Knowledge Lost, Knowledge Gained
The Implications of Migrating to Online Archival Descriptive Systems
Keywords:access, archival description, metadata, Wikidata, mediation, user experience
Migrating archival description from paper-based finding aids to structured online data reconfigures the dynamics of archival representation and interactions. This paper considers the knowledge implications of transferring traditional finding aids to Discover Archives, a university-wide implementation of Access to Memory (AtoM) at the University of Toronto. The migration and translation of varied descriptive practices to conform to a single system that is accessible to anyone, anywhere, effectively shifts both where and how users interface with archives and their material. This paper reflects on how different sets of knowledge are reorganized in these shifts. Discover Archives empowers researchers to do independent searches using the full breadth of their domain expertise, seemingly unbound from archival gatekeeping. At the same time, these searches are performed in the absence of archivists' unstructured mediation, where searches benefit from human interaction and the kinds of knowledges that reference staff draw on to handle complex reference questions, especially those from novice archival users. We explore the extent to which that lost knowledge can be drawn back into archival interactions via rich metadata that documents contexts and relationships embedded within Discover Archives and beyond. Internal user experience design (UXD) research on Discover Archives highlights a gap between current online description and habitual user expectations in web search and discovery. To help bridge this gap, we contributed to broader discovery nodes such as linked open "context hubs" like Wikipedia and Wikidata, which can supplement hierarchical description with linked metadata and visualization capabilities. These can reintroduce rhizomatic and serendipitous connections, enabled by archivist, researcher, and larger sets of community knowledges, to the benefit of both the user and the archivist.
Allain, Sara, and Danielle Robichaud. 2017. “No, We Can't Just Script It: And Other Refrains from (Tired) Archival Data Migrators.” Presentation at the Access Conference 2017, Saskatoon, SK, September 28, 2017. YouTube video, 17:20. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHoua98ZMfY&list=PLomHagvStAaDzXullxohONtPPcD_T2AO4&index=8.
Allison-Cassin, Stacy, and Dan Scott. 2018. “Wikidata: A Platform for Your Library’s Linked Open Data.” Code4Lib Journal 40. https://journal.code4lib.org/articles/13424.
Art Museum at the University of Toronto. n.d. “God of Gods: A Canadian Play.” Accessed May 6, 2022. https://artmuseum.utoronto.ca/exhibition/deanna-bowen-the-god-of-gods/.
Babcock, Kelli, Regine Heberlein, Anna Björnsson McCormick, Elizabeth Russey Roke, Greta Kuriger Suiter, and Ruth Kitchin Tillman. 2021. “The Power of Parallel Description: Wikidata and Archival Discovery.” In The Lighting the Way Handbook: Case Studies, Guidelines, and Emergent Futures for Archival Discovery and Delivery, edited by Mark A. Matienzo and Dinah Handel, 99–113. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Libraries. https://doi.org/10.25740/gg453cv6438.
Berg, Magnus. 2021. “A ‘Major Technological Challenge’: Multi-level Description and Online Archival Databases.” Emerging Library & Information Perspectives 4 (1): 62–87. https://doi.org/10.5206/elip.v4i1.12529.
Berry, Dorothy. 2018. “Digitizing and Enhancing Description Across Collections to Make African American Materials More Discoverable on Umbra Search African American History.” The Design for Diversity Learning Toolkit. Northeastern University Library. https://des4div.library.northeastern.edu/digitizing-and-enhancing-description-across-collections-to-make-african-american-materials-more-discoverable-on-umbra-search-african-american-history/.
Biswas, Paromita. 2018. “Rooted in the Past: Use of ‘East Indians’ in Library of Congress Subject Headings.” Cataloguing & Classification Quarterly 56 (1): 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/01639374.2017.1386253.
Braszak, Lucas, Olivia Chlebicki, Andrew Edmonds, Jamie Lee Morin, and Katharine Taylor. 2020. “Project: Research and Interpretation [U of T Discover Archives UXD Project].” Unpublished report.
Clavaud, Florence. 2018. “Semantizing and Visualising Archival Metadata: The PIAAF French Prototype Online.” International Council on Archives. https://www.ica.org/en/semantizing-and-visualising-archival-metadata-the-piaaf-french-prototype-online.
