Not long after I joined The National Archives someone asked me whether I thought there was any point archiving the ‘job vacancies’ or ‘careers’ sections of government websites. The person who asked felt these sections contained current information which would not be of interest once the posts advertised had been filled. As someone with an interest in both family and social history I disagreed. Although the ‘current vacancies’ section of a website archived 18 months ago probably would not be the most popular resource, I believe that this and other content related to work and employment captured in the web archive will be invaluable to the historians of the future.
The world of work is hugely important to family and social historians. A person’s job can tell us a great deal about their life. It can indicate their status in society, what quality of life they had and how educated they were, amongst other things. Most family historians researching in the UK will first find out about the occupations of their ancestors from a few words on a birth, marriage or death certificate or from a census return. Sometimes it is fairly obvious what the job entailed: my own family tree features a bus driver, a chauffeur, a cricket ball maker and a vast number of agricultural labourers, but some are more of a puzzle . The first image below is taken from my grandparents’ 1941 marriage certificate. My grandmother’s father’s occupation is given as ‘Carter’. A quick poll of colleagues in my office (none of whom are family history experts, I hasten to add) demonstrated that none of them knew what being a carter would entail. Continue reading »
My newish job title is Programme Manager (Accreditation). Which makes it sound as though The National Archives has a programme called accreditation that’s merrily running along, and I’m just taking over the running. Not as such…
Two weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be in Wellington, New Zealand as an invited representative of The National Archives at Future Perfect 2012. I was asked to give a presentation that focused on some of the technical work we do in Digital Preservation, with a nod to the strategy the department has adopted over the last few years and continues to pursue (energetically) in 2012 and through 2013 with the new work being completed on the Digital Records Infrastructure Project.
My presentation was entitled Survival of the Bits and focused loosely on what I perceive to have been an evolution in our work throughout the last few years. The presentation is online and can be viewed here. I received positive feedback about the talk over the course of the two day event, many of the comments praised the honesty of what was presented. The struggle we have in digital preservation is there is so much we have to do, or at least a lot we might want to consider doing to preserve digital records for future generations. We can either try and attack everything at the same time – ultimately this would result in spreading resource too thin and not achieving very much – or we can prioritise and achieve results with the most pressing of problems. Within the department we discussed the idea of an ‘unholy trinity’ of digital preservation: volume, ability to ingest, and knowing what we’ve got. With the aforementioned focus of 2012 and 2013 I suggested to the conference that we are really beginning to see an impact in addressing each of these challenges, but our work in format identification is the most advanced and a challenge it looks like we’re well on the way to beating.
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The theme of my next couple of blog posts will be about reconstructing the world we currently live in. Over the bank holiday weekend I attended an event that gave me new insight into a, for me, little-known digital world and gave me lots to think about in my work in digital preservation.
It has been 30 years since the release of the ZX Spectrum. To celebrate the impact this device has had on the UK in that time Imperica, the online magazine, held an event entitled Horizons. The theme, apart from reflecting on the ‘Spectrum at 30’, was very much binary, reflecting the past, and, exploring the future of computing.
The past. My first computer, still alive and kicking today.
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Some of you have probably attended one or more of our events and, for those that live further afield, you’ve probably heard some of our podcasts. Whether it be the regular Thursday afternoon talks
, conferences, seminars, workshops or training – there’s always plenty going on.
Last week we hosted a particularly fascinating and well attended event called Mining the Archives: A beginners guide to using historical records. This was the launch of a programme of events happening throughout 2013. We have invited writers of both historical fiction and non-fiction books to give a talk about how they have used the archives to research their publications. Each month of 2013 we’ll feature a different writer. Read more about next month’s author.
Speaker Mark Dunton
As I sit and reflect in my home one evening, thinking back to the day’s events and looking around me, I can begin to see a rich digital tapestry woven into my life. This is prompted by thinking about a conversation I was having with a colleague who was trying to understand an export he had relating to horse racing results and wondered if the data could be extracted to be of any potential use.
