4. Crowdsourcing and audience development
Perhaps there is one point on which archives are in an advantageous position over traditional museums. Taken from the right direction, the archives contain the stories of a community or, in any case, the events of an institution or a character. Museums and other cultural institutions can create a participation mechanism through beauty. There are many laboratory activities that can be organized around works of art.
But how powerful is the engagement mechanism in these situations? The archives potentially allow you to play the game of participation on a more emotional field. The tools of archival activity could be real pieces of community history or, better, real fragment of users’ family stories. It is well known how public history has added to its tools the participation of entire communities in the reconstruction of historical events and in the conduct of research.
With due caution, this approach is particularly important for archival institutions. Inviting the members of a community through their "documents" to the realization of a project is, in fact, easier when it deals with photos, writings, audiovisual material. All components that are in archives and not in museums. For what matters here it’s necessary to note that the invitation to participate with one's memoirs in "archival projects" is a powerful tool for an audience development plan.
Across the universe of European archival institutions, it’s possible to fin some good example of this kind of strategy. The Miners Day, staged by Regional Historical Centre of Limburg in October 2018, shows all the features of a successful engagement event.
The day was organised after RHCL has received the archive of Administratiebureau Zuid-Limburg. This archive consists of 60 meters of cards with all staff data of the Oranje-Nassau Mines, the Domanial Mining Company, Laura and Vereeniging and the Willem-Sophia.
These archives are a beautiful match with the archives of the Oranje-Nassau Mines and the Domanial Mining Company, already in the care of RHCL. Because of this, visitors could also request to see the staff documents of the Oranje-Nassau Mines. Since these documents contain private information they could only be viewed by the miners concerned or their next of kin. So visitors were required to show legal identification or proof of the miner’s death and they are direct relatives.
In this case the missing element is the contribution of documents by the visitors. But how complex would it have been to implement it? If visitors could bring with them objects or writings of their relatives described in the archive, for example, there would be a form of participation. Furthermore, visitors could decide to donate material (photos, diaries, videos, documents) which, in a broad sense, could also enrich the archival series. Under the direction of an archivist the visitors could give a contribute to building or completing an archival found.