Reviewing NAA

Archivists interested in the National Archives of Australia (NAA) should be aware by now that the National Archives is being reviewed by David Tune, with a view to looking at how the NAA operates and how it can be improved or changed. There is even an option to recommend that the NAA cease some functions. So far, the majority of submissions have been from researchers and focus on the way in which archives are open for access, and some discussion of the digitisation of archives, both by the NAA and on demand.

Archivists need to look at the review and compare the NAA with the review of the archives and library sector in New Zealand. Over 140 submissions were received in 2018; however, while the submissions are published, I have been unable to find a final report and set of recommendations. The submissions show some extremely exciting suggestions and proposals.

The NAA review provides an opportunity to explore and expand on the earlier review of national cultural institutions, which missed some opportunities to explore the ways in which these institutions can collaborate, while at the same time expanding on the ways in which the tensions and divergent practices of the different institutions can provide new and interesting experiences for users and professionals.



“It’s been a long road, getting from there to here…”*

* From Faith of the Heart, by Diane Warren, and the theme song to StarTrek ‘Enterprise’

It’s been over a year since I last blogged on this site, and my BladeRunner site  hasn’t fared much better. It’s been a busy year, with health issues affecting my ability to maintain energy levels, a conference to set up and program, and acting as a Guest Editor for an edition of Archives and Manuscripts .

So this is mostly by way of saying, I’m back! And to promote the great people I worked with at the conference (a lot of the presentations are now on line) and on the journal. Donald Force, Laura Millar and I are very proud of the 15 people we mentored and the successful authors who get to have their work in the journal. For those who didn’t quite get the edits done in time, we wish them all the best and look forward to seeing them in another edition of the journal, or in another journal. Ditto to the many great applicants who applied but did not make it through the extensive winnowing process we had to undertake. 73 is a lot of abstracts to work through!!

As for me, I’m working to get AtoM2.4 installed at my work, teaching myself GIS through the online training program developed by Gaia Resources and, as always, looking forward to a great New Year, especially because it is my year, the Year of the Pig!

Looking forwards, looking backwards (2017/2018)

Yesterday, 1 January, I was reminded by the British Museum that the month is named after Janus, the Roman god. The International Council on Archives (ICA) uses a stylised form of Janus for their logo, because archivists do the same thing. Archives are identified and appraised based on their ongoing value to the community and to the organisations and people that created them. Over time, they develop historicity, which leads to the common, but mistaken, belief that archives are about “old stuff”.

January 1 is also the time for looking back over the previous year, and making resolutions about the forthcoming year. Personally, I think the latter is foolish, because I ascribe to the aphorism that no plan survives contact with reality, and 2017 demonstrates that perfectly.

I started with grand plans for a new blog on the Pie Lunch Lot, my mother’s and her cronies answer to what we now call the FIFO lifestyle, without benefit of modern social media. This would mean that I would take charge of my personal archives, and work within an historian’s framework. Yeah, right.

Blogs on this site were also few and far between. I left Curtin, and the luxury of reading and reviewing articles as part of my work there. Back at SRO, I’ve been involved with archival description and with developing our archival management system. This has had congruences with my private work, including  a poster at the Association of Canadian Archivists conference in Ottawa (Disrupting description – Canada3) and developing a workshop on archival description for the ASA conference in Melbourne (of which more another time).

I also became the program chair for the ASA conference in Perth in 2018 – “Archives in a Blade Runner age”, which has led to the creation of another blogsite, this one on science fiction and archives. (Don’t forget to submit an abstract before February 28, and, yes, there will be no extensions.) And, I became a National Councillor for the ASA, which has its own steep learning curve.

Add in the usual chaos that is life, and there you have it. 2017 not as planned, 2018 already out of control 🙂

“Why archivists need a shredder…”

Struggling to explain what it is that you do and why you do it? President of the Australian Society of Archivists, Julia Mant, gives it a red hot go in an interview for the University of Technology Sydney


Archival software survey

A few months ago, I asked my colleagues in the Archives Live Archives and recordkeeping software group to undertake a short survey for me, looking at archival description and management systems in use in Australia. I used the free SurveyMonkey site (ten simple questions) and promoted the survey on the Archives Live site and via my personal twitter account. I got 39 responses from a possible pool of 230 members, in a four week period.

The majority of respondents worked in a combination archive, taking both transfers from inhouse records creators as well as accepting donations or purchasing material for their collections (58.97%).  Small archives, with 2-4 staff (qualifications not specified), were slightly ahead of lone arrangers (48.7% and 30.7%). 11 were school archives and 7 from universities. There was a smattering of religious institutions, local council collections and government institutions, plus a couple of companies who held archives of their business.

Most archivists said they could use excel and word (92%), so it is not surprising that 25.6% of them created finding aids and archival aids using word documents and spreadsheets. However, the majority of finding aids are created using online systems and archive management software.

