This article was originally delivered as a paper for the 'Archives 2.0: Shifting Dialogues Between Users and Archivists' conference organised by the University of Manchester's ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) in March 2009. The paper came at an opportune time. I was absorbed in a research project examining independent and community archival initiatives in the UK and exploring the possibilities of user- (or community-)generated and contributed content for archives and historical research . Furthermore I had just received referees' comments on a proposed research project examining the potential impact of the latter developments on professional archival practice. Whilst two of the reports were very positive, one was more than a little hostile. The reviewer was scathing about the focus of the proposed research on the democratisation of knowledge production, dismissing the notion as part of a short-term political agenda that was detrimental to the idea of scholarship and one with which the archive profession should not concern itself. In particular, scorn was reserved for the idea that, in future archive catalogues, many 'voices' might be enabled 'to supplement or even supplant the single, authoritative, professional voice', an idea which was described as being, in extremis, 'a frontal attack on professionalism, standards and scholarship'.
At the time of receiving this review and considering my response, I was also beginning to write my paper for the conference and had already decided that my theme would be democratising the archive. However I realised that these comments neatly encapsulated a powerful and genuine strand of thinking within the archive profession and academia more generally, which one might loosely term 'traditional'. Although there are now many user-generated content archive and heritage projects in existence, and terms such as participatory archives, Archives 2.0 and even History 2.0 are an increasingly common part of professional discourse , some, perhaps many, archivists and scholars remain deeply sceptical about the need for a democratisation of the archive and of scholarship.
In the end the research project was supported by the AHRC despite the critical review and has now commenced . However, in this brief article I will try to respond to this strand of thinking by, first identifying what is meant by the democratisation of the archive and why advocates of such a thing believe it to be important. I will then briefly introduce two different but linked developments (independent or community archives and user- or community-generated content), which in harness with new technologies might play a role in such a democratisation, and in so doing challenge aspects of traditional archival thinking and practice. Finally I will offer a few thoughts on the shifts in our understanding of the archive and the resistance to those shifts. Ultimately, I will suggest that rather than viewing this debate as one between the expert (or the academic or the professional) and the crowd, it is in the concept of communities that the key might be found. A successful democratised and participatory archive is one which recognises that all those who come into contact with the archive (directly or indirectly), the 'community of the record', can and do affect our understanding and knowledge of that archive.
In essence, the call for a democratisation of archival practice arises from an understanding that the archive (and broadly speaking that means public archives, notably national archives) and archival practice overwhelmingly privilege the voices of those with power and influence in society. Moreover, it is contended, they tend to support national (and/or local) histories and heritage which exclude and subordinate many (perhaps the majority) within society on the basis of gender, class, politics, sexuality, race or faith . When these 'others' do appear in the archives, they rarely speak with their own voice, but rather appear as the objects of official interest and concern.
The demand for the transformation of archives and the histories that are constructed upon them is not new. Indeed, attempts have long been made, using different technologies of communication (from the subversive folk tale, underground pamphlets and papers, unofficial and supplementary education materials, independent libraries and community resource centres to the radical digital 'archive') to disseminate alternative histories and views on the organisation of society. Intertwined with various political and social movements, such initiatives became ever more frequent in the twentieth century, and particularly since the 1960s, with many different groups demanding that their histories be told, their voices be heard and that the archives reflect their lives and experiences.
Calls for a democratisation of the archive and of history may not but new but why are they important? Many, like Stuart Hall, believe that the inclusions and exclusions from our histories and national stories mirror and reinforce the same inclusions and exclusions in wider society. In an influential address on the subject of transforming Britain's national heritage, Hall argued that:
'A shared national identity thus depends on the cultural meanings, which bind each member individually into the large national story … The National Heritage is a powerful source of such meanings. It follows that those who cannot see themselves reflected in its mirror cannot properly "belong"' 
So histories and the memory institutions which tell those histories can play a significant role in bolstering the shared identity which underpins the 'imagined' community of the nation or a region; but these histories also have important lessons about 'belonging' for those who do not find their stories reflected in the archive and the museum and thus are not invited to share in the meaning. Inclusion of one's story (or of the story of people who were like you in ways with which you identify) in a public history can support an identification with a place and a local or national community. Equally exclusion, absence from, or misrepresentation in those narratives can engender a sense of alienation and non-identification.
