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Publisher Description

The increasing availability of archives online, including digitised copies of analogue originals, has meant significant changes? in the ways users access the archival records they seek for research. There are several issues in play here, including user expectations of instant and successful online searching, the difficulties for users in locating and using online archival records, and the reality of 'uneven progress' through digitisation programs to a predominantly online world of archives. Another less frequently acknowledged issue is the impact of changed access methods and preferences from users on the archivists who deliver reference services. Traditionally, reference archivists have played a critical role in mediating between users and the materials they wish to use. As Jane Stevenson notes, their users are increasingly accessing materials without making physical visits to the archives, but archivists remain focused on the 'physicality of documents' and the attendant processes that make them available. This tension is compounded by the reality that many areas of research still rely on use of physical materials (2008:91). In Australia, archival institutions generally continue to be concerned very much with physical holdings, although increasingly they are balancing this with managing digital surrogates produced by projects to digitise analogue records (Archives Survey, 2007). Sophisticated solutions for managing born digital records have been developed, for example, Xena by the National Archives of Australia and VERS by Public Record Office Victoria. And there are digital-only archives ranging in size, complexity, and archival input (Pymm, 2010). This paper seeks to explore the relationship between online access, archivists, and the practice of archival research based on a review of the literature. It considers whether mediation is still required, whether reference practice needs to change, and whether archival institutions are adapting to provide services that fit changing patterns of research use. Its focus is on the work of archivists and hence it does not discuss the role of online family history services provided by genealogical organisations, nor the impact of WikiLeaks as a phenomenon of mediated access to records.

Professional & Technical
December 1
Australian Library and Information Association

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