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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. METHOD
  5. RESULTS
  6. FUTURE RESEARCH
  7. CONCLUSION
  8. REFERENCES

In this paper, the author begins to conceptualize how online archival collections can be understood and evaluated. The author uses the Occupy Wall Street archives project as a case study for looking at this new form of archive, one constituted by multiple collecting institutions. Expanding the concept of interface as a tool for examining an archival collection that transcends typical physical demarcation, the author analyzes the links and navigation between different archival websites and institutions, and draws conclusions about the nature of these new types of archival collections. This paper provides a new approach for research into online archives, suggesting future avenues of inquiry, including future work on studying user behavior within online archives.


INTRODUCTION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. METHOD
  5. RESULTS
  6. FUTURE RESEARCH
  7. CONCLUSION
  8. REFERENCES

This research seeks to develop a better understanding of the emerging digital archive landscape. Digital collections that are available online are becoming critically important to providing access to archival materials, as Hedstrom (2002) explains: “If remote access becomes the predominant way in which most users discover archives and interact with their contents, then the on-line collection becomes the collection for many users” (pp. 40–41). Taking the theoretical work of Karen Gracy (2007) as a starting point, this project utilizes a case study approach to examine the current work being conducted by multiple organizations to create an archive of materials associated with the Occupy Wall Street social movement. The hope is that this research will provide concepts applicable to analyzing other archival collections.

Traditional archives operate as “established institutions and organizations [that] have established processes and practices for the management of collections, and have the tacit authority to make decisions about such things as acquisition, appraisal, and preservation” (Gracy, 2007, p. 184). Given the current technological environment, Gracy (2007) suggests that a new model for archives is being put into use, one in which content is user-generated, user-appraised, and described via social keyword tagging (p. 184).

It is within this new archival context that this project seeks to lay the conceptual foundation to begin to answer the following questions:

  • How should the boundaries of an online archival collection be determined?

  • How are dispersed, online archives structured?

  • How might online archival collections be evaluated?

To begin construction of a framework with which to answer these questions, this initial phase of research suggests that an important concept with which to evaluate online archival collections is an expanded notion of interface. Kirschenbaum (2004) points out that “definitions of interface typically invoke the image of a ‘surface’ or a ‘boundary’ where two or more ‘systems,’ ‘devices,’ or ‘entities’ come into contact or ‘interact.’ Though these terms encourage spatial interpretation, most interfaces also embody temporal, haptic, and cognitive elements” (p. 524). Typically, in a web navigation context, interface is typically examined in the context of a singular user interface. This project seeks to expand the concept of interface to encompass a new approach to evaluating access to online archival collections, by examining all potential access points to the collection, virtual as well as physical. This expanded concept of interface is necessary for this analysis because navigation within and between these dispersed online collections is structured by the sum of the entry points into, and the linkages between, each website. This more expansive concept may better characterize the relationship between the user and an archival collection constituted by multiple websites with various functions and designs.

METHOD

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. METHOD
  5. RESULTS
  6. FUTURE RESEARCH
  7. CONCLUSION
  8. REFERENCES

This initial phase of research looks at the links between sites and the points of access to collections containing archival materials produced by the Occupy Wall Street movement. The evaluation of an access system for an archive need not be dependent on the perceived uses of the contents of the collections. We can evaluate the access gateway into an archival collection by:

  • Delimiting the boundaries of the archive.

  • Unifying all likely entry points under the concept of “interface”.

  • Analyzing the links and access points of the websites that constitute the larger archival collection.

The Occupy Wall Street “Archive” exists across at least five major collecting institutions, including the New York Historical Society, New York University–Tamiment/Wagner Archives and Labor Library, the Internet Archive, Smithsonian Institution, and Queens College (Schuessler, 2012), as well as several independent websites unassociated with existing cultural institutions, including the Occupy Archive. These dispersed collections are unified in their documentation of one social movement.

RESULTS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. METHOD
  5. RESULTS
  6. FUTURE RESEARCH
  7. CONCLUSION
  8. REFERENCES

The boundaries of online, dispersed archives are necessarily complex and seemingly indefinitely bounded, but they may provide limited access to online content: The results of this initial research suggests that the Occupy Wall Street archives are distributed across multiple organizations and websites, and that much content is being collected, including web pages (by Archive-It), videos (by Archive.org), and physical ephemera (by the New York Historical Society, Queens College, and the Smithsonian institution) (please see Table 1 for a summary of the data, collected on June 8th, 2012). However, the content from the larger institutions is not yet accessible online. The one exception is the Internet Archive, which has a very large collection of material already online, and Archive-It, a site sponsored by the Internet Archive, which uses an automatic collection system for acquiring copies of over 900 web pages relevant to the movement.

How are distributed archives organized? One might expect the cluster of grassroots sites to exhibit more of a rhizomatic pattern of interconnections. The concept of rhizome denotes the potential for “limitless expansion, random intersecting points, and abilities of rupture and re-growth” (Hess, 2008, p. 35). However, these sites do not link to each other. In fact, none of the archive collections linked to each other, and only one website (OWS Anarchivists) was discoverable via Google search, making navigation between collections difficult. In this sense, the archive evades consolidation and structuring via search engines, but also lacks cohesion at the grassroots level as well. In this sense, the structure of the archive is neither tree-like nor rhizomatic. In fact, the most effective source for accessing the “archive” is through a website setup by the Activist Archivists group started by NYU students and faculty.