This is an issue for the whole of society, not just for those individuals or communities whose stories might otherwise be excluded or ignored. The positive role that memory institutions, including archives, might play in supporting more cohesive and equitable societies is undermined if the stories they tell, or make available, exclude or misrepresent. As Lonnie Bunch (now the director of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History & Culture) has argued:
'Ultimately, cultural institutions are special places; touchstones of the past, keepers of our collective memories, sites that enrich and places that inspire. Yet without fully embracing the challenges of diversity, these institutions cannot be the glue that helps to bind a city or a nation together. Without fully embracing diversity, they cannot be the safe places that help us to conceptualize our world and to visualize the possible' .
If archives and other memory institutions are really going to fulfil their potential as bodies that inspire and enrich all by reflecting the full cultural diversity of society, then these institutions and those that work in them are going to have to embrace the transformative change in their practice suggested in initiatives such as the Mayor of London's Commission on African and Asian Heritage and the subsequent Heritage Diversity Task Force . For archivists, it means that the full range of decisions and duties undertaken by the archive need to examined – for instance decisions about collection and accession; about what is included and what is excluded, but also about how things are described and by whom; about how and to whom archive collections are made accessible; and the extent to which commercial imperatives should drive what is to be madee available digitally and how that digitisation is to be paid for?
Fundamentally however, what is required is an understanding of a national 'archive' which is not just a building or an institution down in Kew but an idea, a concept. Not a 'total' archive necessarily, but an 'archive without walls' which conceptually at least holds within its remit the obligation to reflect the archival heritage of the whole nation or relevant community, including but not confined to, only government and other official records. This means an archive that acknowledges and seeks to make available the traces of other voices and other stories which might be held outside the walls of formal established archives, located in other physical and virtual spaces.
Hall has suggested that the process of transforming and challenging hegemonic heritage has taken two forms. First, the slow but definite extension of collections and collecting policies to incorporate a range of different groups previously under-represented within archives, museums and other heritage organisations. Second, a growing challenge to the authority of many institutions, including heritage bodies, to represent and tell the stories of others; a challenge which is accompanied by a demand to tell 'our own stories' .
In terms of questioning elements of traditional archival practice and thinking, independent community participation in description combine elements of both Hall's democratic challenges. Both are also linked and, perhaps, transformed to some degree by technology, particularly collaborative technologies. However, they are not confined or defined only by technology. Although new technologies offer considerable potential for democratising heritage, technologies are only tools that better support and extend ideas and practices that have significant histories of their own. Independent or community archives and the involvement of users in archival practices have long existed in the analogue world.
It may well be that in the not too distant future technologies will transform and extend the impact of these democratic impulses. However, in themselves, new technologies do not guarantee such a transformation. As Tara Brabazon and others have written, in practice the Internet and many Web 2.0 applications, rather than extending democracy and empowering the under-voiced, have actually reinforced already dominant views and powerful elites . Nevertheless it is also probable that the dissemination and collaborative potential of the virtual world does represent real opportunities for constructing more democratised archives and histories; both in terms of what is kept and made available (personal and group archiving), and also how the access routes (via transformed descriptive and cataloguing practices) to those materials are extended and broadened. As a number of writers have pointed out, what is at stake with Archives 2.0 and History 2.0 is not just the potential of new collaborative technologies but a culture shift which embraces democratisation, a de-centring of authority and perspective, a refiguring of thinking and practice, and a thorough-going participatory ethos .
Recently designated as independent or community archives, the grassroots activity of collecting and sometimes creating materials relating to the history of a particular community (self-defined by place, ethnicity, faith, sexuality, occupation, other interest, or combination of these and more) has a long heritage. Such materials might otherwise never have appeared in other more established, formal heritage institutions. In some cases, individual community archives have their roots in local history activity going back 50 years or more. Recent professional recognition and interest in community archives in the UK really developed from the early 2000s with the Community Access to Archives Project and the Archive Task Force's 2004 report and its then quite 'radical' finding that archives held in the community could be as important as those held in public archives. By this time, groups such as Eastside Community Heritage had already been in existence for over ten years collecting and creating an oral and digital photographic archive which documents working-class life and experiences in the East End of London . Of course many museums, archives and libraries were already working with local groups but the Task Force's explicit acknowledgement of the value of the collections and the activity was new. What is immediately noticeable in any study of independent or community archives is their great variety – including the types of material collected (incorporating many things not traditionally considered archival), the relative size and stability of the organisations, their many physical or virtual manifestations, and the relationship with formal heritage institutions .
