Archive for the ‘Article Reviews’ Category
- Tschan, Reto. "A Comparison of Jenkinson and Schellenberg on Appraisal," The American Archivist 65 (2002): 176-195.
The SAA awarded Reto Tschan the Theodore Calvin Pease Award in 2002 for this article. The article addresses the history of archival appraisal or selection. Tschan sets forth the respective selection theories of Jenkinson and Schellenberg. He says that Jenkinson stressed both authenticity and impartiality in archives largely through taking archivists out of the appraisal process. Jenkinson believed that the context of records was important and that any appraisal or selection of "valuable" records on the part of an archivist destroyed the context. He points out that Schellenberg's work was to be a rebuttal to Jenkinson's theories. Although Schellenberg stressed respect des fonds, he also contended that because modern records are bulky, some selection must take place. According to him, selecting the records to include in an archives takes place on the basis of secondary values. Archives are records that have enough secondary value to keep permanently.
Because bulky records were a problem, both Schellenberg and Jenkinson proposed solutions. Schellenberg believed that the archivist, in conjunction with records creators and other qualified consultants, should select which records are valuable enough to be retained. Jenkinson, on the other hand, believed that records creators should select which records are valuable enough to be retained while they are still in use. The archivist was a neutral party to the whole process.
Tschan points out that proponents later theories of appraisal, such as documentation strategy and functional analysis, tried to reject the theories of both Schellenberg and Jenkinson because they ultimately led to a narrow selection that does not provide sufficient documentation of society. Both of these strategies tried to somehow include society in the selection process. He notes that these theories still use Schellenberg's conception of value. Others have taken a "neo-Jenkinsonian" approach to records, wherein they agree to consult with records creators about what records should be created, but they do not select which records should be preserved. Tschan attributes the rise of Jenkinsonian theories in the U.S. to the rise of electronic formats. Some want to deal with these new formats by keeping in their contexts as much as possible. However, a post-custodial school has developed that wants to select electronic records that will be beneficial. This, of course, is closely tied to Schellenberg's value judgments.
- Prom, Christopher. "The EAD Cookbook: A Survey and Usability Study," American Archivist 65 (2002): 257-275.
This article provides summary results of a survey and usability study of the EAD Cookbook, a guide designed to ease the implementation of the Encoded Archival Description standard for finding aids. Prom notes that many have questioned whether EAD is a viable option for archival institutions to use in producing finding aids because of the difficulties in implementing EAD creation. The EAD Cookbook was designed to help institutions use this standard, but Prom asks whether the cookbook itself is efficient and easy to use for archives. To determine this, Prom surveyed a number of individuals who had used the cookbook to create EAD finding aids at the institutions for which they work.
Prom surveyed individuals from institutions of various sizes. The result of Prom's survey highlighted several points. At the time of the survey, most of the respondents had not yet mounted their EAD finding aids on the internet. Many users had self-taught computer skills. Some felt that in order to use the cookbook, one had to have a pretty good handle on technology. Others felt that there were several bugs in it. Despite negative reaction by some respondents, others felt that the source was an invaluable tool to their EAD projects. Prom covers some basic points about the usability of EAD and the way people search. He supplies the results of a "Google test" to which he subjected finding aids from some of the institutions he surveyed. The results were less than to be desired on finding aids that had been modified in substantial ways that differed from the cookbook. He believes that the EAD Cookbook is an effective tool, but that more tools are needed for making EAD easier to implement.
- Cox, Dwayne. "The Rise of Confidentiality: State Courts on Access to Public Records During the Mid-twentieth Century," American Archivist 68 (2005): 313-322.
Dwayne Cox's article describes the gradual shift that occurred in American jurisprudence with regard to public records. This article was the second article on this topic that Cox has published in American Archivist. Prior to the late 1800s, America upheld the English common law tradition that stressed that access to public records was dependent upon demonstrating "a 'direct and tangible' interest in the information." American law shifted, though, as more and more people began to believe that access to these records was a right for citizens. As the push for access increased, more and more types of records were deemed confidential. Cox sets forth the history of legal cases regarding public records in the United States.
Several salient points emerge from Cox's article. The situation Cox describes seems to suggest that courts were more likely to say that businesses had a tangible interest than individuals. Of course, this would not be that surprising since businesses often have the extra money needed to pursue legal action. Cox notes that Kentucky was one of the most staunch adherents to the common law standard (It's just interesting to me because I live in Kentucky.) It also seems to me, from the article, that often the requirements for confidentiality were applied unevenly and often in defense of the government's interests, rather than the public's good, not that these two things have to be exclusive of one another. Finally, Cox notes that the laws that restrict access to records are often given names that stress the openness of records, which is a practice that he detests.
