As I finished my last class of the archival studies program at the University of Manitoba this past Wednesday (December 4th), my mind immediately switched into thesis mode, although my body had other plans.  My final paper that I handed in for my TRC course looked at transparency theory of the past as well as current endeavors that seek to use transparency as a means of encouraging participation.  The final section of my paper took a hard look at this blog as a case study to determine its effectiveness as a transparency mechanism.  Although it has reached a large number of people living in a number of different countries, the blog has limitations because it seems likely that it would appeal specifically to readers from an archival or academic background, which automatically limits who can participate in the blogging process through sharing or commenting.  This is not to diminish the value that has been added to the blog by having people leave comments; it is simply to state that only a specific set of voices are being heard, which of course has been an archival dilemma for far too long.

Since I am assuming who my audience is based on my fear of only reaching a limited audience, it would be much appreciated if you (the readers of this post) could introduce yourselves in the comment section below.  By doing so, you will either prove me wrong or reinforce my assumptions.  Either way it would be a great way for me to learn something about the blog`s audience, and it would also allow for the community of readers that has been following the blog to interact and participate in the discussion.

Over the past number of weeks, I have stumbled across a number of resources that have analyzed how governments and institutions can achieve transparency and in turn, user participation, by utilizing social media tools such as blogging and wikis.  Kate Theimer offers one of the best summaries of archival case studies that have utilized social media to become more transparent and promote user participation in A Different Kind of Web: New Connections Between Archives and our Users (Theimer, Kate, ed. A Different Kind of Web: New Connections Between Archives and Our Users.  Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2011).  One of the case studies offered in this book that is of particular interest to my research is Malinda Triller`s article that looks at the Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections and their attempt to use blogging as a way to improve their reference inquiry management system.  Triller explains how Dickenson used to have a paper based filing system to store their reference inquiry forms (similar to many archival institutions) but moved to a more transparent way of answering inquiries.  By using a blog, Dickenson is able to answer inquiries and upload the forms (redacting any personal information) to the blog for any researcher to access.  By doing this, it improves the overall efficiency of the inquiry system by ensuring that the same inquiry is not researched and answered twice, and it also renders the reference inquiry process transparent by having archivists put themselves and their reference inquiries on the world wide web for everybody to see.  Of course it is important to respect researcher privacy when desired.

Although this system offers an effective way of utilizing social media to document the archival processes behind reference inquiries, it only represents one way for archives to utilize social media services.  Certainly there exists many other approaches that can be taken.  I am curious to know if anybody has any other examples to share of archives (or other types of organizations) who use social media for transparency or participatory reasons.  Seeing as I am using this blog as a case study for my thesis, I will be attempting more and more each post to encourage participation.

I strongly believe that if archives wish to remain relevant, they must open up to a more transparent way of documenting archival processes and allow room for user participation to not only improve the contextual information associated with records and improve the overall accessibility of records, but to also share with users something that archivists have been withholding for far too long: archival authority.

Please stay tuned for more NRC updates.

Jesse Boiteau

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