Monthly Archives: January 2012

“Start an Archives”? Don’t you mean “Start an Archive”? — A note about terminology

When you want to start an archives, you’ll spend a lot of time talking about terminology.

Community archives are often started by people from many different backgrounds and experiences. This variation has many benefits. It also has a notable downside: the need to establish a coherent vocabulary.

‘Archives’ is a word that has become increasingly difficult to define. In computing, we often use ‘archive’ as a verb, as in the compressing of files for future use. In common vernacular we use ‘archive’ or ‘archives’ as a noun, for any material that will kept for long time.

In this blog, and the with projects that motivate it, ‘archives’ is defined as a collection of material created by particular individuals, organization or movements, and that are maintained with attention to provenance and original order. The material has value added when it is properly described and arranged to facilitate research use. And the material is intended to be kept in perpetuity.

This definition follows that of the glossary of the Society of American Archivists.

A coherent vocabulary is important when starting an archives, but it is a means to an end. I have found it useful to advocate this usage of the word ‘archives’ (and the use of the ‘s’ at the end). I have found it more helpful, however, to collect, preserve and promote the material history of organizations and causes that I believe in. When one want to start an archives, it’s the material that matters, not the title of the project .

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Digital Capture and the Abundance of the Present

When you want to document a particular event, you must avoid  what might be called “the danger of present abundance.” It is often the case that an event will receive a large amount of attention from news outlets and other sources when it is new(s). After some time, when excitement has calmed the news cycle is likely to move on, leaving documentation gaps.

We are currently in this situation at the Radical Archives. When we first started  to document the Occupy Philadelphia (OP) movement, material on the movement was ubiquitous. Every local news outlets ran stories on the movement, often several times a day. OP created several sites, including, and

This abundance caused some to question our attempt to download web pages. Why bother collecting this stuff when it’s everywhere? Luckily, we had a ready example to help us explain our motivation. The RNC Protest Material, held by the Radical Archives, has a large collection of photocopied news reports related to the protests surrounding the 2000 Republican National Convention  in Philadelphia.

In the days, weeks and months after the protests, news reports about the protest and subsequent arrests were everywhere. As time moved on, these accounts became increasingly difficult to find. And today, almost twelve years after these protests, compiling a comparable collection would be impossible.

OP is still in the news. They are still producing websites ( was just announced to the GA last night), and are even making increased attempts to centralize documentation on these sites. However, even though it’s only been three months since OP started, many of the news accounts that we have saved are gone. Broken links, deleted content and the deluge caused by months of new news-cycles, make many of the news reports from the earliest days difficult to find.

All of this is to say that when one wants to start an archives, keep an eye on the future and the impermanence of the present —  even when one is drowning in abundance.

A new year, a new excuse to start an archives!

Though the new year is a few weeks old already, I’m just now getting around to thinking of it. Though I’m not much for New Year’s parties (kind of a wet blanket), I have noticed a common thread among New Year celebrations: A moving on from the old and embracing the new.

Most likely, this “now what’s next” mentality is symptomatic of all sorts of things I’m not smart enough to know about. Luckily, however, it does touch upon something I do know something about: the preservation of present for the benefit of the future.

The New Year’s embrace of all-things-new belies the deep need in many of us to hold on to the past. The nostalgia for yesteryear is prominent theme in any New Year’s party worth attending. Often the nostalgia is for a life lived unconscious of the changes taking place around it; a yesterday that didn’t leave anything behind for today.

It is with this in mind that I launch this brand new blog. I hope someone somewhere finds it helpful when that person starts an archives.