Yesterday Robin Hill, Instructional Computing Services Coordinator for the Ellbogen Center for Teaching and Learning, spoke to a group of University of Wyoming archivists and librarians about an online community collecting project supported by Oxford University. This program, RunCoCo, enables libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage organizations to collect digital surrogates of documents, images, and artifacts from the public. In 2008, Oxford used RunCoCo to develop its Great War Archive.
Organizations in the United States have engaged in similar efforts. The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media has supported community collecting projects around the September 11th attacks and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and next month, the National Archives will launch its Citizen Archivist dashboard. Next year, Denver Public Library will open its new participatory archives, Creating Your Community, for contributions from the public. While divergent in methods and scope, these projects share a desire to democratize the processes through which we access and capture collective memory.
Projects like this are changing our understanding of archives and the nature of archival material. Traditionally, archivists have taken responsibility for delineating the boundaries of informational value, but community collecting places that power in the hands of the people. Contributors determine the content and to a certain extent, how it is described and contextualized. The resulting aggregate of material is very different in character from what is considered a conventional archival collection.
All of this leads to some questions for our readers. If the American Heritage Center were to pursue a community collecting project, what subject should it document? What kinds of documents do you think would be most useful to have in a community- based collection? What research value would a community collection hold for you?