Archival research support app continues to grow with community partnerships

Archivists hold in trust centuries of documents and artifacts that historians, anthropologists, literary scholars and many others use to discover new knowledge and understand our collective past.

But too often, archivists and researchers navigate workflows, processes, and institutional needs that make effective communication difficult. This makes it difficult for archivists to manage requests for documents and for researchers to obtain the documents they need.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded $805,000 to the UConn team behind Sourcery, software designed to simplify requests for archival records.

This new funding will allow the team to develop Sourcery with the contribution of partners from various collecting institutions. The team will work with the Hartford Public Library, Northeastern University, UConn Archives and Special Collections, and the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Tom Scheinfeldt, Associate Professor of History, and Brian Daley Assistant Professor-in-Residence in the Department of Digital Media and Design, Sourcing co-inventedy in 2020 with the support of greenhouse studios.

Sourcery improves the workflow of archivists and librarians by providing a centralized platform for document requests.

Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, accessing documents in other institutions is a challenge for researchers as they would either have to travel or navigate confusing online request systems. Existing records request systems often result in duplicate requests or multiple archivists working on the same task. Additionally, each institution has its own system for submitting applications, which can be difficult when researchers are trying to navigate multiple processes.

“Sourcery is a kind of middle layer between these groups that are closely related but don’t always communicate very well,” Scheinfeldt says.

With Sourcery, researchers simply log in and submit citation information for the document they need. If the request is more complex, they can enter a live chat with an archivist in the app.

“We want to make sure the work of archivists isn’t invisible,” says Carly Wanner-Hyde, design technologist at Greenhouse Studios and project manager at Sourcery.

With this grant, Sourcery will work with each partner to address specific concerns. For example, the Folger Library deals with rare documents from the English Renaissance and early modern period. Sourcery can help archivists digitize and prioritize the cataloging order of records so they don’t have to physically handle these fragile records as often.

The Boston Globe donated its photographic morgue to the Northeastern Archives. Soon, whenever the Globe needs a stock photograph, they’ll be using Sourcery to request them.

“Historical research doesn’t happen without archivists and there wouldn’t be much of a role for archivists without historical research,” says Scheinfeldt. “Providing better exchange channels between the two will improve the work of both.”

Sourcery allows archives to see all active requests on a simple dashboard and manage requests from there. It also provides archivists with useful data on the documents requested, the type of research they support, etc. Normally, archivists have to collect this data manually.

With Sourcery, researchers can see all of their active and past requests on the platform, making it easy to track the status of a request or view previously requested documents.

“One of our big goals now is to make Sourcery a tool for archivists and institutions as much as it has been a tool for researchers,” says Wanner-Hyde.

Sourcery also integrates with existing systems used by archivists and researchers, such as ArchivesSpace and Zotero.

Over the next few years, the team will visit conferences from historians and other relevant disciplines to gather community feedback on Sourcery’s functionality and how to make it more useful to them.

“It’s important to us that this is a product developed by universities for university researchers,” says Scheinfeldt. “And that’s important because we’re building it with community input. It really is a community product.

To learn more about Sourcery, visit sourceryapp.org. If you would like to join us in our testing phase, visit sourceryapp.org/join-us.

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