Last week, Chelcie Rowell and I traveled to Raleigh for the Code4Lib Pre-conference focused on archival discovery and use. I found this to be a very enjoyable and thought provoking day of discussion and idea sharing. Led by Tim Shearer from UNC Chapel Hill and Will Sexton from Duke, the format of the pre-conference was focused talks rather than presentations. The room was broken up into groups such as digitization, outreach, assessment, description, and access. I joined the description group and saw many familiar faces that I have followed professionally.
The morning session began with the provocative statement “Why I hate finding aids.” Each group discussed the pros and cons of this statement and presented their groups opinions at the end. As you may imagine, my description group *loves* finding aids and found this statement to be an insult to the very core of archival practice and foundation. Although we defended finding aids, there was discussion of lack of uniformity both within institutions as well as across archives. Bibliographic description has such a structured input, but that structure is still not established in archival description. Our group felt that although there are things wrong with finding aids including authority control, archival jargon, and access points, the archival foundation of provenance and respect des fonds leave the finding aid as a concept our only option of description as of now.
Another provocative statement made to prompt our breakout group discussions pertained to digital collections content grouped together in something like an exhibit versus within the context of a finding aid or the original order of the collection. Again, my group made up of mostly “description” archivists emphasized the need for archival context in a digital world. So many times researchers are “dropped” into a digital collection and find something “cool” but they don’t always realize that it is part of a larger, and most times, richer archival collection. We hope that with new archival software such as ArchivesSpace and linked data, digital collections will have the infrastructure and the metadata to be more closely connected with the creator and archival collection.
After Chelcie’s suggestion of a delicious lunch at a place calledBeasley’s Chicken and Honey (Go there. Seriously.) we returned to a more presentation based format. The topics included ArchivesSpace and crowdsourcing. I enjoyed the afternoon sessions with the theoretical implementation of ArchivesSpace juxtaposed with actual crowdsourcing projects, big and small. I must say, I enjoyed this pre-conference very much and found that the format was the best part. It is rare to sit at a table with colleagues you respect and who are doing amazing things in your field and just get to talk, and share stories, and brainstorm. Thank you for the opportunity!