Archives in libraries: Exploring physical and virtual organizational identities

Ashley Todd-Diaz


In many colleges and universities, the archival program is a unit located within the physical and organizational structure of the library. Although both the library and archival functions share a focus on organizing and providing access to information, they may or may not be distinct in the materials they hold, the priorities they emphasize, the education their professionals receive, and the professional values to which they adhere. Physical proximity provides opportunities for convergence, while also potentially reinforcing differences in professional identity, behavioral norms, and routine practice. Physical tension may also be mirrored in the transition to the digital environment in which institutions are challenged to create and project their physical and organizational identity in virtual space. Websites act as the primary mediating force through which students access materials and experience libraries and archives.

This paper explores the potential value in exploring the physical and virtual tensions between archival units in library through the lens of organizational behavior theory and competing concepts of convergence. Cyert and March’s (1963) widely adopted and well-conceived behavioral theory of the firm provides insight into the negotiation of goals between groups within an organization and suggests why such situations can lead to tensions and a lack of shared identity. Additionally, convergence and stakeholder theories (Jenkins, 2006; Freeman, 1984) provide insight into how identities are communicated to the external community, ultimately impacting students’ perception and use of academic archives. Organizational behavior in a convergence culture has the potential to impact information organization, access, and use. Considering the limited number and limited usefulness of archival user studies, as they pertain to matters of functional organization, there is much to learn about the impact of virtual and physical structures as archival programs accelerate the transition between physical and digital realms. The paper will problematize the relationship of archives IN libraries, outline a theoretical foundation for a study of virtual and physical organization, and suggest a number of pertinent research questions that could be built on this foundation.


Cyert, R., & March, J. G. (1963). A behavioral theory of the firm. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc.
Freeman, R. E. (1984). Strategic management: A stakeholder approach. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York: NYU Press.


I am a doctoral candidate at Emporia State University’s School of Library and Information Management. My research interests are libraries and archives as organizations, users and information seeking behavior, archival literacy, and incorporating emerging technologies, such as augmented reality, into the classroom. My dissertation research will explore the relationship between the organizational identities of archives and libraries when they are located in the same physical and organization structure. I hold a BA from Sarah Lawrence College, an MSIS with a concentration in Archives and Records Administration from SUNY at Albany, and an MA in English and American Literature from New York University. I am Head of Special Collections and University Archives at Towson University in Maryland, and teach as an adjunct professor in Emporia’s Master of Library and Information Science and Archives Studies Certificate programs. I am active within the Society of American Archivists as vice-chair/chair-elect of the Manuscripts Repository Section and as a member of the Teaching with Primary Sources committee of the Reference, Access, and Outreach Section.