Originally posted on Recordkeeping Roundtable:

Adrian Cunningham[1]

As I sit down to write this thought piece in January 2014 our Canadian colleagues are preparing for a Canadian Archives Summit with the enviable title ‘Towards a New Blueprint for Canada’s Recorded Memory’. To me the most interesting word in this title is the word ‘new’. While the Canadian summit has been organised in response to the crisis associated with the removal of federal funding for their National Archival Development Program, Australians can nevertheless only look with wonder at another Commonwealth country with a federal system of government that has the luxury of an existing national blueprint for recorded memory – for surely one cannot create a ‘new’ blueprint if an old one does not already exist.

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Resistance is futile?

July 25, 2014

With the news (archives and records  google group; archiveslive) that a review into whether the State Records South Australia and State Library of SA should be combined, questions about convergence, assimilation and collaboration are once again on the Australian archival agenda.

In her PhD thesis (http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/175518829?selectedversion=NBD50509505), Leith Robinson identified convergence as being about the physical and virtual co- location of ‘memory institutions’. She identified that physical convergence, at local government level, has some benefits for the community, although the benefits to the converged entities was somewhat more problematic.  Smaller institutions suffered from a loss of identity and funding, with simplified services and challenges to different professional approaches to collection information.  As Robinson notes, archivists have generally not been as supportive of the convergence trope as libraries, quoting past ASA President, Jackie Bettington’s, concerns about the ‘dumbing down’ of the archival profession.

In a comment on the ArchivesLive forum, James Lowry identifies the principal problem with the ‘memory institution’ ideology, in a way which reinforces Bettington’s concerns:

‘Collaboration’ allows archives and libraries to share technical expertise and infrastructure, but ‘convergence’ (mergers), especially with cultural institutions rather than accountability institutions, often damage the position of the archives and always sends the wrong message to government: that the archives are a cultural heritage institution only and not policy-makers with administratively significant work to do in supporting government efficiency and openness.

He points to the Library and Archives Canada as an example where ‘convergence’ has not been as smooth as might otherwise be suggested - http://exlibris.pbworks.com/w/page/63815458/Timeline%20on%20Library%20and%20Archives%20Canada%20Service%20Decline%20after%202004

These concerns are not new – in the 1994 Commission on Government review in Western Australia, specified matter 9 looked specifically at the question of an independent archives, as a separate entity from the State Library in which it had been based for some fifty years (http://www.slp.wa.gov.au/legislation/statutes.nsf/main_mrtitle_3172_homepage.html). In considering the matter, the Commission pointed out that:

An overwhelming majority of the submissions we received were critical of the proposed

retention of the PRO within the library structure. This was seen to detract from true

independence. Submissions came from professional associations allied with the different

aspects of record management including librarians, records managers and archivists.

Individuals, as well as academics, government agencies and others with a particular

interest in the topic, made formal submissions. A similar response was encountered at the

public hearings and seminars we conducted…

Echoing the Robinson’s findings that smaller institutions suffer when merged with the larger, the Commission found:

the PRO will have to constantly compete with a larger agency (LISWA) and may be

marginalised and resource starved;

and, again echoing Bettington and Lowry:

it is inappropriate to separate the operational and regulatory functions of an archives

authority because of the need to have some concentration of specialised skills;

In looking at other jurisdictions in which the Library and Archives appear to be combined, it is noted that these are shared organisationally, rather than subordinate of the one within the other.

The Tasmania Archives and Heritage Office forms part of the Tasmanian LINC service. The Archivist, who is appointed by the Minister, has sole responsibility for the archives and recordkeeping regime, and does not answer to a separate body, such as the State Records Commission. The Archives are responsible for both State and private archives, the latter being handed to the Archivist via the State Library Board.

New Zealand Archives and Libraries – are merged within the Department of Internal Affairs but are managed as independent entities within the Department.

Generally, though, archival institutions are managed as independent entities. An alternative model might be that of the National Archives of the United Kingdom (TNA), which encompasses not just the archives, but also current information needs, through the Office of Public Sector Information and Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. TNA also has responsibility for private archives.

