Survive or Thrive

No, not a dodgy reality gameshow but a conference on “making the most of your digital content” run by JISC and UKOLN.

At the time of writing it doesn’t look as though the speakers’ presentations are available online (either as video or slides) yet – I’ll post the links when available, as some of the sessions were particularly inspirational and/or thought provoking.  One already available: Mike Ellis who put his slides on slideshare immediately, and whose presentation is well worth a look.

I’m not going to report on the content of all the sessions, but to try and briefly note the key points from an archives/records perspective, and one not restricted to the HE sector.

  • the importance of appraisal: in his keynote, Dan Greenstein proclaimed “not everything that exists is worth saving”.  Appraisal is a task for which recordkeepers claim a special expertise – and yet our practice and our rhetoric are sometimes far apart, or not identified by colleagues in the domain/sector. (I’m hoping to explore some of this in my paper to the forthcoming Society of Archivists’ conference).
  • the idea of “web 2.0” as a catch-all term for means of participation and a movement of participation/engagement, explicitly, if we give something we get something back.  Not a new thing! – think about volunteers indexing wills, cleaning documents etc.  But has who gets to define what is a meaningful interaction changed?
  • focussing on users than technology might make the archival community’s attempts to expose content a bit more coherent: it’s ok to use the tools that already exist and go where the people are.

The conference also got me thinking again, almost despairingly, about how far the archives community still has to go in the underpinning frameworks – for example, indexing collection descriptions, including grid references in place name authorities (where they are used).  The lack of this kind of thing will hamper the exploitation of archival content, and continue the vicious circle of lack of visibility followed by lack of use.  Jane Stevenson has a series of blog posts over at the archives hub blog about what I think are the rather depressing conclusions of a recent survey into indexing practice for archival cataloguing – names, more on names, places and subjects.

However the UK Archives Discovery Network is hoping – and working in practical ways – to encourage this to change.  It sounds as though working with the Strategic Content Alliance might be productive, particularly given the recent “vision” of the SCA.  However there seems to be a dearth of archivally-focussed partners both in the SCA and in the JISC and RLUK Resource Discovery Taskforce.  Indeed the Taskforce vision (launched at the conference) explicitly includes archives and museums as content providers – but its information gathering report focusses on “libraries”.  I fear that the taskforce and any associated initiatives will walk its talk (sorry, hate that phrase) and exclude archives and museums content. Which is arguably harder to deal with than bibliographic metadata and the critical mass of digital content (e-books etc) in libraries.

It would be nice to add a few more archival organisations to the current list of members of the Strategic Content Alliance – there look to be some useful publications including case studies for audience analysis, sustainability/business modelling, IPR/copyright and search engine optimisation/internet marketing, and a programme of events for members. – The good news is that “any public sector organisation involved in the creation or management of digital content can become an affiliate member [of the Strategic Content Alliance] which allows you to actively participate in the Alliance with no financial or legal obligations.

As recordkeeping people fundamentally aren’t we about use and users? – and in the current climate perhaps it behoves all of us to work in collaborative ways?

Kingly Gesture Originally uploaded by The National Archives UK

Other delegates thoughts on the conference could be seen (last week…) using the Twitter hashtag #sort2010 – but it looks like nobody (in a room full of digital curators etc) thought to set up a twapper keeper or similar archive.

So I’ll post links to others’ blogs when I find them.


2 thoughts on “Survive or Thrive

  1. Thanks so much for blogging about this conference from an archives perspective, Sarah. Wish I could have been there!

    You raise an interesting point when you say “if we give something we get something back”. The more I think about it, the more I think our sector is all too willing to take, but doesn’t give a great deal of thought to what we’re giving back to the community in return. I touched on this in a blog post at

    p.s. not sure your 3rd bullet point quite makes sense – is there a word missing?

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