LAMs - We're not so different

Nick Krabbenhoeft
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When I connected information theory with the OAIS model in a previous post, I had a much larger goal in mind. The library, archive, and museum communities have spent decades cataloging their differences.…or describing or registering them, depending on your profession. While those differences are real and should be recognized, we have been ignoring our similarities. Because digital tools make sharing and collaboration much easier, we should be building on the similarities.

According to the Society of American Archives,Overview of the Archives Profession these are our differences:

The librarian and the archivist… both collect, preserve, and make accessible materials for research; but significant differences exist in the way these materials are arranged, described, and used.

The museum curator and the archivist are associated; however, the museum curator collects, studies, and interprets mostly three-dimensional objects, while the archivist works with paper, film, and electronic records.

In sum, libraries, archives, and museums collect similar things, describe them in different ways, and allow different uses.take it home vs. read it here vs. look through the glass And based on those differences, we’ve created separate schools, separate professional associations, and separate technical standards. And we ignore the edge cases.

  • Who creates exhibitions at archives and libraries?
  • What makes a special collections library different from an archives?
  • How is a study collection at a museum managed?
  • What does a museum do with an object’s provenance documentation?
  • Do libraries, archives, and museums transfer custody of all objects that do not fit their ideal format?

Finding the similarities is by no means a new idea. I think it’s most successfully demonstrated by DPLA, which despite being a library contains over 9 million records from libraries AND archives AND museums. All of us are collecting institutions. No matter what lines we try to draw between our collections, its all just stuff, stuff that hopefully we can make accessible to our communities.

However, in our quest to catalog our differences, we created specialized vocabularies that petrified those differences. What we need is to step back from the minutiae of day-to-day processes and to take a high-level view of what our organizations do. I think OAIS offers the best platform to do that from.

The first step is to translate library, archives, and museum functions onto the OAIS model. Stay tuned…

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