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The Care and Maintenance of Archival Innovation: The Lighting the Way Working Meeting as incubator for a sociotechnical investigation of archival discovery & delivery

Archives and special collections have invested heavily in the ecosystem of systems supporting their work over the past ten years and beyond, and have made significant improvements in archival discovery and delivery (finding, accessing, and using archival material). While the pandemic and shift to remote work has required many archivists to innovate in their work, deeper and more inclusive collaboration on this work has remained challenging. The Lighting the Way project team adapted a planned in-person Working Meeting to a series of online and asynchronous activities for participants to engage in a facilitated practice to develop ideas and written contributions on archival discovery and delivery. Drawing from a pool of over 100 applicants across 24 groups, a cohort of 9 groups and 52 individual participants developed topics and ideas from their initial submissions through the use of McCandless and Schurtau’s Strategy Knotworking framework, a refinement and adaptation of the Liberating Structures facilitation methodology. Facilitators worked with participants in both plenary and group-focused sessions to guide a collaborative process centered on the role of archival practitioners. The experience facilitating the Working Meeting sessions and supporting the development of written contributions underscores the importance of viewing archives and archival practices as sociotechnical systems further embedded in broader sociotechnical contexts. This presentation will describe the activities undertaken during the Working Meetings in relation to other research and practice within the field on archives as sociotechnical systems, and argues for a “bottom-up” model of archival innovation reliant on networks of care and mutual responsibility.