Cohen-Palacios, Katrina. 2019. “Wikidata and Archivists.” Presentation at the Archives Association of Ontario (AAO) Institutional Issues Forum, Toronto, ON, October 24, 2019. http://hdl.handle.net/10315/36898.
DeRidder, Jody L. 2008. “Googlizing a Digital Library.” Code4Lib Journal 2. https://journal.code4lib.org/articles/43.
Discover Archives. “Glossary.” https://discoverarchives.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/glossary.
Douglas, Jennifer. 2017. “Origins and Beyond: The Ongoing Evolution of Archival Ideas about Provenance.” In Currents of Archival Thinking, 2nd ed., edited by Heather MacNeil and Terry Eastwood, 25–52. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
Douglas, Jennifer, Greg Bak, Evelyn McLellan, Seth van Hooland, and Raymond Frogner. 2018. “Decolonizing Archival Description: Can Linked Data Help?” Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology 55 (1): 669–72. https://doi.org/10.1002/pra2.2018.14505501077.
Drake, Jarrett M. 2016a. “Liberatory Archives: Towards Belonging and Believing (Part 1).” On Archivy. https://medium.com/on-archivy/liberatory-archives-towards-belonging-and-believing-part-1-d26aaeb0edd1.
Drake, Jarrett M. 2016b. “RadTech Meets RadArch: Towards a New Principle for Archives and Archival Description.” On Archivy. https://medium.com/on-archivy/radtech-meets-radarch-towards-a-new-principle-for-archives-and-archival-description-568f133e4325.
Dryden, Jean E. 1987. “Subject Headings: The PAASH Experience.” Archivaria 24: 173–80.
Duff, Wendy M., and Verne Harris. 2002. “Stories and Names: Archival Description as Narrating Records and Constructing Meanings.” Archival Science 2: 263–85. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02435625.
Duff, Wendy M., and Jessica Haskell. 2015. “New Uses for Old Records: A Rhizomatic Approach to Archival Access.” The American Archivist 78 (1): 38–58. https://doi.org/10.17723/0360-9081.78.1.38.
Duff, Wendy M., and Catherine A. Johnson. 2002. “Accidentally Found on Purpose: Information-Seeking Behavior of Historians in Archives.” Library Quarterly 72 (4): 472–96. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40039793.
Duff, Wendy, and Penka Stoyanova. 1998. “Transforming the Crazy Quilt: Archival Displays from a User’s Point of View.” Archivaria 45: 44–79. https://archivaria.ca/index.php/archivaria/article/view/12224.
Duff, Wendy, and Elizabeth Yakel. 2017. “Archival Interaction.” In Currents of Archival Thinking, 2nd ed., edited by Heather MacNeil and Terry Eastwood, 193–224. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
Duff, Wendy M., Elizabeth Yakel, and Helen Tibbo. 2013. “Archival Reference Knowledge.” American Archivist 76 (1): 68–94. https://www.jstor.org/stable/43489650.
Dundon, Kate, Laurel McPhee, Elvia Arroyo-Ramirez, Jolene Beiser, Courtney Dean, Audra Eagle Yun, Jasmine Jones, et al. 2020. Guidelines for Efficient Archival Processing in the University of California Libraries (Version 4). UCLA Library. https://escholarship.org/uc/item/4b81g01z.
Erxleben, Fredo, Michael Günther, Markus Krötzsch, Julian Mendez, and Denny Vrandecˇic´. 2014. “Introducing Wikidata to the Linked Data Web.” In The Semantic Web – ISWC 2014, edited by Peter Mika, Tania Tudorache, Abraham Bernstein, Chris Welty, Craig Knoblock, Denny Vrandecˇic´, Paul Groth, Natasha Noy, Krzysztof Janowicz, and Carole Goble, 50–65. Cham: Springer International. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-11964-9_4.
Gabriel, Claire. 2002. “Subject Access to Archives and Manuscript Collections: An Historical Overview.” Journal of Archival Organization 1 (4): 53–63. https://doi.org/10.1300/J201v01n04_04.