In looking at questions of convergence, perhaps we need to consider other agencies and organisations, other than ‘memory instituions’. There is no reason, for example, why a State archives could not be associated with a Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, open Government body or publisher, or the national archives with a metadata registration body (e.g. the NAA and ANDS) or similar. Perhaps, rather than resisting assimilation, we should be actively seeking alternative institutions and organisations with whom the other roles of the archives resonate.

Archive failure

July 23, 2014

Today, on the Australian Archives and Records google groupChris Hurley alerted us to the recent report from British Columbia’s Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham – A failure to archive: recommendations to modernize records management in British Columbia (https://www.oipc.bc.ca/report/special-reports.aspx).

In reading the report, I have to confess to lots of moments of deja vu. It’s just over ten years since my own state’s archive stopped taking transfers; the budgets are similar, as is the per capita spend (although…I think BC’s archivists are possibly slacking – SROWA provides access and does retention and disposal schedules too). But the reason I wanted to write about this report is because it speaks to many current archival challenges, using the lens of the British Columbia archives to explore them.

Ms Denham opens with a brief reference to her own archival training and background, and it’s good to see an archivist playing at such a high level in information governance  and access to information (she has a Master’s degree in archives administration from UBC).  She highlights the role of archives as institutional memory, but also weaves in the need for good recordkeeping to support freedom of information – ‘Without the proper creation and management of records, any statutory right of access to records will prove unenforceable in practice.”

Ms Denham looks at the question of archives transfers and the role of archives in providing access to information. – “As public archives are often the sole reliable record of government action and decision-making, they play an essential role in our society and system of government. Through the creation and preservation of government records, archives sustain society’s cultural and historical identity, help preserve our rights and obligations and define our sovereignty.

One of the lessons that I took from the document was the question of charging for archive transfers. Ms Denham found that the fee charged for archive transfers (a whopping $454 per box, upfront; or 67 years at commercial storage rates of $6.72 per box per annum) discouraged organisations from transferring. The fee, of course, was based on costs for description and preservation as well as storage, but organisations generally compare storage to storage and do not recognise the value adding tasks. I have to wonder if a small one off fee, for transfer, and then annual ‘maintenance’ fees would have been more palatable.

From access to archives and costs of transferring and maintaining archives, the report then moves on to the challenge of digital archives.  Ms Denham describes a tortuous path, in which born digital records are printed to paper, ready for transfer to the archives, at which point they would then be scanned (!) and copied to microfilm.  While i like the idea of a microfilm backup (either in ascii, images or , my favourite, barcode stripes or dots –  ioioiiiooo), why not just dump the files straight to film? But a digital archive needs more than a back up regime :

It makes no sense to build a transfer infrastructure without a repository to store those files, and it makes no sense to build a repository without an infrastructure to enable the transfer of those files.

An electronic archiving infrastructure must preserve the authenticity and reliability of a record. The identity, content, future readability, and metadata of a digital record must be retained in order for the record to be reliable and verifiably authentic. In other words, an archive must be able to prove that a particular electronic record, as accessed at a point in time, is the same record with the same content as when it was created.

Finally, Ms Denham writes of the need for up to date archives legislation – BC’s is from 1936! This last rang bells for me following the Perth NAA consultative forum, also today, at which David Fricker said that the NAA was looking at its 1983 legislation and, in particular, at definitions of a ‘record’ which were not technologically dependent.  Ms Denham speaks not just of the need to identify records and thus archives, but also of the need to ensure that decisions are properly documented:

This “duty to document” should also be a component of the new information management legislation. I think there is general agreement about the need for government to record its key decisions, and how it arrived at and implemented them. It is only with the creation and preservation of adequate documentation of action and decision-making that access to information regimes and public archives can be effective.

I could not agree more.






In addition to the ICA SUV and DH2014 conferences mentioned in my last post, I am also watching the Australian Historical Association conference (#ozHA2014), taking place in Brisbane. Like the digital humanities conference, the tweets raise a number of questions about use of archives, the roles of information professionals and presentation and preservation questions.

