Archives as Keepers of Unique Objects
So far the role of archives as digital information services providers has been a comparatively minor one when related to libraries. In general, public knowledge about the tasks and areas of activity of archives is vague at best, and mostly people are oblivious to the differences between archives and their neighbouring institutions such as libraries and museums.
…Treasures of Uniqueness
A major or perhaps even the most important distinctive feature is the uniqueness of the records stored in archival institutions. Archival records are evidence of tangible transactions such as administrative dealings, business activities or other kinds of interactions between people. The core stock of each archive consists of the documents from those institutions allocated to it. Consequently, each document and each archival record is exclusively stored in one single archive only – as opposed to library material, seeing that a printed book could theoretically be found in other places as well. Since archival records bear authentic witness to dealings in the past, they are used as sources for historical research and as such turn into important cultural assets.
Given the fact that archival records must – for proper understanding – always be seen in the context of their storage facility and the respective administrative procedures within which they were created and thus have to be put into wider perspective; ther /electronic) processing and indexing becomes a highly complex business.
There is no question that archives and the records they keep are unique, as they accomodate one of a kind source material; small community archives just as much as major national institutions. Yet, material needed for a given research topic is rarely found in just one archive alone, but is oftentimes spread over many different institutions, countries, regions and even state borders, leading to
- a need for time-consuming and expensive travelling for international research,
- which cannot be undertaken for those exact same reasons and
- consequently restricts research activities to a national angle.
- Other than that, also interested laypersons have no possibility to discover the transnational historical contexts depicted in those numerous archival records.