“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.

RiC- CM – some comments

I have been looking through the proposed RiC-CM model or standard, as
proposed by the Expert Group on archival description.

The document, as set out, provides a good overview of the development
of archival description to date, particularly as regards the
principles of provenance and respect des fonds. The group notes the
need for broader involvement from a range of traditions and cultures.
It is disappointing therefore, that within the current group and
document there is not a broader exposition of the implementation of
the ICA standards across the countries involved, such as DACS and RAD,
not to mention Australian Series registration. This is particularly
evident in relation to the focus in the document on relationships and
the discussion of the limitation of fonds based and hierarchical
description.

Although the principal audience is identified as archivists, there
seems to be little thought as to how the standard would be
implemented. The one graphical model provided looks at the
relationships, but does not identify how the descriptions were created
that sustained that model. Similarly, though the ICA standards are
identified as being used as the basis for this new standard, there is
little evidence within the specific document that identifies how the
new descriptions relate to the old. It would be useful to have
references to the class numbers and standards within the descriptions.
The document notes that “RiC is complex and detailed”. Some advice or
suggestions as to minimum or mandated elements would be useful.

Some fairly broad statements are made about the implementation of the
current standards, but no evidence is provided in support of these
assertions. Some greater evidence of the research undertaken in
pursuit of the proposed standard would be useful. The same is also
true for discussions of other methods of making content web
accessible, such as the use of markup language, and the way in which
relational and other databases respond to or are aligned with the
current standards. There are now a number of software systems (e.g.
AccesstoMemory) and metadata standards (EAD, EAC, METS) that allow for
the development of relational, rather than purely hierarchical
description and linkages to other descriptive systems.

More specifically, I have the following comments:

Entity type – record. I think this relates to the idea of the smallest
descriptive entity (e.g. US document or UK item). Relating this back
to ISAD(G) and also to the Multilingual glossary  –
http://www.ica.org/en/online-resource-centre/multilingual-archival-terminology
would confirm this.
I like the idea of a record component, but would note that the example
of two digital photographs might also be two record entities. The
concept of a ‘complex record’ (US file/folder, UK piece, Australian
item?) needs to be further explored.

Record set – is too generic. This could be a ‘complex record’, or
fonds or series level description?

Function and Function (abstract)  – too confusing.

The range of relationship types is overwhelming. It would be better to
look at the OWL ontology, if that is the model used and work from the
relationships already described in the current ICA standards.
Similarly, look at schema.org definitions (The definition of Thing
will cause problems when trying to make linkages with that). It may be
better to provide examples showing how ICA standard descriptions may
be integrated into a range of models using clever software and
analysis. The PROVisualiser demonstrates how such a system might work
http://conaltuohy.com/blog/visualizing-government-archives-through-linked-data/

While it is commendable that the ICA and EGAD are looking at ways of
sharing and connecting archival metadata, I think that they have
become too focused on one metadata model, possibly to the detriment of others.

Community collections and WA funding

Over the Christmas break, members of the Australian Society of Archivists (ASA) (WA Branch) were advised of a discussion document looking at funding priorities for collections and were asked to respond to a survey to help further refine those priorities (the survey closes on 27th January, and a follow up session with Roz Lipscombe, Senior Policy Officer, Department for Culture and the Arts, will be held on 6 February 2017).  Because of the current debate around national portals, federated systems and the like, I think that this has relevance to the broader archival community.

The paper, Collections Sector Development Framework (no public link, I’m afraid), was put together by a working group of WA institutions and associations, under the auspices of the Department of Culture and the Arts (DCA) and was headed by Alec Coles, CEO of the WA Museum. While there was some State Records Office of WA representation on the original committee, the ASA has only recently been invited to participate. The paper derives in part from previous frameworks and policies developed by DCA and Museums Australia (WA) for the community sector, and for local museums and historical societies, in particular (see, e.g. Report on a survey of Western Australian museums, galleries, indigenous keeping places and local collections, 2005). The first of these, the Community Collections Action Plan was published in 2005, and advocated for further work with the Collections Council of Australia (which was abolished in 2010), stronger ties with Museums Australia and the Royal WA Historical Society (RWAHS),  and the development of a special funding program, Connect Community funding. This funding closed in 2016. A second specific action that resulted from the plan was the establishment of a pilot CollectionsCare hub in Kalgoorlie in 2009, which was supported by DCA until 2012. The Action plan was reviewed in 2015  (also no public link) and this paper is a result of some identified loose or unresolved threads.

The first thing to say is that the paper clearly reflects its background as a Museums Australia, WA Museum, Historical Society product.  The background outlined above is referenced at the bottom of the paper, and is well worth reviewing where the documents are publicly available. However, once the links are traced, and it is clearly understood that the focus is largely on community collections, largely volunteer based, many of the suggested priorities are more clearly understood.

