Balancing Stakeholder Needs: Archive 2.0 As Community-centred Design
Archive 2.0 is relatively new concept for us, one that we have only worked with since 2007 and the beginning of our Samaritan Digital Archive Project at Michigan State University (MSU). Our project started with the intention of building a digital archive; the Archive 2.0 nature of the project surfaced when we realised that in order to build a useful archive, we would need to engage multiple stakeholder communities. In our project this meant working with the cultural stakeholders, the Samaritans, as well as academic stakeholders, including Samaritan and Biblical scholars. Initially we thought that applying Web 2.0 technologies such as social networking, image tagging, etc, to a digital archive would be our most important contribution to the project. As the project unfolded and we identified stakeholder needs more precisely however, we realised that our role was as much about balancing stakeholders’ representational needs as much as it was about the application of Web 2.0 technologies.
The project began in December of 2007 when Writing in Digital Environments (WIDE) Research Center  Research Assistant Jim Ridolfo was browsing the digital MSU Special Collections catalogue, and discovered the library index for the MSU Chamberlain-Warren collection of Samaritan texts. While investigating the history of the collection, Ridolfo learnt that in 2003 a Samaritan elder had travelled to MSU and had spoken to the Board of Trustees. The elder, Binyamim Tsedaka, had ‘encouraged the university to utilise the collection to promote Samaritan studies.’  On learning of Tsedaka’s speech, Ridolfo e-mailed Tsedaka and enquired about the community’s possible interest in collaborating on a digitisation project. Tsedaka responded with his full blessing and an offer of collaboration .
Who Are the Samaritans?
The Samaritans have existed as a community for thousands of years. They are an ancient biblical people living primarily in Holon, Israel and Mt. Gerizim, West Bank. Their Torah is similar in content to that of Jewish people, but with several major theological differences. For example, the Samaritan Torah maintains that Mt. Gerizim rather than Jerusalem is holy. The Samaritan Pentateuch also contains thousands of textual differences from the Masoretic Hebrew text; consequently, their theological interpretations and practices differ from common Jewish interpretations and traditions. In addition, the script of the Samaritan Torah is written in Samaritan Hebrew, which includes a unique script, pronunciation scheme, and grammar. Starting at a very early age, all Samaritan children learn to read, write, and chant in Samaritan Hebrew.
The Samaritan community includes 712 members, with approximately half the population living in Holon, Israel, and the other half living in the Mt. Gerizim village of Kiryat Luza. The community in Holon speaks Modern Hebrew as a first language, while the community in Kiryat Luza speaks Palestinian Arabic as a first language. The Samaritans living in Kiryat Luza maintain a delicate relationship with the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. Being few in number and vulnerable to larger political trends, they seek a peaceful relationship with both authorities. For example, the residents of Kiryat Luza possess both Palestinian Authority and Israeli passports, vote in both elections, and work, travel, and study on both sides of the Green Line. Since the Samaritans of Holon and Kiryat Luza commemorate all festivals, holidays, and life cycle celebrations together on Mt. Gerizim, they are very keen to maintain contact between both communities .
Stumbling into Archive 2.0
While Web 2.0 technology helps mitigate stakeholder needs, we see the work of Archive 2.0 as more about questions of procedure, methodology, and field work. In the first phase of the project (pre-funding), we conducted interviews with the US representative of the AB Samaritan Institute, e-mailed back and forth with Benyamim Tsedaka, and observed how Samaritan and biblical scholars conduct textual scholarship. What we began to see was how the digital archive would (and could) serve different functions for these two distinct groups: the cultural stakeholders and Samaritan/biblical scholars. In the first stage of the project (January - March 2008) Jim Ridolfo and WIDE Co-Director William Hart-Davidson reached out to the university community. This phase of the project included conversations with the Director of Special Collections Peter Berg, MSU University Archivist Cynthia Ghering, and MSU Samaritan scholar Robert Anderson. In addition, Ridolfo regularly met with Sharon Dufour, the US Representative for the AB Samaritan Institute. From e-mails with Tsedaka and meetings with Dufour, we learnt important information about the cultural and religious significance of the collection for the Samaritan people .
We began to apply the term stakeholder to describe the stakes and interests different people had in the MSU collection. From our initial conversations we identified two primary groups with a stated interest in the collection: cultural and scholarly stakeholders. We wanted to know with a great deal of certainty that the archive would be beneficial to the Samaritan people. This concern, the question of who has the authority to represent another people, is a cultural stakeholder concern we take very seriously. In addition to ongoing talks with Benyamim Tsedaka and Sharon Dufour, Dr. Jim Ridolfo and WIDE Software Developer Michael McLeod travelled to the West Bank and met the late High Priest Elazar ben Tsedaka. High Priest Elazar ben Tsedaka enthusiastically gave the project his blessing and explained clearly that the archive would give the community access to the historical information embedded in these texts while raising awareness of the community to the rest of the world. From our early discussions with Samaritan and biblical scholars, we also learnt that the digital archive would help to promote Samaritan studies by making a geographically remote collection widely available. For example, MSU Samaritan scholar Robert Anderson told us that increased access to the MSU collection may have the real potential to attract another generation of scholars to Samaritan studies. The two stakeholder groups had complementary interests in the digital archive; but as we will discuss later, the digital archive would be used for different values and purposes by each group of stakeholders. After these initial conversations, we realised that while Web 2.0 technologies offered us database- and interaction-driven methods for engaging with stakeholders, fieldwork - direct interaction with the cultural stakeholders - would be crucial to developing an archive that was not only useful for them but also demonstrated respect for them and their culture. In this sense, the project’s first Archive 2.0 moment did not have to do with technology, but rather with questions of ethical research and the balancing of stakeholder needs.
