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Richard Tighe Harris family image, Juneau, 1885.

September 2008. The exhibit challenge to participants: to take the image above and provide an interpretation from their own perspective. Professional, personal, anything.






Follow through the links to see what each participant created.

Risk Management History
Cultural studies Photography/Art
Photography/Librarianship Nothing official
Cataloging Librarianship Public Health

The lessons of an interactive & interpretive exhibit:

As archivists describe documents in our holdings whether text, photographic, or any variety of media, we have to be very careful not to interpret or to make decisions about what those materials represent, because those are the choices that should be made by the end user, not by the archivist.  If the archivist assumes we know what use may be made of a document or collection, the description we provide to researchers may interfere with other uses.

We’re not omniscient, though we occasionally think we are and even scarier, sometimes researchers rely on us to be so.  We knew the image could be of use to a historian or a cultural studies professional by virtue of its age and subject matter, but what of the Public Health specialist?  The Risk Manager?  Prior to this exhibit, none of us noticed that there weren’t any other living people or animals in the image like Deborah Tharp, one of our photographers did. 

It becomes a lesson for archivists in trying to describe well while deliberately avoiding interpretation. And when we fail, we count on the researcher to have their own research tricks to make up for it: to know what times and places and what types of people or organizations may have had a reason to document what they need to find, and then to find those things in spite of us.