In the past few months, I have been spreading awareness of digital preservation via a workshop and the notion that digital material, like a word document or excel spreadsheet, is also an archive via displays to the general public.
However, focus has been shifted to the archivists themselves as they are the individuals that will be looking after the digital archives now and in the future.
In the last few years, digital preservation has become a core part of the qualification required to become an archivist, but archivists who have been qualified for longer may not be as aware of the issues surrounding digital preservation or be comfortable with the terminology used when discussing the subject unless they have actively decided to complete a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) module or taken part in training provided by The National Archives, the Archives and Records Association (ARA) or professional bodies.
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It has been one year since we launched The National Archives’ blog. From the start, our writers and staff have taken a fresh look at a wide range of subjects. Our 223 posts have ranged from information management in the movies to personal stories of the First World War and Titanic, from maps to UFOs. With over 60 published authors from around the organisation, we seem to relish the chance to tell the stories of our work. And people seem to want to read them too – with around 10,000 visitors a month.
"Motor Manufacturing" by Clive Gardiner for the Empire Marketing Board (ref CO 956/258)
So apart from that, why do we do it? For three reasons. First, The National Archives is doing some of the most interesting work around on a whole lot of issues. Our aim is to bring some of this to the people who matter – the users, readers and researchers. We certainly haven’t always been perfect but it is all the more important that we get feedback from users to make our services as good as they can be. Second, because of the financial situation, the best way to get this feedback is not through expensive surveys or focus groups, but through the web and social media. And, third, our role is to bring the most interesting public records and information to light, objectively, and let others discuss them. Continue reading »
On our Digital Continuity training course we cover a situation where the supplier of your records management system withdraws support. Yesterday the administrators of 2e2, who supply the Wisdom EDRM product, announced that that business operation had ceased following an unsuccessful attempt to find a buyer.
So what do you do in such circumstances? The Information Management Services team here at The National Archives have the following advice drawn from our Digital Continuity guidance: Continue reading »
On Monday 28 January, the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) hosted a file formats day of action, creatively titled ‘Bring Out Your Dead (Files)’ at the Wellcome Collection. As The National Archives’ resident File Format Signature Developer, I was invited to deliver a presentation on DROID and PRONOM, our file format identification tool and file format registry, and a workshop on Developing File Format Signatures for PRONOM.
My own talk reviewed DROID and PRONOM developments in 2012:
- DROID 6.1 was released in August. DROID development has switched to Github, and we have a Google Groups discussion page open for support enquiries
- The PRONOM registry has grown considerably, with 100 new file formats, 177 new file format signatures, and a full time researcher appointed
- PRONOM has been able to grow this much in part due to the wealth of external contributors who continue to provide us with file format signature and research information. Over a dozen institutions and individuals contributed last year
- Finally I was delighted to announce that the download for our DROID tool now has a permanent home on The National Archives’ own website.
My workshop focused on demystifying the file format research and signature development processes I undertake and allowed willing participants the chance to try developing their own signatures. Continue reading »
Encouraging creative reuse of archive collections
As part of my traineeship at Tyne and Wear Archives I have got involved in exciting projects that look at ways of being responsive to public interests as well as enable people to create new meaning from the collections. Some of the projects have invited creative practitioners to explore the collections and tell us what they feel evokes interest, what is inspiring to them and in turn their audiences.
For one project called Half Memory, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums worked in partnership with Tyneside Cinema and record label Tusk Music to commission sound artists and musicians to create original music in response to the collections. Warm Digits and Richard Dawson, two regional artists, had the freedom to explore the archives to identify resonant collections areas to inspire new work.
Warm Digits created a film and soundtrack inspired by line drawing designs, plans and photographs from a massive 1970s Tyneside civic engineering project (the metro system construction). Richard Dawson took his inspiration for a new album from photographs, letters, newspaper cuttings and illustrations of obscure North East tales.
