Though my primary work as an archivist requires that I catalog materials and give the most concrete and complete information about materials, that doesn’t mean that I don’t also like to think about sharing these materials. Sure, the things I handle on a daily basis are objectively cool—if you’re nerdy like me—but that doesn’t mean that everyone feels a connection to these items. Another part of my job is to try to highlight the “so what” aspect of these collections—specifically, why does it matter whether or not some things are saved? By sharing these images, and making sure they can be seen, archivists are giving people a reason to care about photographs that they didn’t even know existed by connecting them to a place. And in this way, archivists can show themselves to the public.
Historypin as a platform makes it possible to share these images in a way that makes it easier for people to discover them. What makes this an interesting platform is that it engages users and career archivists in the same way to make all materials equally accessible. So on top of putting archivists and the public on the same level as how they input their materials, it also makes the materials as easy to find as if they were in a shoebox in a closet. And on top of making it as easy to share photographs, video, and other media as passing photos around with your friends, it puts archival repositories and museums on the same playing field.
While playing around with this site after uploading materials, I began exploring the Library of Virginia’s account to see what materials they had uploaded. By pinning their photographs to specific locations using Google Maps, the Library of Virginia created a geographical story of the materials. And by linking the photographs (LVA only uploaded photos) by location, they were able to connect the materials to the public, and elicit a similar response to the Buzzfeed history articles. Also, by seeing these photographs online, users could be inspired to see these materials in person and gain further foot traffic for archives and other similar organizations.
One downside of this, though, is that materials need to be constantly uploaded in a timely manner to continue to resonate with users. I saw that the Library of Virginia’s account hadn’t added anything new to their page since 2014. And I can’t help but think of the missed opportunities this created—chances to plug an exhibit, showcase a newly acquired collection, or even highlight a collection that has many uses for researchers. And I realize that just because the Historypins exist doesn’t necessarily mean that users will come to see them. Sure, the photographs are easy to find on Historypin, and users don’t necessarily need to know what they’re looking for in order to gain access to materials.
Still it never hurts to try, and archivists don’t lose anything by creating more connections with the public.