One aspect of the project that attracted us from the beginning was an anticipated need to tailor the digital archive to multiple stakeholder groups; the project fitted well into the WIDE Research Center’s mission of investigating ‘how digital technologies change the processes, products, and contexts for writing, particularly in organisational and collaborative composing contexts.’ The guiding framework for our fieldwork and interviews is user-centred design, an approach that employs techniques of prototyping, testing, and iterative design in order to ensure that users can have a meaningful impact upon the design process . For our work, we saw the user-centred design process as a way to tailor the archive to the needs of each particular stakeholder community. This approach helped our team gather information from members of the two user communities in order to develop a design prototype that would best meet their needs. We engaged with Samaritan community members and biblical/textual scholars as informants, tapping their expertise to help us design better (i.e., more useful and usable) interfaces for the digital Samaritan archive. In keeping with the best practice of user-centred design, we followed an iterative design pattern, meaning that after each round of mock-ups and prototypes we went back to our user communities for feedback.
This feedback was crucial not only in fine-tuning interfaces the various stakeholders would find useful, but also in helping us identify specific areas where our observations about the user community and their needs were incorrect or inaccurate. For example, as designers, we had assumed prior to our fieldwork that designing a Web portal for the community in the Samaritan script would be useful and desirable. However, from our discussions with the community we learnt that this is not of any utility. The Samaritans have no use at this time for digital interfaces in Samaritan, and we were instructed to localise the Web site in English, Arabic, and Hebrew. These interactions with stakeholders are moments of Archive 2.0 discovery, in other words, and not merely moments where we as designers confirm our assumptions. In another example, we learnt that the Greek word Pentateuch has little meaning for the Samaritans (see Figure 1). We were advised by the Samaritans to localise the interface with the word Torah. While this example may seem trivial, without the benefit of user-centred design we could have potentially deployed the archive with an entirely incorrect name for one particular stakeholder community.
Archive 2.0 and Balancing Stakeholder Needs
What emerged from our project meetings was the conclusion that the digital archive can function in very different ways for multiple stakeholder groups. If, for example, we had pursued the development of the digital archive without the Samaritans’ input, we would have ended up with a very different interface and information design; the same also held true for Samaritan and biblical scholars. Before we even applied for our first round of funding, Director of MSU Special Collections Dr. Peter Berg had generously agreed to digitise the first 20 pages of a Samaritan Pentateuch as cost share. This presented our project team with an opportunity and a question: which Pentateuch and which 20 pages did we digitise first? On 6 October 2008 members of the WIDE team met at MSU Special Collections with Peter Berg, scholar Robert Anderson, Sharon Dufour from the AB Samaritan Institute, while Benyamim Tsedaka from Holon, Israel joined us on the phone. Tsedaka and Professor Anderson both agreed that the most culturally and scholarly significant item to digitise first was a selection from the Book of Exodus. From our field research with the community we later learnt that the Samaritans have no pressing ritual need for the texts in the MSU archive: there is no shortage of Pentateuchs in Mt. Gerizim or Holon. For Tsedaka, the selection was significant because the book of Exodus contains an acrostic called a tashkil, a message ‘formed by dividing the text into two columns, and bringing out the letters required for the acrostic into the vacant space between them.’  The tashkil tells the story of the scribe, the scribe’s family, and other historical details. From our field research we learnt that, for the Samaritans, digital access to Pentateuchs with acrostics is culturally important. When we interviewed young Samaritans on Mt. Gerizim about their interest in a digital archive, this was overwhelmingly emphasised as an important need. For textual scholars such as Professor Anderson, the selection may also hold important historical information about the scribe and community.
In addition to consensus about what to digitise, we also became conscious of balancing how we described what we were to digitise (metadata), and we focused on how the issue of balance could play out in terms of metadata. While we want scholars to annotate the images collaboratively as they see fit, we equally want the Samaritans to be able to annotate the Pentateuch images as they see fit. To balance these needs we are developing a metadata system by which the Samaritans could opt to keep their notations private to working groups, and the Scholars too could also opt to keep their notations private. For the general archive portal, if one or several members of a stakeholder group want to make annotations public, no set of annotations will be the default metadata for any one interface. Rather, users may select from different sets of public metadata descriptions.
