Despite over a decade in helping users understand information management and getting them to accept that shaping information in the way you need to use it can actually make them happier… it doesn’t matter. The only time I’ve ever seen users not default to a shared drive is if they are less than ten feet from a printer.
Applications have become richer in their functionality and what they can interoperate with to deliver ever more developed workflows and case management. There are tools which provide an entire platform that can let you do just about anything with information, from web publishing to day-to-day processing.
Still it doesn’t matter; shared drives trump everything, all the time, everywhere in the world. This blog post isn’t big enough to explore all the reasons why users do this (and there are many). But what I do have space for is this; two challenges – one for us and one for developers.
Challenge 1 – Us
Turning off the shared drive! I mean the complete shut down of the NTFS – no corporate drive and no user drives… nothing. Could it be done without risking information management and digital continuity? Would users spontaneously combust?
So the Opening up Archives programme is in its eighth month – we’ve passed the halfway mark and over half of us trainees have blogged here in our very own Trainee Tuesday slot. We’ve had posts on digital preservation, augmented reality, and we’ve learnt about projects and collections within our hosts’ archives, in Leicester Records Office and in London Metropolitan Archives. Oh, and we also learnt that one of our fellow trainees likes to masquerade as a frustrated 18th century spinster online. Well, to each their own.
A lot of collections we’ve seen so far are rooted in the 20th century onwards, but my traineeship goes back a little further than that. I and my fellow trainee, Amy, are based at the Borthwick Institute for Archives undergoing a traineeship that could easily be titled ‘learning to read really old things’. In fact that’s how I describe it to people who ask. Ours is the only traineeship which focuses mainly on these more ‘traditional’ skills: palaeography (the writing), diplomatic (the format), and Latin (the dead language).
And it makes sense really, when you think of the Borthwick’s holdings: an enormous collection of ecclesiastical records including parish registers, visitations, church court records, vast collections of diocesan records and probate records. Many of the documents we are interested in date back to medieval times. Don’t get me wrong, we do have records which date from – gasp – this century; we have a digital archivist and we even have a twitter account! However, in order for us to get anywhere in our traineeship we definitely need the skills we are learning.
In order for us to learn these skills we have to practice, and we’ve found that the best documents to practice with are Cause Papers and wills. The Cause Papers in particular feature a variety of English and Latin, follow a set format and often they can feature narratives which could rival a soap opera’s.
A boy who has found a horse. Document reference: CN 8/1/37 (detail)
My inspiration for today’s blog post comes from two things that stuck in my head when I read them. The first is a pearl of wisdom from the fictional detective Miss Marple, which I will quote later. The second is a recent comment made in response to a colleague’s post on this blog: ‘how can you research a record or collection if you do not know it exists?’
The trivial answer to this question is, of course, that you can’t. It does, however, prompt another, more complicated question: how can you find archival sources that are relevant for your research?
In previous blog posts, I’ve given some hints on how to get started and noted some attributes of really successful researchers. For this post, I’ve decided to offer a brief outline of three different ways of locating and identifying interesting records: serendipity, ‘brute force’ and archival logic. In practice, most people’s experience of using archives tends to involve some combination of these three. Continue reading »
Usually when I sit down to write a blog post, I begin by reflecting on the projects and work I have been involved in recently, to share the discoveries and events along the way.
This week however, I was inspired by another blogger – Claire Newing – and her post on ‘Disability in the UK Government Web Archive’ on Wednesday. Claire talked about the various ways website design is geared towards providing additional assistance to those that need it. This made me think of the British Sign Language (BSL) video podcasts available on our media player that deserve highlighting.
‘Introduction to Family History – British Sign Language video’ podcast
According to Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID), there are an estimated 9 million people in the UK who are deaf or hard of hearing, and a number of our users both online and in person may need assistance due to this. We have hearing aid loops in our Reading Rooms and staff trained in BSL to assist people onsite. Our podcast series is designed to share our collections more widely offsite, and using BSL interpreters on some of them means this can be as inclusive as possible.
Continue reading »
Western tentacles of the Great Western Railway (reference RAIL 936/48)
Edward Thomas (1878-1917), who was killed in action during the First World War, was a poet and essayist chiefly remembered for his poem Adlestrop which recalled the sudden peace and serenity of a village railway station in the days prior to the First World War.
Adlestrop by Edward Thomas
Yes, I remember Adlestrop –
the name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop – only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
But was the train due to stop at Adlestrop anyway? Continue reading »
Today, we’ve published the beta version of a new standard licence which has been developed for use by public sector bodies which have reason to charge for the re-use of the information they produce or hold. The licence will form part of the UK Government Licensing Framework.
