctoral thesis and could have been much better presented. The introductory parts of the article appeared too long and the literature review was not seen as that interesting as it also hardly contained any archival studies on user experiences. We all noted the very American way of seeing archives with a close link to libraries and special collections that is not often found in the UK.
Although most supported the overall conclusions of the article that various types of knowledge are needed to successfully discover and work with primary sources, we also felt that much of this depends on context (ah, that archival favourite), i.e. how well the archivist knows the collection, how well the researcher knows how to frame questions and how to use archives etc. Many could identify with the feeling of some of the researchers described in the article that in archives there is often an expectation that users know how the archive works and how to interpret finding aids – that there is some sort of superior atmosphere that might prevent ‘beginners’ from seeking help from the archivist. From that we moved on to the question of whether it really is archivists’ job to provide basic archival education (given the otherwise large workload they have already). Most of those present at the meeting felt that they would love to provide training to users but often lack time, resources or training to do so. It was mentioned that some university archivists actually provide that kind of training to history, arts or architecture students. It was also felt that some business or private archives do not get that many researchers to justify any forays in basic archival education. We were a bit split on the question of whether there was too much specialised language in archives: We thought that there was some professional language that could be explained better or avoided (but how do you describe ‘finding aid’ in easier terms?) but that users should also make an effort to investigate an archive or archives as a whole better before they visited one. This brought us to think about whether a basic archival toolkit for users could be established by an institution such as TNA that other archives could link to on their websites to explain basic terms and processes to the archival beginner. If they exist already, we apologise as we could not think of any and would welcome a link to those treasures.
Hopefully that will give those going to the North West meeting some ideas, and further ideas will be forthcoming from the Twitter chat about this article, which will be held on 24th September at 8pm. Please post any questions below and follow the hashtag #cardcont to see how the discussion pans out.