- Ericson, Timothy L. "Buidling Our Own 'Iron Curtain': The Emergence of Secrecy in American Government" American Archivist 68 (2005): 18-52.
This article was the 2004 presidential address at the Society of American Archivist's annual meeting. Ericson begins his address by contending that the U.S. Government had created an "iron curtain" of secrecy around records. He seems to rely heavily upon Daniel Patrick Moynihan's Secrecy: The American Experience0 in this article. Ericson recounts several recent examples of government secrecy, and then he points out that many archivists have been largely silent on the issue of government secrecy, despite archival literature and ethical codes that urge archivists to provide access. He divides efforts at government secrecy in the U.S. into three distinct periods: 1774-1870, 1870-1940, and 1940-2004.
Ericson points out that government officials were conducting secret business even prior to the American Revolution by making transactions for munitions under cover of secrecy. The signing of the Declaration of Independence was a secret event, and Washington's administration, the First Continental Congress, and Congress all kept classified and secret information. The extent of secrecy increased with events like the trial of Aaron Burr and the advent of new munitions technologies during the Civil War. The apathy of Americans in general and government officials in particular toward public records also contributed to many records remaining secret with little to no public outcry.
During the second period, American legislators tailored their legislation regarding secrecy after procedures that were used in Great Britain. Because of various concerns to national security, more and more types of records became classified, including records such as patents. Ericson seems to equate some civil liberties issues, such as anti-sedition legislation and censorship legislation, with government secrecy. Ericson believes that during the third period, "Conspiracy, loyalty, and secrecy became the forces that fed off one another and led to the extablihsment of the uncoordinated approach to informaton security that today is scattered throughout the federal government." Executive orders from the president authorized a great amount of classified information. The Atomic Energy Act (1946) and the National Security Act (1947) fostered the creation of much classified information. Ericson notes that even the budget of the CIA was classified until 1987. Ericson concludes by urging members of the SAA to become informed on these issues, to cooperate with other groups that encourage access to records, to encourage public official to grant access to records, and to become active in promoting civil liberties.
- Prom, Christopher. “User Interaction with Electronic Finding Aids in a Controlled Setting,” American Archivist 67 (2004): 234-268.
This article presents the results of tests that were conducted by the archives at the University of Illinois to determine how different types of potential patrons interact with various types of electronic finding aids. Prom describes the methodology used for the tests. The tests used a variety of types of participants. Some had used archives before. Some were archival novices. Some had computer experience but no archives experience. Some had archives experience, but little computer experience. The tests had a good mix of people that probably fairly represent the types of patrons an archivist would encounter. The participants were tested to see if they could find specific information at several types of sites. Some sites used searchable EAD, but others used non searchable EAD, HTML, or PDF.
There were several points in the article in which I was particularly interested. First, Prom’s findings
regarding PDF were that most participants did not like it. Not surprisingly, they felt that it was bulky and it took a long time to search. Second, search interfaces should be fairly simple and straightforward, and they should “avoid archival terminology.” Those participants who had either computer or archival experience were most successful and used the least amount of time to find what they needed. Clear mapping and browsing functions often helped searchers find what they need more efficiently than a search box. Prom also notes that users often use browser functions like CTRL+F to find the data for which they are searching. He suggests that archivists probably should not do anything that will cause this feature not to work (ie. like dividing the finding aid up into multiple pages) , unless they have a complex search system in place that can more than make up for it.
- Shuster, Robert. "Documenting the Spirit," American Archivist 45 (1982): 135-141.
Robert Shuster is archivist at Wheaton College's Billy Graham Center. In this article, Shuster contends that archivists of religious collections should work to document the enthusiasm that occurs in religious contexts. He notes that Gerald Ham pushed for archivists to select materials that would provide an accurate record of human experience. Shuster explains that enthusiasm is part of the record of human experience because it is part of the explanation for why people do the things that they do. Collecting these types of materials helps "create a true picture of the past."
Shuster points out that documenting enthusiasm is not an easy thing to do. Churches often have statistical information, and individuals often have personal papers, but these do not usually capture the essence of what Shuster is wanting. He contends that oral histories, folk art, music, and other such media would be appropriate sources for capturing a glimpse of enthusiasm, especially within a collection like his.
