“We are what we keep” – day 2

Day 2 kicked off with Jon Shepherd and Elizabeth Lomas presenting on the Continued Communication project, a collaborative research project investigating tools for communication – tools used for information dissemination/recording in organisations.  Email is still the main tool, but with less than 10% of ?records managers? surveyed by the project actually managing email systems and less than 50% wanting to manage email systems, managing email as records is still a major problem [no source given for the numbers; will post if I find it].  Journalling (a form of audit trail), a semantic vault, buckets or large folders and auto appraisal were all mentioned as possible tools for managing email – but legacy systems remain the greatest problem for organisational recordkeeping.  The group has also investigated a range of collaboration tools and Elizabeth demonstrated a selection of these summarising their advantages and drawbacks (ning, moodle, google wave – now defunct, and mindmeister).  The project will shortly disseminate a communications architecture toolkit, an “affinity model” to assist with risk assessment for the adoption of collaboration tools, as well as a forthcoming book.  More details to be on their soon-to-be-launched website http://www.continuedcommunication.org.uk/

Jenny Moran followed with a personal review of a career in “traditional” archives and outreach, and her recent seduction by the dark side of records management.  Jenny’s session was described as “Archivist as stand-up” on the twitter feed – but the approach using Bob the Builder (TM) at Leicestershire as a hook for records management training and participation demonstrated precisely the kind of story-telling that the Continued Communication project is also investigating.

Sound problems unfortunately marred many of the morning’s papers, with Julia Stocken being particuarly disrupted.  Julia discussed how the National Archives is assisting UK Central Government departments to assist record creators to apply retention & disposal schedules and assign value to their records.  Julia described TNA’s Seamless Flow and Digital Continuity projects (the latter also mentioned by Oliver Morley the preceding day), summarising the challenges of managing digital records.

We then travelled from the national archives of the UK to the national archives of India, with Meena Gautam speaking on the digitisation of archival records and the management of born-digital records.  Meena rehearsed many of the issues familiar to UK archivists and records managers, but locating them in an Indian legislative framework and scale.

Many of the issues outlined by Meena were addressed by Sharon McMeekin on the digital curation work of the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historic Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS).  Sharon’s extensive and comprehensive presentation clearly outlined the practical steps that RCAHMS are taking and the questions which they are grappling with.  Specifically on the conference’s theme of appraisal, these questions include whether appraisal should take place at the point of ingest of digital material or pre-submission, or indeed as an iterative process at different stages.  Should the quality of depositor-provided metadata or file formats be criteria in the decision to appraise records in digital formats?

The morning session concluded with a triple act from the British Library, including Jeremy John on the use of the Virtual Forensic Computing package to provide access to personal digital archives – Jeremy’s presentation extending Sharon’s points into the consideration of the user experience.  Lynda Barraclough was the first speaker in the BL’s slot, describing the work of the Endangered Archives Programme.  The EAP gives grants to support pilot or major projects, focussing on pre-modern or pre-industrial archives, mostly non-Western, and mostly in private hands.  Among the appraisal criteria for grants are the urgency, vulnerability and significance [to scholarly research] of the material, and the feasibility of the project along with the expertise/exprience of the applicant for funding and the opportunities provided by the project for professional development.  The British Library receives surrogates of the material for its own holdings – creating a collection of partial copies defined by the EAP itself.  Bill Stockting rounded up the morning, briefly describing the Integrated Archives and Manuscripts System (IAMS).  The IAMS project is taking a pragmatic approach to integrating past practice into a system that meets the demands of changing acquisition and cataloguing practices.  The first version of IAMS is available for comment at searcharchives.bl.uk [I’ve just tried this address and it’s not looking right at the moment].

Following lunch and browsing in the Information Marketplace (a list of all exhibitors can be found at), Elizabeth Shepherd and Andrew Flinn spoke about the research in archives and records management in the UK and Europe and in particular, the current work of the ICARUS research group at UCL.  Elizabeth stressed the collaborative nature of the relationships between researchers and practitioners, and commented on the importance of both the archival skillset (the what and the how) AND the archival mindset (the why).  Her outline of the work on appraisal by a number of current PhD students and postdoctoral research suggests that there will shortly be some significant contributions to professional research which should be widely disseminated.  Andrew Flinn asserted that the value of archives is best understood as something ascribed by external intervention(s), rather than residing in a record waiting to be discovered, and that the ascription of value is an active and contingent process – meaning that the idea of archival appraisal as a neutral or objective process is no longer tenable.  Andrew argued for the addition of “emotional value” in addition to the legal or evidential value of records, by which he meant the impact on a individual or group.  Drawing on work on personal archives and on the Digital Lives project, Andrew raised the idea of personal “archiving” of individuals managing their own digital records using highly individualised behaviours and with a personal assignment of values leading to retention.  The Community Archives & Identities project (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/slais/research/icarus/community-archives) explored the nature and motivations of community and individual archiving.

Andrew concluded with a series of challenges for archives, including to become democratised and participatory, recognising broader social and emotional values in additional to the transactional values of “traditional” archives, and to ensure alternative values are embedded in appraisal, description and other professional activities – experimenting with collaboration and participation.  Retreating to traditional practices in a time of recession and cuts is, Andrew feels, a mistake both ethically and professionally: social development will continue to push for change, and the collecting archivist (at least in the public sector) has a duty to include broader societal values in the holdings.

Some of the parallel sessions during the information marketplace, and the sessions to come tomorrow (Friday 3rd) will look at practice in this area.  The Manchester Chinese Archive, in particular, thrilled delegates with its dragon dance as part of their presentation.  With neither singing nor dancing (sadly), I attended two sessions focussing on practical support to the UK archival and records management community.  The first was on using the National Occupational Standards for Libraries Archives & Information Services to support individual CPD, performance management for a service, and wider workforce development.  The second saw the UK Archives Discovery Network (www.ukad.org) crowd-sourcing ideas to develop work on its objectives.

Sadly I can’t make the final day of the conference, but look forward to following the twitterstream and to the wider dissemination of the conference proceedings and outcomes.


One thought on ““We are what we keep” – day 2

  1. Pingback: Society of Archivists Conference 2010 – Day 2 (#soa10) « Around the World in 80 Gigabytes

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