American Archivist (Vol. 64, No.1 / Spring-Summer 2001)
Abstracts and Author Bios
Pease Award: Analysis of Remote Reference Correspondence at a Large Academic
Kristin E. Martin
This paper analyzes 595 letter, phone, facsimile, and e-mail correspondence
units sent to the Southern Historical Collection and General and Literary Manuscripts
(SHC) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1995 and 1999,
to observe the effects of providing online holdings information and the increased
use of e-mail in reference correspondence. From 1995 to 1999, e-mail became
the preferred method of inquiry, more questions came from casual users researching
for personal reasons, more users took advantage of online holdings information
to shape their reference questions, and the proportion of remote users visiting
in person decreased. The paper concludes by suggesting ways for archivists
to prepare for new influxes of remote researchers and methods to improve remote
Kristin E. Martin completed the Master of Science in Library Science from
the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May 2000. She is currently
the Assistant Archivist at the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland, Ohio.
A Virtual Expression of Need: An Analysis of E-mail Reference Questions
Wendy M. Duff and Catherine A. Johnson
This paper analyzes e-mail reference questions posed to archivists in order
to enhance our understanding of how users of archives seek information. This
study analyzed 375 e-mail reference questions submitted to provincial, federal,
university, city and special archives in order to determine, from the users'
own words, how users formulate reference requests to archives. Understanding
what elements the archives' client uses to describe his or her information
need enables the creation of more relevant archival descriptive tools. According
to this analysis, people used proper names, dates, places, subject, form, and,
occasionally, events when composing their information request. As archives
move toward a greater presence on the World Wide Web, archivists should design
electronic information systems that account for the information seeking patterns
expressed in e-mail reference requests.
Wendy M. Duff has been an assistant professor at the University of Toronto
Faculty of Information Studies, since 1997. She teaches classes in records
management, electronic records management, and archival description. She earned
her Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh, and was project coordinator for
the University of Pittsburgh Electronic Recordkeeping Project. Prior to receiving
her doctorate, Duff worked in archives and libraries for more than a decade.
Catherine A. Johnson is completing her Ph.D. in information studies at the
University of Toronto, where her research interest is in the information seeking
behavior of disadvantaged groups.
Finding Finding Aids on the World Wide Web
Helen R. Tibbo and Lokman I. Meho
This study explored how well six popular Web search engines performed in retrieving
specific electronic finding aids mounted on the World Wide Web. A random sample
of online finding aids was selected and then searched using AltaVista, Excite,
Fast Search, Google, Hotbot, and Northern Light, employing both word and phrase-searching.
As of February 2000, approximately 8 percent of repositories listed at the "Repositories
of Primary Resources" Web site had mounted at least four full finding
aids on the Web. The most striking finding of this study was the importance
of using phrase searches whenever possible, rather than word searches. Also
of significance was the fact that if a finding aid were to be found using any
search engine, it was generally found in the first ten or twenty items at most.
The study identifies the best performers among the six chosen search engines.
Combinations of search engines often produced much better results than did
the search engines individually, evidence that there may be little overlap
between the top hits provided by individual engines.
Helen R. Tibbo is the Francis Carroll McColl Professor in the School of Information
and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She
teaches classes in archives and records management and information retrieval.
She was a member of the Council of the Society of American Archivists from
1997 to 2000.
Lokman I. Meho is a doctoral candidate in the School of Information and Library
Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has degrees
in political science from the American University in Beirut and a M.L.S. degree
from North Carolina Central University. In September 2001 he will join the
faculty of the School of Information Science and Policy, University at Albany,
State University of New York.
Politics in the (Russian) Archives: The "Objectivity Question," Trust,
and the Limitations of Law
William G. Rosenberg
Laws and archival regulations that assure open access to essential records
and guarantee their preservation are essential to the ability of a free society
to understand itself and assure freedom in the future. They represent a set
of standards against which the administration of particular archives can be
measured. The relationship of formal laws and regulations to actual archival
practices is still, in my view, a limited one however. Because of this limited
relationship, archivists and the scholars who use archival collections, are
involved in political contests with state authorities over who controls the
information in an archives. The history of the archives of the U.S.S.R. and
the sates of the former Soviet Union exemplifies these conflicts and the necessity
of adhering to professional ethical standards in the absence of legal regulation.
William G. Rosenberg, president-elect of the American Association for the
Advancement of Slavic Studies, is Alfred G. Meyer Collegiate Professor of History
at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Together with Francis X. Blouin he
directed in 2000-2001 a Sawyer Seminar on Archives, Documentation, and the
Institutions of Social Memory, supported by the Mellon Foundation. He is the
author of a number of books and articles on modern Russian and Soviet history.
