This post was written by Katrina Windon, Accession/Processing Archivist, for Open Access Week 2017.
“Archivists promote and provide the widest possible accessibility of materials, consistent with any mandatory access restrictions, such as public statute, donor contract, business/institutional privacy, or personal privacy. Although access may be limited in some instances, archivists seek to promote open access and use when possible.” (Core Values of Archivists, 2011. https://www2.archivists.org/statements/saa-core-values-statement-and-code-of-ethics).
Archives, with their strong values of access and use, seem an obvious fit for the Open movement. Our materials aren’t typically behind paywalls; they’re usually in reading rooms, most of which are freely accessible to all members of the public (so long as those members are willing to fill out some forms, and listen to some policies, and leave all pens, food, and drinks at the door). A growing number of archival resources are being made available online, through digital exhibits, digital repositories, and digital preservation systems—on institutional websites (like the U of A Libraries’ Digital Collections); on consortial sites like the University of California system’s Calisphere; and on aggregators like the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) (a cross-section of archival resources from across the United States); Umbra (a collection of digitized primary source materials relating to African-American history and culture, including more than 2200 objects from the University of Arkansas Special Collections); and Europeana (an aggregator of digitized materials from European archives, libraries, and museums). Then there are resources that have staged open access—like Reveal Digital’s Independent Voices collection, which includes scans of feminist newsletters held in the University of Arkansas’ Special Collections; the materials are currently only viewable by libraries (like the U of A’s) that helped fund the project, but will become open to all users in January 2019.
A number of archival publications have moved to an open access model, as well, including two of the most prominent, American Archivist and Archivaria, which are both on a delayed open access model.
To make our resources more shareable, many archives consciously choose to use software platforms that adhere to the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH), and archivists apply professional metadata standards that support aggregation and reuse of data.
Following encoding standards (which dictate the form and organization of metadata elements) encourages the use of archival metadata by aggregator tools like ArchiveGrid, which pulls in finding aid data from more than a thousand repositories, and Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC), which aggregates information about the creators and subjects of archival materials, and tries to link together those individuals and organizations described across multiple collections. Other projects go further; the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL)’s recent In Her Own Right digital project, for instance, has a page dedicated to the project’s metadata, and includes suggestions for how to use the API to harvest that metadata, as well as suggestions on other tools for interpreting data.
Open Educational Resources
Some archives have created and made freely available educational resources that use their primary source materials. The Arkansas State Archives has a set of lesson plans available, on topics ranging from civil rights to Arkansas statehood; several Arkansas institutions, including the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, contributed lesson plans on WWI to the Arkansas WWI Centennial website; the Library of Congress also has lesson plans, as well as resources for teaching students how to analyze primary sources. The National Archives has a wealth of resources, as well, including the DocsTeach portal.
Open to All
A driving force behind all these initiatives is the idea that archives are, at their core, intended for use—not just traditional use by academics (though that’s wonderful!), but also use by musicians who want to see how some of the nuances of a composer’s original sheet music may have been lost in a modern edition; by genealogists who are trying to track down the traces of their own history; by artists hoping to find inspiration; by architects seeking blueprints of a building they’ll be remodeling; by future researchers with pioneering research goals and methodologies we’ve not yet encountered. In many archives, and certainly in the University of Arkansas Special Collections, our materials are open to anyone who wants to view them. Some collections may hold restrictions, either at the request of a donor or because of privacy laws, but the collections that are available—and there are more than a thousand of them—are open to anyone, whether student, faculty, Arkansan, or visitor.