Thinking about convergence

This semester, I was the co-ordinator for a unit called “Convergence and cultural institutions”. It was a little ironic, as I have been one of the few voices in the department that routinely challenges the idea that convergence is a) happening and b) inevitable. I was (and to a significant degree remain) a convergence sceptic.

Part of this is, I think, about the way in which convergence is defined. In the digital media world, where convergence theory had its start, convergence is about shared or single modes of delivery of content. However, convergence in the library and information sector now seems to include shared resources, single points of physical access and so on.

A recent research article, Passion trumps pay, highlights some of these concerns. In this article, the researchers focus on the role of the information professional in the GLAM sector. This seems to me to be the start of confusion. Information professionals such as archivists, records managers and librarians may be found in a range of institutions and organisations, often as small specialist sectors, as identified by Vanessa Finney in her presentation in Canberra in 2013. Similarly, as any school archivist will tell you, archives or special collections staff may also find themselves in charge of a small collection of realia or artwork, which may or may not be managed in accordance with museum principles. Does the inclusion of these staff within a GLAM institution constitute convergence (or some degree of the same)?  Or is it just that we work in a range of organisations, some of which are also tagged as ‘memory’ or cultural institutions?

Interestingly, the museum participants identified that their co-workers – science researchers and some curators (for which read art or history curators?) – lacked the information literacy and information management skills of the information professionals. The study has suggested that this might need to be addressed in undergraduate degrees, but I would rather suggest that this is why there are information professionals in those organisations in the first place.

Archivists and gallery staff apparently disputed whether or not they were information professionals in accordance with the definition used in the study:

an individual working in a library, archive, museum, cultural heritage or information environment whose aim is to maintain, and often improve, access to the ever growing amount of information generated from within the culture and heritage industry, the media, and, increasingly, by the general public.

(Terras, 2009)

According to the authors of the study, this is because archivists identified that

archives until now have not been driven by access (the principle theme of the Terras (2009) definition) but rather by their legislated requirements (in terms of the records initially kept) and the need to preserve the material that they manage. Although they conceded that the archive is moving towards a more access-focussed model, they see their role as more specialised, and in some cases more crucial, as archivists often manage the only copies of specific information that exists.

I’m sorry, but what? Archivists don’t get, or have not been, driven by access?

“His Creed, The Sanctity of Evidence; his Task, the Conservation of every scrap of Evidence attaching to the Documents committed to his charge; his Aim, to provide, without prejudice or afterthought, for all who wish to know the Means of Knowledge” (Jenkinson 2003:258).

I think this highlights that we may be talking at cross purposes, as separate textual communities, where we share common terminology but have different understandings of what is meant. Until we resolve these textual problems, convergence will be some way off.

Finally, there was some discussion on the role of education in a ‘converged’ environment. Librarians and museologists agreed that this was something that could be addressed, but the archivists again disagreed, identifying that there are already enough pressures in the standard archives course, leading to minimal knowledge in core areas. Speaking as an educator of both librarians and archivists, in a combined BA degree and combined Masters program, I would agree. In fact, I would suggest that the archives and records curriculum is somewhat truncated, when compared with that for librarians.

I’m very keen on looking at ways we can work together, through collaboration and linked data, but the idea that we will somehow become a single profession, working across ‘memory’ or knowledge institutions, seems unlikely.

On one thing though, we do agree, the study’s authors, the participants and me. Our professions are about passion. How we teach that, or maintain it, is far more challenging.





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Archivist, historian, avid reader

5 thoughts on “Thinking about convergence”

  1. Hi Lise,

    Thanks for reading the article and for your views in relation to it – always good to hear where people are coming from and to entertain different perspectives.

    As one of the authors, I did just want to clarify one thing regarding your reaction to the excerpt regarding archives and access. What is in that excerpt is taken directly from what a group of Australian archivists told me at a focus group that I conducted as part of the study. It is not merely the opinion of the authors, but rather the researchers reporting on what was said. I’m not suggesting that you were implying that it was our opinion only, but I did feel it could be interpreted that way. So yes, there really are archivists out there who don’t see (or who haven’t until now) that access is an important part of the archival role! Unbelievable, I know!

  2. Hi Katherine,

    As I said, I wondered if it was more about how we think about access and what questions were asked. Thinking about the issue of access, and legislation, I thought it probably more likely that they were considering the challenges that archivists face in regards to access that a librarian, with more traditional materials, might not face. A publication is, by definition, a publicly accessible document. Archives might be restricted by legislation – routine closed access periods of 20 -30 years, restrictions due to privacy and FOI legislation, etc – or by donation requirements. They may also have a very particular mandate and audience, like some special libraries. Librarians dealing with ‘grey literature’, with a limited audience, or a manuscript collection might have similar concerns.

    This seems to me to be an area worth teasing out. After all, there is no point in having a collection, if at some point you don’t make it available to someone. That’s why arrangement and description is such an important part of archival work.

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