Is augmented reality the future for archives in a digital age?

To manage the thought process, Lawrence Serewicz broke the issue into three distinct phases.

Phase One: Next 5 years 90% paper/10% digital.

Phase two 5-15 years, 50/50% or 40/60% paper/digital.

Phase three 20+ years 10%/90% paper/digital.

In his opinion, in 20 years, we will have a large amount of digital records and a smaller, but consistent, amount of paper records.  The question, then and now, is how to preserve or converse the archives as well as provide access.

The first strong change in collecting material is the Preservation as Access.In the paper era, the access and preservation were opposed to each other.  If you accessed a fragile document too often, it would decay or disintegrate.  To overcome this, we digitize the record.  In the born digital age, decreased access means the record is more likely to decay because digital integrity and the need to future proof.  If your computer system is Word for example, you are more likely to keep updating it and future proofing it.  If you stop accessing it and the systems are no longer supported, then preservation may be harder because the record starts to decay.

The challenge increases because as archives become digital, their users change.  The heritage focus has been on place, but if the place is now virtual and access is mediated through the internet, how does one support that type of “place”?

In the past, the archivist may have been seen as a gatekeeper controlling the archive.  The new user was initiated into the archival search by talking with the archivist and other archive staff. In an electronic age, where it is difficult to “meet” the archivist, how does that education work?

If the archives become increasingly digitized, then they may become captive to the search engine optimisation (SEO) requirements. In the past, the archivist may have been seen as the gatekeeper, the one who mediated or controlled access to the collection. They controlled access as well as the shape of the collection. Yet, the search engine may replace that gatekeeping or mediating role. As documents become digital, the internet becomes the new mediator. If records are born digital and archived digitally, will they be connected to the internet directly, or will they be mediated through the archive?

With born-digital records, the mediated experience will change the need to visit the archives physically or electronically.  In the future, we may have more access to archives, through the electronic means, but the access becomes increasingly remote: we become removed from the concrete (relatively speaking) nature of the paper or physical record. Even though electronic records can have the same integrity as paper records, there will remain a perceptible gap between paper and digital records. Paper remains the most enduring and the most accessible; it may become the medium of choice for archives and users.  Yet, the gap will remain and could increase as the electronic will remain suspect. The wider digital sphere becomes the ephemeral or meta-universe while the paper are considered the physical.

Where do we go from today if born digital is the future of archives?

With digital records and digital artefacts, we open up the third dimension, space: the geographical location data associated with born digital or digital artefacts like photographs. If these records are tagged, then their geographic metadata must be similarly conserved. Moreover if we start tagging all records so that we can associate with a geographical space then the next generation in archives will have an augmented reality offer. In this sense, you will be able to see (literally) where the Dickens lived and the archival records associated with the building.  The City of Philadelphia Department of Records is being to use an augmented reality approach with photographs and archival work in Philadelphia. In twenty years, the following scenario is possible. People who want to use the archives never visit it, nor do they access an archive’s website unless they want more detail. Instead, they will go to locations, where their augmented location devices will bring up or highlight the digital records from the archives associated with that location. In that future, the archives will go to the people. At the same time, the archives or the CRO site will contain the original born digital records or the paper records.

The future of archives will be one where the public experience or use them through different mediated experience. As these develop, we will need archives to be structured differently to adapt to an augmented reality as the documents are linked to a place outside the physical archival storage. If the next stage of access, already emerging, links records to places, how do we prepare our records for that future?