Gayhart, Lisa, and Sori Lee. 2017. “Discover Archives Usability Interviews: Findings and Recommendations.” Unpublished report.
Godby, Jean, Karen Smith-Yoshimura, Bruce Washburn, Kalan Knudson Davis, Karen Detling, Christine Fernsebner Eslao, Steven Folsom, et al. 2020. Creating Library Linked Data with Wikibase: Lessons Learned from Project Passage. OCLC Research. https://doi.org/10.25333/faq3-ax08.
Gracy, Karen F. 2015. “Archival Description and Linked Data: A Preliminary Study of Opportunities and Implementation Challenges.” Archival Science 15: 239–94. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10502-014-9216-2.
Greene, Mark A., and Dennis Meissner. 2005. “More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing.” The American Archivist 68 (2): 208–63. https://doi.org/10.17723/aarc.68.2.c741823776k65863.
Grguric, Ekatarina, Frédéric Giuliano, Anna Dysert, and Rachel Black. 2019. “From Boxes to AtoM to Wikidata.” Presentation at the Access Conference, Edmonton, AB, September 30, 2019. https://accessproceedings.ca/index.php/access/article/view/86.
Hart House Theatre fonds. n.d. University of Toronto Archives, Toronto, Ontario. https://discoverarchives.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/hart-house-theatre-fonds.
Jung, Alex. 2020. “Wikidata and Wikipedia Infoboxes.” Presentation at the LD4 Wikidata Affinity Group meeting, May 5, 2020. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1xSuAWN01FVfOIvSML2_7Hzfn0PVoGHgARyGB1tcL6No/edit.
Haworth, Kent M. “Archival Description: Content and Context in Search of Structure.” Journal of Internet Cataloging 4 (3–4): 7–26. https://doi.org/10.1300/J141v04n03_02.
Howard, Sara A., and Steven A. Knowlton. 2018. “Browsing through Bias: The Library of Congress Classification and Subject Headings for African American Studies and LGBTQIA Studies.” Library Trends 67 (1): 74–88. http://doi.org/10.1353/lib.2018.0026.
International Council on Archives (ICA) Expert Group on Archival Description. 2021. “Records in Contexts – Ontology.” International Council on Archives. https://www.ica.org/en/records-in-contexts-ontology.
Lippincott, Sarah. 2021. Mapping the Current Landscape of Research Library Engagement with Emerging Technologies in Research and Learning: Final Report. Edited by Mary Lee Kennedy, Clifford Lynch, and Scout Calvert. Association of Research Libraries, Born-Digital, Coalition for Networked Information, and EDUCAUSE. https://doi.org/10.29242/report.emergingtech2020.landscape.
Long, Linda J. 1989. “Question Negotiation in the Archival Setting: The Use of Interpersonal Communication Techniques in the Reference Interview.” The American Archivist 52 (1): 40–50. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40293311.
MacNeil, Heather. 1996. “Subject Access to Archival Fonds: Balancing Provenance and Pertinence.” Fontes Artis Musicae 43 (3): 242–58. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23508211.
McCausland, Sigrid. 2011. “A Future Without Mediation? Online Access, Archivists, and the Future of Archival Research.” Australian Academic & Research Libraries 42 (4): 309–19. https://doi.org/10.1080/00048623.2011.10722243.
McLellan, Evelyn, Anna Dysert, Krista Jamieson, and Katherine Timms. 2019. “Is Linked Data (LD) the Future of Archival Description?” Paper presented at the Association of Canadian Archivists Conference, Toronto, ON, June 6–8, 2019. https://www.archivists.ca/resources/Documents/Conference%20Material/Past%20Conference%20Documents/Conference%20Programs/20190605_Archival%20Origins%20Toronto%20V%203.1.pdf. Archived at: https://perma.cc/Q9FA-UZB7.
Mizota, Sharon. 2021. “Change Is Good: Navigating Wikidata as a Controlled Descriptive Vocabulary.” Descriptive Notes (blog). March 30, 2021. https://saadescription.wordpress.com/2021/03/30/change-is-good-navigating-wikidata-as-a-controlled-descriptive-vocabulary/. Archived at: https://perma.cc/ 5KP3-EP2C.