Looking around, I see my digital piano in the middle of the room and wonder, beyond the MIDI output I can capture, what exists within its ‘mechanics’ to enable the various functions it performs; I receive an email on my iPhone which I know is downloaded from my Gmail account which potentially means two different storage formats for that email; and I flick through the channels on my digital TV which makes me realise the data which allows me to see a seven-day electronic programme guide must actually be stored as a digital format or data structure within the box to allow it to be displayed and searched through.
Other formats that surround me in my daily life include my mp3 collection, GPS fitness information from cycle trips, and even my computer games and the data video games use, such as save files. Look around you, what formats do you see?
Look around you: How is digital woven into your daily life?
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… when it’s really just beginning! My colleague Cathy Williams brings you her final update on The Record of London 2012.
Cathy writes: My first – very first – blogpost in May posed questions about the history of the Olympic and Paralympic Games pre-London 2012 and the promised legacies post-2012, but this time I want you to think about what the questions might be in the future about London 2012. What will researchers want to know or uncover? What will they want to analyse or interrogate? What sort of data will they need and in what form?
Perhaps they’ll want to focus on the stiff and highly visible security measures implemented at all venues? Or consider the accusations of cheating levelled by the French at GB’s high-performing cyclists? (Did they really imagine our wheels could be ‘more round’ than theirs?!) or maybe question the anglocentric themes of the Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies? or measure the impact of the Paralympics on the way society views disability or physical impairment?
Before the Games began, they were being touted as the ‘Digital Games’, the ‘Green Games’, the ‘Legacy Games’ … but after the event, they might be better labelled as the ‘Yorkshire Games’ with a massive medal haul for the county at the Olympics? Or more seriously, as the ‘Women’s Games’?
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Greetings from Digital Preservation!
One of the challenges we face in our department is coordinating our efforts to satisfy the requirements of The National Archives, other government departments and a wider preservation and archives sector community that make use of our tools DROID and PRONOM. With such a diverse audience we work hard to listen to colleagues who visit government departments or who actively take part in discussions about preservation and digital continuity. We also maintain mailing lists and have an email address which allows users to contact us directly. This has allowed us to develop strong relationships with organisations across the pond in the US and in the antipodes. We rely on these relationships to help develop our content and improve our services.
Knebworth Cottage Home (Copyright the Childrens Society ref 1540)
I wanted to bring you a flavour of what my colleagues in the Private Archives team do, because it really underlines the breadth of our work supporting the archives sector. Today’s blog is an interview with Philip Gale, Senior Adviser – Private Archives (Private and Institutional Owners). I thought you might enjoy hearing from Philip in his own words!
Philip has a particular focus at present on supporting the institutional archives of the voluntary sector, so I started by asking:
Q What is the value of institutional archives?
Ask anyone in our department at The National Archives and they will say I’m never short of words… Okay, ask anyone out of half a dozen or more departments at The National Archives and they’ll pretty much agree too! Well, that was up to today I suppose. Perhaps it’s writer’s block, perhaps it’s just the natural wrapping up of my duties given that (note it down Wikipedia!) tomorrow, 7 September, is my last day at the organisation. It has been three years, three months and seven days since I started, a fresh-faced C++ developer from the Midlands. My humanities background was Digital Culture at Kings College London and, between you and me, I think I might have confused digitisation with digital preservation at my interview (they let me through the net though!)
In three years, I’ve seen quite a lot happen in the world of digital preservation. I thought my last blog post for The National Archives might be an opportunity to put a shout-out to some of the existing community projects and initiatives which have already done enormous amounts for the cause and look set to continue this trend for a long time.
Digital Preservation Coalition - Save the Bits
Digital Preservation Coalition
While I am sure I was introduced to the Digital Preservation Coalition long before this, in February 2010 Planets held one of its ‘The Planets Way’ training events in London. The first day of the event was in a conference format and, just after lunch, William Kilbride from the DPC took the opportunity to say a few words about the work they do. The statement he made to the room that resonated with me to this day, and a sentiment that can make us all smile in digital preservation, was (to paraphrase):
“Once you solve the problem of digital preservation, I can retire.”
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