We planned to connect metadata from both the community and scholars. The question arose of how to handle two potentially divergent sets of metadata. Rather than think of multiple sets as a problem, we saw this problem of balance as a particular strength of Archive 2.0. For the cultural stakeholders, we developed a MySQL/PHP-driven prototype tool to collect metadata from Samaritan volunteers. We call this tool the Culturally Centered Metadata Acquisition Tool (CCMAT). Our CCMAT is a rather cumbersome acronym for what we think is an otherwise useful idea in terms of Archive 2.0 and balance: create a place where community stakeholders might contribute to categorising and describing digital content in ways that ultimately support ‘views’ of the information that the community, rather than traditional scholars, need. This could include information about a tashkil as it relates to living relatives today, discussion relating to the weekly Torah portion, or other matters relating to religious practice.
For our first use of the CCMAT, members of the Samaritan community in Holon and Mt. Gerizim helped us to identify each page remotely. We provided a Hebrew and English menu system so the Samaritans could assign a weekly Torah portion value to each page. Additionally, they provided Hebrew, English, and Arabic comments on each page, including translations of passages from Samaritan to Hebrew, religious commentary, and relevant cultural information. Our first run of the CCMAT was effective, but we do not think that we could have designed an effective CCMAT without fieldwork. In this sense, Archive 2.0 for us is not strictly about Web 2.0 technology, but also about the increased need for fieldwork in relationship to digital projects.
We are in agreement with Palmer when she argues that Archive 2.0 is ‘less about technological change than a broader epistemological shift which concerns the very nature of the archive’ . For our project, Archive 2.0 is not simply about Web 2.0 technology; but Web 2.0 technology is able to help us tailor the use of the archive for the needs of specific stakeholder groups. For example, when we travelled to the West Bank we learnt that a significant number of Samaritans use social networking technology (such as Facebook) to communicate with each other. When we returned to the USA and made the first 20 Pentateuch scans available on the Web, we observed that community members copied and shared the scans onto social networking groups, pages, and profiles. What emerged from this fieldwork was the idea that we should tailor the use of the archive to different stakeholder platforms - those places where they were already sharing information. This could include creating a Facebook applet that displays the links to archive images relating to the weekly Torah portion, as well as aggregate comments from the community through Facebook. In other words, Archive 2.0 as a database-driven entity means that we no longer have to think about the archive as one physical space, box, or catalogue; we can develop and tailor multiple interfaces to different stakeholder needs. For example, the Samaritans can have a Facebook portal to the archive, scholars can have a Web portal to the archive, and each can be tailored, in terms of metadata and interface, to the needs of each stakeholder group.
We think that the most promising aspect of Archive 2.0 and of digital technologies in libraries and archives, generally, is that a plurality of organisations’ schemes can co-exist with others, allowing multiple stakeholder communities to move through the text in ways they find useful and familiar, but also in ways with which other stakeholder communities may not be familiar. We envision that different stakeholder communities can learn from one another by browsing each other’s public metadata. In this sense, Archive 2.0 opens up the possibility for some digital archives to become a place where stakeholders interact, share, and compare ways of seeing texts; while, at the same time, they are able, in the best case, simultaneously to preserve and help to present unique, culturally specific and scholarly ways of viewing a text. Negotiating issues of balance in collaborative Archive 2.0 projects is messy, time-consuming work. For us, the technology of Archive 2.0 provides the opportunity to build relationships through collaboration and fieldwork.
Echoing Kennedy, we do not think that Archive 2.0 will look similar in all instances, nor do we think that the question of balance will be the foremost concern for each Archive 2.0 project . However, we do think that Archive 2.0, particularly when one is working with the texts of a historically marginalised group, will increasingly challenge digital archivists to think up new methodological approaches to address issues of balance.
- Writing in Digital Environments (WIDE) Research Center http://www.wide.msu.edu/
- “Meeting Minutes for November 13.” Board of Trustees. 13 November 2003. Michigan State University. 12 December 2007
- Ridolfo, Jim. “Re: Hello and Question From a Researcher At Michigan State University.” Email to the author. 5 January 2008.
- Dana Rosenblatt, “Amid conflict, Samaritans keep unique identity”. CNN.com, 14 October 2002.
- Sean Ireton, “The Samaritans - A Jewish Sect in Israel: Strategies for Survival of an Ethno-religious Minority in the Twenty First Century”. 2003.
- For more information please see our 2009 National Endowment for the Humanities report
- See: What is User-Centered Design: About Usability: Usability Professionals’ Association Resources
- Cowley, Arthur E. “Description of Four Samaritan Manuscripts Belonging to The Palestine Exploration Fund.” Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement (1904): 67-78. Print.
- Palmer, J., “Archives 2.0: If We Build It, Will They Come?“, July 2009, Ariadne Issue 60
- Kennedy, M., “Cautionary Tales: Archives 2.0 and the Diplomatic Historian”, October 2009, Ariadne Issue 61