Monks-Leeson, Emily. 2011. “Archives on the Internet: Representing Contexts and Provenance from Repository to Website.” The American Archivist 74 (1): 38–57. https://doi.org/10.17723/aarc.74.1.h386n333653kr83u.
Pugh, Joseph Jonathan. 2017. “Information Journeys in Digital Archives.” PhD diss., University of York. https://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/20663/1/Proofed%20Corrected%20thesis.pdf.
Sadler, Bess, and Chris Bourg. 2015. “Feminism and the Future of Library Discovery.” Code4Lib Journal 28. https://journal.code4lib.org/articles/10425.
Sanderson, Robert. 2020. “The Importance of Being LOUD.” Report presented at LODLAM Summit, Los Angeles, CA, February 3–4, 2020. https://www.slideshare.net/azaroth42/the-importance-of-being-loud.
Schaffner, Jennifer. 2009. “The Metadata Is the Interface: Better Description for Better Discovery of Archives and Special Collections, Synthesized from User Studies.” OCLC Research. https://library.oclc.org/digital/collection/p267701coll27/id/444/.
Scott, Dan. 2020. “LINCS: Exploratory Search.” Paper presented at the Access Conference, virtual, October 19–23, 2020. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1AhXOQK7jSCc6LSxl-ATT6FgXNPU4DbHG/view.
Seeman, Dean, and Heather Dean. 2019. “Open Social Knowledge Creation and Library and Archival Metadata.” KULA: Knowledge Creation, Dissemination, and Preservation Studies 3: 13. https://doi.org/10.5334/kula.51.
Stevenson, Jane. 2008a. “The Online Archivist: A Positive Approach to the Digital Age.” In What Are Archives? Cultural and Theoretical Perspectives: A Reader, edited by Louise Craven, 89–108. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Suurtamm, Karen. 2014. “Proposal for Implementing AtoM at UTARMS.” Unpublished report.
Trace, Ciaran B. 2020. “Maintaining Records in Context? Disrupting the Theory and Practice of Archival Classification and Arrangement.” The American Archivist 83 (2): 322–72. https://doi.org/10.17723/0360-9081-83.2.322.
Völkel, Max, Markus Krötzsch, Denny Vrandecˇic´, Heiko Haller, and Rudi Studer. 2006. “Semantic Wikipedia.” In WWW ’06: Proceedings of the 15th International Conference on World Wide Web, 585–94. New York: Association for Computing Machinery. https://doi.org/10.1145/1135777.1135863.
Wiedeman, Gregory. 2019. “The Historical Hazards of Finding Aids.” The American Archivist 82 (2): 381–420. https://doi.org/10.17723/aarc-82-02-20.
"Wikidata:WikiProject University of Toronto Libraries/Discover Archives - Wikidata.” n.d. Wikidata. Accessed May 6, 2022. https://www.wikidata.org/wiki/Wikidata:WikiProject_University_of_Toronto_Libraries/Discover_Archives.
Wong, Alexandra, and Kelli Babcock. 2021. “Exploring Wikidata ‘Archives At’ at U of T.” Presented at the LD4 Wikidata Affinity Group meeting, April 19, 2021. http://hdl.handle.net/1807/106533.
Yakel, Elizabeth. 2003. “Archival Representation.” Archival Science 3: 1–25. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02438926.
Yakel, Elizabeth, and Deborah Torres. 2003. “AI: Archival Intelligence and User Expertise.” The American Archivist 66 (1): 51–78. https://doi.org/10.17723/aarc.66.1.q022h85pn51n5800.
Yeo, Geoffrey. 2015. “Contexts, Original Orders, and Item-Level Orientation: Responding Creatively to Users’ Needs and Technological Change.” Journal of Archival Organization 12 (3–4): 170–85. https://doi.org/10.1080/15332748.2015.1048626.
Zhang, Jane. 2012. “Archival Representation in the Digital Age.” Journal of Archival Organization 10 (1): 45–68. https://doi.org/10.1080/15332748.2012.677671.
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2022 Daniela Ansovini, Kelli Babcock, Tanis Franco, Jiyun Alex Jung, Karen Suurtamm, Alexandra Wong
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.