This new licence - under the working title of ‘Charged Licence’ - along with the Open Government Licence and the Non-Commercial Government Licence, will form a suite of ‘specified licences’ provided for in amendments to the Freedom of Information Act by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.
The publication of the new licence links in with the Cabinet Office’s consultation on a new Code of Practice under section 45 of the Freedom of Information Act, which was launched today, 22 November 2012. The Code of Practice provides guidance to public bodies in meeting their new obligations to make available certain datasets under a specified licence.
At the same time as the Cabinet Office consultation we are seeking views on the new licence, and in particular we would welcome your views on the following:
- Do these simplified terms and conditions meet your needs either as a licensor or a re-user?
- The working title for the licence is the ‘Charged Licence’. Is there an alternative title you would like us to consider that better describes its purpose?
Continue reading »
Last week was Diversity Week at The National Archives – a week in which we celebrate the diversity of our collections. This made me think about how the UK Government Web Archive is capturing ways that the UK Central Government web estate is being used to communicate with one minority group - disabled people. In writing this post I am aware that the term ’disabled people’ encompasses a wide range of very different people with many different needs. I will only be able to focus on a few specific examples in this short post.
The web teams responsible for UK government websites work to ensure that sites are as accessible as possible. Guidance about designing accessible websites is provided in the Cabinet Office (formerly Central Office of Information) Web standards and guidelines on delivering inclusive websites. Additionally, most websites in scope for our web archive include a page describing provisions made to ensure the website is accessible. We will have captured these pages as part of our regular archiving schedule. For example, the page below in an archived version of the Directgov website from December 2008 describes the accessibility features of the site.
Directgov - Accessibility features - archived December 2008
Interestingly, the page includes two audio files. In my opinion, one of the great benefits of the internet is the ability to communicate information to users in different ways. Whereas in the past a blind or partially-sighted person would have had to source specialist material, such as a leaflet printed in Braille or an audio book, they can now use inexpensive and commonly available technology such as a screen reader or changing the text size in a browser to access most information on the internet. This is made easier by careful website design.
Continue reading »
Turning paper graveyards into community hubs
Following the post from my fellow trainee Kasia about her work with the Polish community in Leicestershire, I would like to expand upon the topic of archives and the community where I work at Surrey History Centre.
It’s probably fair to say that most people in Surrey have never visited an archive, and it’s easy to see why. As a history lover, I love the idea of rummaging through old documents but, for a research novice, it’s easy to think of an archive building as a kind of paper graveyard, where documents belonging to people who are no longer around, or companies that no longer exist, are left in dusty boxes only to be looked at occasionally by a scholar or academic, if at all.
My traineeship works to challenge this image. We encourage people to take an interest in our collections, to use us for research and to deposit items and collections they think might be important to the history of Surrey in our archive. We need to show that even though the items stored are objects of history, the collections are still socially relevant today.
The main issue, which I am sure many archives would agree with, is that the demographic of users is made up mostly of white, middle-class people, often retired. However, the history of Surrey is full of other cultures, nationalities, and identities that need to be drawn out of the archives and made visible to the wider community.
I would like to pull out two examples that I have been working on during my traineeship. Continue reading »
All family historians use the census, and most of us find most of what we want, most of the time. This is of course due to the fact that every census for England and Wales has been indexed; sometimes you even have a number of versions to choose from, so if you don’t find a person on one website, you might find them on another. Where the handwriting is hard to read, it all comes down to interpretation.
But sometimes, despite your best efforts, a person or a family stubbornly refuses to be found. You might even have tried searching for them ‘the old-fashioned way’. That is, searching by address, assuming you have some indication of where they were living at the time of the census, and that they either lived in a village or there is a street index for their town. That was the usual way of finding someone in the census until just over a decade ago.
If you have exhausted all the possibilities of using name indexes, including possible mis-spellings and mis-transcriptions, you are left with a dwindling number of possibilities, which fall into three catagories:
- They are there, you just can’t see them
- They are missing from the census altogether
- They are, or rather were, in the census but in a part of it that has since gone missing Continue reading »
Last week’s presidential elections in the United States were as enthralling as ever. As the polls showed a closing gap between the candidates in the preceding weeks, and media attention sky-rocketed, tensions were high by the time the votes were being counted. The announcement of the victor (it was Barack Obama, by the way) led, the next day, to the expression of many messages of congratulation. One thing has always intrigued me: how do the telephone calls of congratulations between world leaders go? Do these messages really express a desire to reaffirm special relationships, or are they more bland?
Churchill congratulates Eisenhower in 1952 (PREM 11/572)
A couple of Prime Minister’s Office files – PREM 11/572 and PREM 15/1980 – detail two very different communications between the political leaders of the United Kingdom and the United States, even if some of the underlying aims of their ongoing co-operation are remarkably familiar.
Continue reading »