Making it personal: the power of digital archives to foster our sense of belonging

What would it mean to see yourself or your own lived experience within a digital archive? In his first blog for AM, Jameson Worley uses his personal experience to answer these questions. And he explores the ways in which digital archives have fostered his own sense of community belonging.

What would it mean to see pieces of your life within an archive? What emotions would you feel when you search a digital collection for your name, hometown, or loved one, and learn that records are discoverable for audiences to see?

Since I joined AM last fall, and in interacting with partner institutions using AM Quartex – our platform for digital collections – I have experienced a powerful sense of belonging in working with this platform.

Like many on our team, I love history and archives. My undergraduate and graduate studies led to an opportunity with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. I arranged and cataloged an archival collection from the Rotary clubs of Southeast Texas. I learned who these people were, what passions motivated them, and how they influenced local communities. I met with stakeholders who advocated for the collection for years, many of whom knew the people who originally donated the collection and whose lives are chronicled within the archive.

This experience affirmed my desire to work closely with archives and to ensure that our historical and cultural materials are discoverable to all communities. Joining the AM Quartex team has equipped me for this, but the story of Quartex also intersects with my own life in personal ways.

My alma mater, Baylor University, uses Quartex to share its own unique digital collections. These collections are a go-to for me in demonstrations of the platform with prospective partners. They afford me the chance to talk about making archives discoverable, and beyond that, I share my own research experiences as a history student utilizing primary sources now available via Quartex.

Circling back to the questions posed at the outset of this post – what would it mean to see myself within a collection, or within one of the living community archives or oral histories stewarded by libraries and archives around the world? Well, I can tell you...

On the International Mission Board’s digital collections site, you will find a photo of my family. A simple site-wide search for our family name, and a sidebar filter set to the year 1998, brings up a newsletter spread featuring a denim-clad family eager to begin a life of ministry in Guatemala.

Our surname is highlighted in bright yellow. Our story is discoverable thanks to a full-text searchable transcript.

Because of AM Quartex, I can personally say that it means quite a lot to have a piece of my life preserved and discoverable in this way.

Rarely had I considered how my life might live within an archive. To see myself included on a digital collections page via Quartex, the platform used by the university I attended, developed by a company committed to transforming digital archives, in a profession that means so much to me; many throughlines of my life come into perspective.

Digital archives have undeniable power to surface voices from the past and strengthen community bonds. By leveraging the power of technology, archives can more effectively celebrate the lived experiences shared within their materials and enable user communities to see themselves within a broader cultural setting.

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