Social history institutions, as defined within the context of the HOPE project, are those that collect material related to "the history of people's movements and individual life histories that were not part of official history, preserved by state archives and libraries;" that hold the "intellectual and material evidence of struggle and emancipation in written records, private papers, photographs, banners, posters, speech recordings and film." Such primary source material on mass movements and the everyday lives of ordinary people is rarely the focus of official archives and libraries—and also proves difficult to reach through traditional solicitation practices.
Across Europe, organizations have emerged to fill this gap. Whether they stand alone or are affiliated with universities, political parties, or non-governmental organizations, these organizations have in common a strong thematic focus, active engagement in contemporary politics and social movements, and close ties with their community of users, be they scholars, journalists, activists, politicians, or public researchers. Keeping these at the forefront of their work, such organizations are often compelled to solicit material in unorthodox ways, to cross traditional professional domains, and to work on a project-by-project basis. Yet, their strong engagement with contemporary users and issues has spurred them to digitize and push content online more actively than many more traditional cultural heritage institutions. These organizations are often by necessity small, nimble, and reactive, and while this has allowed them to gather together a valuable corpus of previously overlooked source material and an active body of users, it has also hindered long-term planning and large investment into infrastructure or know how. Digitization when undertaken has tended to be ad hoc, and not supported by robust systems and workflows.
Common characteristics of social history institutions include the following:
- Mixed legal status, often affiliated to major universities or academic institutions;
- Mixed funding, mostly private, with a strong motivation for fundraising;
- Small- or medium-sized, between 5-200 employees;
- Shared ideology, strong political profile, and commitment to organizations with similar mandate;
- Research integrated into library and archival activities and a crucial factor in overall strategy;
- Library, archive, and museum collection management practices not sharply divided;
- Strong international connections and long-standing local networks.
The following sections are an analysis of a specific group of social history institutions, HOPE content providers, following the logic of Trusted Digital Repository (TDR) audit checklists and the Reference Model for an Open Archival Information System (OAIS). The analysis treats issues of organizational viability, technological and financial sustainability, and procedural fitness. Case studies, written as free-standing pieces, highlight particular problems in the sector at the same time as giving detailed insight into its underlying praxis and ethos.