Yvonne Perkins @perkinsy

Now listening to Niles Elvery of @QSArchives talk about researching the archives for WWI records #OzHA2014


Elvery says that while @QSArchives does not have archives of overseas WWI service there are lots of records of home life esp govt #OzHA2014

[True for all State collections, I would think]

Brilliant paper on ‘chasing Eliza Miles’ through the archives, by Louise Blake: a portrait of research & homage to @TroveAustralia#ozha2014

And more problematically:

Michael Bennett retweeted
PHAVic's avatar

The gloves are on at the Fryer Library exclusive historians ‘white gloves’ tour! #OzHA2014 pic.twitter.com/x2Gsn81MNc


In case you thought that October is going to mean a lot of concentration on twitter and post-conference blogging, you can get in a little practice this week.  The International Digital Humanities Conference is on in Lausanne (#dh2014 and #dhLausanne2014).  In addition to the presentations about text mining and digital visualisations, there have been a number of tantalising tweets suggesting that questions about the use of archives, digitisation and digital recordkeeping are all being raised.

I dream of a real nexus of archival rsrch, #dh , multimodal publication, GIS, history, and critical inquiry. #dh2014 Transformative pedagogy

@KatherineFaull mentions that @DianeJakacki (and other librarians/ technologists) aren’t “just toolkits with legs” #dh2014

lizlosh's avatar

@HATII_Glasgow Glad digital curation game at digcur-education.org is traditional card game not another awful serious video game #dh2014

On at the same time is the International Council on Archives, Section on University and Research Archives, just down the road in Paris http://icasuv2014.univ-paris-diderot.fr/?lang=en

The University of Melbourne eScholarship Centre is doing all the heavy lifting on the twitter feed at the moment. So far, the role of archivists, appraisal, life cycle and continuum thinking, and digital preservation of complex data have all been raised.

B Muller delved deeply into what we really mean by data and archives, hints of LaTour, UL Data Archive and OAIS @ausnarkie #icasuv14

New role for archivists – the construction of archives rather than the gathering of archives #icasuv14

So many new formats in the digital human sciences @ausnarkie #icasuv14 pic.twitter.com/yOn9hR5GVV


@esrcmelb: Context is critical. Mariella Guercio on the La Sapienza digital library @ausnarkie #icasuv14 pic.twitter.com/RjTyYEmqdQ

It looks like being an exhausting, exciting and slightly frustrating couple of days on twitter, following the hints and links; trying to make cross connections between the two (and I thought choosing streams in a single conference difficult).


This is a great blog about the role of records in creating an open, transparent and accountable government.

Originally posted on Courtney Bailey, MSLS:

The weekend of July 4th celebrations seems a good time to look at the Declaration of Independence.  As an archivist, I’ve been struck by the fact that Thomas Jefferson included in his list of grievances against King George III something about the importance of public records:

“He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.”

Knowing this long history of the acknowledgement that public records contribute to fair government, the recent stories about bungled records management by the Internal Revenue Service are all the more appalling.  A few weeks ago, in the midst of a Congressional investigation into how the IRS had handled nonprofit organizations that are affiliated with the Tea Party, the IRS revealed that a significant chunk of the emails of Lois Lerner, Director…

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Last year’s mail

July 5, 2014

As some of you may know, I am a judge for the Australian Society of Archivists’ Mander Jones awards.  The awards recognise a range of publications, from finding aids, to scholarly articles about archives, to histories and research publications that use and discuss archives in interesting ways. Each year, a series of packages arrive on my doorstep (have I said how much I like getting parcels?) and I open each one with a mix of anticipation and dread – anticipation that the contents will expand my understanding and awareness of the rich variety of Australian archives, and dread that they will not, or that my assessment will somehow fail to identify the truly worthy.

It’s that time of year, and I have already happily taken a pair of scissors to an Australia Post Express Post bag, and to the sticky tape on the box inside (we like things to be safe and secure). Of course, I can’t tell you about the contents, and you will have to wait for Octconferober to find out the winners.  But I can, I think, share some of the nominees from last year, and my own responses to the works.

Queensland Government Digital Continuity Strategy: Future proofing the critical digital records of government business, Queensland State Archives 2012. (http://www.archives.qld.gov.au/Recordkeeping/GRKDownloads/Documents/QueenslandGovernmentDigitalContinuityStrategy.pdf)

A respectable addition to the library of works on the subject, and a creditable attempt to summarise the issues and identify strategies.  The definitions of digital preservation, digital continuity and digital archiving in the main text are, however, confused, and confusing, while the glossary is more clear. I’m not sure that the limited discussion in the paper helps records managers argue their case.

