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.


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.




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.




Inquiries and court cases – Powerhouse and copyright

Archivists and museum goers in New South Wales (NSW) will no doubt be aware of the controversy surrounding the proposed move of the esteemed Powerhouse Museum from its location in Darling Harbour (central Sydney) to Parramatta (where the ASA conference will be later this year). It’s been suggested that the move is purely a landgrab by developers, while others have argued that the new museum will inject a cultural heart into Western Sydney. Both may be true.

The NSW government have decided to have a parliamentary inquiry into the way the Powerhouse, and other state museums and galleries, are funded. The terms of reference include :

d) access to the collections of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, the Australian Museum and any other state collections held in trust for the people of New South Wales, and programs that promote physical and online access
(emphasis mine) and
g) the impact of the efficiency dividend on the budgets of museums and galleries over the last 10 years, and funding levels compared to other states
Clearly, the State archives and State Library can be included, and it will be a very valuable resource for other state institutions to refer to when the report is published in November.
Public submissions close on 14 August, 2016.
In other news, a German court has ruled that copyright can exist in copies of public domain works, following a case in which the Reiss Engelhorn Museum sued Wikimedia after a wikimedian loaded up high resolution copies, taken from the Museum’s website.  Wikimedia is not happy, naturally, but I’m with the Museum on this one. In Australian law, as in the German law cited, provided there is a degree of intellectual involvement in the copying, then I think copyright would exist in the image. If it exists in photos taken on phones and with high speed SLR cameras, then the decisions about colour balance, cropping and so on, would meet the relatively low bar set here. The issue is, perhaps, not whether copyright exists, but how that copyright is then handled.  A creative commons licence might be the way to go…

Serendipity or design? #dha2016

Over in Tasmania, at the Digital Humanities conference today, there was a panel discussion on GLAM and humanities research and access to collections. @mikejonesmelb and others tweeted some of the content, and I’d love to see some of the papers and presentations.

The focus was, of course, the relationship between GLAM bodies and academia, with some suggestions for collaboration, such as the McCoy Project between University of Melbourne and Victoria Collections, and having LIS students help with digital humanities projects.  It was identified that libraries and archives are not generally identified as research institutions (although with the changes to ARC funding a few years ago, I think the larger institutions can now partner with academics?), and that generally, funding is not that available for research within collections as part of the institutions’ roles.

Digitisation was also discussed with mixed feelings. It’s one way of providing data, but as Janet Carding, one of the panellists said, “the role for GLAM institutions isn’t to shut themselves in a room with a flatbed scanner for the next 20 years …”.  It was also suggested that APIs for collections need to be made more open and accessible for users. I think there may be some more general discussion that needs to occur vis a vis collections data and the ‘ordinary punter’ as one of the panellists put it. The discussion appeared to range over the ways in which libraries and archives make information available about their collections (which is their raison d’etre) while galleries and museums have been much slower to enable access to collection databases. There are also the dichotomies between science and cultural heritage collections to be considered.

Mike Jones then spoke about context and connections, suggesting a web of knowledge lies within archival descriptions, and considering ways in which meaning can be layered over time. Deb Verhoeven followed up with a discussion of HuNI and serendipity, to which she later provided a three minute summary link. Aimed at academic researchers it still leaves lots to think about with regards to the ways in which we make connections across collections for all researchers.

Thinking about convergence

This semester, I was the co-ordinator for a unit called “Convergence and cultural institutions”. It was a little ironic, as I have been one of the few voices in the department that routinely challenges the idea that convergence is a) happening and b) inevitable. I was (and to a significant degree remain) a convergence sceptic.

Part of this is, I think, about the way in which convergence is defined. In the digital media world, where convergence theory had its start, convergence is about shared or single modes of delivery of content. However, convergence in the library and information sector now seems to include shared resources, single points of physical access and so on.

A recent research article, Passion trumps pay, highlights some of these concerns. In this article, the researchers focus on the role of the information professional in the GLAM sector. This seems to me to be the start of confusion. Information professionals such as archivists, records managers and librarians may be found in a range of institutions and organisations, often as small specialist sectors, as identified by Vanessa Finney in her presentation in Canberra in 2013. Similarly, as any school archivist will tell you, archives or special collections staff may also find themselves in charge of a small collection of realia or artwork, which may or may not be managed in accordance with museum principles. Does the inclusion of these staff within a GLAM institution constitute convergence (or some degree of the same)?  Or is it just that we work in a range of organisations, some of which are also tagged as ‘memory’ or cultural institutions?

Interestingly, the museum participants identified that their co-workers – science researchers and some curators (for which read art or history curators?) – lacked the information literacy and information management skills of the information professionals. The study has suggested that this might need to be addressed in undergraduate degrees, but I would rather suggest that this is why there are information professionals in those organisations in the first place.

Archivists and gallery staff apparently disputed whether or not they were information professionals in accordance with the definition used in the study:

an individual working in a library, archive, museum, cultural heritage or information environment whose aim is to maintain, and often improve, access to the ever growing amount of information generated from within the culture and heritage industry, the media, and, increasingly, by the general public.

(Terras, 2009)

According to the authors of the study, this is because archivists identified that

archives until now have not been driven by access (the principle theme of the Terras (2009) definition) but rather by their legislated requirements (in terms of the records initially kept) and the need to preserve the material that they manage. Although they conceded that the archive is moving towards a more access-focussed model, they see their role as more specialised, and in some cases more crucial, as archivists often manage the only copies of specific information that exists.

I’m sorry, but what? Archivists don’t get, or have not been, driven by access?

“His Creed, The Sanctity of Evidence; his Task, the Conservation of every scrap of Evidence attaching to the Documents committed to his charge; his Aim, to provide, without prejudice or afterthought, for all who wish to know the Means of Knowledge” (Jenkinson 2003:258).

I think this highlights that we may be talking at cross purposes, as separate textual communities, where we share common terminology but have different understandings of what is meant. Until we resolve these textual problems, convergence will be some way off.

Finally, there was some discussion on the role of education in a ‘converged’ environment. Librarians and museologists agreed that this was something that could be addressed, but the archivists again disagreed, identifying that there are already enough pressures in the standard archives course, leading to minimal knowledge in core areas. Speaking as an educator of both librarians and archivists, in a combined BA degree and combined Masters program, I would agree. In fact, I would suggest that the archives and records curriculum is somewhat truncated, when compared with that for librarians.

I’m very keen on looking at ways we can work together, through collaboration and linked data, but the idea that we will somehow become a single profession, working across ‘memory’ or knowledge institutions, seems unlikely.

On one thing though, we do agree, the study’s authors, the participants and me. Our professions are about passion. How we teach that, or maintain it, is far more challenging.