Archives and libraries operate within a complex web of social, political, and economic forces. The explosion of digital technologies, globalization, economic instability, consolidation within the publishing industry, increasing corporate control of the scholarly record, and the shifting copyright landscape are just some of the myriad forces shaping their evolution. Libraries and archives in turn have shaped the production of knowledge, participating in transformations in scholarship, publishing, and the nature of access to current and historical materials. Librarians and archivists increasingly recognize that they exist within institutional systems of power. Questioning long-held assumptions about library and archival neutrality and objectivity, they are working to expand access to previously marginalized materials, to educate users about the social and economic forces shaping their access to information, to raise awareness about bias in information tools and systems, and to empower disenfranchised communities.
New technologies are transforming the practices of librarians and archivists as they restructure bibliographic systems for collecting, storing, and accessing information. Digitization has vastly expanded the volume of material libraries and archives make available to their communities. It has enabled the creation of tools to read or decipher material thought to have been damaged beyond repair as well as tools to annotate, manipulate, map, and mine a wide variety of textual and visual resources. Digitization has enhanced scholarship by expanding opportunities for collaboration and by altering the scale of potential research. Scholars have the ability to perform computational analyses on immense numbers of images and texts. Nevertheless, new technologies have also presaged a greater commodification of information, a worsening of the crisis in scholarly communication, the creation of platforms rife with hidden bias, fake news, plagiarism, surveillance, harassment, and security breaches. Moreover, the digital record is less stable than the printed record, complicating the development of systems for organizing and preserving information. Archivists and librarians are addressing these issues by acquiring new technical competencies, by undertaking a range of social and materialist critiques, and by promoting new information literacies to enable users to think critically about the political and social contexts of information production.
In most 21st-century archives and libraries, traditional systems for stewarding analog materials coexist with newly developing methods for acquiring and preserving a range of digital formats and genres. Libraries provide access to printed books, journals, magazines, e-books, e-journals, databases, data sets, audiobooks, streaming audio and video files, as well as various other digital formats. Archives and special collections house rare and unique books and artifacts, paper and manuscript collections as well as their digital equivalents. Archives focus on permanently valuable records, including accounts, reports, letters, and photographs that may be of continuing value to the organizations that have created them or to other potential users.