In the course of our research at UCL, we looked at many different archives, particularly those concerned with the preserving and making accessible the histories of those of African, Asian and other diverse heritages. Amongst all this variety we also identified a few commonalities. First, although some community archive activity begins as a result of an initiative from a mainstream heritage or other governmental body, many initiatives also emerge organically from within the group or community whose history they are seeking to document. They have a strong ethos of independence and autonomy. Whilst the majority of these groups wish to work with local formal heritage organisations, many also wish to do so on their own terms and in ways that do not compromise their independence .
Secondly the motivation and guiding objective for people participating in this kind of activity is almost universally related to a determination to tell a story (of a place, or an occupation, or the experience of a class or an ethnicity) which is not otherwise represented in formal heritage collections and histories. For some (say black, lesbian and gay, or feminist) archives, rooted in (and best understood as) social movements seeking political change, this is quite an explicit motivation but even those conforming to a less explicit political agenda, frequently exhibit a sense that they are documenting lives and stories that would not otherwise be told .
Whilst many community archives collect physical materials and operate in physical spaces not too dissimilar to those of more established archives, the recent upsurge in independent community archive activity has been in part related to the developments in establishing and sharing digital collections and the easy adoption of new technologies which have made this possible. The growth of sites such as My Brighton and Hove  which allow people from all over the world to upload and then share their photographs and other digitised materials about a particular place, identity, or occupation (in this case Brighton), significantly raises the profile and the potential impact of such initiatives. Whereas previously most community archive activity was by necessity limited by geographic proximity, the Web and Web 2.0 technologies in particular have opened up the possibilities for a whole range of distributed collaborative heritage activities.
Perhaps the most interesting and potentially significant aspect of this is the ability offered by collaborative technologies not only to upload and passively share digital heritage but also to engage and participate in collective discussion and discovery. So the functionality offered by My Brighton and Hove and similar sites to comment on and add to descriptions and memories uploaded by other members of the community can result in extending knowledge about particular communities (identifying people, buildings, events). It also offers the opportunity to share memories and build upon that would otherwise most likely remain uncaptured.
What then are the implications of community archives for professional archivists and academics? Many independent or community archives face long-term challenges relating to resources and in some cases technical expertise to ensure their sustainability and long-term preservation. It may be that ultimately many of their collections will find their way into more formal repositories. But it should also be incumbent upon archivists and other heritage professionals to support, in creative and in post-custodial ways, the physical and digital futures of those independent archives which are outside the walls of the formal archive or museum. If this can be done then independent and community archives may continue to help to democratise our archival heritage, contributing to a national archive that exists beyond the National Archives, a record of the public that draws upon more than the public record and ultimately to histories in which those previously with little or no voice can speak clearly for themselves.
Consideration of how archive services might better support user participation and make use of community knowledge in their services, builds on both the collaborative example of community archive sites such as My Brighton & Hove. However, it also builds on the recognition that communities (of use, of practice, of knowledge, of interest) may be formed around any number of identifications and interests. They may include archive collections, areas of study and academic disciplines. These communities typically hold deep and often shared knowledge which is simply not available to outsiders, including the professional archivist.
If these knowledge-rich communities can be persuaded (and acknowledged and properly rewarded) to share their knowledge, then there is great potential for deepening and extending the detail (and hence access points) contained within the descriptions of archive and other heritage collections. As one commentator on the impact of these methods on heritage practice has suggested, this 'opens up the museum to the possibility that expertise exists elsewhere; and that the museum could benefit from the knowledge of many communities' . This assertion is echoed for archives by the Finnish researcher Isto Huvila who has argued that the reason for 'emphasising radical user orientation in the participatory archive' is:
'to capture richer descriptions and links between records...The radical user orientation is based on an understanding that together the participants are more knowledgeable about the archival materials than an archivist alone can be' .
