Session 22: Participatory Archiving

Moderator: Edward Benoit III (Louisiana State University)
Connecting the Disconnected: Developing a Participatory Archival Design Methodology / Joanne Evans (Monash University)

The Australian archival and recordkeeping community does not (or perhaps should not) need another Royal Commission to highlight disconnects and dysfunctions with current archival access frameworks when it comes to individuals and communities dealing with identity, memory and accountability crisis. A succession of inquiries and reports over the past two decades (at last count 80+) have called for better archival and recordkeeping systems and improved access regimes, for those who experienced forced or otherwise removal from their families into institutional or other out-of-home ‘care’ as children. Those searching for their records, along with those who help them, must continually cope with a plethora of patchwork systems, as they try to piece together an archive of their experiences. While some incremental improvements, through funding of documentation and indexing projects within individual institutions and/or for particular communities, has occurred, methodologies to substantially and sustainably reform and transform recordkeeping and archival systems and services are lacking.

Much discussion at AERI over the past 7 years of the power of archives to enfranchise, disenfranchise, empower and oppress has identified the key challenge of enabling recordkeeping and archival practices and systems which better reflect and represent a multiplicity of voices and viewpoints. There is recognition that a neat alignment of documents in files in boxes on shelves in an archival repository belies the complexity of the lives and messiness of the actions and decisions contained therein, and often misrepresents the stories of the records themselves. Acknowledging this complexity, embracing the messiness, making the connections and the disconnections, revealing the presences and the absences, requires archival and recordkeeping infrastructure which can effectively and efficiently continually bring pasts into the present, capture rich and varied representations of the here and now into the future, and invite and sustain rather than limit participation.

This paper will outline the aims, concepts, methods and challenges of a research program to develop a participatory archival design methodology. Funded by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship in 2014, this research aims to iteratively develop a reference model of participatory recordkeeping and archival services, constructed around principles of co-creation, metadata interoperability and consciously embracing the spiritual and emotional, alongside the physical and intellectual, dimensions of records. With inclusive and value sensitive design principles informing both research and archival and recordkeeping system design an integrated and iterative set of conceptual, empirical and technical studies will be undertaken to co-design with members of communities experiencing identity, memory and accountability crises an integrated access network for the post-hoc reconstruction of identity and memory from extant archival records, and a life story archive system for children currently in care. The ultimate aim is to increase the capacity of recordkeeping and archival systems to be tools of healing and reconciliation, rather than of continuing oppression and trauma.

Beyond Folksonomies: Assessing the ‘Participatory Turn’ in Archival Studies / Patricia Garcia (UCLA)

The term “participatory archive” is used to describe archival projects that invite users to participate in a variety of archival processes, such as providing descriptive metadata or contributing archival materials to help improve collections. Optimistic about the affordances of networked technologies, a large majority of projects seek user engagement in an online context through web-based interactive platforms. However, optimism about the affordances of networked technologies and the new possibilities they provide for working with archival sources should not allow the movement toward online participatory archives and the call for increased public participation to go unexamined.

While the types of participation that archival projects request vary, the wide-range of archival processes that participants complete are monolithically described as “participation.” Thus, while archival institutions have extensively encouraged user participation, the nature and forms of archival participation need further analysis and articulation. This paper examines the relationship between participatory culture and information organizations and proposes a framework for assessing how and in what ways an archival project facilitates participation. 

Disaster and Dissent: Participatory Action Research and the Community Archive / Virginia Luehrsen (University of Texas Austin)

In this paper, I will present a pilot study from my work in central Texas that utilizes participatory action research in the construction of a community archive being designed in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Participatory action research (PAR) is a methodological approach based upon a constructionist epistemology that allows for community members to be integral to the creation and management of their archive, and the information it contains. PAR involves facilitating community conversations and problem solving, including how information, objects, and meaning are variably constituted. This pilot study forms the foundation of my dissertation proposal, and helped guide me towards the use of information practice as a theoretical perspective to ground my work. While results of PAR are not meant to be generalizable, I will share my process and methods, and how it can be used to overcome community dissent in the stressful aftermath of disaster. Finally, I will discuss the opportunities PAR affords, as well as some of the setbacks I encountered, including ongoing dissent within the field for a non-positivist approach to research.