Week 5: Ethical Choices in Archiving

       With our digital archiving project, we’re faced with many ethical decisions, particularly about what artifacts we make accessible, how we make them accessible, and the ways in which we label, classify, and categorize the information we present. Decisions we make regarding which documents go into the archive as pertaining to Watts ‘65 is one way in which our ethical judgment comes into play. Another is in the ways we present this archive digitally (and how we seek to make it accessible via online searching using tags/metadata). Finally, and most relevant to what we’ve been doing this past week, the ways we title, describe, tag, and contribute our assigned artifacts will affect the ways researchers view them in important ways. This is the area in which I’ve been conscious of my decisions and subjective voice in this process, and how it could shape (and potentially damage) the goals of this project.
        One pitfall I’ve been contemplating as I’ve completed my descriptions and tagging metadata is the way in which our voices as complete outsiders to the Watts community can act as unwanted, subjective interpreters and cast the artifacts in a lens that speaks more to our views on these events than those represented in the documents. I’ve tried to keep my descriptions as dry and neutral as possible, using quotes from the documents to convey the writer’s perspective or goal, but I still worry about information overemphasized or left out based on my subjective reading of even these brief texts. While shades of this subjective perspective are inevitable in doing this work, I’ve been ruminating on how our perspectives as academics totally disconnected from this community could create more distance between our raw materials and the people trying to seek them out rather than less.
        As for the work beyond what we’ll complete in class (which, let’s be honest, will be immense, considering our limited time frame), I think the most important aspects to consider are how this archive and these materials are positioned on the web and the degree to which we have represented these materials ‘accurately.’ Tagging and metadata as well as search engine optimization will be key for the first point, and the presence of a “second set of eyes,” especially those of SCL staff or community members, would be the best possible case for the second point. Another way to think about it is considering both the way the archive is discovered and consumed to newcomers or outsiders and how it reflects on the community and events taking place within it.

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