I’ve previously expressed my interest in archival access, so this week I turn to one of the cornerstones in this field.  Paul Conway published this article in the Fall 1986 issue of the American Archivist.  Conway was an archivist at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library (1977-87), a Preservation Program Officer for the Society of American Archivists (SAA, 1987-89), and worked at the National Archive and Records Administration (1990-92).  He led the Preservation Department at Yale University Library (1992-2001) and the executive management group of the Duke University Libraries (2001-6).  Since September 2006, Conway has been Associate Professor at the University of Michigan School of Information.

Conway began by pointing to Goal III in the 1986 report from the SAA Task Force on Goals and Priorities: “‘Use of archival records is the ultimate purpose of identification and administration’” (394).  He asserted that in order to assist users, archivists need to interact with users in order “to identify the most immediate groups of beneficiaries of archival information and begin to understand the process of information transfer within and beyond the archives” (395).  He noted that use encompasses not only the physical use that occurs in reference rooms but also the usefulness of the information to society in general.

There are three objectives in Conway’s framework:

  • quality — How good are the services?

Evaluating quality requires understanding the researcher’s task, research capabilities and strategies, and expectations and satisfaction.  Ultimately, the goal is to “enhance access to useful information” (399).

  • integrity — How good is the protection of archival information?

Integrity is a wide-ranging element of the framework because it includes not only trying to provide adequate access to information but also balancing the need to protect and preserve the archival materials.  Conway encouraged assessing how researchers discover available information as well as looking at various alternatives to the physical use of original records (e.g., microforms or databases).

  • value — What good do the services do?

Evaluating value requires understanding how researchers intend to use archival information and how it relates to other sources of information.

Conway identified five opportunities for archivists to gather information from users:

  1. registration
  2. orientation
  3. follow up
  4. survey
  5. experiments

Not only does information need to be gathered from users, but the data also must be analyzed.  Although the orientation interview seems to be going away with the increasing remote usage of archival resources, repositories can still create opportunities to evaluate quality, integrity, and value for remote users.  Conway concluded, “Making the reference room rather than the loading dock the hub of archival activity requires facts about users – recorded facts, shared facts, but most of all facts organized for clear objectives” (407).