Crowding out the Archivist? Implications of online user participation for archival theory and practice.

Thesis submitted in fulfilment of the degree of PhD in Information Studies: Archives and Records Management.

This thesis charts a course through an emerging landscape of online user participation in archives, focusing on user involvement at the point of practice known to professional archivists as archival description.

The study considers a spectrum of online initiatives which have sought to benefit from the skills or knowledge of diverse user groups: from mass participation ‘crowdsourcing’ transcription projects, via tagging and commenting functionalities added to traditional archive catalogues, to community engagement programmes which have attempted to build up multiple layers of narrative interpretation.

The research was designed around three principal stakeholder groups, professionals, participants, and users, seeking to address three main research questions:

  • • Does online user participation constitute an evolution or a revolution in archival practice and professionalism?
  • • What contexts and circumstances motivate and sustain participation?
  • • Who benefits from user participation in archival description?

The research for this thesis was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council Collaborative Doctoral Award scheme and The National Archives.