What should Archive accept?

February 24, 2009

Russell D. James of recordsjunkie.blogspot.com brings up a good question. Perhaps I am too extreme saying I won’t except items that have no information available.

How do you handle it when you get something like a photo with unknown persons, in an unknown place, at an unknown time? How do I even know there is a connection with the institution? Where would you keep them to pull them out for a researcher to help identify them?

Help me out with your thoughts on this one.

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9 Responses to “What should Archive accept?”

  1. Kim Laird Says:

    Library of Congress has a bunch of photos that I think are not identified. I seem to remember when they were first starting to put up the American Memories databases of photographs, they asked that people who knew who the people were or where the locations were would let them know. So often those things were not identified.

    I think the Archives of Michigan also has photographs like that, sometimes they know who one of the people are, but not all of them.

    Not sure if that helps, but just in case.

  2. Heidi Says:

    It might depend on who is on your “team.” Right now, for example, I have a faculty member at the end of his career, who happens to be on sabbatical. He is coming in to help identify a giant box of hundreds of unidentified photos. Of course the photos were already in the collection when I started 1.5 years ago, and I would have some concerns about accepting them now. I’m not sure how long you’ve been on in your position, or how much sense it makes to bring in reviewers with a lot of years at the institution.

    I also like the “keep, discard, pass on to another institution” options in a deed of gift–I often do send things on to another home.


  3. I have asked researchers in the community if they can tell me anything, I have had the local newspaper run the photo asking for help, on a weekly basis for all the photos I have in my collection that are such. I’ve heard, though never tried, of putting them up on Flickr and asking people on the many, many genealogy lists to come over and take a view and see if they can tell anything. Every photo I professionally have put out for comment has eventually been identified.

  4. Anne Foster Says:

    I think you’re first take was perfectly reasonable. Russell has made some wonderful suggestions for the perfect world where you have the time and resources available to handle the unidentified stuff. But in the real world? You have to balance potential research value against the cost of searching for identifying information–for ALL the unidentified stuff in your collection. Sometimes, it may be worth it; but often not. I like to follow a suggestion I learned in one of Herb Hartsook’s workshops–the “cure for cancer” test: as in, is it possible the “cure for cancer” might be in these records (yes, it often is possible), but is it LIKELY (no, usually not). Too often, we as archivists apply the former when we should be applying the latter–and moving on to processing those latter, besides!

  5. undergroundarchivist Says:

    We have a series in our photograph collection that is called “unidentified”–every time that the alumni magazine comes out we publish a few of these pictures in it and ask alum to help us identify these people. Now that we have a digital library (archives.colby-sawyer.edu), we plan to have an ongoing exhibit that will allow our alum to add their comments and tags right there so that we can always be learning about our unidentified materials. That being said, I don’t think I would accept a picture of a bunch of unidentified people at an unidentified location. We usually know something about the photograph (i.e. it was taken on campus or in town or we have the name of one student). I think it is rare to get a picture that has nothing to connect to the college.

  6. Abby Says:

    Our photographer is retiring this summer, so there’s a scamble to get negatives scanned and in a system that multiple people can pull from. As archivist for the college, they included me in the meeting and I’m trying to steer them towards an archive CMS (Archivist Toolkit and Archon are free and open source, so the IT guy liked it).

    Meanwhile, I have an idea of a blog, or wiki, or something that I can put scanned photos on and have employees and alumni comment or fill out a form to help ID the photo. I just haven’t worked out the delivery system, each has their pros & cons. I need something that won’t let them edit something that shouldn’t be edited, but I need something that offers some structure and suggestions of what to ID.


  7. Linda, what did you think of this experience, of casting your question about the blogospheric seas?

    As an outsider,it looks productive.


  8. True. Perhaps another comment will trickle in over the next few months, a la Long Tail.

    Did you Twitter this, or pass on the request into Facebook, too?


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