Michael Piggott, Archives and Societal Provenance; Australia essays (Chandos, 2012) (http://store.elsevier.com/Archives-and-Societal-Provenance/Michael-Piggott/isbn-9781780633787/)

An excellent summary of Michael’s work over the years. I thoroughly enjoyed the Prologue, and the essay about Robert Hawke.  Overall, though, I am not sure that the book makes a definitive case for societal provenance, as much as it does for Michael’s wit and charm.

A Falcon century: North Sydney Boys’ High School 1912 – 2012 (http://www.falconians.org/nsb-history-book.html)

A beautifully presented, well researched book, which understands its market well. Eberhard is not afraid to engage with the controversies of the day – bullying, Vietnam and the cadet movement, etc – but does so with a delicate, non-judgmental touch.  I think this will make the book more acceptable to a broad range of the school community.

With Faith and Zeal Resplendent, De la Salle College. (http://www.delasalle.vic.edu.au/2012/with-faith-and-zeal-resplendent/)

Another beautiful book, which really does use pictures to tell a thousand words.  I liked the admixture of photos and photos of text and realia.  Going through the book I saw the school grow and change to meet the challenges of changing educational standards, culminating with the   beautiful photo on the river for outdoor education, and the ski tour – something the early students would have been bemused by ( and conversely, modern generations and the Debutante Ball. How did they convince all those girls to wear white?!)

Mali Buku-Runamaram: Images of Milingimbi and surrounds, 1926 – 1948. (http://purl.library.usyd.edu.au/sup/9781921364136)

I found this book both revealing and moving. A sensitive and unusual approach to an issue that will become more important to archives and collecting institutions in coming years. The use of ‘language’ for the captions was inspired.

Price of Valour, John Hamilton, Pan MacMillan Australia. (http://www.panmacmillan.com.au/display_title.asp?ISBN=9781742611235&Author=Hamilton,%20John)

A beautifully written work, with great use of quotes from archival and contemporary sources. The acknowledgements provide a brief view into the wealth of research that backs this book.

Saulwick Polls and Social Research – a resource for exploring the work and archives of Irving Saulwick (http://www.esrc.unimelb.edu.au/projects/saulwick-polls-and-social-research-2/)

Nicely designed with good links to the ADA and Uni of Melbourne Archives.  Not sure if the topics chosen reflect the actual arrangement of material or polls, or have been assigned by the developers of the project.

Sentenced beyond the Seas (https://www.records.nsw.gov.au/state-archives/research-topics/convicts/sentenced-beyond-the-seas/sentenced-beyond-the-seas)

Easily located via a google search or via the main menu (if you know that you are looking for convict information). Some of the hyperlinks are a bit circular. Some of the information provided in the FAQs could have been provided as an introduction or background to the project, providing users with some context before they click on search. Accessible, clean and easy to use.

Richard Lehane, ‘Documenting sites of creation’, Archives and Manuscripts, Vol. 40 No. 3, November 2012, 171-180 (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/01576895.2012.738008)

A fascinating exploration of the idea of provenance and context, in the physical and virtual environment in which records are created. I enjoyed Lehane’s weaving of digital and analogue examples. The idea of virtual libraries was an intriguing introduction to ideas about access, which I hope Lehane follows up.

Janette Pelosi, ‘Submitted for Approval of the Colonial Secretary’: popular entertainment in the State Archives, 1828-1856’,  Chapter 7 (pp.83-100) and Appendix A, Plays Submitted to the Colonial Secretary, NSW, Australia 1841-1856 (pp.244-249) in A World of Popular Entertainments: an edited volume of critical essays, ed. by Gillian Arrighi and Victor Emeljanow. Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012.

Janette’s essay revealed an interesting collection of materials within the Colonial Secretary’s Office of New South Wales. Considered logically, once the requirement for plays to be submitted for approval was made evident, it should have been no surprise to find these works. But that’s sometimes the joy of archives – that the things we find are so unexpected. I loved the fact that she was able to trace the plays that had been borrowed and not returned, so that provenance for the material was retained. An entertaining and well written essay, that explains both the history of plays and public performance in New South Wales, and opens up some of the arcana of archival practice.




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