Library of Congress’s Cultural Heritage Archives Symposium

This past week, the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center hosted a two-day conference titled Cultural Heritage Archives: Networks, Innovation & Collaboration. With attendees from all across the country and the world, this symposium was a fertile arena for insight and discourse on many pertinent issues related to the design, management, and administration of cultural heritage archives. A wide variety of speakers from all sectors of the archival community presented inspiring papers on numerous topics. Really, there is too much to say about this symposium; so much so that justice cannot really be done in a blog post format. This is a polite way of saying you really should have been there.

To provide a brief summary of the symposium, here are the major bullet points:

  • Danna Bell-Russel, Educational Resource Specialist at LOC and SAA President, presented the first keynote address on the first day, focusing on ways that archivists can bridge connections between institutions and disciplines.
  • The first session saw many papers on use and users of cultural heritage archives from U. Oregon, Oxford, U. Colorado Boulder, Universite Paris Diderot, U. Alberta, and U. North Texas.
    • FULL DISCLOSURE: I wasn’t able to make the first part of the day’s festivities, so I’m basing this off of the symposium program.
  • The second session of the day raised some great questions about the approach to archival description, such as:
    • How should the EAC-CPF standard be applied to link archival metadata?
    • How should social media be used to expose archival collections, especially regarding collections that have significant cultural importance?
    • What’s the best way to catalog music archives with regards to quick access and use in educational settings?
  • A poster session featured many great studies on archival programming, but the most interesting was a poster on Traditional Knowledge Licensing and Labeling presented by Jane Anderson. Learn more about TK Licenses here.
  • The second day kicked off with an absolutely fabulous key note address by Sita Reddy about the decolonization efforts of indigenous peoples regarding their cultural wisdom as captured in the Hortus Malabaricus. The abstract of her presentation can be seen here.
  • On a silly note, apparently there’s no LCSH heading for bourbon.

Be sure, I could go on and on and on about the wonderful talks presented at the symposium, but that could take ages.

HOWEVER, I will say that what was most stirring about this symposium was the continued recognition of the importance of collaboration in the cultural heritage community. Be it with ethnic or cultural groups, be it with archival users or audiences, artists, collectors, IT staff, archive administrators, or what have you, the repeated anthem of the two-day symposium was that archivists must constantly seek out new and innovative ways to collaborate with internal and external parties to ensure that the collections survive in perpetuity and gain new life through continued access and use.

One point was brought up that I thought also bears mentioning. During a Q&A session, Timothy Powell of the American Philosophical Society declared that he felt that a group was missing from the day’s proceedings and that the group was digital humanists. This struck me as odd as the statement appeared to come from an “us-them” perspective that set up digital humanists as external to archivists. I feel however that the digital humanities is a broad, reflexively-inclusive term that has within its scope all who work with the humanities, be they scholars, archivists, librarians, &c. Considering the increased prevalence of digital formats of preservation and access that occur in the archival community, one is hardpressed to find a humanist that doesn’t, in one form or another, operate in the digital world. In this regard, I disagree that the digital humanities were unrepresented; rather, many — if not all — of the attendees at the symposium are a part of the digital humanities, they just might not know it yet.

To wrap up, the symposium was a great forum of ideas on a wide array of topics in the cultural heritage archival field. Great perspectives were shared and I hope to see many excellent collaborations emerge from the proceedings.

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Be sure to keep your ear to the ground as the LOC will likely make videos of the symposium sessions available online through the webcasts site.

For even MORE cultural heritage archives fun, be sure to check out the symposium’s twitter feed at #chas13.

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