About the project

Archives and special collections are at a time of critical change for discovery, access, and delivery of their collections, with changes in technology, user needs, and resourcing. While archivists and technologists have begun to explore and understand how effective systems integration impacts their work, most integration efforts have tended to focus on the integration of "back office" systems like collection management systems, repositories, and digital preservation infrastructure. Based on our work on the ArcLight archival discovery platform, we believe there is an opportunity to get a broader and more in-depth understanding of how systems integration impacts archival discovery and delivery, and to develop a forward-looking agenda describing an ethical, equitable, sustainable, and well-integrated future for archives and special collections.

Lighting the Way, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and administered by Stanford University Libraries from September 1, 2019 to August 31, 2021, is a project that focuses on the exploration of improving finding, access and using archives and special collections, emphasizing shared and holistic concerns and recommendations, rather than focusing exclusively on system- or platform-specific issues. We believe that communicating across professional boundaries, establishing shared approaches, and building consensus will allow archives and special collections to steward their collections and resources appropriately.

In February 2020, the project convened the Lighting the Way Forum, a 2.5 day meeting with approximately 71 participants. The Forum focused on discussion of progress, challenges, and opportunities regarding archival discovery and delivery, and to serve as a catalyst for participants to share needs, concerns, and information freely. The second series of events, the Working Meeting, were held online in April-May 2021 and focus on activities for groups to develop ideas around a topic related to archival discovery and delivery intended for publication in the project's handbook.

Through engaging archives, library, and technology workers, the project seeks to build consensus around strategic and technical directions to improve user experience, access, and interoperability across systems used to discover and deliver archives, and to provide a model for values-driven technology work within archives and special collections. As this project is intended to expand the capacity of archives and special collections to provide effective discovery and delivery, it can only be truly successful if its outputs and recommendations are equitable and adaptable to a variety of contexts, communities, and resourcing levels.

Goals and outcomes

Lighting the Way will center its activities around four primary goals: 1) mapping the ecosystem of discovery and delivery systems used by archives and special collections; 2) building a shared understanding between archivists and technologists around those systems; 3) creating conceptual and practical recommendations for integrating those systems; and 4) activating a diverse group of forum participants and the broader archives and special collections community to adopt and use those recommendations.

Work towards these goals will produce four key outcomes, intended to offer practical and strategic advances for archives and special collections discovery and delivery:

  • Foundational resources prepared in advance of and shared before each meeting, including a literature review, an environmental scan, and a taxonomy of systems and types of integrations, as well as guides for facilitators and participants.
  • The Lighting the Way Handbook: Case Studies, Guidelines, and Emergent Futures for Archival Discovery and Delivery, an edited volume of contributions from Working Meeting participants and invited contributors.
  • Project reports to synthesize the activities and outputs of the project, establishing a shared agenda for improved front-end system integration and shared specifications for archives and special collections, and identifying key partners for future advancement and sustainability of that agenda.
  • Presentations and webinars, which further share information about project activities and outputs, and engage archivists, technologists, and other key stakeholders around these issues.