A Backstage Perspective on Digital Archives, Collections and Libraries

May 06, 2021  | 10am ET

DH@GHI Workshop | Speaker: Katharina Hering (Digital Librarian, GHI Washington)

In the spring of 2020, in response to the COVID 19 global public health emergency, the International Council on Archives (ICA) launched the campaign: “The Archives and Records are Accessible.” The campaign highlighted that – while physically shut, many archives have been working hard to make parts of their digitized records and collections available online. ICA’s slogan, however, reflected aspiration as much as reality: While many researchers have been (re)discovering online materials and collections in the past year, they have also encountered persistent and new barriers to online discovery and access, including: unprocessed records and collections that have not been digitized, records and collections that have been digitized by private companies such as Ancestry.com and that are only available behind a paywall, records and collections that have been digitized but that are hardly discoverable due to poor quality or lack of metadata or transcription, among other barriers.

In this workshop, we will discuss the landscape of archival online access – and lack of access – from a backstage perspective. It will begin with a brief presentation and overview of the history and politics of major digitization initiatives at NARA and the Library of Congress and will outline different traditions and formats of representing archival materials online, including in catalogs. Drawing on examples from the Bundesarchiv and a few German state archives, it will also highlight some of the similarities and differences between representing archival materials online in Germany and in the United States. In addition to offering practical advice and strategies for improved discovery and remote access to archival collections, this workshop aims to foster better understanding and greater solidarity between historians and archivists. While digital humanities infrastructures, including at the MWS, offer an enormous potential for cooperation and collaboration between archivists and historians, this potential remains under-recognized and utilized, and professional silos, sometimes coupled with misunderstandings and prejudices, persist. A recent article in the AHA newsletter Perspectives: “Please Stop Calling Things Archives,” expressed some of this frustration from an archivists’ perspective.   

If you have questions and want the link for the event, please contact Jana Keck (keck@ghi-dc.org).