In recent years, museums and archives have made a concerted effort to take advantage of digital media in connecting with public audiences. These institutions have undertaken a multitude of projects to make their collection available to a greater audience through digital access to these types of collections. For my print project, I would like to take a closer look at some of these approaches to presenting historic material culture to a public audience and how digitization efforts have affected the way that the public engages with historical narratives through material culture.
Specifically, I would like to focus on the digital offerings of the National Archives and the Library of Congress. Historically, these are two of the most widely used research facilities for American history. As such, they have fallen into the category of most archives, which tend to discourage visitation from anyone outside of serious historical researchers. There is little opportunity to explore the holdings of these types of institutions and they can even be intimidating for newer researchers.
However, digitization has broken down the barrier between the public and these repositories of American public knowledge. Both have taken great strides to make portions of their collections available to all types of researchers through the Internet. Further, these efforts have been targeted at different audiences. The National Archives and the Library of Congress have both made documents and finding aids available through general search features of their websites. However, they have also gone beyond the basics of digitization. Each has created online offerings that are more suited to general exploration of their collections, as opposed to research with a specific focus and mission.
The National Archives offers the Digital Vaults, a way to digitally wander through their collections. Documents are linked by categorical tagging. It also allows explorers the ability to create their own collections of documents and artifacts that are interesting to them. Similarly, the Library of Congress has created MyLOC. Explorers can register for their own account and create collections of interest to them. These collections can incorporate all aspects of the website, including general information about visiting the Library of Congress as well as online exhibits.
I will compare and contrast these two sites, focusing on the audiences they target and the various pathways these audiences have to interact with the collections of these institutions. Additionally, I will address how the ability to interact with collections online has affected the demographics of those who take an interest in these collections.