“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 Sydneyhttps://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/glamcity/id1276048279?mt=2

https://player.whooshkaa.com/player/playlist/show/1927?visual=true&sharing=true

 

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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.

 

 

 

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.

 

Digital Preservation and sustainability

Over the past few months, there’s been a couple of interesting events in the realm of digital preservation. The first was the publication of the new UNESCO digital preservation guidelines – PERSIST (although UNESCO uses the term sustainability rather than preservation) . The second was the updated Digital Preservation Coalition Handbook.

PERSIST (Platform to enhance the sustainability of the information society transglobally) looks at guidelines for selecting digital materials – it’s necessarily rather broad and full of good intentions and motherhood statements. The guidelines look at national institutions, such as archives, museums and libraries, and suggests that where legislation exists regarding the deposit of materials such legislation should be broadened, if required, to include digital content. Both national and international bodies should be engaged in setting standards for the collection and maintenance of these materials. Copyright and digital rights management are briefly addressed in the next section on the legislative environment.

The next three sections look at libraries, archives and museum collections from the ‘think global: act local’ perpective. The first section, Thinking globally, suggests that libraries, faced with the ubiquity of social media, websites and internet content, will need to manage their legal deposit and selection criteria for ephemera carefully. It also suggests that libraries may need to focus on user requirements for maintaining content, rather than continually acquiring new content with view to preservation. Museums and galleries are flagged as needing to think about metadata for digital and digitised content and also for records about the collection. Archives, like libraries, face problems with shifting formats and systems. Libraries have the luxury of many copies, but archives may lose content that is not ‘born archival’ but which garners significance over time, simply because the formats in which the items are created are in themselves, ephemeral. Although specific issues are identified for each institutional type, the guidelines stress that many of these concerns cross collection boundaries.

The second section, Act locally, provides a range of selection techniques and criteria which are probably already familiar to institutions looking at collection policies and processes: comprehensive collections, focused on a region, time or person/organisation; representative sampling; criteria based selection – format, topic, and so on. It also suggests that there can be delayed appraisal in some circumstances: collect now, select later.

In addition, the guidelines provide a simple decision tree (sadly, not illustrated) which suggests institutions consider the following:

  • Identify
  • Legislative framework
  • Select
    • significance
    • sustainability
    • availability
  • Decide

Possibly of more interest and more utility are the appendices – the first looks at metadata for digital preservation, and manages to do so without using the PREMIS acronym. Three types of metadata are identified as useful for digital preservation; structural, descriptive and administrative. The second appendix provides useful terms and definitions.

The Digital Preservation Coalition Handbook is an online document (which can also be saved and printed as pdf), designed for managers and executives who are either new to the concepts of digital preservation or, through the handbook  and other learning, feel that they have a good grasp of the essentials but are by no means experts. Each section states the level of experience the section is aimed at, and provides some clear, simple discussions before going on to more nuts and bolts information like choosing providers, identifying formats, working through digitisation processes and decisions and more.  This is a far more detail and practical work than the Guidelines, but the two work well together.

Use the Guidelines to promote the importance of digital management and then follow up with the Handbook.

 

 

 

Getting ready for #govHack 2 – tools, other data sources and examples

In this post, I’m going to point to some of the tools that I know from digital humanities and the like. They are mostly used in the cultural sphere, but that is not to say that they aren’t useful for exposing and manipulating other sorts of data. I’ll also try and provide some examples of the way data has been used for some simple and not so simple projects. GovHack is all about getting something up and running in 24 hours so, like a thesis, the parameters of time, space and subject need to be clearly defined. However, also like a thesis, the project should show some potential for further work, research and avenues for publication.

I’ve already provided a link to the TROVE API, and to some of the blogs that discuss using it.  The API has been acknowledged as a source of inspiration for the Europeana and Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) APIs, too ( a good way of incorporating some international data) : http://help.nla.gov.au/trove/building-with-trove/api; http://labs.europeana.eu/api; https://dp.la/info/developers/codex/.  Library cataloguing data, including Australian libraries, can be found on WorldCathttps://www.worldcat.org/affiliate/tools?atype=wcapi, while archival and manuscript collections can be found via ArchivesGridhttp://beta.worldcat.org/ArchiveGrid.