- Hensen, Steven L. "Revisiting Mary Jane, or, Dear Cat. Being Archival in the 21st Century," The American Archivist 65 (2002): 168-175.
Let me begin this review by duly noting that it has nothing to do with either marijuana, or a song by Tom Petty. If that's why you stopped by here, you will be sorely dissappointed. "Revisiting Mary Jane," was Steven Hensen's presidential address at the 2002 Society of American Archivists meeting in Birmingham, Alabama. Hensen reflected that a past SAA president had presented his address in the form of letters that he wrote to an aspiring archivist. Hensen wanted to do the same in his address, so he presented letters he wrote to a former Duke University archival assistant.
Hensen wanted his protege to understand several things about being an archivist in the 21st century. He noted the advantages that this former assistant had because she wanted to be an archivist since she was in the sixth grade. He talked about the quality of archival programs that were now available, compared to the sparcity of such programs during his time of education. He pointed out that the concept of archives was now an "in" thing and that in many ways, archivists would lead the information technologies fields because they had been used to managing information and ensuring authenticity for generations. Hensen also went to great lengths to promote the use of standards and to point out the benefits of being part of an association like the Society of American Archivists.
- MacNeil, Heather. "Picking Our Text: Archival Description, Authenticity, and the Archivist as Editor," The American Archivist 68 (2005): 264-278.
In this article, Heather MacNeil examines the issue of authenticity as related to archival description. She admittedly writes from a postmodern perspective, and she intends to reexamine an area that has largely been ignored. She argues that more work should be done examining the relationship between description and authenticity. She says that textual criticism offers a parallel for what the archivist often does in describing a collection, because both textual critics and archivists are trying, as much as possible, to describe an authentic representation of an original body of work.
She says that comparing textual criticism and description could mean several things. First, she contends that archivists should be up front about the nature of their work by admitting that they play an influential role on the way that later researchers interpret a collection. Second, she contends that finding aids are socio-historical texts, and that the changes that take place in them shape the way that researchers understand a collection. Third, she suggests that archivists should be open, in some way, to showing the various iterations of the text of a finding aid over time. This can be attained, largely, through the use of annotations, although one does not want to overuse them. She ends by noting that further exploration of this topic needs to be pursued.
“Navigating Ambiguous Waters: Providing Access to Student Records in the University Archives” Review
- Chute, Tamar G. and Ellen D. Swain. "Navigating Ambiguous Waters: Providing Access to Student Records in the University Archives," American Archivist 67 (2004): 212-233.
The authors of this article point out that archivists' fear of compliance with Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) will probably have a negative effect on the amount of information about students that is available for historical research in the future. They recount the history of the development of FERPA. They note that most legislators have not considered the negative effect on research that the FERPA legislation produces. They point out that very few publications on archives have addressed the issue, despite the fact that many archivists struggle with knowing how to apply FERPA. The authors surveyed a large number of university archives, and they supply the processed data from these surveys in the article. Their conclusions from the surveys are that most archivists are unsure exactly how to react to FERPA, and the way institutions seek to coordinate adherence to FERPA with access to records differs widely from institution to institution.The authors conclude the article by urging that archivists become involved in lobbying for greater access. Additionally, they urge that the SAA should establish best practices guidelines that would instruct archivists in how to comply with FERPA and grant a great degree of access to records for research purposes.
- Dingwall, Glenn. "Trusting Archivists: The Role of Archival Ethics Codes in Establishing Public Faith," American Archivist 67 (2004): 11-30.
This article examines the reasons that archives professionals should have a code of ethics to which they subscribe. Dingwall argues that on the continuum between occupations that are and are not professions, archivists fall somewhere in the middle. This leads him to ask why archivists should subscribe to a code of ethics. His main contention is that archivists should subscribe to a professional code to foster a trust of archivists by the public. Archivists have complex professional relationships with their various constituencies. Archivists must balance their commitments to both records creators and patrons, and serve as a mediator between the two. They must also answer to their employers.
Dingwall surveys the various differences in the codes of several professional archives organizations. He notes that all of them are deontologically based yet include teleological elements. He argues that archivists need to be active in comparing and revising ethical codes to include more teleological language. He believes that such actions will increase the public's trust and understanding of the archival profession. Archivists should be aware of these codes and use them in carrying out their work. Likewise, they should educate others about archival ethics.