UKAD Forum – 19th March 2015, The National Archives

Last week I attended the UKAD Forum at The National Archives in London. The title of the forum was ‘Born Digital Realities’. It was reassuring to find that lots of organisations are all looking for solutions to similar issues around getting digital material, cataloging and providing access. Below are my notes, in case others working in archives can take anything useful from them.

Building The National Archives ‘Discovery’: born digital realities (The National Archives)
1. Building processes to appraise, catalogue and make digital material accessible
a. How do we manage sensitivity review at scale – e.g. identifying material that needs to remain closed for data protection reasons?
b. What metadata is required?
c. Do we need lots and lots of levels when arranging, or is usability enhanced by flattening the hierarchy to an extent and retaining the provenance trail by showing the file structure in the description?
d. The National Archives are describing everything to item level. Is there a way of doing this on a lower level of resources?
e. How can I ensure that where material is accessible to the public, it is searchable and easy to use? How can I incorporate the searching of digital material text into catalogue searches on my catalogue?
Archivist and Donor –deposit and transfer (Christopher Hilton, Wellcome Library and Simon Wilson, Hull History Centre)
2. Question of ‘who owns the stuff’!
a. Issue of donors also giving copies to other institutions
b. Need for clarity about intellectual property rights
3. Fears by donors about whether information can end up online when they weren’t expecting it – need for clarity and trust over the process, how access works, how it can be limited.
4. Useful to find a few supportive people/groups to use as a pilot
5. It’s helpful if the methods of getting digital material from organisations have a mimimal impact on how the organisation works, otherwise no one will get round to it!
Archivist and User: access and reuse (Fran Baker and Caroline Martin, University of Manchester Library)
6. Dealing with email collections – library tried this with one organisation they were already getting material from.
7. University of Manchester Library sampled their ‘designated community’ to look at access, e.g. asking whether researchers wanted traditional finding aids. The ability to search and filter was important.
8. Are there alternative ways of displaying information, particularly large quantities of data, and creating ways for researchers to find what they need and to see connections – visualisations, network graphs etc – see Stamford projects (MUSE and ePADD)?
Lightning Thoughts
9. Challenge of getting balance right so that search results are not swamped by digital material results, in effect hiding paper material.
10. How do you decide whether to collect something in paper or digital format? What is deemed the definitive version by the creator? Having a digital version may increase what can be done with the item later on, or at least make it easier.
Syncronising born-digital metadata (Christopher Hilton, Wellcome Library and Christopher Fryer, Parliamentary Archives)
11. Both organisations linked catalogue software to their DCMS.
12. Additional catalogue fields were created (file path, date created, date last modified, preservica ref, file type, URL). Extra fields were added on a pragmatic basis.
13. Issue of how to describe extent in a way that is useful to the end user – just including number of kb may not be all that useful!
14. Try to set up workflows first, and automate where possible. Investing the time initially will help later.
15. May be useful to include something in the notes to indicate to users where a description has been automatically generated.
16. Should you change file names to something more helpful to the end user, and where do you record the original file name?
17. Aim is to integrate digital and paper collection information, so that the end user interacts with the same system for everything, regardless of format.
Spotlight on the Digital (Karen Colbron, JISC)
18. Digitised collections are often hard to find.
19. Users are typically looking for item level.
20. JISC report – ‘Improving discoverability of digitised collections…’
21. Avoid silos
22. JISC guide – ‘Make your digital resources easier to discover’.
Final Thoughts
23. The record keeping system is a whole – it is possible to rework how elements fit together within that system, and we should be thinking critically about what we do.
My Planned Actions
• Join UKAD community
• Look at process of cataloguing digital material – do I need to create extra fields, how might users search for material, how can I make the process more efficient? Is it feasible to catalogue to item level, at least with very basic information?
• Read JISC reports on making digitised collections easier to discover

Catalogue update

Back in April I mentioned that I was looking at new software for a catalogue. I’m hoping that the catalogue will be online for people to have a look at by the end of the year. I’ve now spent a few months adding to it, and at the moment I’m working on all the societies and other activities.

An archive is arranged hierarchically, so that the context is kept. I’m working on ‘series-level’ entries for the whole archive (a series is a group of records, within a larger group, that all relate to the same purpose, for example we’ve got a series of Natural History Society annual reports). After that, we’ll be working on adding more detail for specific parts of the archive where this is likely to be most useful, although that is a long term project!

What is exciting is that it will be much easier to search the new catalogue, and explore it using all the connections to people, events, places, other records and so on. We can also add digital images of the records to the catalogue, so we can gradually increase what people can access online.

Watch this space!

Gymnastics display 1920 - Copy

A photograph of a gymnastics display from 1920 that I came across last week while I was working on the sports records.

A week in Bootham Archives

So what goes on behind the scenes in the archives? To give you a taste, here are a few of the things I was involved in last week…

  • Trying out the software for a new catalogue of the archives. I’ve spent a while playing with the software, seeing how it works and seeing how best we might use it. It’s very exciting to get to this stage, as it’s been a long time in the planning! Next week I’ll start to put the first ‘proper’ records in the catalogue. Eventually the plan is to make the catalogue available online, along with some digitised records, such as photographs – watch this space…
  • I’ve also been discussing the records retention policy with our administration manager. Each year it evolves slightly, especially as more of our records are now just held electronically. Making sure that we don’t have a big gap in the archives for the first part of the 21st century as a result of electronic records not surviving is a challenge. There’s lots of discussion in the archives sector about digital records. Part of the problem is that software and hardware very quickly goes out of date. Someone can find some photographs from their schooldays fifty years ago, and there’s a good chance the photographs will be in good enough condition to look at. If someone finds digital records fifty years from now, there’s a good chance that they won’t be able to look at them.
  • We often use images from the archive for greetings cards, and it’s time for a new design, so we’ve been choosing a new photograph and I’ve been designing the card.
  • I’ve been continuing with the research for a project about the First World War, linked with the history department. We’re hoping to be able to track a number of Old Scholars who were involved in the war in different ways. I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading through the magazines from the period, which had a lot of news about what Old Scholars were doing. I’ve been struck again by how powerful the stories of individuals are – events that can seem distant and inaccessible come to life when you read letters and start to see the individuals behind the numbers.
  • I’ve also been researching Old Scholars who died during the First World War for a researcher who’d seen the ‘Subtle Resistance: Scraps from a Bootham Diary in the Great War’ play (the play was written by Morven Hamilton and performed by Bootham students).