Module 5: Archives & Museums
*Please note - although this module discusses both archives and museums together, the two
institutions are not synonymous.
Archives and Digital Archives
An archive is essentially a stored collection of information – articles, photographs, audio
recordings, documents, maps, etc. – organized and stored either physically or digitally.
Archives are similar to libraries, both physically and digitally, but where most libraries offer
relatively diverse items, archives are usually centered around a particular topic, institution,
person, or group. Universities, cities, counties, states, and nations have official archives; most
people have their own personal archives (mementos, photographs, souvenirs, etc.) Archivists
are specially trained information scientists who have education in their archive subject and in
how to manage archives. Their expertise includes not only the best methods of providing access
to collections and assisting researchers in finding their desired items, but also in organizing and
preserving collections. Digital archives serve much the same function as traditional physical
archives but with the goal of making access to the collection available online.
The rationale for digital archives is the same as for libraries-convenience, availiability, and
widespread access. They, too, are not subject to hours of operation or access to their physical
location. They share the same limitations as well; digital archives, especially those that attempt
to offer access to already-existing collections, may not be able to include all items in the
collection. Some objects, such as Benjamin Franklin's eyeglasses, may be photographed but
cannot be actually available online. Others, such as physically fragile correspondence, cannot
be scanned for fear of damage and will also not always be available.
Archives, moreso than libraries, must put user needs foremost. Since archives tend to be highly
specialized, their appeal is limited to researchers who have need for their particular subject
material. How materials are organized and how users may find what they need are vital for
effective design, especially when they move online. Online archives need especially clear
finding aids to help users connect with desired information.
Both physical and digital archives are limited by storage space, so archivists need to be aware