Supporting diverse user groups of archives for open dialogue in digital humanities

Ying-Hsang Liu

On 27 April 2022, our OsloMet team members of Prof Pia Borland, Prof Nils Pharo and Dr Ying-Hsang Liu have presented a talk titled “Supporting Diverse User Groups of Archives for Open Dialogue in Digital Humanities” at the first ASIS&T 24-Hour Global Conference. As imperialist powers have produced different narratives about themselves: what are these and how have they entered the audio and visual archives? How can archives become part of a challenging conversation around colonialism? Before answering these big questions, the Oslomet team has focused on how do different user groups search video archives, and what information needs and search strategies these different groups may have.

From a survey study using pop-up questionnaires hosted on our partner organisations, Pitt Rivers Museum in the UK, the national audio and video archive of the Netherlands Sound & Vision, EUscreen, and Aix Marseille University in France, we have received a total of 46 responses from November 2021 to April 2022. We have identified a more diverse group of users of archives than previously suggested in the research literature. Specifically, we found that in addition to traditional user groups, such as archivists, historians, students and university lecturers, activists and media professionals are also represented. Interestingly, other user groups include authors, independent researchers, drum collectors, textile anthropologists and communication specialists. They visit the digital archives for jobs, studies or personal interests. Other capacities of the visit include finding photos related to my community, a mix of work and interest (social activist), and restitution and repatriation.

Regarding user information needs, types of search questions ranked by frequency include:

  • Subject: "Visual representations in anthropological films of the 20s and 30s";
  • Imposed: “Information required by the broadcaster”;
  • Exploratory: “at this stage I just want to see what photographs are in the collection”;
  • Specific: "The Victoria, British Columbia, photographer Richard Maynard (1832–1907) and any photos in your holdings”.

Why are they seeking this information? They are primarily trying to find a particular item, gain knowledge, and support work tasks. And how are they going to use this information? The most frequent answers are for supporting work tasks, generating creative work, and gaining knowledge about the topic. Other use of information includes ‘Learning more about my heritage’, ‘It depends on what I find’, and ‘To disseminate research’.

Overall, these findings suggest a diverse group of users of archives with different information needs and information use. Aside from finding a particular item to support work tasks, it can be found in photos related to the community to learn about one’s heritage, or it can be an exercise of restitution and repatriation. This opens a dialogue for the polyvocal interpretations of colonial heritage collections.