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   Tabularium was created by David Roberts and distributed by State Records NSW; however, it is no longer maintained.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.

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

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  –
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 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

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.