Archiving in the Digital

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Dr. Jamie A. Lee, UA School of Information

Dr. Jamie A. Lee

Dr. Jamie A. Lee, photo courtesy Jamie A. Lee.


Do we underestimate the impact of digital transformation on preserving important elements of the wider society? Not according to Dr. Jamie A. Lee of UA School of Information, who engages communities and students on the social and environmental impacts of archiving and collection methodology.

Dr. Lee’s focus is on a participatory ethic in dynamic information systems. This semester, at UA’s School of Information, her teaching of the academic course, “Information Environments from Latino/Hispanic and Native American Perspectives,” engages students to reflect critically upon questions that might arise as part of their engagements with communities, peoples, information, and the spaces through which individuals and communities create, find, understand, translate, transform, curate and share information.

“Our readings this week focus on the ambiguous definitions of ‘community’ and also the tie to ‘heritage’ as something that produces community (and that also is produced by community),” Dr. Lee comments. “Community and heritage will be important in very distinct spaces — as concepts but also especially as material locations and practices. Therefore, the identification with archivist and folklorist might (or might not) fit in different situations. I think that each archivist and folklorist will determine their own fit and understanding of roles within the organization.”

 POP-UP Archives event

A POP-UP Archives event from April 2015 (pictured left to right: Leslie Carlson, Jamie A. Lee, Adela C. Licona, and Lavina Tomer); photo courtesy Jamie A. Lee.


Archiving is reaching new dimensions, as technology supports archival work and archival thinking. “It’s moving into those dynamic and flexible paradigms that work to critically explore what archivists do in their every day,” Dr. Lee notes. “Research from the archival studies discipline is investigating archival methodologies and methods in order to question the ways power circulates in the records, collections and multiple stories that the archives tells.“

Antigone Books opens

Flyer for opening of Antigone Books; from Arizona Queer Archives


For example, in Dr. Lee’s work to establish the Arizona Queer Archives, she has developed the Queer/ed Archival Methodology that acts as “a guide for archivists to interrogate and reflect upon their practices, to recognize and possibly re-imagine participation, flexibility, decolonizing practices and the archival body,” she says. This re-imagining will include regular ‘check-ups’ as necessary to archival sustainability and relevancy.

“Technology does play a role in archival changes,” she continues, “but so do commitments and connections to questioning the social, political, and economic contexts, alongside the technical aspects. Archival studies, the archivists and archival scholars who are graduating from today’s Master and Doctoral programs are working through methodologies that make urgent the interrogation of everyday and sometimes invisible practices.”

New Media Highlights

Dr. Lee cites Omeka and Mukurtu as two open source platforms that are becoming prevalent in today’s digital archives and online repositories:

  • On Omeka: “At the Arizona Queer Archives (, we use Omeka, which allows archivists to upload digital files and describe them through Dublin Core Metadata elements. Dublin Core also can be adjusted according to the relevancy and needs of particular archives and the distinct communities who participate in and are being represented by the archives.”
  • On Mukurtu: “I like the functionality of Mukurtu but it is relatively new and just out of its beta stage. You can see how it has been put into place by one of its developers at the Plateau Peoples Web Portal out of Washington State University ( There are many more opportunities for communities to participate. For example, with the Plateau Peoples Web Portal, participating communities are able to add traditional knowledge and describe parts of the collection to include restrictions that are based on community and tribal protocols. This is important, for archives to be attentive to needs such as privacy. In addition, archives must be cautious about exploiting free community labor in order to achieve a certain level of participation.”

According to Dr. Lee, the Library of Congress also has ways for communities to participate in online transcribing and translating of documents and oral histories. “They have established a protocol and online resources to allow for someone at home watching “The Price is Right” to also be working on archival processing,” she says. “It is exciting how this increases participation as well as potential donors and avenues to share the collections, but it also calls out lines of questioning about labor, exploitation, trust, accountability — all things that have been strongly reinforced in archival development since the 1898 publication of the first book of archival standards, The Dutch Manual.”

Dr. Lee cautions that there are many things to be wary of in this work, to ensure that archives might reflect the multiple stories and histories that make up the fabric(s) of communities that have been underrepresented in archival contexts. “Even archivists carry the power to tell just one main story in how records and collections are appraised and described,” she notes. “That is why a critical education in archival studies is relevant today. Archival productions are becoming partnerships across institutional and community contexts with real material implications.”


Dr. Lee recommends the following online collections:

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