I was just reading a recent blog post by David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, about “cultivating citizen archivists“. In the post, Mr. Ferriero relates a story about a researcher who found a previously undiscovered Revolutionary War diary among records of the U.S Senate. I was struck by how a collection is never really “finished”. Even after the careful arrangement and description by the archivist, there still may be some undiscovered bit of archival gold, something that we may not realize the contextual value of until the researcher has brought it to our attention. We can’t even begin to imagine how significant even the most mundane-seeming records will become over time. Samuel Leavitt, the Revolutionary War Soldier keeping a diary on the front, probably didn’t know the value that his first-hand account would be to future scholars. While the researcher relies on us to provide access to historical records and artifacts by preserving, promoting, and collecting, we often depend on collaboration with the researcher to provide a depth of understanding to what we hold.
This got me thinking about how we are engaging our community in documenting the history of this institution. As I wrote last week, one way is promoting our collections through exhibits and via the internet. The Flickr page maintained by the archives is another way we can connect with potential “citizen archivists”. We invite people to visit the site and browse the photos. Many of them contain unidentified people, places and events. If you recognize something or someone, please let us know and we will amend the description. We are quite proud of our large collection of photographs dating from the inception of the college to the present.
There is an eager, collaborative spirit in our society that is quite powerful when tapped in to–just look at the success of Wikipedia and other forms of social media. Even the UK National Archives have a wiki where people can share their knowledge of archival sources and British history. The UK National Archives house 1,000 years of UK Government records. Try to imagine Cincinnati 1,000 years from now, or even 500 years from now. Then, try to imagine what sorts of treasures future researchers will unearth in our archives.
In other archives news, and speaking of future treasures: Last month, The Library of Congress acquired the entire Twitter archive! That’s right–all tweets since March 2006 are available to researchers through the LOC. Read the complete story here.