In which there are too many hashtags

For the past two weeks I’ve been following a number of conferences and seminars. Each hashtag becomes a new column in my deck, and the font becomes correspondingly smaller. It’s been an incredibly fruitful and, at times, frustrating period, where ideas are reflected and refracted across the streams, often without reference to each other. We are all playing in the same spaces but sometimes the connections are only on the internet.

The first tag to catch my eye was #rd-alliance. Research data and data repositories are becoming an ever increasing part of the academic world. Keeping and maintaining data and providing access to it is a challenge, and one in which archivists and records managers have a role to play. Currently, at my own institution, researchers prepare data management plans, where they assess the longevity of the data based on the significance of their research project. But, of course, the significance of the data set and the significance of the project may not be related. The data could be a baseline population study, or may have informational value beyond that of the project. I’m not sure who reviews and appraises the data, or even if the management plans are used as some form of early automated appraisal, which is then checked by an archivist and other researchers.  Because these sorts of questions exist, I’m glad that the Research Data Alliance now has a special interest group for archivists and records managers in this growing area –

From research data to coding for libraries and #c4l16. Here, information professionals considered what was needed to make content management systems, data sets (see where this is going ?) and digital objects more accessible and usable. They played with APIs and considered gamification, struggled with ethics and activism. Digital preservation was a consistent thread through the discussions.

From #c4l16 to #pasig2016 – Preservation and archiving special interest group – and the digital preservation discussion was kicked up a notch. Data management and data management plans were back in the fray, with a note that the SKA, for example, creates around a petabyte of data a day. Open source products, vendor lock ins, Lots of copies keep stuff safe, openpreserve, the Digital preservation coalition  and many others made great contributions, and the Prague location made me wish desperately for a matter transmitter in my backyard. #pasig2016 saw some cross communications with #ourdigitalfuture (more about big data and data management) in the UK and my final column,#unescopersist.

#Unescopersist is a new UNESCO, IFLA and ICA initiative, designed to support sustainable digital heritage. At this meeting, the UNESCO Persist guidelines were launched, of which more in another blog.

I’ve got a number of articles and reports to follow up on, as a result of all this activity, so I’m hoping to have some time to review them all shortly. I’ll also report back on a recent webinar for the ARC funded LISRA project, looking at the role of practitioner researchers in the Information services professions.  In the meantime, though, my twitter feed is once again legible, and my only hashtag is #fundTrove.

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Highlight: Advocating Business Archives Toolkit

From the Society of American Archivists comes this blogpost and toolkit for advocating for business archives. It looks to be useful in a range of contexts, and provides some nice examples.


“This post was authored by guest contributor Scott Grimwood, System Manager of Archives, SSM Health Care   Most archivists acknowledge the importance of raising awareness of archives and their …

Source: Highlight: Advocating Business Archives Toolkit

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An open letter to Senator Fifield

Dear Senator Fifield

I recently looked you up on twitter, and discovered that you had attended the “Celestial Empire” exhibition at the National Library of Australia, and before that participated in #museumselfie day on the steps of the NLA. It’s clear that you know and appreciate the work that the NLA is doing in creating connections, and creating new content. You must be very pleased that the first electronic legal deposit has been made by none other than Tom Keneally and that “At the same time …, the NLA’s web crawler headed out to capture the public Australian web domain.” It is very disappointing, therefore, that the same webcrawler may now no longer support Australia’s universities and museums in making their content available, due to the proposed restrictions to Trove.

I do appreciate that doing things digitally creates both opportunity and dilemma. On the one hand, digital connections open up resources to new avenues of research and exploration, and to new audiences. In 2014, Australia’s cultural institutions were chastised for failing to take full advantage of the growing digital revolution, a significant challenge with the introduction of the NBN and other ditigal infrastructure. The National Library’s collection portal, Trove, was identified as an exemplar of the sort of work that could advantage of that revolution. As your own department identifies, there were over 527 million webpage views to the cultural institutions in the 2013 – 2014 year, a number that can only grow if we continue to fund and innovate.

