David Bearman argues in “Access and Use” (chapter 4 of Archival Methods) that archives should put more focus on their users. He argues that archives don’t usually prioritize their users when making decisions ranging from appraisal to ease of access. He argues that archives have “preferred” users, usually “serious scholars,” and make little effort to increase their user base by conducting outreach and development.
I have little trouble accepting Bearman’s claim that geneologists and amateur historians are the bulk of most archives’ user base, and that they are often not an archives’ preferred user. Perhaps archives should try harder to cultivate better relationships with these users, and gain them as devoted supporters.
I found Bearman’s argument that archives should try to insert themselves more fully into their institutions very compelling. If they became central to daily operations in the way he suggests they certainly would gain more power and resourcing. However, I’m not sure how that would best be accomplished, and I don’t think he provides enough examples of how to do that.
Given that Bearman’s work is a call to action to archives to change their practices, and was written in 1989, I wonder how much impact it has made. Certainly the shortage of time and resources he describes at the beginning still remains an issue, but from an outsider’s perspective, it seems like many of his suggestions have been only minimally adopted. If this is true, I am curious as to why: have other authors repudiated his suggestions? Or are there simply not enough resources?