Perceptions of user studies as a foundation for public programming activities by archivists from east and southern Africa
Department of Information Science, University of South Africa
Department of Interdisciplinary Research and Postgraduate Studies, University of South Africa
Public programming, public archives, archival user studies, valuation of archival services, east and southern Africa, ESARBICA
The purpose of this study was to examine the role of user studies and the evaluation of services in the development of effective public programming initiatives by the public archives of east and southern Africa. Users of the archives are the backbone of effective archival services. Sadly, it appears that the records are more valued than the users of the archives in many public archival institutions. This trend has partly contributed to public archival institutions being invisible in the communities that they are meant to serve. The extant literature has demonstrated that public programming initiatives may help archival institutions to bridge the gap between users and public archives. However, the effectiveness of such programmes relies upon identifying user needs and designing programmes that will address these needs accordingly. Data were collected using multiple methods informed by a positivist epistemology. Directors of the National Archives affiliated to the East and Southern Africa Regional Branch of the International Council on Archives (ESARBICA) completed a pretested self-administered questionnaire. Eight archivists who attended the ESARBICA conference in 2013 and three members of the ESARBICA Board participated in face-to-face interviews. Data from the interviews and questionnaires were triangulated with data from country reports. Data was analysed through Microsoft Excel and thematic analysis. The findings reveal that most efforts of gathering information on user needs were only directed towards existing users of the national archives. The collected information was not utilised effectively to improve archival services or develop public programming initiatives. Archivists in ESARBICA need to put more effort into discovering the needs of their users. As the public archives in ESARBICA strive to serve their citizens, they should not forget that records are for their citizens. This study provides an understanding of how archivists can link user studies to public programming and a chance to think of how to increase societal engagement with the archives.