9. Supporting creativity and diversity The Australia Council and Screen Australia provided funding of: $90.7 million to support 9,000 new Australian Artworks. $2.5 million towards research and development. $20 million for 352 culturally diverse projects and events.(

Trove is not just the work of the National Library. It brings together the expertise of small and large institutions who work to digitise content and describe collection materials,as Deb Verhoeven and Mike Jones have identified . Through memoranda of understanding, collections enter into partnership with the Library to make their content available on Trove. I would urge to you recognise the commitment that is being made by these institutions in supporting the work of the NLA and their contribution to Australia’s innovation and cultural commons.

As the #fundTrove campaign on Twitter is demonstrating, making Australia’s content digitally accessible nationally and internationally has made some significant contributions to national and international research in the sciences and the humanities. Rather than contributing to the extinction of our cultural institutions, shouldn’t we be seeking ways to create, curate and share content? Rather than making sacrifices in the name of efficiency, rather than the reality, let’s aim for extraordinary.

#fundTrove #fundcollections

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A new copyright Bill?

Just before Christmas, the Federal government has released a new Bill to amend the Copyright Act, ostensibly to improve the exemptions of, among other things, libraries and archives. Given that the Act was amended only a few months ago to impose more stringent controls over online and internet communication, this seems to be more tinkering around the edges, rather than the complete overhaul that it clearly needs. So, what goodies have the legislators imagined for us for the New Year?

The key areas are to enable better, more streamlined, rules for providing access copies to meet disability requirements, in line with the Marrakesh Treaty; to “simplify and streamline the existing preservation copying provisions”; allow for statutory licences for educational use and exams, and; to provide a new safe harbour provision and to limit the copyright period for unpublished and orphan works. Of these, the provisions for unpublished, orphan works seem the most useful, with copyright being limited to 70 years from death of the author. Government copyright will be limited to 50 years, whether published or unpublished, as opposed to the current status of perpetuity for unpublished works. There will also be a limit on anonymous and pseudonymous works of 70 years from the creation of the work.

While the limits on unpublished works will generally be welcomed by archives, the requirements for identified, unpublished works will still handicap archives and manuscript collections in trying to determine if the author is alive or dead, and when they may have passed away.  A general provision of 70 years from the date of the work, and 50 years for government works, would be much simpler to monitor and use.

The consultation draft is open until February 12.

Happy New Year!





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Hidden collections – archival description projects and philanthropic funding

Today, I have suddenly found myself with a little time for reading and thinking. The luxury of time to read, and review, cannot be overstated. Marking is in that strange place where I am waiting to do some moderation, before frantically getting all the marks uploaded in time for Boards of Education, and writing lectures and assessments can be safely put off for a few weeks.  I’ve got a presentation to give for my other work in a few days time, but I think that I can wing that (mostly). And, out on twitter, I get the nod to the US Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) recently published proceedings on their Hidden Collections funding and research symposium – Innovation, collaboration and models. 

Working with the Mellon Foundation, CLIR have been working for over seven years to fund projects that improve the findability and discoverability of archival collections, through better cataloguing, inter-repository collaborations, and outreach programs. Over these years they’ve funded 129 projects, and over 270,000 item descriptions, where items means not files and folders, but individual letters, manuscripts, pictures, plans and objects. It’s an impressive set of figures, and the projects from which they are derived are also impressive, as detailed in these proceedings.

The introduction by editor, Cheryl Ostreicher, sets the mood admirably. The goals of the CLIR and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation are clearly set out, and Cheryl then goes on to explore the work that was done and the way in which archivists, librarians and archival practice have been enhanced and supported through these projects and the funding.

CLIR “aspires to transform the information landscape to support the advancement of knowledge.” (quote from the Editor, Cheryl Ostreicher, p.2)

This is done through the development of close relationships, shared professional experience, and above all, a willingness to collaborate and innovate, as identified in the title.

