How can we make born-digital and digitised archives more accessible? Identifying obstacles and solutions
journal contributionposted on 05.08.2022, 13:56 authored by Lise JaillantLise Jaillant
Access to data is seen as a key priority today. Yet, the vast majority of digital cultural data preserved in archives is inaccessible due to privacy, copyright or technical issues. Emails and other born-digital collections are often uncatalogued, unfindable and unusable. In the case of documents that originated in paper format before being digitised, copyright can be a major obstacle to access. To solve the problem of access to digital archives, cross-disciplinary collaborations are absolutely essential. The big challenges of our time – from global warming to social inequalities – cannot be solved within a single discipline. The same applies to the challenge of “dark” archives closed to users. We cannot expect archivists or digital humanists to find a magical solution that will instantly make digital records more accessible. Instead, we need to set up collaborations across disciplines that seldom talk to each other. Based on 21 interviews with 26 archivists, librarians and other professionals in cultural institutions, we identify key obstacles to making digitised and born-digital collections more accessible to users. We outline current levels of access to a wide range of collections in various cultural organisations, including no access at all and limited access (for example, when users are required to travel on-site to consult documents). We suggest possible solutions to the problems of access – including the ethical use of Artificial Intelligence to unlock “dark” archives inaccessible to users. Finally, we propose the creation of a global user community who would participate in decisions on access to digital collections.
AURA (Archives in the UK/ Republic of Ireland & AI): Bringing together Digital Humanists, Computer Scientists & stakeholders to unlock cultural assets
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