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Jez Collins, of the Birmingham Popular Music Archive reflects on a recent article about the use of Twitter and Facebook by the archival community.

I started the Birmingham Popular Music Archive as way of engendering civic pride through the wide range of music activity that has emanated from Birmingham and as a way celebrating and recognising those individuals and organisations that have played a role in this.

It has always struck me as a missed opportunity, and indicative of the way popular culture is viewed, that there is no permanent archive dedicated to the music of the city. For many reasons I hope that this is rectified soon.

In light of this then, I set about creating an online archive that asks its users to ‘tell us what you know’ about Birmingham and its music. It runs on a wordpress platform and was really an experiment to see if people would engage in constructing an archive which in turn would go some way to proving if such a resource was needed. It has been so successful that I’m now looking to host it on a dedicated site that will enable the site to become a proper user friendly website.

One of the reasons for doing this will be so I can fully integrate it across the spectrum of social media platforms. Bizarrely, although I use Twitter extensively and Facebook a lot in a personal capacity, I’ve never really used these tools to push the archive out to further potential users or audiences.

A Facebook page has been set up and my Twitter bio states ‘Celebrating Birmingham’s rich musical heritage’ with a link to the archive site.

However, I very rarely tweet about the archive and when I do it is usually to highlight an event or piece of work that we have done (such as the recent documentary Made In Birmingham) and I’ve never  posted on the Facebook page despite people still joining it, albeit in small numbers.

So I was pleased to be pointed in the direction of this recent academic article: An Analysis of Twitter and Facebook Use by the Archival Community
Adam Crymble in the ARCHIVARIA 70 (Fall 2010): 125–151which I hoped would provide me with an insight into this area.

Crymble has provided a qualitative and quantitive study into 195 institutional and individual users over a 30 day period and in particular looks at the 2926 outbound links – links to other websites of archival information or interest – that were posted. Cymble splits the study groups in to three categories:

Archival organisations using Facebook
Archival organisations using Twitter
Archivists using Twitter

As the title states, Crymble looks at Facebook and Twitter as the social media platforms that he studied and provides a brief, but interesting account of the debates and usage that the archive community engaged with online. Surprisingly, the introduction of ‘Web 2.0’ didn’t significantly change the engagement with online tools and added a further issue to the debate in the community, one that I contend is still on going, that of the ability of researchers/content generators to tag or re-order collections which archivists argue, undermine their roles as professional practitioners.

The author offers a useful guide to Facebook and Twitter, including a ‘Quick Facts’ table showing comparisons between both and should be congratulated on  the clarity of language which, one would hope, will be of use to it’s intended audience – archivists!

Crymble is also clear that he is not writing a ‘how best to use’  social media but offering an insight to how the archive community is currently using social media which those thinking about, or already using these tools, might find useful for their practice. He rejects providing a textual analysis approach, merely looking at what people write to infer meaning, as being to narrow to provide a robust conclusion. Instead Crymble has thoughtfully chosen to look at the outbound links posted by users. These are links that lead to other sites that contain further information about the subject being discussed and the author categorised them as such:
User’s own website
User’s own blog
User’s own Facebook page
External website
External blog

and he further divided the links into four categories as to the motivation for providing the links:
Non-Archival: No intention to promote personal, organisational or archival information
Promotional Outreach: Promoting archival work of the organisation or person, a closely related organisation posting the link
Interest to Archivists/Other Archives: Links that other archivists or organisations may find useful
Broken Links: Links that were posted but no longer working when the author was researching the article

Using this method enabled the author to provide some clear analysis in his finding as to different approaches to how the groups used social media. As Crymble states, the three study groups all broadcast and use the platforms very differently form each other. He also provides a robust explanation of the methodology he used in the statistical data that he provides. Too complicated for me to try and explain here!

In brief, his finding showed that archivists used Twitter as a way of engaging in conversation with other users and the links posted were heavily weighted to material written by others as opposed to promotional outreach of their work.
For archival organisations using Twitter, the reserve was true. These organisations overwhelmingly posted links directly relating to their own material, for events and so on, and didn’t engage in the wider archival conversations.
Archival organisations using Facebook pages were much less active and during the study period over half the pages remained unchanged. Those that were updated were again pointed towards their own material and significantly linked back to their Facebook page. Again this was a case of an organisation using social media as a way of promotion rather than engagement.

As Crymble points out, there is a lot here that points to the need of further research being undertaken in the area of online archival activity to better inform those engaged in archive activity in reaching and engaging audiences. This he suggests, would also be off use when comparing offline with in-house programming in aiding archive organisations to better understand where to focus their outreach programs.

If there is a note of criticism it is the surprise that organisations such as the British Library with their Sound Archive or the Home Of Metal and Birmingham Popular Music Archive weren’t looked at in this study despite the author’s fairly extensive trawl for archive activity (there is an invaluable list of the 195 organisations and archivists included.) Harder to find but worthy of inclusion I think, are those individual Facebook pages set up as informal archives to mainly site specific places such as the Barrel Organ venue in Birmingham. Certainly an archive, certainly not an organisational one. Perhaps these these types of archives should be added to the list of further research Crymble notes. Although the author acknowledges that some will have been missed, just a cursory glance throws up these organisations.

However this is not enough to detract from a well timed and needed piece of research that has certainly made me think about how and why I should use these social media platforms in my own practice and the wider question of how the digital space has thrown up a huge amount of archives from a wide range people across a wide range of interests.

The full article can be reached here: http://adamcrymble.blogspot.com/2010/11/analysis-of-twitter-and-facebook-use-by.html

Bibliography

Crymble, Adam (2010) An Analysis of Twitter and Facebook Use by the Archival Community
Archivaria 70: 125–151

Birmingham Centre For Media And Cultural Research

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