The theme is picked up by the keynote speaker at the symposium, Professor Jacqueline Goldsby, Yale University. In her paper, Parting the waters: CLIR’s pathways into the archives, Professor Goldsby invokes the image of Charlton Heston, parting the waters of the Red Sea, in the Ten Commandments, as her icon for the way in which the hidden collections funding has improved access to archival resources.  She goes on to discuss the concept of ‘relational archives’,which draws on the ideas of performance art to engage with and respond to an audience, and is something that I’d like to explore further. Goldsby sees evidence of this ‘relationality’ in the tag clouds created to provide additional access points to collections, in the collaborations put forward for funding, and in the growing use of and requirement for interoperable descriptive schemas to link collections and materials together. She identifies the way in which federated searches through portals like the CLIR registry are enhancing and improving scholarship, which Clive Hurley and Sue McKemmish, among others, have been discussing.

There are too many papers to do justice to all, but a number spoke to me about the way in which we work, and in which archivy as a profession can evolve. “All history is local: expanding access to American Jewish archival collections” looked at the challenges associated with establishing common metadata and descriptive practices among organisations with differing levels of resourcing and expertise. “The challenges of sustaining a long term collaboration: reflections on the Philadelphia hidden collections” also looked at this, and raised the alarm as to how long a private institution might continue to support an aggregation site.

“Collaboration and education: engaging high school students with EAC-CPF research” looked at educating school students into archival descriptive practice, and history research techniques.  I’ve long thought that one of the problems archivists face is a lack of archival awareness at school level (primary school children can read a MARC record, even if they don’t know what it is), and this was an ambitious project. However, it also flagged that high quality research and description is not always easily achieved.

“The Churchill Weavers collection: an American treasure uncovered” looked at an unusual collection of textile samples, and considered a range of descriptive and cataloguing practices, with the development of a hybrid system in a museum catalogue software system. Not only did the project catalogue and identify the material, but it also included a preservation component and, with separate funding, digitisation for access.

And all of these are before the section on Arrangement and Description.

There are a number of other things that this publication has identified for me. The US is, seemingly, blessed with a range of philanthropic institutions and funding bodies who seem to take libraries, archives and history research seriously. There is the National Endowment for Humanities funding from the US government, the world renowned Carnegie Libraries and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, not to mention the Getty Institute and many others.  Australia is not so lucky. While there have been a number of large and recent philanthropic donations, particularly in Victoria, the scope and vision of the funders is more limited, often funding a single institution. In addition, the range of portals and aggregators for archival collections available highlights the paucity of the same in Australia, particularly as the Directory of Australian Archives is no longer actively maintained. Nevertheless, it is as important for Australian archives, and archivists, to channel their inner Heston, as it is for those fortunate brethren whose projects make this work such a delight.

I’d respectfully encourage all of you—and CLIR—to channel
your inner Charlton Heston-as-Moses and lead the publics you serve to the Hidden Collections Registry more assertively. This shouldn’t be a hard story to sell. The recovery of so many original, fascinating, inspiring, never-or-hardly-used archival collections—and the labors archivists and librarians expended to organize them—is a mediagenic story that should be spread as widely as possible. The work that you’ve accomplished deserves publicity on the scale of a Cecil B.DeMille spectacle! (Jaqueline Goldsby, p.11)



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Although looking at a non Australian legal system, questions about authenticity and evidence resonate throughout archival theory and practice.


Source: Summoned

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I’m reading a fantasy novel, by an Irish archivist and records manager. There are references to archives, libraries and the necessity for good recordkeeping throughout, and on page 217 this:

Dr Boru took the file and, reading the name, said, ‘I can hardly believe Fen has a file called Miscellaneous.’

She could hardly bring herself to say the word which was absolutely forbidden as a name for any file.  If it is important enough to file, she always said, it is important enough to have a proper name. You can call your children and your pets anything you want, but name your records correctly.

Susan Maxwell, you are a genius. The same applies to ‘General’, and the principle can be extended to making notes on files. If it is important enough to note, then it is important enough to deserve real paper. You can put your dentist appointments, and shopping lists on post it notes, but use your records correctly.

Good Red Herring, Susan Maxwell (2014), Little Island Books.


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