Libraries and some archives use a format called MARC (MAchine Readable Catalogue) to describe resources. It’s a standard developed by the Library of Congress, and about half way down their MARC documentation page, you’ll find a list of crosswalks and mappings to other formats including Dublin Core (developed by OCLC, the people who run WorldCat) and geospatial data – http://www.loc.gov/marc/marcdocz.html

Other archives use Encoded Archival Description (EAD) and Encoded Archival Context (EAC) to create and share descriptions. Developed independently, the Library of Congress also maintains documentation to support these standards, and again has some crosswalkshttp://www.loc.gov/ead/ag/agappb.html. EAC is used by the SNAC Project and the eScholarship Research Centre at University of Melbourne (which is a data provider for ANDS) to create connections between organisations and individuals – http://socialarchive.iath.virginia.edu/; http://www.esrc.unimelb.edu.au/about-us/informatics-lab/

Beyond the world of library and archives description (and you just wanted some simple headers to capture data, right?), there is Zotero, an open source citation software developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Centre for History and New Media (CHNM) – https://www.zotero.org/ . Zotero comes with some nice tools, including a simple timeline, and is also something I’d like to play with to open up referencing from archival sources. The CHNM spends a lot of time creating neat tools for historians and cultural curation so they also have Omeka, an online exhibition tool, and Scripto for transcription purposes – http://chnm.gmu.edu/research-and-tools/.

You can also use the open source project  Blacklight (including Spotlight) to play with library described data – http://projectblacklight.org/; http://www.rubydoc.info/gems/blacklight-spotlight/0.19.1. (Turns out Blacklight, Spotlight and other delights are the work of Stanford University Librarieshttps://library.stanford.edu/blogs/topic/blacklight).

There’s some good tutorials on Zotero and other tools on the Programming Historian site – http://programminghistorian.org/lessons/

The ever fabulous and creative Tim Sherratt has a whole host of tools, and examples of how to use them, on his wraggelabs site. The focus is on TROVE and the National Archives of Australia – http://wraggelabs.com/emporium/: e.g. http://troveconsole.herokuapp.com/  and http://faceapi.herokuapp.com/

Finally, I’d like to point to some interesting uses of cultural data, both as part of govHack and more generally.

Not open source, but fun, there’s HistoryPin and NowandThen https://www.historypin.org/en/ and http://nowandthen.net.au/Main_Page. Pixstory, from the 2013 Govhack, explored some of these ideas – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUDxyrOhVQs

As part of the WW1 centenary project, the RSL teamed up with a local TAFE to create a virtual ‘Digger’ app – http://rslwahq.org.au/News/Well-done-Tom.aspx

Last year, at least two projects used cultural data for govhack – http://2015.hackerspace.govhack.org/content/citizen-culture-heritage-lest-we-forget

http://2015.hackerspace.govhack.org/content/exploring-indigenous-culture

And, there are all those geospatial projects, e.g. https://www.gaiaresources.com.au/sro-archive-maps/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting ready for #govHack – cultural datasets

Next week, the largest hackathon in the world, GovHack, takes place in Australia and New Zealand. There are govhack sites at universities and regional centres, and in all the major centres. Each site has participants, who make the things, and mentors who provide advice and guidance on tools and datasets. There’s even a specific cultural hack node in Canberra, run by Tim Sherratt.

This year, I’ve signed up as a data mentor for WA, which has a central city site and a regional node at Geraldton. This will be my third year as a data mentor, and my first year as a general mentor, talking cultural data generally (mostly archival, of course) rather than representing the SROWA. It’s a lot more organised than I anticipated, and people are already asking for more information to help them prepare. To this end, I’m going to use this post to talk about some datasets.  Participants need to use at least one official data set, but can then also look for other data that they can mash together or reuse. This way, I can print off the page as a guide, and provide a link to it for #govhackwa participants. I’ll do an additional post or two on some tools for analysing them and provide some examples of how data has been used.

Official cultural datasets

These datasets are taken from the various government data portals.

Searching the data.gov.au dataset reveals 144 datasets for the keyword ‘library’, 117 for ‘archive’, 52 for ‘museum’ and 129 for ‘cultural’. The latter includes some gis datasets, including the “coarse cultural topographical data”, showing where major population centres are and the CPI index. In addition to collection links and collection subsets, State and National Libraries have contributed statistical datasets relating to location of libraries, user statistics and so on.

My top picks, outside of TROVE (from the National Library) and ANDS (Australian National Data Service) are –

The National Portrait Galleryhttps://data.gov.au/dataset/portraits-and-people

The Antarctic artefacts bibliographyhttps://data.gov.au/dataset/aad-aa-bibliography and Commonwealth Bay artefacts survey data – https://data.gov.au/dataset/aad-cden-artefacts-gis

Indigenous protected areashttps://data.gov.au/dataset/indigenous-protected-areas-ipa-declared

The National Archives of Australia“Memory of a nation” – digitised content from online exhibitions – https://data.gov.au/dataset/memory-of-a-nation-data  and the Commonwealth Agencies dataset, which provides a comprehensive set of federal government departments, ministeries, offices and so on. Because of the way archives link data, some state and local government agencies are also included. This dataset was last updated in April, 2016 – https://data.gov.au/dataset/commonwealth-agencies.

