Designing the archive in the 21st century

The theme selected to celebrate not just International Archives Day but International Archives Week this year is an excellent choice at a time when, throughout the world, archives are embarking on initiatives designed to make users the centre of their concerns.

This resolutely user-oriented approach is happening at a time when the process of digitisation is in full swing with documents increasingly being put online and growing numbers of “born digital” documents produced.

As the number of inventories and digital collections placed online has grown and, on a parallel, the new possibilities offered by the social media have gained in importance, archives themselves have started to engage more fully with users adopting these new remote functionalities in droves. Users can now spot and report errors and omissions and, more positively, contribute to wiki, identify images and documents, participate in indexing or even transcription and, by so doing, vastly enhance the quality of the resources concerned. A number of fantastic projects have come to fruition in this way, not least in France with the magnificent celebrations in remembrance of the Great War (1914-1918).

At the same time, information technology has been progressing by leaps and bounds, with the emergence of so-called agile software development methods, which have prompted the different partners to seek ways of better responding to the specific needs of individual users (“personas”) and to set up workshops for different user groups to co-create interfaces, processes corresponding to user wishes, using terminology they understand, search patterns they recognise when they want to consult or reuse documents, images or data.

This “service design” approach affects all aspects of archival work, from cooperating with the general public and design experts, to reception facilities, reading rooms and areas accessible to the public   that need to be redesigned to adapt to the wider range of uses now made of archives and records.

I hope that International Archives Weeks 2019 will be an enjoyable and successful event for you all!

By Françoise Banat-Berger Head of the International Department at the French National Archives