Archival Intelligence Poster


Mandi Goodsett


Poster Presentation Abstract and Annotated Bibliography



            The basis for this poster is the concept of archival intelligence as described in Elizabeth Yakel’s article “AI: Archival Intelligence and User Expertise.” I first describe the concept of archival intelligence and the results of Yakel’s study, from which Yakel attempts to determine the characteristics that make someone archivally intelligent. I then provide a broader literature review of studies relating to archival instruction and the increased use of primary sources in the classroom, focusing especially on the one study that attempts to apply Yakel’s term to an actual class curriculum. As the literature relating specifically to archival intelligence is limited, I attempt to discover why this is so by interviewing six archivists in the Central Illinois region who have experience in archival instruction. From these interviews I conclude that the principles of archival intelligence have significant potential to improve instruction in archives for undergraduates, but that application of the concept is limited by one-shot sessions and lack of critical thinking foundations in undergraduate student learning. I suggest several possible solutions to these limitations taken from examples in both the literature and interviews, and present questions raised in my research that could be answered in the future to improve archival instruction.

Annotated Bibliography

Cuervo, A., Personal communication, November 5, 2012.

In my discussion with Cuervo she really seemed to see value in the concept of archival intelligence and its use in instruction, though she also acknowledged some of its limitations. She admitted that the archival field does not have the experience and carefully explored perspective into instruction that the library science field has, but points out that there are sometimes issues with a lack of time and motivation of students. At the same time, she shared some real examples of how archival intelligence could help students do research more successfully and she expressed a wish for more students to have archival intelligence and, therefore, the building blocks to continue to use the archives.

Hancks, J., Personal communication, November 16, 2012.

Hancks saw archival intelligence as a good idea, but as one that would be hard to implicate in the real world. He really emphasized that archivists have something important to share with students that others, such as librarians, can’t provide. He also stressed that students can have valuable experiences working in archives and using primary sources, but that archivists need to do a better job explaining their worth and the worth of their collections to others. He said that instruction in archives was something that could use more development and approved of the idea of discussing archival intelligence more to spark ideas to improvement archival instruction.

Krause, M. G. (2010). It Makes History Alive for them: the Role of Archivists and Special Collections Librarians in Instructing Undergraduates. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 36(5), 401-411.

Krause, whose specialty is the study of instruction in archives, examines in this article the attitudes of archival professionals toward their role as teachers. Through a series of interviews of archivists who instruct, she attempts to determine the role of archivists in instructing undergraduates, as well as the teaching strategies and assessment tools used by archivists in instructional sessions. She concludes that there are not many standards or sources of training for instruction in archives, although her findings suggest that instruction in archives is valuable for students. She calls for more of a concrete definition of what being a good instructor in archives means.

Leonard, K., Personal communication, November 2, 2012.

Kevin was very adamant that incorporating archival intelligence into instruction was a waste of time for his own work at his institution. He felt that students and other archive users used the archives when they needed something, and didn’t come there for knowledge of how archives work. His feelings extended to ideas of student attitudes toward the archives—patrons of the archives weren’t afraid to use them and they often were very motivated by a particular information need. Those who don’t use the archives don’t need them, and we shouldn’t be trying to force archival intelligence on them.

Malkmus, D. (2010). “Old Stuff” for New Teaching Methods: Outreach to History Faculty Teaching with Primary Sources. Portal: Libraries & The Academy, 10(4), 413-435.

Using an online survey, Malkmus identifies the ways in which faculty are using primary sources in the classroom and encourages librarians to capitalize on the unique value archives provide. Results of the survey showed that students often fail to use the archives because of affective barriers and lack of exposure. He outlines ways in which archivists can reach out to history faculty to improve the cognitive development of students through study of primary sources and help students overcome affective barriers. Yakel’s archival intelligence also addresses affective reasons students struggle using archives and presents similar solutions to overcome those attitudes.

Miner, M., Personal communication, October 22, 2012.

Miner has an attitude that archival intelligence is a useful concept and could be applied to archival instruction if more archivists knew about it. At some level, she said, archival intelligence is just basic research skills applied to the archival domain, and those skills are difficult in any field and in research libraries in general. Students are often still forming ideas of how to do research when they visit the archives, so teaching archival intelligence could help with that process. She does acknowledge that teaching archival intelligence would be difficult unless a session could focus on archival intelligence principles alone.

