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January 6, 2016

The Creator and The Archivist

A significant portion of certain Archivist’s job is processing collections — the activity of arranging and describing materials that have been deposited with an archive. At times this is simple. For the most part it is difficult. Consider your own paper and digital files, and imagine someone who doesn’t know you personally sifting through those files and computer desktop and download history and et cetera trying to make sense of what is there and what is important.

As a creator, these things do not matter so much. Where is the file I am working on?, and Where are the files that inform my work?, are the primary questions. If everything is in a download folder or desktop folder, it doesn’t matter much as long as the creator can find them. For future generations, that mental process is obscure and needs to be better described for discovery. The mind of the creator is foreign to us, even with Subject Matter Expertise. Creation is not a simple 7 day process, but a long series of attempts at expression and refinement. We can capture the outcomes of creation, but the process itself will remain individual and may develop across multiple media that are difficult to relate.

As Archivists, we may struggle to define and describe these processes and personalities. Depending on the scope and mission of the collections, at times more successfully than others. And this is done, despite the creator’s potentially personal feeling of remaining undefined or not being pigeon-holed. The creative process is not linear and not always easily (or satisfactorily) defined. The archival process is the same. We feel, we interpret, we guess, we analyze, and we hope for the best outcome that will please the public.

— Joshua Ranger

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Comments

  1. You are absolutely right Josh, I’d like to point also to the specificity of many audiovisual collections in this respect. Unlike for example administrative, paper (e.g. government) archives, audiovisual archives in many, many cases are the product of a very creative process. For example: when developing a radio programme format, creators are supposed to ‘think out of the box’, ‘break the rules’, ‘be original’ or at least ‘be creative’. To be able to maintain control, archivists have to deal with this and find solutions to fit these ‘creative, rule-breaking products’ into standardized processes, workflows, databases etc. I remember a radio programme at the VRT archives called “-;Alinea”. Although the hyphen and the semi-collon were unpronounced and invisible (radio, you know!), the producers insisted on them being used everywhere in the naming… So also in the archives. Although nowadays perfectly resolvable, back in those days our OpenText Basis+ had huge difficulties coping with that. And this is just a small, technical example. If we talk extensive interpretation (translated in contextualisation when we give access), we go of course way beyond, as you have stressed rightly.

  2. Thank you for this blog, Josh. But on the other hand, I have worked with creators and other technical staff (not archivisits or librarians) who have learned to be mindful about the descriptive metadata they provide. Maybe they’re in the minority, but nevertheless realize that their creative works diminish in value if they cannot be found for reuse or repurposing by their co-workers – other creatives or archivists. These same creators likewise go bananas when they cannot retrieve the works of their peers because of inadequate descriptions / metadata. It should be mentioned that these creators and archivists work within a DAM or MAM environment where strict library cataloguing rules – punctuations and all – need not be observed. Providing accurate and adequate metadata should not be a burden to the creators.

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