Tools of the trade

Submitted by Isto Huvila on Thu, 05/24/2012 - 13:47

 I was participating in the Nordiska arkivdagar (Nordic archives conference) in Tavastehus in Finland. Much of the discussion I was been following in the first plenary session and the parallel session on archives and new information services was about users, participation and reception (in Swedish, bemötande). That is more or less directly. Anneli Sundqvist made some insightful remarks on user studies and archives and their users in her article on the state of (or, perhaps the relative lack of it) in 2007. Her remarks on the need to be explicit and resonant about one's own and others' implicit assumptions and explicit articulations of the identity, needs, wishes and wants of the users are still quite valid today, and it seems that this kind of reasoning both is and is not informing the contemporary discussion. The presentations and the emphases of presenters showed that user studies and insights gathered from working with different types of users had provided the biggest insights in the different projects and contexts from archival pedagogy to search applications. At the same time, however, the presentations, perhaps mine included (even if I tried to talk about particular tools as little as possible), had still a tendency to put the principal focus on new and prospective systems and tools. Even the proposition of Henrik Meinander in his keynote, to put more resources on hiring new professors in multimedia communication instead of hiring new people to the more traditional (humanities) disciplines seemed to suggest of a tools oriented solution. The very fundamental problem is perhaps still the easiness of talking about tools and the difficulty of talking about something else.