Devan Donaldson

Measuring User Conceptions of Trustworthiness for
Digital Archival Documents

Date: December 8, 2014

Time: 12:00pm – 1:30pm

Room: Wells Library, Rm LI 001


Trust is the most fundamental but perhaps least well understood property of digital repositories that hold and preserve archival documents. For at least fifteen years, information scientists, digital curators, archivists, and computer scientists have worked successfully to design and construct robust, standards-oriented storehouses for digital archival documents. As these digital repositories scale in size and complexity, they are becoming essential sources for increasingly diverse populations of users, ranging from scholars, students, government and corporate administrators, investigators from the private sector, genealogists, and the general curious public. Scholarship across multiple disciplines has demonstrated that trust in a digital repository tends to originate with organizational branding, surrounds and envelops the “control zone” of the managed digital space, and so resides primarily at the collective level of the repository. In spite of its conceptual centrality, little reseach has investigated trust of the documentary contents of repositories as conceived by the designated communities of users that the repostory is intended to serve.

This presentation focuses on a two-phase, mixed-methods investigation into user conceptions of trustworthiness for archival documents housed in a large, heterogenous, government-run digital repository. Via semi-structured focus group discussion, Phase One involves eliciting perspectives on trustworthiness from genealogists who regularly utilize documents preserved by the Washington State Digital Archives. Utilizing thematic analysis and micro-interlocutor analysis to examine interview transcripts and video recordings, findings specify the sub-elements of a multi-faceted conception of trustworthiness, including: authenticity, accuracy, believability, completeness, currency, first-hand or primary nature, form, legibility, objectivity, stability, and validity. Phase Two includes constructing and testing the Perceived Authenticity and Accuracy Scale (PAAS), which is grounded in perceptions of trustworthiness identified as a result of Phase One. At a broader level, the findings demonstrate the meaning and measurability of the concept of trustworthiness. Implications for research and scholarship on trustworthiness and for digital repository managers are discussed.