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American Archivist (Vol. 64, No.1 / Spring-Summer 2001)

Abstracts and Author Bios


Pease Award
Review Essays


Pease Award: Analysis of Remote Reference Correspondence at a Large Academic Manuscripts Collection

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 reference services.

Author Bio

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.

Author Bios

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.

Author Bios

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.

Author Bio

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.

Author Bio

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.

Author Bio

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) Project—the development of an on-line finding aid and search engine—to 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 made.

Author Bios

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 (1980).

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.

Author Bio

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.

Review Essays:

In Interesting Times: From the Twentieth Century to the Twenty-first

Clare Beghtol

Author Bio

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

Author Bio

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.

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