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…
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:
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?
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?
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?
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