The new Hull History Centre: an example of a transformational new archive building
It’s been a good few weeks for news of new developments for archive services across the UK. With the invaluable help of the Heritage Lottery Fund there has been a series of announcements of substantial support for some key projects which will ensure safe storage and high quality access for important collections. Among the recent good news stories are Manchester Archives+ , the project to transform the historic Central Library; West Yorkshire Archives Service’s Wakefield development and the funding for the Battersea Arts Centre. Experience from across the sector shows how new archive buildings can also reinvigorate services: acting as beacons to highlight the potential of the collections they hold, freeing up staff time from managing an inconvenient former home and offering scope for new activities where once the premises were too cramped to contemplate such work.
Designing a new or converted archive building is exciting, but also challenging. What goes into an archive building? The simple answer is: space for researchers, space for staff and space for collections. But exactly what that comprises depends on the space available, the collections to be housed and the activities it will host. The building needs to be well specified, to cover all the functions it will deliver, but not over specified, full of specialist spaces that are underused.
WORK 29/3284 Time passes: for the clock face of 'Big Ben' as for the rest of us!
It’s a year today since The National Archives formally took over the sector leadership responsibilities of the former Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. It seems like a good moment to reflect on what has changed and how far we have come.
What’s happened since then? Quite a bit!
- We’ve refreshed the action plan to accompany the government policy Archives for the 21st Century, taking account of changes to the sector and renewing the deliverables to take us up to 2015.
- We’ve launched a new section of The National Archives website, to support our work with the archives sector.
- We are developing our work with partners, including building key relationships with Arts Council England, the Archives and Records Association and the Local Government Association. In these challenging times, working in partnership is more important than ever if we’re to deliver our remit.
- We’ve continued to create and deliver key initiatives. We are now well into piloting the new archive service accreditation programme after an extensive co-creation exercise with the UK archives sector.
- We’re developing our engagement approach for the public archives sector while continuing our longstanding role in support of private archives.
- We’re delivering the Record of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, bringing core organisational records to The National Archives and supporting collection of records in local areas to document this memorable experience. Continue reading »
‘Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom, and with all thy getting get understanding’
This inscription from the Book of Proverbs can be found in the Great Hall of Manchester Central Library. I’m an Opening up Archives trainee, based in Manchester Archives, which is a part of Manchester Libraries. Today, many archival institutions have a social media presence; they tweet, blog, have a Facebook page and a Flickr Photostream, but to what extent do they help us get wisdom? I’d like to concentrate on three different, emerging, and perhaps misunderstood, online-based channels which offer the potential to produce an engaging, interesting and accessible online narrative.
Augmented Reality (AR), as I understand it, involves the combination of a real world view with a virtual scene generated by a computer, augmented with additional information which is viewed through a smart phone or tablet. I’ve written about AR previously on the Manchester Archives blog, in which I discussed what AR could add to this pictorial poster (below) produced for the Manchester Corporation Transport Department by E. Wigglesworth in the early 1930s. The potential and possibilities for contextualising an item or collection appears endless.
Manchester Corporation Transport Department poster by E. Wigglesworth (GB127 M29 File 71J)
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As part of my Opening Up Archives traineeship at the West Yorkshire Archive Service, I am looking into the world that is Digital Preservation. Similar to a fellow trainee, my knowledge of digital preservation was pretty much nonexistent. When presented with the term, although I had my assumptions of what its true meaning was, I didn’t want to rely on that alone. With a background in IT and languages, getting to grips with digital preservation was a little easier than learning about archives as a whole. Digital Preservation, as mentioned in the previous Trainee Tuesday blog post: Tales from the Dark Archive, is the challenge to preserve digital material so that it can be accessed in the future.
In May, I attended the Digital Preservation Training Programme (DPTP) and it brought clarity to the concepts, models and acronyms associated with digital preservation. Practical activities enabled the other attendees and I to think about the subject, what issues there are surrounding it and to see if we could relate the topics to what we do in our own organisations. One benefit was that the OAIS functional model was broken down into sizeable chunks and discussed in great detail. The Open Archival Information system (OAIS) model is a reference model created to give understanding and knowledge of concepts and processes of digital preservation.
Now after five months, I am comfortable talking about checksums, ingest procedures and software involved as well as knowing how an archives works thanks to a lot of reading on my part and a lot of patience from my colleagues.
A packed out room of eager listeners
So this week at the Our Stories Community Archives Conference 2012, I was asked to deliver a workshop for community groups on digitising collections with regards to planning and long term care. This was a great opportunity because it was my first time delivering a workshop at a conference and I could put my knowledge to good use.
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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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Isobel Siddons, Head of Engagement
A few months ago, my blog post focused on the work of the Private Archives Team. It seems like a good time to introduce another way that The National Archives is working in its archive sector leadership role. So I talked to Isobel Siddons, Head of Engagement, about how our work is developing in this area.
Q: What’s new and different about how The National Archives is working with the archives sector through engagement?
Isobel: The National Archives has a longstanding relationship with the sector around regulation of the keeping of public records and support for development against best practice standards. We want to maintain that, but within a context of engagement for sector development. We are taking a broader focus than preservation and access of collections, taking a step back to see archive services in context – if you like, turning the telescope round! In particular, we want to work with parent bodies of archives, what their priorities and challenges are and how archives can help; to identify local opportunities and broker partnerships; and to highlight new ways of working.
The National Archives also has a longstanding commitment to supporting services in crisis, which we need to maintain. But we also want to work with services to support innovation and positive developments. That will help us to highlight good practice, identify the ingredients for success and suggest models to follow.
So there’s a new range of relationships added to The National Archives work, and we aim to use our position as lead sector body to talk with senior managers, funding bodies, politicians and others who can open doors for archives.
Checksums, dark archives, OAIS, trusted storage and ingest packages. No, these are not the vital components to some epic science fiction novel – although they are all terms that were completely alien to me before I started my Opening Up Archives Traineeship at Gloucestershire Archives. My Name is Tom Charnock and since April I have been working with all of these terms (and more!) on an almost daily basis as a large part of my traineeship is focused on Digital Preservation. Before I started at Gloucestershire, my knowledge of Digital Preservation was fairly minimal – I’d never even heard the phrase before. I did have a good idea what it the term meant when I was introduced to it, seeing as I have a fairly good grasp of computer technology, software and am a bit of a tech geek at heart…but as far as being actively involved with Digital Preservation? No.
Gloucestershire Archives' building
That’s changed quite a bit in the five months that I’ve been at Gloucestershire. The first thing I had to learn to appreciate was what exactly the term ‘Digital Preservation’ actually means. At the most basic level, it clearly involves the preserving of digital objects, but there is so much more to it than that and, even though the learning curve has been a pretty steep one, I feel I’ve grasped both the concept and the actual practical implementation of the concept quite well.
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As a sector, archives are well aware of the impact of the changing way we record and share information. The digital challenge is something that concerns us all. However, it may seem almost too daunting to start, particularly for those archivists working in smaller, less well-resourced archive services. Luckily, it has been a good summer for advice and guidance to help us all to tackle this challenge.
A screengrab of Manchester Archives+ flickr photostream: digital engagement is becoming a vital part of archive work across the UK
The Heritage Lottery Fund has published Thinking About Good Digital Practice, a guide to support their new policy which for the first time opens the fund to primarily digital projects. The guidance is helpful well beyond those intending to bid for Lottery funds, as it encourages effective planning and advises on how to get the best out of a project involving digital content. It outlines different options for digital projects and reminds us all of some of the key points to planning successful projects, particularly: what do you want to achieve and who is your target audience? Answers to those questions are critical if your work is to have the impact you hope and to justify the investment you are planning. Some of this advice is important for any project, digital or otherwise, but the guidance also gives a host of digital-specific information such as example costs for aspects of a digital project, good practice for file names and metadata, and some really helpful guidance about rights and permissions, issues which can seem very intimidating to newcomers to the subject. The guidance also helps to identify the staff and skills needed, the options for digital outputs, and how to keep digital outputs accessible, safe and findable in future.
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Opening Up Archives, now in its second year, is a collaborative project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, The National Archives, and a number of host organisations across the country. You’ll be hearing from most of the 13 trainees in the coming months as we share our thoughts about what we’ve learned working and training within the sector.
Part of my role here as a trainee at Nottinghamshire Archives is to investigate how digital media can be used to bring the public closer to some of the archival collections we care for, and Nottinghamshire’s history more broadly. To that end, I’ve been tweeting as a frustrated 18th century spinster, developing an online presence for a youth heritage conference, and coding away at things which I hope to share very soon. I’ve also been learning a bit about the importance of digital preservation, but there are more knowledgeable people around here who can tell you about that.
Mundaneum, early web concept - CC Matthew Burpee - http://www.flickr.com/photos/mburpee/2589663547/
Working at the intersection of old records and new technologies, I’ve been thinking a lot in recent months about how digital culture is changing the world of archives, and I was surprised to learn that these changes aren’t entirely unanticipated. In 1910 Paul Otlet, a man described as ‘one of technology’s lost pioneers’, envisioned a ‘city of knowledge’ that the Belgian government soon offered him funding to build in a wing of the Palais du Cinquantenaire, which he eventually named the Mundaneum (there’s a museum dedicated to it today in Mons). Otlet and his friend, the Nobel Prize winner Henri La Fontaine, used the Universal Decimal Classification that they had already invented to sort and store some 12 million index cards and documents at the Mundaneum, although this vast quantity of material called for an increasingly large number of workers to curate it.
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Undercover TeamGB supporter
My colleague Cathy Williams is making another of her guest posts about records relating to London 2012.
Cathy writes: I’m hoping that Channel 4 won’t mind my borrowing one of their Paralympic slogans as they build on the enthusiasm of the UK public for the Olympics and stir up as much passion and support for ParalympicsGB athletes as for our TeamGB competitors already at home, polishing their medals or wondering where it all went wrong!
By most accounts it all went very well and, having been lucky enough to enjoy events at several different venues, I would certainly agree: there were no hold ups at security and even arriving at and leaving the Olympic Stadium with 80,000 other spectators didn’t mean horrendous delays. Ok, so after the rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony we were funnelled uncomfortably down one of Westfield’s shopping streets for over an hour … but when the Games actually began, that didn’t seem to be a problem.
So I have loads of personal memories in my head and on my camera, loads of memorabilia and mementos including tickets and flags and sundry other branded items which I need to sort through and organise and store, if I want to keep them. But multiply those memories by the millions of global spectators and you’ve an unimaginable mountain of stuff all somehow contributing to the history of London 2012.
And that’s before you consider the official histories of agencies involved in preparing and delivering both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the Cultural Olympiad.
Basically, we’re looking at millions and millions of records of all types – but where are they all going? That’s exactly why we began The Record over four-and-a-half years ago … and why we continue to work to ensure that those records are not lost.
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