Archives, Archivists and Data gathering

Dennis MeissnerIn a recent OTR post Kathleen Roe emphasized the need to start gathering baseline data about ourselves, our repositories, and our collections.  Not for their own sake, but to buttress our advocacy arguments. I am especially interested in collecting such information, and I would like to devote some serious energy towards compiling and evaluating the data we need to define, value, and promote our work.

It’s been over more than ten years since the A*CENSUS snapshot and we are in serious need of a refresh of those data.  But at the same time I’m starting to wonder whether a repeat of that effort is the right way to proceed.  If we simply gather a compendium of data about ourselves, who’s going to care?  I’m concerned that a data set like that simply extends a self-referential conversation that has always gone on among ourselves and our closest allies.

But what if we were to turn the lens in another direction?  What if, instead, we were to start asking questions about our users and their needs; how they use archives and for what purposes; and what changes in our public service model would help them achieve success?  If we could make a data-informed case for public investment in archives based on expanding user success, then perhaps we will see people – funders, legislators, researchers, and employers — start to care.  Funders, legislators, researchers, and employers.

I’m thinking we need to marry the the information that’s purely about us, with a very large helping of information that which is about use and users. It is those data that will ultimately define our public value and, therefore, substantiate our advocacy arguments.

So how do we start to gather this other data set?  Who do we ask?  What do we ask? How do we ask it?  What existing data can we chew on?   I believe we need to head in this direction, but I’m unsure how we turn the ship.  I would greatly appreciate hearing your ideas.

Dennis Meissner, Vice-President/President Elect

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