Instead of idly waiting for visitors to stumble over their holdings on some lonely information by-way, archives are starting to push their content out into the bustling metropolis of the social web. They are going where the people are. Photographic collections, in particular, are gaining new lives and new audiences thanks to Flickr.
But that’s only part of the story. Released into the wild, these photos are slowly picking up the habits of the locals. They are making friends, building connections, even speaking with new accents and dialects. Commented, tagged, organised, linked – they are building new contexts for themselves outside of the cloying control of archival descriptive systems.
Unfortunately it seems there is often a chasm between the old lives of the photos, documented in databases and finding aids, and their new post-institutional careers. This is a pity because the new contexts they are gathering can help us both understand and find them. What can we do to overcome this divide? How could finding aids harvest and display the user-generated content that aggregates around collection items living in the outside world?