Nimer Cory L., & J. Gordon Daines III (2012). Teaching Undergraduates to Think Archivally. Journal of Archival Organization, 10(1). 4-44.

Nimer and Daines explain their experience using the concepts of archival literacy and archival intelligence to design and teach an archival literacy undergraduate course. The article describes the archives’ motivation to create the course, the steps taken to determine learning outcomes and sections of the course, changes implemented based on assessment after the first year, and the results of evaluating the course. The authors’ conclusion was that the course succeeded in helping students improve their archival literacy skills, but that more work must be done to examine how these principles can become part of shorter-term, simpler interactions with students. The article provides valuable evidence of the usefulness of archival intelligence in instruction while also highlighting the difficulties presented in attempting to use it in anything but a full-term course for credit.

Pugh, Mary Jo (2005). Identifying Uses and Users of Archives. Providing reference services for archives and manuscripts (pp. 33-73). Chicago: Society of American Archivists.

This chapter of Pugh’s book examines the users of archives and how archivists have addressed service to users throughout history. She first outlines terms and principles of archive use and service, then describes common archival user groups such as staff, scholars, students, and avocational users. In the section about student users, she supports the idea of archival intelligence use in instruction, especially archival principles and the use of archival evidence. She also describes some of the affective barriers that Yakel associates with novice archive users.

Rockenbach, B. (2011). Archives, Undergraduates, and Inquiry-Based Learning: Case Studies from Yale University Library. American Archivist, 74(1), 297-311.

Rockenbach’s article addresses the increasing use of primary sources in the classroom and the accompanying role archives have in facilitating that use. She uses specific learning theories such as inquiry-based learning in which students are motivated to become responsible for their own learning. She uses a case study from Yale University to reveal how inquiry-based learning and other active learning styles that involve direct interaction with archival materials inspire and motivate students. She concludes that allowing students to actively learn with archival materials is important to their cognitive growth and the development of their critical thinking skills, both of which correspond with Yakel’s idea of the value of archival intelligence in instruction.

Schwartz, S., Personal communication, November 9, 2012.

For Schwartz, archival intelligence is very similar to general critical thinking skills, and in his opinion it is not the responsibility of the archivist to teach those skills. Instead, he hopes that students coming in have those skills already and that the archivist can provide additional help from this starting point. He does think that historical intelligence is something that deserves some attention, especially for instruction of archivists. Instead of teaching students archival intelligence, he thinks archivists should be learning historical intelligence and using that to better understand the researcher perspective in instruction and reference.

Swain, E., Personal communication, October 31, 2012.

Swain was adamant that the Student Life and Culture Archives were taking a closer look at instruction in the near future and doing some assessment and improvement, so her instructional design was undergoing change soon. She seemed to think that archival intelligence as an addition to archival instruction just added unclear jargon and wasn’t necessary for students coming in for an introduction to the archives. She tries to share basic archival concepts with the students, but not in the depth described in the Yakel article. Instead, she thinks that more active learning would help instruction and motivation in students, with some of the archival intelligence elements presented to students before their arrival.

Tomberlin, J., & Turi, M. (2012). Supporting Student Work: Some Thoughts About Special Collections Instruction. Journal Of Library Administration, 52(3/4), 304-312.

Tomberlin and Turi acknowledge the increasing interest in using archives and special collections to teach undergraduates about using primary sources and emphasize that this increasing interest is an opportunity for academic repositories to market their value to the campus. Drawing from their own experiences, the two archivists suggest working closely with faculty, students, and library staff to increase student comfort in archives and improve their critical thinking skills when using primary sources. This article addresses several issues important to archival intelligence, including the strengthening of critical thinking skills and the introduction of archival principles to undergraduate students.

Yakel, E., & Torres, D. A. (2003). AI: Archival Intelligence and User Expertise. American Archivist, 66(1), 51-78.

Yakel’s article attempts to determine if there are certain characteristics that distinguish an expert versus a novice user of archives, and whether teaching those skills to undergraduates could improve their archival literacy and comfort in using archives. First Yakel divides archival instruction into three parts: domain knowledge (understanding of topic), artifactual literacy (ability to assess records as evidence), and archival intelligence (archival theory and practice, strategies for reducing uncertainty and ambiguity, and intellective skills). To identify characteristics of an expert in archives, she interviews users of primary sources. She concludes by sharing these characteristics and urging more research into the kind of skills required to achieve archival intelligence.


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