I worked with Emily Meritt, a volunteer and photography student, to help Warm Digits source the images based on their specific brief. It was important we understood the desired aesthetics of the film they wanted to produce.
We sourced and digitised a few hundred images, including the below:
Warm Digits: Tyne and Wear Metro Construction (ref: DT.MHA/17/1/K624-1) The finished film will be published online in April 2013
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New Year Openings at The National Archives are a time for looking back at the world of 30 years ago, marvelling at how much has changed, or, as a recent blog post on Renewing the Values of Society demonstrated, how much has stayed the same.
What government was doing about the web in 1982 hasn’t received the publicity of the Falklands files. Mainly because, you might think, in 1982 the World Wide Web was little more than a gleam in the eye of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, called ENQUIRE. But while war was raging in the Falklands, a group of civil servants from the government’s Central Computing and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) were trying to second guess the future (BN 120/8 and BN 120/9).
Pre-web, there was plenty of computing going on in government departments; most of it hidden away on the one large machine each department had, with a scattering of terminals that connected staff in distant offices to the machine. The CCTA were trying to establish how much need, if any, there would be to transfer data from one government department’s machine to another. Another 1982 anniversary was the official adoption of the TCP/IP protocol, building block of the internet, by the US Department of Defense. In 1982, data was being exchanged across the world, but the internet was still very much part of its US Cold War communications origins. In the UK civil servants were speaking not of nets, let alone internets, but packet switching. The climate for building networks was not very encouraging. There was a waiting list for new telephone lines – which it was hoped the privatisation of British Telecom would address – meanwhile the first Data Protection Act (1984) was stirring in Parliament; there was an awareness of the public’s reluctance to have their personal information shared across departments by these worrying computers that sent you gas bills for £1,000,000,000.99p. And cost was a major factor: to save taxpayers money data from local benefits offices was sent by the cheaper overnight tariff to the DHSS central computer in Newcastle.
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A sign in the supermarket yesterday advised me that there were only eight sleeps until Christmas. With that in mind it seemed like a good time to write a post with a festive theme.
Number 10 Christmas card 2009 - The official website of the Prime Minister's Office - archived 4th December 2009
The image above is taken from the website of the Prime Minister’s Office which was archived in December 2009. It shows the image chosen for the official Number 10 Christmas card that year. The accompanying text explains some of the changes the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and his wife made to make Number 10 more sustainable. I think the historians of the future will be interested to see the importance placed on sustainability and the environment.
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.
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We have the answer.
The answer to how to effectively manage your digital information.
And the answer is in the questions.
It’s that easy.
OK, bear with me a moment. At its most basic level, managing digital information is about making the appropriate decisions as to what level of time, resource and cost you’re going to spend to ensure you have the right technology supporting the right information in delivering the right business requirements. Once you know what that is, you can apply the people you need to work together using the tools they need to deliver the outcomes you need. See? Easy. And that’s the message at the heart of our rather excellent Digital Continuity training course.
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If you’ve used our website in the last 18 months, you’ll be aware that we’re in the process of replacing our old Catalogue with a brand new shiny one. Discovery, our new catalogue, has been designed to provide a similar experience to the search tools found elsewhere across the web, with features like filters (to refine searches) and tagging (to help other people find records). It has also been designed with large volumes of data in mind – the old Catalogue was creaking under the weight of several million records, and with many more to come in the next few years (especially with the impending shift to 20-year rule, and the expected arrival of even more government records) we decided that the time had come to build a new one.
Screenshot of Discovery
Right from the outset we knew that it would be an enormous undertaking. Our ambition has always been to replace not just the Catalogue, but also to incorporate data from other systems such as DocumentsOnline, the National Register of Archives and the ARCHON directory, in order to provide a ‘one-stop shop’ for anyone wanting to search our collection – and those held by other archives – and to download digital copies of records where available. The practicalities of doing this have been challenging, to say the least – with a number of different technical systems to deal with, along with enormous amounts of feedback from our many different user groups and staff, it has taken time to build a system that fulfils all our users’ needs.
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