In a time when many see 'information overload' as a defining problem of the age, description (and metadata) may be seen to take on an increasingly important role in enabling individuals to discover and understand, not just archives and records, but any resources, particularly those in the global, interconnected digital space of the internet. UCL researchers were early explorers in this realm, undertaking the innovative LEADERS project (2001-2004) and working to popularise the idea that, in order to extend access and improve description, much more needed to be known about users and non-users of records and archives (Sexton et al., 2004; Yeo, 2005).
More recently, ICARUS has been involved in growing awareness that the creation of description is not just a role for professionals such as archivists and librarians, but is a broader process in which all are involved and in which users too can make a contribution. Here, description starts to overlap with community and participative approaches and work in this area includes an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award held jointly with The National Archives, 'We think, not I think': harnessing collaborative creativity to archival practice; implications of user participation for archival theory and practice (2010-2013). In an era of digital abundance, innovative methods of generating metadata, including user contributions as well as new automated techniques, are both possible and necessary (Yeo, 2013a; Yeo, 2013b).
ICARUS researchers also work to explore and expand understandings of the theory and practice of archival description and the principles (of provenance and original order) that are seen to underpin it (Bunn, 2011; Bunn, 2014). Ideas about provenance and context evolve but continue to support trust in records and archives in the digital age (Yeo, 2013b). Traditional approaches posit a rigid distinction between organic 'fonds' and artificial 'collections', and treat both fonds and collections as fixed entities whose components must be arranged in a stable manner; but the assumptions that underlie these approaches are now open to challenge. Published work on this topic investigates newer and more flexible ways of modelling archives and their contexts and presenting them to users (Yeo, 2009; Yeo, 2012a; Yeo, 2012b). Translating this work into practice, ICARUS researchers play an active role in the Descriptive Standards Roundtable and the Archives and Records Association Section for Archives and Technology.
Selected papers in this area:
Bunn, Jenny (2011), 'Multiple Narratives, Multiple Views: observing archival description', Ph.D. thesis [Full text available here]
Bunn, Jenny (2013), 'Developing Descriptive Standards: a renewed call to action', Archives and Records, vol.34 no.2, pp.235-247 [Full text available here] (doi 10.1080/23257962.2013.830066)
Bunn, Jenny (2014), 'Questioning Autonomy: an alternative perspective on the principles which govern archival description', Archival Science, vol.14 no.1, pp.3-15 (doi 10.1007/s10502-013-9200-2)
Sexton, Anna, Chris Turner, Geoffrey Yeo and Susan Hockey (2004), ‘Understanding Users: a prerequisite for developing new technologies’, Journal of the Society of Archivists, vol.25 no.1, pp.33-49
Yeo, Geoffrey (2005), 'Understanding Users and Use: a market segmentation approach', Journal of the Society of Archivists, vol.26 no.1, pp.25-53
Yeo, Geoffrey (2009), 'Custodial History, Provenance, and the Description of Personal Records', Libraries and the Cultural Record, vol.44 no.1, pp.50-64
Yeo, Geoffrey (2010), 'Debates about Description', in Currents of Archival Thinking, ed. Terry Eastwood and Heather MacNeil (Libraries Unlimited, Santa Barbara, CA), pp.89-114
Yeo, Geoffrey (2012a), 'The Conceptual Fonds and the Physical Collection', Archivaria, no.73, pp.43-80
Yeo, Geoffrey (2012b), 'Bringing Things Together: aggregate records in a digital age', Archivaria, no.74, pp.43-91
Yeo, Geoffrey (2013a), 'Archival Description in the Era of Digital Abundance', Comma, 2013.2, pp.15-25
Yeo, Geoffrey (2013b), 'Trust and Context in Cyberspace', Archives and Records, vol.34 no.2, pp.214-234 [Full text available here]