Archives context and discovery: Rethinking arrangement and description for the digital age

Sarah Higgins, Christopher Hilton, Lyn Dafis

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

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Traditionally the archival principles of provenance, respect des fonds and original order are enacted through hierarchical arrangement and description, facilitating intellectual and physical access and the preservation of context. Access to archival collections is now impeded by the pragmatic impossibility of achieving the ideal of fully arranged collections described in detail to individual item level. Meanwhile online description to fonds or series level - created using standards created for the paper paradigm - ignore the new reality of facilitating access to born-digital material and digitised collections. Both require item level description, the former already incorporating its own pre-packaged metadata, which enables the reader to access and use digital material without necessarily knowing their context and provenance. Both, too, can be arranged in multiple ways. New paradigms for arrangement and description for the digital age need to focus on individual items and the user experience. Opportunities to facilitate contextual understanding and access include: user generated arrangement and description, tagging and linkage to existing biographical, historical and contextual resources. This study, a collaboration between the UK organisations: Aberystwyth University, the National Library of Wales and the Wellcome Library, proposes a user study that will offer archival collections digitally with no pre-defined archival arrangement and minimal contextual information. Tools will be provided to enable user input to both the arrangement and description of the collections and behaviours will be analysed to help identify and evaluate new methods for enabling access and maintaining contextual information.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 11 Oct 2014
Event2nd Annual Conference of the International Council on Archives: Archives and Cultural Industries - Girona, Spain
Duration: 11 Oct 201415 Oct 2014
Conference number: 2nd


Conference2nd Annual Conference of the International Council on Archives
Abbreviated titleICA2014
Period11 Oct 201415 Oct 2014
Internet address


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