The State Records Office of New South Wales has a number of indexes available as csv files in the NSW data portal – including convicts, soldier settlement indexes and wills and probate, not to mention their Flickr dataset. SRNSW collection information can also be searched via their online catalogue. Queensland State Archives has 55 datasets in the data.qld.gov.au portalhttps://data.qld.gov.au/dataset?q=archive&tags=Queensland+State+Archives&groups=historical. State Records South Australia has 5 datasetshttp://data.sa.gov.au/data/organization/state-records.

The Powerhouse Museum APIhttp://data.nsw.gov.au/data/dataset/bf9df234-7890-4907-94f6-e7872c8f4258

Other museum datasets include the gorgeous Scott Sisters collection from the Australian Museum, itself the subject of a remix competition in 2013/2014 http://data.nsw.gov.au/data/dataset/4e57d134-79e9-42ad-a0a9-83fc91e1091c

There’s a plethora of WW1 related datasets – searching for ‘World War’ returns 24 datasets, of which only two are not clearly related, and the majority of which are from State Libraries.

It’s worth remembering that data in TROVE is harvested from all public libraries, and includes data from museums and archives. The content can be filtered via the TROVE API. The Public Records Office of Victoria and the Australian National University and Noel Butlin Archives have both contributed data to TROVE. The State Library of Queensland not only has data in TROVE, but also contributed over 50,000 photographs to Wikipedia.

http://help.nla.gov.au/trove/building-with-trove/api

TROVE has some useful examples and help sheets – http://help.nla.gov.au/trove/building-with-trove/examples

The Australian National Data Service is similarly rich and complex. Again, the Public Records Office of Victoria (PROV) has contributed data to ANDS, along with the State Records Office of NSW. The PROV’s semantic wiki is available as an xml formatted download – https://www.data.vic.gov.au/data/dataset/public-record-office-victoria-semantic-wiki.

Postcript – I’ve just been advised that the Curtin Library has made weather observation data from Jon Sanders’ 1986 – 1988 circumnavigation available through ANDS – https://researchdata.ands.org.au/search/#!/rows=15/sort=list_title_sort%20asc/class=collection/q=jon%20sanders/p=1/group=Curtin%20University/. There’s also a nice blog – http://triplesolo.library.curtin.edu.au/ –  and you can follow along on Twitter #triplesolo #noonsummary.

Weather afficionados may also be interested in the digitised daily observations from colonial Perth, now in the NAA collection – http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ListingReports/ItemsListing.aspx?series=PP430/1

 

Finally, in the WA datasets, you will find a range of historical maps and plans, taken from the State Records Office digitised collection – each map links to the series at the top, but there are some older links to the previous catalogue. For better searching and exporting of data, it’s best to go straight to the new cataloguehttps://archive.sro.wa.gov.au/

WA theme parks – taken from the Landgate “locate the 80s’ site – http://catalogue.beta.data.wa.gov.au/dataset/wa-theme-parks

State Heritage Office datasets – http://catalogue.beta.data.wa.gov.au/organization/state-heritage-office

WA Maritime Archaeology datasets, provided by the WA Museum http://catalogue.beta.data.wa.gov.au/organization/western-australian-museum

 

In which there are too many hashtags, again!

Barely had the American Library Association (#alaac2016) conference finished, when I became aware of a groundswell of European conferences and workshops.

The first to pop up was #DAMEU for, obviously, Digital Asset Management. This conference is of interest because of both its focus on how to manage current digital content (whether or not it is a copy of an analogue record) but also its focus on long term management and preservation. Formats, platforms, repositories – all the buzz words are there.

The second is #LIBER16,taking place in Helsinki, for European research libraries. There’s quite a bit of overlap with the #DAMEU conference, but unlike the ones in Hobart last week, I don’t think participants could run from one to the other. Once again, open access, data repositories, and the management and maintenance of data is being discussed.

And finally, for today at least, is #eu2016nl (#eunl2016), a conference held in the final week of the Dutch Presidency of the EU, and focusing on the ‘digitalisation’ of cultural heritage (their words and spelling, not mine). This looks at both digital platforms, but also digitisation programs and linked content through the mighty Europeana. The best quote so far is that it is time to focus on quality not quantity.