Report Brings Archival Perspective to Problems in Managing Digital Information

For Immediate Release February 17, 2000

Contact: Abby Smith 202-939-4758

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) has published Enduring Paradigm, New Opportunities: The Value of the Archival Perspective in the Digital Environment, by Anne J. Gilliland-Swetland, assistant professor in UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. The report examines how the archival perspective can be useful in addressing problems faced by those who design, manage, disseminate, and preserve digital information.

For years, archivists have grappled with many of the issues that are gaining broad attention in the digital environment. Since the 1960s, the archival community has worked closely with creators of records and record-keeping systems to develop means to identify and preserve digital records that have no paper counterpart. Emerging dialog about how to define and ensure authenticity in digital objects can also benefit from the archivist’s perspective. Archival institutions serve an important legal function in society, and concern for retaining the evidential value of records has placed the archival community at the forefront of research and development in digital authentication.

There are other aspects of the archival profession that bring valuable perspective to the creation, management, and dissemination of digital information. The author notes that because archives focus on records, archivists are keenly aware of how societal, institutional, and individual memory is constructed, and the implications of how that memory is represented and transmitted over time. This is especially important as more of the world’s collections are reformatted and represented online, where information is subject not only to corruption or outright loss, but also to loss of context. The archival community has been active in exploiting the roles of context and hierarchy in information retrieval.

Whereas libraries primarily manage existing information—traditionally in published form, but this is changing—archives are also intimately engaged in shaping the historical record and its ultimate disposition.

The author reviews several recent and ongoing projects in which the archival community has provided leadership in setting the agenda or integrating the archival perspective. The projects have addressed the integrity of information, metadata, knowledge management, risk management, and knowledge preservation. Many of the projects discussed have in common a concern for evidence in information creation, storage retrieval, and preservation; cross-community collaboration; strategies that use both technological processes and management procedures; development of best practices and standards; and evaluation.

Digital technology is erasing many of the distinctions between custodians of information and custodians of artifacts. Museum curators, librarians, archivists, and information technology specialists face many common concerns in the digital environment. The author views this broad base of professionals as a new “metacommunity” and argues that its members face an unprecedented opportunity to contribute their distinct perspectives to develop a new paradigm for the creation, management, and dissemination of digital information.

Enduring Paradigm is available from the Council on Library and Information Resources for $15 prepaid, including postage and handling. Checks should be made payable to CLIR and mailed to CLIR Publication Orders, 1755 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Suite 500, Washington, D.C., 20036-2124. Credit card orders may be placed by calling CLIR at 202-939-4750, sending a fax to 202-939-4765, or sending e-mail to info@clir.org. A complete list of publications appears on CLIR’s Web site, www.clir.org.

The Council on Library and Information Resources works in partnership with libraries, archives, and other information providers to advocate collaborative approaches to preserving the nation’s intellectual heritage and strengthening the many components of its information system. It works to support institutions as they integrate audiovisual and digital resources and services into their well-established, print-based environments.

# # #