Table 1. Analysis of Links between Archival Collections.
Website NameWeb AddressLinks from other collectionsLinks to other collectionsArchival Holdings (as of 6/09/12)
New York Historical Societyhttp://www.nyhislory.org//library/collections00two boxes, no online holdings
NYU Tamiment Library/Wagner Labor Archiveshttp://www.nyu.edu/library/bobst/research/tam/collections.html00unlisted
Smithsonian Institution – National Museum of American Historyhttp://americanhistory.si.edu/news/pressrelease.cfm?key=29&newskey=141700unlisted
Queens College Rosenthal Libraryhttp://qcpages.qc.edu/library/00unlisted
Archive-it Occupy Wall Street Website Collectionhttp://www.archive-it.org/collections/29500. *1 link from Activist Archivists Site0954 websites, ongoing acquisition
Occupy Archivehttp://occupyarchive.org/0, *I link from Activists Archivists Site; 1 link from Occupy Library News03286, mix of images, videos, documents, audio clips
Occupy Wallstreet An-archivehttp://ows-anarchives.tumblr.com/archive0, only site found via Google Search020 scanned posters and ephemera
Occuprinthttp://occuprint.org/0, *link from Occupy Library News Site0∼498 digitized posters
Occupy Archivehttp://occupyarchive.tumblr.co0, *link from Occupy Library News Site085 images, videos, audio files
Occupy Archiveshttp://occupyarchives.blogspot.com0, *link from Occupy Library News Site0Unlisted
Occupy Library and Archives Newshttp://occupyarchives.blogspot.com0, *link from Activist Archivists Site4, “link to Activist Archivists SiteN/A, Not an archival site
Activist Archivists Sitehttp://activist-archivists.org0, *link from Occupy Library News Site3, *link to Occupy Library News SiteN/A. Not an archival site

The interface concept may be useful for evaluating the navigability and usability of the dispersed archive: While, much of the scope of the archive can be discovered online (i.e., collecting organizations can be identified), it is clear that much of the individual collections can only be accessed by emailing the organizations or visiting them in person (e.g., the New York Historical Society). Thus, this expanded interface approach both encompasses online and physical access portals, and any evaluation of the navigability and usability of the dispersed archive needs to include an assessment of all points of entry into the archive.

FUTURE RESEARCH

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. METHOD
  5. RESULTS
  6. FUTURE RESEARCH
  7. CONCLUSION
  8. REFERENCES

The initial results of this analysis suggest several areas of further research:

  • Study of user behavior on archival websites: Following Prom (2011), the research could be continued by using web analytics to look at how users navigate within and between various archival collection websites. This would provide greater insight into user behavior as they navigate the larger archive. Web analytics could be employed by each website, and the results shared collectively, to better construct a more navigable interface.

  • Further conceptual development: The concepts of rhizomatic web formations (Hess, 2008), social mirror archives (Gracy, 2007), among others, could be further elaborated both through deeper textual analysis of the sites themselves, as well as through phenomenological studies of users' interactions with these networked resources.

CONCLUSION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. METHOD
  5. RESULTS
  6. FUTURE RESEARCH
  7. CONCLUSION
  8. REFERENCES

This research is a starting point for a larger project that seeks to examine new concepts of archival collections within the continuously developing web-based context. In addition, it is the author's contention that much additional research should be conducted on the connections forged between online and offline resources, and users' interactions with this new environment. This research could also help to identify the competencies necessary for navigating these new types of collections, suggesting a possible approach to further developing the theory of archival intelligence (Yakel and Torres, 2003).

REFERENCES

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. METHOD
  5. RESULTS
  6. FUTURE RESEARCH
  7. CONCLUSION
  8. REFERENCES
  • Gracy, K. (2007). Moving image preservation and cultural capital. Library Trends, 56(1), 183197.
  • Ham, G. (1981). Archival strategies in the post-custodial era. The American Archivist, 44(3), 207216.
  • Hedstrom, M. (2002). Archives, memory, and interfaces with the past. Archival Science, 2, 2143.
  • Hess, A. (2008). Reconsidering the rhizome: A textual analysis of web search engines as gatekeepers of the internet. In A. Spink and M. Zimmer (Eds.), Web search, Springer series in Information Science and Knowledge Management 14 (pp. 3550). Berlin: Spring-Verlag.
  • Kirschenbaum, M. (2004). “So the colors cover the wires”: Interface, aesthetics, and usability. In S. Schreibman, R. Siemens, & J. Unsworth (Eds.), A companion to digital humanities (pp. 523541). Maiden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
  • Lucas, G. (2010). Time and the archaeological archive. Rethinking History, 14(3), 343359.
  • Prom, C. (2011). Using web analytics to improve online access to archival resources. The American Archivist, 74, 158184.
  • Schuessler, J. (2012, May 2). Occupy Wall Street: From the streets to the archives. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com.
  • Yakel, E. & Torres, D. (2003). AI: Archival intelligence and user expertise. The American Archivist, 66(1), 5178.