Libraries and archives have to play the long game. The key to the usefulness of an archive is the longevity, stability and authority of the information systems it supplies as well as the items it houses. But ultimately to continue existing it needs to be used, it needs to be accessed and supply value. This is the same for all data.
So how do you get on with the long term task of building the authoritative archive and in the meantime deliver interesting data and value?
First up you need to be willing to break up and diversify the data. We can think of the base archival system as our governed ‘one version of the truth’. It’s stable, slow moving, carefully maintained, and governed by standards and policies. The trick is rather than attempting to load that system with every other piece of knowledge, we simply layer it on incrementally as and when it’s created. This opens up the possibility of having various degrees of credibility and authority in the data, which is fine as long as that is explained and the core data is kept safe. Of course this requires that each item is uniquely identified and that the key is used across all the data collections. But once in place, this system opens up some great possibilities, like utilizing the domain expertise of specialist groups or simply a ‘many eyes’ approach, such as how the New York Public Library is using website visitors to help improve the data around their NYC historical maps.
Building a visual archive is a long way from most BI and analytics projects but many of the problems faced pertain to any data project. When you start your next data initiative ask yourself:
To finish with, here’s something from the Letterform Archive: it’s the artwork for a hand crafted chart by William Addison Dwiggins, who is often credited with coining the term ‘graphic designer’.