|Encouraging non-professionals to interact with archives|
in a participatory / learning lab environment benefits the
participant and the archives.
Locally, participation is one key to the healthy future of the small community archives especially. Beyond updating exhibits and focusing collections, I believe that dedicating a space to a "learning lab" will draw in visitors, encourage engagement and even increase volunteerism.
Collaboration has a role to play here too. The local library can team up with the historical society to encourage overlapping engagement experiences. In my case, as a high school librarian, I am working to bring the schools into the mix. We have begun cooperating with the local historical society and will help them digitize their materials. We will have a dedicated area in our library where students can learn about about archives. Our students will be essential in collection development and making plans to create a school archives that reflects our fifty year history in our current school building.
At our school library, I aim to establish workstations for data entry. Perhaps our lab will include a program such as PastPerfect to familiarize participants with classification. Additionally, participants will help design exhibits using mindmapping software. They will help us design marketing materials -- brochures to teach our classes about collections -- using photoshop and other tools. In short, they will learn about primary sources, have a chance to interact with them, have an opportunity to think about them, and make a difference in the protection of history in a way they would never have without a learning lab environment.
Of course, creating an archival makerspace invites many questions related to the safety of materials. Creating a digital environment for visible participation will ensure the security of items. The core volunteers will continue to be those working with unique items. Casual participants will usually be exposed to what is in the collection without actually handling originals. My hope is that many participants will develop enough of an interest to "move up" and want training to handle originals. If they never move beyond primarily digital interaction, that's okay too.
I am on the ground floor with my thinking about creating this space. I plan it to be just one area among many that makes information accessible and understandable to participants in my library. Other spaces could include building materials for robotics, enhanced by a book collection on engineering or a writing lab with blogging stations. The possibilities are endless. The future of archives and libraries is exciting.