It is this potential pool of knowledge held, frequently untapped, within the 'community of the record', including the creators, the users as well as the professional archivists, into which the National Archives' (TNA) Your Archives wiki seeks to tap. Staff, record creators as well as TNA's community of users are able to contribute corrections, discussion, guidance and advice regarding individual or classes of records, to sit alongside (but not within) the professional published catalogue . As with the Polar Bear Expedition Digital Collections Project at the University of Michigan, the aim is to encourage the participation of knowledge-rich user communities in order to enrich and enhance professional description, and ultimately to improve future access to collections for all .
However once again, encouraging non-professional participation in description is not really a new development. In museums:
'historically we have acknowledged that specialists (and awkwardly often enthusiasts) have a better understanding of aspects of museum collections than the professionals charged with their care. There is an opportunity for this knowledge to converge with that of the museum' .
Responding to a posting on the ArchivesNext blog as to whether the future of archives might be '"passionate amateurs" doing "detailed curating"', a number of professional archivists acknowledged the role already played by volunteers and other 'passionate amateurs' in cataloguing in their institutions . Archivists (and others) have long used volunteers and drawn on the specialist knowledge possessed by their users to support their cataloguing but this has rarely been openly acknowledged. At least in theory, such descriptive activity ought to have been appropriately supervised, mediated and ironically given the discussion about this in the digital environment, moderated. Indeed the collection and utilisation in professional areas such as appraisal and cataloguing of such 'community' knowledge has been further advocated and formalised in other recent face-to-face participatory models such as the Revisiting Collections and Revisiting Archive Collections in the UK, and those described by Katie Shilton and Ramesh Srinivasan in the USA . In both these cases, the aim is to provide richer and thicker description by involving non-professionals in the professional practice, ultimately aiming to support the creation and description of multicultural archive collections more effectively. However all this interaction and participation are still ultimately controlled and mediated by professionals. The potential for how such participatory practices might be transformed and extended by technology clearly does pose some new questions and problems.
The evidence regarding the success or otherwise of online collaborative initiatives, even of the largest such as Your Archives is limited at present and something researchers at UCL and elsewhere will be trying to rectify as a priority. Over the next few years we will need to explore how best to support and encourage communities to contribute to such initiatives, to find out what works and what does not, to explore how the reliability of the entries is to be gauged, to examine the continued role for professional mediation, and what is the relationship to the professional catalogue. Nothing is fixed here, but we should be careful neither to exaggerate the potential of these developments nor to close down or ignore the opportunity that they offer.
Initial reports suggest that the success of such initiatives has been mixed. Many user commentary initiatives have tended towards providing not unimportant identification of personal information (naming an individual for instance) and the correction of errors. However, rather more rarely have they contributed significant amounts of data which extend existing descriptions in new ways . Furthermore, the number of users who are prepared to become actively engaged in such initiatives appears to be relatively small; this may have serious consequences for approaches relying on the 'wisdom of crowds'. In this situation, single-user interventions will often provide useful information, identification or correctives, but this does not allow for the extra benefits which might arise from community collaboration and self-regulation. What reasons might we find for these nominal levels of engagement? Generally it is still too early to tell and we will know more when detailed analysis of large, relatively long-running sites such as Your Archives appear. However, as Joy Palmer's article makes abundantly clear, simply building Archives 2.0 initiatives does not mean that users will come to use them. It is essential that users feel some sense of ownership before they will share and actively contribute. What difference might it make, if as in the examples mentioned here, archivists keep their 'peer collaborators' and their contributions distinct from the main catalogue or mediated and moderated by a professional authority who decides what is allowed in and what is not? Might this more traditional perspective restrict the sense of ownership and partnership that a more truly participatory and collaborative approach might engender ?
Levels of participation (both in terms of numbers and activity) may also vary greatly depending on the project and the community which the project seeks to engage. Some communities of interest such as family historians, already readily share information with each other. Family history is to some extent a social activity, and in terms of advice and guidance there is a predisposition to share . It is rarely competitive in the same way that expert, academic practice often is. Some of the evidence from the experience of community archive and heritage initiatives suggests that those sites that do best in engaging their users in activity are those ones which grow up organically, building a community around them which has strong sense of ownership. Whilst there has been a number of suggestions about how participatory heritage sites established by mainstream archive and heritage bodies might seek to maximise that sense of ownership through 'Living Heritage Practice', Affleck and Kvan wonder whether the traditional passive relationship most users have with such mainstream institutions inhibits such feelings and hence active participation .
