What is a Community

This resource on digital archiving is intended to be used by institutions that might not have access to a larger network, however still possess community resources that are of enduring value to those communities.  For this reason, it is important to understand what the definition of a community is in the context of these web pages.

The word “community” as first defined by the Oxford English Dictionary refers to groups of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common, such as location or as a “body of people” with common interests.  Furthermore a second definition refers to “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals”, specifically such as achieved or felt through religion, with shared similarity or identity, or with joint ownership or liability (OED, 2011).

Eales (1998) identifies the difficulty in defining the term “community” when it relates to archives, admitting that it is easiest to represent a larger group or “community” when that group has an agenda or a political affiliation.  Furthermore, a community may reflect “the social memory of a self-identified interest group, as distinguished from an archive, which is formally nonpartisan and frequently established by legislation to ensure that documents are preserved and maintained for safekeeping” (Eales, 1998).  Eales, however also acknowledges that a community archive may address items that may not traditionally be included in a conventional archive or repository, as they are likely defined and created by smaller interest groups.

Flinn (2007) also addresses the issues of defining the terms “communities” and “archives” with the assertion that there is no absolute definition for either.  Flinn assumes a definition of “community archive” as a repository of materials collected from a specific group from the community, who exercise a certain amount of control over that archive (2007).

McKemmish et al (2005) reference the Oxford English Dictionary definition of a community as listed above, however acknowledge the importance of perception for defining community.  Specifically, community may have a cultural dimension, a social dimension, be constructed symbolically, or be political, seen as a locality or even be global or virtual.


Community. (1989). Oxford English Dictionary.  Retrieved July 25, 2011, from

Eales, Kathy.  (1998).  Community archives: introduction.  S.A. Archives Journal 40.  Retrieved on July 11, 2011, from http://jag85.com/classes/lis490/CommunityArchives%20Introduction.html

Flinn, Andrew, Stevens, Mary and Shepherd, Elizabeth.  (2009).  Whose memories, whose archives? Independent community archives, autonomy and the mainstream.  Arch Sci 9: 71-86.

McKemmish, Sue, Gilliland-Swetland, Anne and Ketelaar, Eric.  (2005).  “Communities of Memory”: Pluralising Archival Research and Education Agendas.  Archives and Manuscripts 33: 146-174.

Further reading:

Cannon, Braden.  (2009).  Preserving communities: a guide to archiving for community organizations. Halifax, N.S. : B. Cannon.

Carr, D. (2002). A Community Mind. Public Libraries 41(5), 284-8.

Davies, Julia. (2007, December).  Display, identity and the everyday: Self-presentation through online image sharing. Discourse: studies in the cultural politics of education 28(4): 549-564.

Flinn, Andrew.  (2007).  Community histories, community archives:  Some opportunities and challenges. Journal of the Society of Archivists 28(2): 151-176.

Huvila, Isto.  (2008).  Participatory archive: towards decentralised curation, radical user orientation, and broader contextualisation of records management.  Arch Sci 8: 15-36.

Moore, Shaunna and Pell, Susan.  (2010).  Autonomous archives.  International Journal of Heritage Studies 15(4): 255-268.

Williams, S. (2010). Community History: A Look at Preservation and Archives of Several Special Collections. Louisiana Libraries 73(1), 17-20.

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