The eight proposed priorities within the framework are:

  1. Skills development – in addition to tertiary qualifications (through TAFE and University) it is suggested that a series of modules for basic skills be developed, available regionally and online. A working paper on museum qualifications was developed by Brian Shepherd following the demise of the excellent Certificate in Museum Studies program at Edith Cowan University, which provides some background on this proposal. For archivists, this may be met by the recently developed ASA training packages.
  2. Mentorship and leadership development, including networking opportunities. Both the Australian Library and Information Association and the Records and Information Management Professionals Association run excellent mentoring programs at national and state level.  Opportunities to meet, however, are largely metropolitan based, and there is no denying that remote and regional communities are less well served in this area. Some cross sector networking would also be of benefit, and sector members may benefit from accessing international opportunities such as the Churchill fellowships, which can then be shared with others through such networks. LotteryWest funding is available to assist with organisational development, which may go some way towards meeting this priority.
  3. Networking – specifically conferences, seminars and workshops. The paper identifies that Museums Australia (WA) was unsuccessful in its application for funding from DCA via the Organisation Investment program. The RWAHS has also previously received some money from DCA for administration. However, this is a limited fund, and other organisations, such as the History Council of WA, have been unable to access it. The majority of organisations accessing this funding appear to be arts based. LotteryWest funding does not support this sort of work, although funding can be sought to send specific members of organisations to conferences, through the organisational development program identified above.
  4. Hubs – based on the pilot project based in Kalgoorlie Boulder, it is suggested that regional centres (including metropolitan centres) for cross sectoral information and advice be established.
  5. Digital platform – again, the recommendation for a single digital platform, to enable collections to be searched and identified online, and is clearly based on the concepts expressed in the Digital Dinosaurs paper, and more recently through the GLAM Peak Bodies project, funded via Catalyst. While this is a laudable aim, it does require that organisations have a web presence, and that their collection is properly catalogued and identified – funding for this sort of work is limited and is a necessity in order to move forward. The State and public library network  and the RWAHS collection, which has recently gone online, are identified as specific examples, while TROVE and the Atlas of Living Australia are provided as examples of aggregation sites. Other options, perhaps at collection or sector level, like Culture Victoria for museums, could be developed and funded.
  6. Audience development – this is not well expressed in the paper, but seems to be aimed at both marketing and at developing new digital audiences. It links to the next priority
  7. Profile –specifically about growing awareness of the state collection, and is targeted at the new WA Museum (currently scheduled for completion in 2020), the Art Gallery of WA’s 125th anniversary (c.1895) and the ARC funded ‘Collecting the West’ project. This is one area where the framework looks more specifically at the state institutions, other than SRO. A broader, more inclusive, community focus might be 2029, when the state celebrates its bicentenary (with the exception of Albany in 2026).
  8. Advocacy – this is clearly where organisations like the ASA, Museums Australia and RWAHS, as well as other community and peak sector bodies should be involved, such as the Arts and Culture Council of WA. Gaining some funding in support of these organisations, to assist with administration and the development of well thought out advocacy positions is critical in giving institutions, the professions and the GLAM sector a voice. However, it is also vital that such funding does not cause a conflict of interest to those same bodies.

 

 

 

RiC[h]-CM description, relationships and standards

A few months ago, at the ICA2016 conference in Seoul, the Expert Group on Archival Description (EGAD) released their first draft model (or standard) for a new relationally enhanced mode for archival description. There’s an email list for comments so I thought I would start there…

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Jenny Bunn from the Department of Information Studies, University College London, kicked off by asking what format was preferred for responses, as she and some colleagues were getting together to work through the standard:

“Primary Entities
1. Do you agree with the membership of the list? Should anything else be included as a primary entity? Should anything be taken off this list?
2. Do you have any specific comments on any of the entities in particular, e.g. changes to wording, additional examples, confusion about usage?

Properties
1. Do you agree with the lists of properties for each entity? Should anything be added/taken away?
2. Do you have any specific comments on any of the properties in particular, e.g. changes to wording, additional examples, confusion about usage?

Relations
1. Do you agree with the lists of relations? Can you suggest further relations?
2. How should these relations be presented? What information do you need/would you like about each relation?

General comments
1. Anything else you want to say.”

Daniel Pitti, who appears to have been the driving force, agreed to that format, suggesting that general comments come first.

Australia’s Chris Hurley immediately picked up on the relationships, noting that he had identified “792 relationships and still counting.” He then suggested that there needed to be an understanding of the different relationship types, and also a glossary. Chris provided some examples of relationship categories, but I think it would be useful to go back to the original standards and work from there.

RiC is based on the four standards produced by the ICA – ISAD(G) for archival descriptions (fonds, series, items, etc), ISAAR-CPF for archival authorities (organisations, families and individuals), ISDF for the functions which are the reason for records to be created and ISDIAH, which describes the archival institutions and collecting organisations.  Of these, only ISAAR-CPF has relationships included in it, which are hierarchical (which organisation controls or owns which), temporal (which organisation preceded which), associative and related, which is mostly used for families and individuals. The different relationships are described in a follow on field. The Australian series system recognises relationships within and between archival descriptions, authorities and functions, and identifies that they may be reciprocal. In amending Access to Memory software for use in with series registration, my colleagues and I at State Records Office of Western Australia worked with the relationships and created subsets within the temporal and hierarchical relationships – controlled and controlling, subordinate and superior; succeeding and preceding. Relationships among individuals were not well defined, but in a private archive or manuscript library scenario I can see how these too may be developed. There are also the relationships such as custodian, creating and transferring, which describes the relationships between authorities and descriptions.

