Is digitalization the only driver of convergence? Theorizing relations between libraries, archives, and museums

Publication Date26 September 2019
AuthorCasper Hvenegaard Rasmussen
SubjectLibrary & information science
Is digitalization the only
driver of convergence? Theorizing
relations between libraries,
archives, and museums
Casper Hvenegaard Rasmussen
Department of Information Studies,
University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to theorize and discuss potential factors for convergence between
libraries, archives and museums (LAMs).
Design/methodology/approach This is a conceptual paper that criticizes existing research on the
convergence between the LAMs for a lack of theoretical reflection and a sacralization of technology.
Therefore, concepts such as convergent evolution, isomorphism, social fields and autonomy are used to
analyze other potential factors for convergence.
Findings The paper demonstrates that digitalization is not the only potential driver of convergence
between the LAMs. Indeed, other changes in institutionsenvironments, such as societal changes,
shifts in cultural policy and increasingly common practices among cultural institutions can represent
important drivers.
Research limitations/implications Given that this paper is primarily based on theoretical reflections,
future research should empirically investigate the non-digital factors suggested for convergence.
Originality/value The paper represents an attempt to detect a blind spotin existing research on
convergences between the LAM institutions and to identify some potential paths for future research to follow.
Keywords Libraries, Digitalization, Autonomy, Archives, Museums, Convergence, Isomorphism,
Convergent evolution
Paper type Conceptual paper
Libraries, archives and museums (LAMs) have a long history of association. From the first
encyclopedias until the present day, definitions of the LAMs have pinpointed the collections:
libraries are collections of books, archives are collections of documents and museums are
collections of objects. Yet in reality, the picture is much more blurred. Libraries and archives
exhibit objects, while books and documents can be exhibited at museums. Moreover,
museums frequently contain a library and archive, and vice versa (Martin, 2007). In
addition, some institutions may disguise the fact that they are integrated LAMs. One
example of a combined library, archive and museum is the French Cité de larchitecture et du
patrimoine, which constitutes one of the largest architectural centers in the world,
combining an exhibition space and educational program with a library and archive
(Beasley, 2007). At a political level, there are also some similarities, as LAMs are collections
serving certain shared political purposes, such as supporting enlightenment and national
identity (Brown and Davis-Brown, 1998; Vestheim, 1997). With a point of departure in the
concept of the public sphere, Larsen (2018) argues that LAMs in a Nordic context form an
important part of the infrastructure of the public sphere through supporting access to
knowledge, freedom of speech and deliberative activities. However, before the millennium
there was limited interest in the similarities and differences between LAMs in a research
context. According to Tanackovic and Badurina (2009), Library and Information Science,
Archival Science and Museology were deemed different but cognate disciplines throughout
the twentieth century. The development of these three independent disciplines stimulated
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 75 No. 6, 2019
pp. 1258-1273
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/JD-02-2019-0025
Received 7 February 2019
Revised 7 March 2019
Accepted 8 March 2019
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
considerable emphasis on the distinctive characteristics of each discipline, but with the
advancement of the internet there has been growing interest in the potential for convergence
between the LAMs. A common argument has been that in a digital environment it is no
longer relevant for users whether the original material exists in a library, archive ormuseum
(Kirchhoff et al., 2008; Martin, 2007; Timms, 2009). One of the earliest examples on the
potential for digital convergence between LAMs was the book chapter Electronic
information and the functional integration of libraries, museums, and archivesby Rayward
(1998). Here the author argues that the increasing availability of electronic information may
lead to a redefinition in the interrelationships between LAMs, as differences between the
institutions could largely disappear if the three different professional cultures were to
collaborate. Retrospectively, we can state that Rayward was rather optimistic as clear
boundaries between the LAMs remain, but he nevertheless articulated a growing trend.
From perceiving the relationship between LAMs as being one of tacit coexistence, the
convergence of the LAMs has become an evolving phenomenon in professional practice as
well as in research, especially in the case of Library and Information Science, but also in
Archival Science and Museology (Duff et al., 2014). One of the most frequently cited works
on convergence between the LAMs is a report prepared for the European Commission that
presents a framework for LAMs: Scientific, industrial, and cultural heritage: a shared
approach(Dempsey, 1999). The content of the report is essentially identical to Raywards
book chapter: the new possibilities opened up by the advent of the internet could facilitate
seamless access to collections without concern for institutional or national boundaries.
Nevertheless, the author of the report, Lorcan Dempsey, coined the term memory
institution,which has since become common parlance in the literature on convergence
between the LAMs. For Dempsey, the term is intentionally broad and practical,
encapsulating how LAMs share a common goal to collect, preserve and organize societies
cultural heritage. However, Dempsey fails to reflect on how institutions deal with memory in
different ways (Robinson, 2012). To date, the zenith of research regarding convergence
between the LAMs consists of three special issues in Library Quarterly,Archival Science and
Museum Management and Curatorship (Marty, 2008, 2009, 2010). This triple issue echoes
Raywards and Dempseys conclusions that the increased use and reliance on digital
resources has blurred traditional distinctions among information organizations, leading to a
digital convergence of libraries, archives, and museums(Marty, 2010, pp. 1-2). The article
Two librarians, an archivist, and 13,000 images: collaborating to build a digital collection
(Hunter et al., 2010) is representative of the triple issue. It is an analysis of a digitization
project at Colorado State University dealing with three of the prevailing themes in the
research on digital convergence among the LAMs: digitization, one point of access and
collaboration between institutions. Digitization has long been considered an important topic
within the LAM field, as LAMs have individually digitized larger or smaller parts of their
collections. With the development of the internet, the possibility of one point of access has
emerged, and today represents the most discussed theme in the research on convergence
and LAMs. The digitization project from Colorado State University is one of many examples
of single institutions that provide remote access to their collections, but in the last 15 years
many enormous trans-institutional portals have appeared. At a supranational level,
Europeana is an example. It is the European Unions digital platform for cultural heritage, to
which more than 3,000 institutions across Europe have contributed (Purday, 2009).
There are also similar national portals in Germany (Kirchhoff et al., 2008), Canada
(Bak and Armstrong, 2008) and Australia (Holley, 2010). An implication of one-point-of-
digital-access projects is collaboration between different departments or institutions,
in this case collaboration between LAMs. Hunter et al. (2010) view collaboration
positively where librarians and archivists possess an appreciation of, and respect for, one
anothers professional vocabularies and professional philosophical foundations(p. 100).
archives, and

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT