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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Much of the information stored in the workplace holds some information about who created it automatically stored in its metadata. In Office applications this is usually applied through Active Directory (AD) – the permissions and access tool. What AD often doesn’t know is a person’s job description or title and so over time the names of people associated with your content becomes meaningless.
Organograms (maps that display the structure of an organisation) show us who carries out the organisation’s functions, their formal relationships with others. This can provide a conceptual aid in the classification and discovery of content and data over time.
Using content analytics tools that offer text-mining and machine learning technology (artificial intelligence) we can identify, structure and enrich information, facts and events and enable top-level classification. These tools can support records managers, archivists, historians and social researchers as they explore and discover meaning in our information overload.
Organograms stored as data files (see data.gov.uk/organogram for a good example of this) and maintained over time as a living record of the organisation’s functions and who was responsible for carrying them out, can link these forgotten people to your business’ actual functions.
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Information management can be difficult to sell. It shouldn’t be – the benefits are very real and are there to be exploited. The truth is, however, that during busy periods it can be low on the list of priorities for those who are in sitting front of computers creating information.
So the question is, how do you instil a culture of good information management, and how do you reverse the bad habits which have crept in during the digital age? This is the conundrum facing information and records staff across every organisation and, having spoken to many across the UK Government, one answer comes up time after time: Senior buy-in.
Senior management support for information managers is crucially important because to change organisational culture they need influence.
So taking ‘influence’ as the theme for today’s blog, I’ve drawn out for you a few key messages from some of the most influential people in the world of politics, literature and pop culture. Some of these individuals are fictional creations, but hopefully you’ll agree that the messages they can carry are just as important.
‘It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.’ Sherlock Holmes – A Scandal in Bohemia, 1892
A few weeks ago when I talked about the purpose of hack days I promised I would report back after we had actually held one here at the Archives.
Last weekend, a large group of enthusiastic attendees joined us here at Kew for Hack on the Record. I think it might be the first hack day held actually inside a UK government department but I’d be happy to be proved wrong.
Approximately 12 hours in - only 12 to go!
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