Wednesday, 25 June 2008


Tagging is one way to harness user knowledge about existing items. Tagging is the process of adding tags to an object and both the creator and users of the object can do it. A tag is "a non-hierarchical keyword or term assigned to a piece of information which helps describes an item and allows it to be found again by browsing or searching."

Tags are an informal way of classifying items using user terminology. The use of tags by archives has not been very widespread, although there are some examples of archives with photography collections allowing users to add information about images.

Instead, tagging has been used more in the museum sector, particularly in art museums to encourage users to label images with their own words. Tagging improves access to resources by allowing users to search for keywords in a vocabulary that’s familiar to them. In this way it helps museums to bridge the gap between the language used by museum staff in creating descriptions and that used by visitors when searching for an object.

  • Steve.Museum Project (this project uses social tagging for the art collections of several museums)
  • Powerhouse Museum (this site allows user to add keywords to the items held in its online collections database)
An example of the differences in language used by museum and archive staff to categorise items and that used by visitors to find items is in the Smithsonian Photography Initiative where there is a picture of an elephant. For this picture the Smithsonian staff assigned the keywords of mammal, zoology and architecture. It is only in the visitor’s keyword section that the word elephant was actually been assigned.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Harnessing the power of our users

New technologies allow archives to share information in different ways but they also allow users to share their knowledge. This is one of the key concepts of Web 2.0 where collective intelligence and the wisdom of the crowd is harnessed by technologies turning the web into a kind of global brain (according to O'Reilly).

Examples where this has worked particularly well include Amazon and Ebay where information submitted by users are key to the success of these businesses. For archives with regular users the ability to capture some of their knowledge of the collections would be beneficial particularly as long-term users would have significant amounts of accumulated knowledge that would be of benefit to the archive and other users.

There are several ways to "harness the power of the crowd" in an archive:

  • Allow the items in your catalogue to be 'tagged' by users with their descriptive terms (this can be particularly good for images).
  • Start a wiki which will allow users to edit information about collections to complement your official resources.
  • Encourage users to share information they have with each other through forums and discussions.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008


It can seem like podcasts are everywhere - on our radios (Terry Wogan's best bits), in our newspapers (the Guardian's podcasts), even at the supermarket (Tesco podcasts). But what is a podcast and why would an archive have one?

A podcast is a digital audio recording that is made available over the Internet for users to listen to on their computer or on a MP3 player. They have been used by a huge variety of people and organisations to record information and present it to users in audio format and some reports suggest that 10% of all UK adults have downloaded a podcast.

Possible uses for podcasts in an archival setting are:

  • To share talks given by their archivists and guest lecturers at the repository with a wider audience.
  • To create regular news bulletins about new accessions or changes.
  • To provide audio guides for users about certain collections.
  • To give basic information about how to use an archive.

These are the kinds of activities that the National Archives have been successfully using their podcast series for which in March 2007 had been downloaded 8,000 times in just three months. By using podcasts they have widened the potential audience for talks given at the National Archives and the Family Records Centre and allowed users to better prepare for their research by listening to guidance before visiting or using online collections.

While podcasts are not as simple as a blog to put together it is possible and would be ideal for an archive that regularly hosts talks or lectures to record these and publish them as podcasts for a wider audience.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Blogs part 3 - How to start one

Starting a blog is pretty easy and there is lots of excellent guidance on the Internet already about how to do it so I'll direct you to that rather than try and explain it myself.

There are some things to consider before setting up a blog.

  • Have a clear idea about what your blog is for?
  • Will it be an organisational one or an individual one?
  • Will you have time to write posts and will more than one person be able to post to the blog?
  • Does it fit in with your organisation's policy on using external software/technologies?
  • Are you going to allow comments and will they be moderated?
  • How will you publicise your blog? Link from your homepage, post to the listserve, make it open for listing by the blogging host? It is up to you to decide what is appropriate.

When you are setting up a blog, many of these questions will be options that you will be able to chose. For example whether to allow reader comments or multiple blog authors.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Blogs part 2 - the benefits

The main benefit of a blog is that it gives your organisation an extra way to communicate with your audience. For this to be truly beneficial, it is important that the blog has something constructive to say that will engage with its the intended audience. There is little point in blogging just to be seen to be using a new technology, it must be effective as well.

Some of the benefits from communicating using a blog include raising awareness through a different channel, creating a community and giving readers and writers of the blog a chance to create conversations about issues and collections. However, a blog will work best where an organisation is confident that it has interesting information to post on a regular basis.

I've outlined below some of the ways a blog can be used on a personal level and also by organisations to showcase collections or for specific exhibitions. I think that a blog is one of the simplest ways to engage with Web 2.0 technology as its one of the easiest and cheapest ways to implement this technology in an organisation and it provides a way to communicate immediately with users in an informal manner. Personally I think its the ultimate have a go technology, if it doesn't work for you then you can delete your blog and try something else. If it does work then you will have gained a new audience, generated interest in your collections and have joined a wider blogging community.

So give it a try!

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