A Question of Custody: The Colonial Archives of the United States Virgin Islands
Jeannette Allis Bastian
This article examines the pivotal relationship between custody and access
and the principle of provenance through a case study of the records of a former
Danish colony, the United States Virgin Islands. In 1917, when the United States
purchased the Virgin Islands from Denmark, Danish archivists removed the majority
of the records created there during their colonial rule and deposited them
in the Danish National Archives. Following its establishment in the 1930s,
the National Archives of the United States sent an archivist to the Virgin
Islands to claim most of the remaining records and ship them to Washington.
The native population of the Virgin Islands, primarily former colonials whose
ancestors were brought from Africa as slaves, were left without access to the
sources that comprised their history. The claim of the people of the Virgin
Islands to custody of their records relies on an expanded definition of provenance
that includes a principle of territoriality and the allied principle of unbroken
custody. The custodial claims of Denmark, the United States and the Virgin
Islands to these records suggests dissonance between legal custody and archival
principles, but postcustodial archival management practices may be able to
resolve these competing claims.
Jeannette Allis Bastian is an assistant professor in the Graduate School of
Library and Information Science at Simmons College, where she teaches courses
in the archival education program. Before receiving her Ph.D. from the University
of Pittsburgh, she was the director and territorial librarian of the Division
of Libraries and Archives in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Voices From Vietnam: Building a Collection from a Controversial War
Michael E. Stevens
The Voices from Vietnam Project at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin
resulted in the creation of a substantial body of Vietnam War-era materials.
The Society acquired 137 collections from the state's Vietnam veterans as a
result of a book publishing project. The article discusses obstacles in acquiring
Vietnam War collections and ways of overcoming them. Issues include the relationships
between donors and staff the emotional value of the originals and the importance
of the media in project promotion. By providing potential donors with tangible
evidence of how researchers use archival materials, the book project demonstrated
to donors that their own writings were a part of history.
Michael E. Stevens is Wisconsin State Historian and administrator of the Division
of Public History at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. He formerly
served as assistant state archivist and acting state archivist of Wisconsin.
The Usability of Online Archival Resources: The Polaris Project Finding Aid
Burt Altman and John R. Nemmers
This case study examines how the Florida State University Libraries' Claude
Pepper Library planned the first phase of the Pepper OnLine Archival Retrieval
and Information System (POLARIS) Projectthe development of an on-line
finding aid and search engineto provide electronic access to its unique
resources. It also demonstrates how the project staff studied the research
usability of the Pepper Collection finding aid in the on-line environment.
The identification of potential users, creation of a focus group based on a
sampling of these users, and the compilation and analysis of focus group responses
were important factors in planning the first phase, evaluating usability of
the finding aid, and influencing the changes that the POLARIS Project team
Burt Altman has been the archivist of the Claude Pepper Collection at the
Florida State University Libraries since January 1981. He holds an M.L.S. from
Long Island University and an M.A. in American history from Adelphi University
John R. Nemmers is an assistant archivist at the Claude Pepper Library at
Florida State University, where he has been employed as a project archivist
for the POLARIS Project since 1998. He earned an M.L.S. and a specialist degree
in archives from Florida State University.
A Perspective on Indexing Slaves' Names
David E. Paterson
The indexing of slave names poses problems for archivists who seek to create
more detailed access to information about slaves that is contained in a wide
variety of records. A system of indexing that uses the slaveowner's name as
a primary reference point in finding aids is proposed. This methodology reflects
the recordkeeping practices of the time and provides an additional element
of identity, beyond first name, that allows different records to be connected
with each other.
David E. Paterson has a B.A. in history from the University of Oregon and
an M.A. in management from Webster University. He is the author of A Frontier
Link with the World: Upson County's Railroad and has also published The Freedmen's
Bureau in Upson County Georgia, 1865-1869, an annotated complication of documents
from the National Archives. He is a program manager with TESCO, Inc, a training
technology company in Pensacola, Florida.
In Interesting Times: From the Twentieth Century to the Twenty-first
Clare Beghtol is an associate professor at the University of Toronto Faculty
of Information Studies. Her teaching and research interests are in the areas
of classification theory and the organization of knowledge. She is currently
president of ISKO, the International Society for Knowledge Organization.
Some Themes in American Historical Writing during the 1990s
Brien Brothman worked at the National Archives of Canada until 1995, when
he moved to New England. He is currently working at the Rhode Island State
Archives and Public Records Administration on electronic records issues.