Software identified in responses to the survey included:

  • eMU – a museum focused collection system;
  • AkA – which is a thesaurus system rather than archival management software;
  • Tabularium;
  • Archive Manager;
  • Filemaker Pro and Excel;
  • Other, unnamed software; and,
  • AccesstoMemory (AtoM).

Both Tabularium and Archive Manager were created here in Australia and have good compliance with the Australian series system.   Tabularium was created by David Roberts and distributed by State Records NSW; however, it is no longer maintained. Archive Manager was created for use with Windows PCs, and has recently been sold to the UK.

In looking at new software requirements, respondents expressed a remarkable degree of frustration with old, clunky software which was not properly maintained or could not be easily updated either by themselves or by a provider. Ease of use, the ability to make collection content available online, integrate digital components and work with an EDRMS or other records management system were all identified as something for the modern archival management system. Concerns were raised about making  donor and other personal and confidential information available, so some degree of authority control and viewing permissions was also required.

Whether one system can meet all these requirements is yet to be seen. It may be better to focus on a range of systems that have some degree of interoperability and on standards for transferring data from one to the other. Either way, archivists in Australia are eager and ready to embrace new ways of working and for a new generation of archival software.



Things I hope you learn in GLAM School

I’ve just realised that I haven’t blogged for a very long time, so lest you think me moribund, it’s time to start typing. I have a few things I want to say about collections software and the GLAMPeak project, as well as pulling some thoughts together on the Open Government initiative, so there will be some slightly more professional blogposts after this, I promise.

But today, to get the writing process back underway, I’m going to munge together two #GLAMBlogClub topics – hope, and what I wish they’d taught me in GLAM School. It’s been a few years since I was in GLAM school, but not that long since I left teaching. Reading through the blogs, though, reminded me very much of that long distant self, who wrote a letter to her lecturer, the lovely Peter Orlovich, bemoaning the gap between practice and theory. I also wrote one to the WA Museums Australia co-ordinator, Stephen Anstey, when I could not get a job for love or money.  And they basically said this:

It’s just not possible to learn all the things, all the technical details or peculiar ways that people reinvent the wheel, in just three or four, or one or two years. What you can learn, and what we hope you learn, is how to learn. GLAM school should provide you with a fundamental structure for understanding and implementing theory in practical ways.  The basic theoretical foundations for archival or library description, museum collection management or art history will remain, even as new theoretical concepts are added that build on what we know from the past. The way we implement those concepts will depend on our collections, our resources, our own strengths and weaknesses, but if you can learn, you can change, grow and adapt.

Be bold in your choices. GLAM school, like any good school, will have taught you how to read, research and analyse content. It will teach you how to express yourself in a range of communication styles and platforms. The tests and stresses that you experience at GLAM school will help you temper the way you respond to those stresses in the work place.  We can, and do, try to provide experiences and examples in an environment where you are supported to fail, and to try again.

Do not put artificial limits on yourselves.

And, give yourselves hope. You have the skills, they just need sharpening and developing. Try, and try again.

Finally – “Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.”

(Max Ehrmann, The Desiderata)

“The end is nigh”: RiC(h) Description – part 2

The period for comment on the EGAD RiC – CM draft standard or model is coming to an end.  Since I last posted, there has been a flurry of activity, with comments from at least two Society of American Archivists technical subcommittees (TS-DACS and TS-EAS being the ones I know of), Artefactual (the developers of Accesstomemory software), the Australian Society of Archivists, Chris Hurley and Ross Spencer.

Each has something of value to add; whether concerned with specifics or in thinking about the broader implications for archival description in an online and connected world.

Time for pastures old, anew

(There’s this thing called #Glamblogclub, and it has a theme each month. I tried to resist…)

This time last year, I was getting ready for a year of academic freedom – time to think, to read, to nurture new professionals.  I’d taken secondment from the State Records Office of WA, after four years of having a split personality, to take up a lecturing contract at Curtin.

I went to ResBazPerth and learnt a little about github and python, and realised I needed a research project or similar to make that learning stick. June saw me doing #blogJune, and act as a general data mentor for #GovHack, an experience that proved useful when it came time to work on the Curtin #Makathon, using cultural heritage data (it also got me thinking about the coding I’d learnt in February, again).

I thought about archives and digital scholarship, and access. I learnt that I like being a mentor and teaching face to face, but worry about the loneliness and neediness of the distance/online student.  I like working with archives and answering queries.  During the ASA conference in Parramatta, I learnt about community and connected archives, and did some connecting of my own, with old and new friends.

And Curtin has given me some great connections too, who supported me through some pretty tough times  – with humour and cake and some fantastic projects. But it’s time to move on or back, and learn some new things. I’m not sure what 2017 has in store for me yet, but I’m guessing there will be archives and access and queries and cake, not to mention planning for the 2018 ASA conference in Perth.

Community collections and digital access

Those interested in the Community collections discussion paper for WA groups, may also find the Federation of Australian Historical Societies’ annual survey of interest.

There’s also a teaser page for keeping up to date with the GLAM Peak Bodies digital access project.

Both these links are from the Federation of Australian Historical Societies’ newsletter.