George Charonitis (Georgia State Archives) concurred with Chris with respect to identifying relationship types and also advocated for some more definitions, particularly with respect to context/s, provenance, creation, accumulation and selection. Chris’s next post looked at and suggested some common properties that could be used across all description types – identifier, dates and relationships, as well as looking at and reminding us of the relationships used in series registration, between deed, doer and document.

John Machin, also from Australia, picked up on the next part of the RiC process – the creation of ontologies, asking whether any existing ontologies would be used and how closely they would be followed. Florence Clavaud, from the EGAD group, responded that RiC-O (for ontologies) would probably be unique, and that they would then work on linkages and alignments.

Professor George Bak, from University of Manitoba, also made comment on the new standard, pointing out that the introduction is very Eurocentric (a point also made by the InterPARES Trust, of which slightly more below) and asking whether much thought had been given to indigenous perspectives, and also from the perspective of social memory. He queried how much of the standard had been aligned with current data visualisation practice, and looked at the scholarship in this area. He then followed up with a summary of a discussion held by some Winnipeg based archivists, looking at digital systems and raising the question of definitions and understandings of the way in which information is created and understood, by pointing to the OAIS model for representation information, information objects and so on  (he also writes beautifully, so it’s worth reading his posts just for the language).

Finally, the InterPARES Trust have released a bit of a broadside, however politely phrased, against EGAD online, pointing to the lack of communication over the past few years (the RiC project was instigated in 2012). One of their criticisms, which I agree with, is that although RiC is based on the four current standards produced by ICA, there is no evidence of a review of those standards, or how they have been implemented by different archival cultures. Like Bak and Machin, they are concerned that there is no higher ontological model or ‘anchor’ on which the new standard is based. They also suggest that looking at current relational database models, rather than focusing on data visualisation, may be of more use to both users of archives and those describing them for use. Indeed, the lack of user representation or awareness of the new model is also an issue.

Should you wish to review RiC-CM or add your voices to the mix, you have until the end of December to do so. For Australian archivists, the ASA is looking at presenting a combined response, so please do contact them.

 

STOP PRESS – deadline for comment now extended to 31 January, 2017

Archival description and discovery layers

Some years ago, Campbell Soups ran a campaign about their thick and rich soup range, one of which included Australia’s own Rose Porteous (I can’t find the link, perhaps someone cottoned on?). Anyway, I always think of that and, more academically, of Clifford Geertz’s ‘thick description’ when I think about the ways in which archives can describe their holdings. It’s not always the case, of course. Sometimes, time and pressure mean that holdings and archival authorities are described in minimalistic terms, but the potential for rich and thick description still exists, especially when contextual relationships between creators, functions and records are fully developed. It’s this that sets us aside from library description, and why archives generally don’t use the library MARC (MAchine Readable Catalogue) formats, even though there is a special set for archives (MARC-AMC).  Libraries describe the  individual elements of the soup – the pea, the bean, the meaty chunk, the liquid – on their own merit. The author statement can bring these elements together but doesn’t give a sense of how they interact. Archives describe the soup, and then the elements.

Given this difference, it’s been interesting to see how different archives have been included into broader, generally library based discovery layers. Our own TROVE is one such instance, and I’ve previously flagged how both the ANU Archives and PROV have added content to TROVE in my #GovHack posts. I’ve not seen much about what compromises had to be made, so I was very interested when the Digital Repository of Ireland brought out its guide to including archival description a few months ago.  The Digital Public Library of America has recently released a white paper for similar content. Both the DRI guidelines and the DPLA white paper use EAD (encoded archival description) as the major tool for exploring and exporting information. Both work within a fonds based hierarchical descriptive framework, and focus on the archival object or levels of description. The links made to archival authority and to function (Chris Hurley’s doer and deed) are minimal at best.

The DRI guideline is, by its nature, prescriptive. If you are looking for a good description of the elements within EAD and how they can be matched to standard elements in descriptive practice, then this is a good place to start.  The descriptions of each required and recommended element are clear, and provide some food for thought in Australian practice with regards to name, place and subject indexing of archival holdings. I think it would be relatively easy to implement the recommendations for a TROVE like discovery system (although, we have, as yet, to investigate why or whether we want one, and what we would expect to get out of it).

The DPLA white paper is, also by its nature, more complex, looking at comparative descriptive practices, meditating on the differences between library and archival description, and aggregated (fonds, collection, series, even Australian item level) description. It focuses, however, on individual digital objects, either a product of digitisation or a natively created in the digital environment, such as pages of books or individual photographs in an album. The working group looked at both description at a higher aggregated level (using the term ‘collection’) and for individual objects. Again, a number of examples are given for both, and some recommendations come from that. The working group is to be commended for the way in which they have approached the task at hand. Like the DRI guidelines, the white paper raises some important questions for Australian archivists looking at either a federated system, as proposed by Chris Hurley and others at the recent ASA 2016 conference, or in support of further work with TROVE.