Beth Luey 2014-02-11 10:57:20
Technology has made it possible—some would say necessary—for archivists to make their holdings accessible to a broad audience. For some collections, providing virtual access to images is enough. For most, though, images alone do not provide intellectual access. Perhaps the handwriting is difficult to decipher, full names are missing, or references to events are baffling.Inconsistent spelling may render simple word searches inadequate. Unless time and money are unlimited, archivists must decide which documents should be put online. In all these cases, archivists become documentary editors, making appropriate selection decisions and providing transcriptions, annotation, and tagging. An Institute Revamp Thanks to a grant to the Association for Documentary Editing (ADE) from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, I have been working for the past three years with an advisory board to update the annual Institute for Editing Historical Documents to prepare new editors—archivists, teaching faculty, and independent scholars as well as the staff of editions—to apply the standards of the profession in the digital age. For instance, archivists from the Mary Baker Eddy Library and the Moody Bible Institute attended the institute to prepare to digitize collections of religious figures. Other archivists who have attended are publishing the papers of a major twentiethcentury composer, nineteenthcentury abolitionist petitions, and Civil War documents. Under a new three-year grant directed by my successor Bob Karachuk, ADE will collaborate with the Society of American Archivists and other professional associations to provide workshops tailored to the needs of specific groups. Making Editorial Decisions At the institute, new editors are guided in editorial decision making. We ask them to first describe the scope of the project and the intended audience—two questions that must be decided, at least tentatively, before moving forward. We also ask them to consider if they will produce a print edition, digital edition, or hybrid. With those decisions made, we move on to the editorial process and consider a number of questions: • How can editors formulate a selection policy that will be efficient, so that they don’t have to agonize about whether to include each document? • What should be done with documents that are not included? • What sort of transcription policy makes sense for this collection—a strictly literal transcription, or one in which, say, end punctuation can be added silently and abbreviations expanded? • How much annotation is needed, and what sources should be used? • What information should be provided beyond the notes, such as maps, illustrations, or chronologies? • How detailed should the index, or digital tagging, be? • How many digital bells-and-whistles should be provided? For example, should links to annotation sources be provided? As you might guess, the answer is almost always “i A small group session at the Institute for Editing Historical Documents. T depends.” Documentary editions illustrate a range of acceptable practices, depending on the size of the collection, the nature of the documents, the resources available, the purpose of publication, and the anticipated audience. Workshops in collaboration with SAA will focus on areas that are especially problematic for archivists. The most obvious “problem” for archivists is having an embarrassment of riches that create conflicting priorities.One collection may cry out for digitization because its condition is deteriorating.Another collection may be in high demand because of an approaching anniversary or increased public interest.It may be easier to raise funds for one collection than others. Archivists may also have more difficulty in formulating a selection policy, again because of the size of collections. It is rarely possible to publish every document, and it may be necessary at the outset to determine what percentage of a collection the editors can publish, given the amount of money and staff time available. Selection criteria should be transparent to both the staff and researchers. For example, an editor might decide to publish only public papers, or only documents created in a certain time period. But the criteria must also be flexible enough to allow for changes as the project matures.For example, at the beginning of a project, editors typically decide to omit routine correspondence. As the project develops, it may become clear that later in the subject’s life, routine correspondence, such as invitations to public events or responses to these invitations, are important in understanding the social or political milieu in which he or she circulated. Tradesmen’s bills may seem routine, but researchers are often interested in a subject’s financial status, management of resources, or commercial network.Understanding the way researchers use a collection can be extremely helpful. Archivists also must be familiar with transcription and annotation, including the basic principles, questions to be asked, policy formation, and verifying methods. Archivists are generally more experienced with indexing than other editors, so it may not be necessary to cover the topic in much detail.All editorial decisions and policies need to be written up clearly, but this is especially important when volunteers or interns participate in the process, as is often the case in smaller institutions. Crowdsourcing transcription or annotation requires even more detailed written policies. A system of checking work for uniformity is crucial for any editorial project, but doubly so for one using volunteers, whether they are physically present or digitally distant. Upcoming Workshops Which of these issues should be covered, and in what depth, remain to be decided in discussions between SAA and ADE. Another question to be discussed is the ideal size for such a workshop and, depending on that, what teaching methods will work best.Our experience with the institute suggests that interactive learning, with opportunities for each participant to present special problems, is most productive. We have also learned that participants value the opportunity to build relationships with colleagues working with similar projects and settings. We look forward to creating a productive and stimulating collaboration and participating in excellent workshops
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