Two years ago my colleagues and I launched an archives reference blog at Dickinson College as a way to manage and share our offsite reference transactions. (It may be worth mentioning that this is not a traditional blog to which one would expect to subscribe; it is not our aim to tell an interesting story, but instead merely to provide the essential details of the request.)
Built using an open source software called Drupal, the primary intent of the blog is to provide additional access points by which potential users may discover our resources. Archives staff members write brief posts about what was requested and what was provided, and these posts may include links to related resources as well as relevant tags. It is this basic information that patrons may find when doing web searches; I can cite many examples of researchers requesting materials because a search engine brought them to a blog post of ours that mentioned those same materials being provided to a previous user. One added feature is that visitors to the blog can also use comments to point out additional resources or to post their own questions.
Besides drawing in new users, the other major purpose of the blog is to manage reference requests more effectively. Hidden from public view is an area in which staff members record contact information for the requester, details about the locations of sources that were used to aid the requester, and notes for statistical purposes to help us understand our researchers better. As a result, we can now retrieve information about past reference transactions in seconds, recreate searches when new patrons ask similar questions, and generate usage reports with ease.
My colleagues and I consider this blog to be a great success. We are currently seeking funding to develop an interactive online repository where we can post digital surrogates of the documents that our users request, allowing future users to retrieve the documents themselves as well as allowing them to describe, tag, transcribe, comment, and otherwise add value to the documents.
For a lengthier explanation about how our archives reference blog works, please visit this post on Mark Matienzo’s blog, The Secret Mirror. There is also a presentation on the Slideshare website that shows what the private side of the blog looks like. If you have any questions or comments about the archives reference blog, please feel free to contact me at archives[at]dickinson.edu.
Jim Gerencser is the College Archivist at Dickinson College.
If you have news from your repository you would like to share via the RAO News blog, contact one of the blog contributors on the left side of your screen.
I should note that I first became enamored with Dickinson's reference blog after hearing about it in a session at MARAC and readers may want to check out the liveblog recap from that session. Dickinson College's Archives and Special Collections has also recently begun a blog documenting women's experiences at Dickinson College to mark the 125th anniversary of coeducation at the institution. Also, while Jim gave me the idea to use REO Speedwagon song and album titles in blog post titles, the poor execution of that fine idea is purely my own fault.
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