Even if we were successful in actively encouraging greater user participation in archival practice, would this really represent a challenge to professionalism and scholarship? Are we really moving into an era of where 'We Think' might replace 'I think' ? Possibly, though it does not need to be viewed in this dichotomous fashion. Individual and collaborative scholarship and knowledge production are not completely separate modes of working or thinking; they can co-exist and even interact, informing and extending each other. Whilst the accuracy and reliability of collaborative projects like Wikipedia remain controversial and debated, many studies suggest that it is not wildly inaccurate compared with traditional sources or, perhaps more importantly, that it necessarily excludes expert views or scholarship. In fact the significant point seems to be that most entries in these models are created by experts in their particular field and then maintained by larger numbers of less specialist gardeners . For those who advocate the democratising potential of these developments, prospects for change and transformation perhaps lie not so much with the idea of the 'crowd' but that the experts are drawn from a much broader, less elitist notion of where knowledge and expertise can be found. Here the idea of the 'community of the record' might be crucial. If the large numbers engaged with crowd projects such as Wikipedia are not easily recruited for Archives 2.0 and History 2.0 initiatives, might not the successful projects be those ones which correctly identify and enthuse all their potential communities of users and fully embrace their expertise? 
Ultimately I am sympathetic to Jennifer Trant's conclusions on the growing challenges to the assumed authority of the professional and the opportunities posed to the heritage professions by relaxing our views on our authority and opening up our space to other voices:
'...professionals can only ensure that cultural institutions are relevant by changing their stance about the nature of their role; it is possible to contribute authenticity without demanding authority…demanding authority is an act, often of arrogance, that denies the contribution of others to the development of knowledge…within the rapidly developing environment of social computing, communities of practice are forming that could contribute significantly to the development of the museum' .
If heritage professions are going to prosper in the future, supporting and including wider knowledge about their collections will be essential. Replacing the single professional voice through more collaborative and participatory approaches offers the possibility of transforming not only professional practice but scholarship and knowledge production as well.
The project of democratising the content and access to archives, heritage and history is a continuous process not a finite one. Writing history is a living and continuously fluid activity and an archive (especially a national archive) is also a living thing, being constantly extended, reformed and re-imagined . So the activity of democratisation is not something that can be completed, it must be an ongoing process. However the strength of the earlier reviewer's criticism of these endeavours indicates that there is still strong resistance to such ideas within the archive profession and perhaps in academia more generally; representing what might be viewed as a 'traditional' position on 'professionalism, standards and scholarship' and viewing such changes as being allied to a short-term and irrelevant external political agenda.
A sense of the strength of these attitudes within those working and using archives in the UK is further evidenced in other writing and research on the profession. David Lowenthal's important, comprehensive and otherwise sympathetic overview of the changes and challenges facing the modern archive profession, occasionally betrays concern about the drift of the profession away from traditional notions of archival neutrality and about other non-elite voices finding their way into the archive . Ian Mortimer's call for privileged services for academic users was evidence of a widespread but often unspoken concern about the archive profession's perceived shift away from serving traditional academic and professional researchers to a more egalitarian focus on all users, in particular family historians .
Indications of similar concerns within the archive profession were apparent in a recent piece of research carried out by UCL and the National Council on Archives into the impact of the Heritage Lottery Fund's (HLF) funding on the archive profession and its perceptions of its role and professional duties . A significant strand of thinking amongst younger and more recently qualified professionals was ambivalent (and, on occasions, hostile) to their perception of the HLF's non-archival and 'politicised' agenda on extending access and supporting the preservation of and engagement with the histories of new diverse audiences. Such views represent not only a misreading of the HLF's strategic aims but also a influential current of thought within the archival profession.
If we believe as I do, that national archives and national histories should as far as possible reflect all and should allow all the opportunity to speak with their own voices, then different initiatives which seek to broaden and even democratise the content and access routes into the archive must be explored and supported by both professionals and archival users, inside and outside the academy. This need not be seen as an attack on professionalism or scholarship. Rather non-professional participation in online archival activity provides an opportunity to re-think how future professionalism and scholarship might be supported in a more collaborative, inclusive and democratic context. Such an approach, if successful, will result in a richer and more diverse archival heritage which will benefit communities of scholars, archivists and all other actual and potential users of archives as well as the consumers of the histories, public or otherwise, which are written from them.