Share in our discoveries across three projects as we work to provide the first intellectual access to our hidden treasures relating to work and labor in early 20th Century New England, the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair and its period, and Boston local TV news.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Archival Theory vs. Local Practice

One of the issues that I have had to grapple with during the internships that I have done through Simmons College is that of archival theory vs. local practice. Often times, the two do not correspond very well and can even be directly contradictory. I was initially surprised at the relatively small size of the NHF collection level finding aids compared to the size and scope of the finding aids I was being asked to draft for class assignments. The latter could be several pages in length with each level of minutia vigorously defended by archival theory. What has become more apparent throughout my internships is that this approach is oftentimes not necessary, practical or even possible for many institutions.

Each institution must adapt archival theory to suit their own needs and formulate their own best practices. This allows them to achieve the end goal of providing access to their collections that could not have been accomplished through the constraints of some traditional archival methodologies. In talking with the staff here at NHF, I learned that they have adapted the standards to favor their item level focus in order to provide their users with the kind of access they desire. EAD is used and an overall data structure standard with PBCore to describe the collections at the item level. With the larger of the two collections I am working on, the Charles S. Houston collection, there are fifty-seven reels of film, all of which will be linked to the main finding aid. Also, NHF will be able to attach digital objects to these items to give their users a taste of each reel. For example, I have been selecting both photos and clips to represent the collections I am working on that will accompany their collection level finding aids on the NHF web site. This approach suits both the administrators of the collections at NHF and their user community, which is ultimately the point of an archive. Of course I understand the necessity of learning overarching archival theory, but it seems as if educators could do a better job of explaining the difference between theory and practice so that entering into the workplace is not as much of a culture shock for many students, such as myself.


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