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close this book Access to archival records: A review of current issues: A RAMP study
close this folder 1. Factors influencing the consultation and dissemination of archival information
View the document Democratization of archives
View the document Privacy concerns
View the document Non-traditional forms of records
View the document The impact of technology

Non-traditional forms of records

1.9 Current initiatives in the field of privacy are just one example of society's uneasiness in the face of technological change. In the case of archives, not only is the "shape" of information being redefined, so are the approaches adopted to manipulate it. The invention of other physical formats for records has provided new ways of creating, controlling, disseminating, and gaining access to information.

1.10 It has taken many decades for archives to confront the problems associated with the widening media field. For years, evolution within that field was relatively slow and predictable. Since textual paper records remained the dominant archival artifact, archives did little to accommodate other media such as documentary art, maps, photographs, and films. Description of records usually focused on textual paper records, with vague mentions of other media. In instances where other forms of records were voluminous, segregation and subsequent description using methods borrowed from other disciplines, such as museology and librarianship, were the norm. Providing effective access to these records was an even lesser concern, which may explain why to this day these records are still predominantly used to illustrate research rather than nourish it.

1.11 Yet, non-textual records had been acquired by archives for decades. During the 1950s, the advent of television and refinements to the printing process which reduced the cost of publishing photographs, increased the use of visual material. Non-textual non-paper archival collections, consequently, grew in size and importance within archives. But it was not until these records started being requested by large groups of researchers that archives had to face the challenges associated with conserving and diffusing nontraditional formats.

1.12 With non-paper records, access is as much a question of technology as of context and content. In the case of audio-visual records, for instance, the variety of available formats requires that archives housing such records provide the specialized equipment to permit access to the information, or continually migrate their holdings forward to the most recent storage formats and technology readers/interpreters. This equipment is not only specialized, but also transitory, as new formats are introduced and the technology is rapidly transformed. The same can be said for photographs and electronically generated information. As a consequence, archives must constantly re-format information, upgrade technology, and sometimes even maintain museums of artifactual equipment. Few archives have the resources to do so.

1.13 Intellectual retrieval practices must also be refined. It has been argued that researchers interested in artistic, photographic, and audio-visual records are item-driven. The focus of their search is a particular event, site, or person. They may also be interested in the record-creating process or history of the medium. For as long as these user groups remained relatively small, it was possible for archives to undertake extensive research to locate the items of interest. In many places, this is no longer possible, however, as other researchers have shown an interest in non-textual archives as key evidential records for the modern era.