The open archive

In wanting to create something influential that contributes to changing contemporary societal attitudes; the issue of immediacy becomes a crucial factor.  Immediacy is not an affordance of many traditional archive collections.

In a traditional archival collecting institution like the Wellcome Library, where archives are deposited or donated there is then a lengthy and time consuming process that needs to occur before the archives become useable to the general public.  The collections needs to wait to be processed and catalogued by the archive team and depending on how the collection is prioritised this can take a number of years to complete; and even after the collection has been processed some of the material may have to be closed for significant time spans because of the sensitivity of the content.  The result is that of the trickle of incoming collections into Archives and Manuscripts that are connected to mental health and can be classed as representing the autonomous voice of the individual; little has a chance of being immediately available for use.  

I would suggest that it is possible that the time lapses that occur between when the records are created and when they are made public means that something in relation to their potential significance and transformatory potential is lost.  As the temporal gap between creation and use increases; a distancing occurs; an 'othering'; the records become 'how we viewed things in the past' and although society seeks to learn from past mistakes this is distinct from what can be achieved when contemporary records are made openly available as part of the process of shifting the here and now.

In reaction to this, in agreement with the four contributors, the desire to create something that would be immediately open and accessible was a fundamental consideration that informed what we would seek to create.  This influenced our decision over format and delivery mechanism.  We chose to create a web based archive because of the ease in which this would enable us to open up the collection for immediate use.  For those that use the web to self-publish there is probably nothing particularly radical in this decision - and as regular web publishers this certainly wasn't radical for Peter, Dolly, Andrew and Stuart, but in the context of Archives and Manuscripts at the Wellcome Library this does represent a different type of approach.

The decision to open up the archive to immediate use has shaped the stories that you see here.  Sensitivities are negotiated in the creation process itself; the contributors say what is appropriate to say in a contemporary open archive.  Its openness guides their self expression and shapes their stories.