From Jenny Mundy, Electronic Records Management Analyst and Records Officer: 

In the archives world, we talk a lot about processing, trying to find the best and most efficient methods for preparing archival collections for research. Traditionally this meant getting materials ready for when researchers would come to the actual building where the archives are stored, where archivists would retrieve materials for researchers to look through under supervision.

In the digital world, many of the older methods of processing have carried over, with two noteworthy differences: the large volume of content that tends to be in digital collections, and the ways in which we access digital archives. In this post, I’ll focus on the access component.

At the end of July, I attended the Digital Directions 2014 conference, hosted by the Northeast Document Conservation Center in downtown Portland. The conference covered the a wide range of topics in the field of digital collections management, and several of the presenters discussed the increasing demand from internet users to share and repurpose materials from digital archives.

Social media websites like Tumblr, Pinterest and Reddit primarily aggregate content from other websites, and digital archival collections can be a rich resource for interesting and insightful content to share. Images, sound files, and videos can simply be shared with minimal interpretation, can be combined together with content from other archives into user created collections, or can be artistically reinterpreted.

In the past, many archives have been protective of their content, wanting to retain the ability to review and approve the ways that reproductions from the archives are published. While copyright still applies online, the materials in the Multnomah County archives are in the public domain and free from copyright restrictions, just by the nature of being materials created by public employees. While as part of processing we do identify and restrict access protected personal information (like social security numbers and medical diagnoses), the primary restriction to access is simply the limitations of time and financial resources.

As we work towards increasing the amount of content we have available online, considering the changing expectations of users is something we need to take into account when selecting which materials we will digitize first. Without the staff or budget to run a mass digitization of all of our archives, or to quickly process the large amounts of born digital content we receive, we need to set priorities, factoring in researcher interest. Social media users will want to access different content than genealogists, journalists, or academic researchers, and the interests of this user base may add additional criteria, influencing our digitization and processing priorities in new ways

What do you think we could do to enable sharing of our digital and digitized archives?