“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.


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…


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?

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?

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

Maintaining Standards

Every archivist and records manager has probably said the magic words “ISO 15489” at some stage in their career. It supports good records management, it’s based on some great Australian work, and you can find it embedded in most of the standards and advice prepared by the State and National Archives,e.g. http://prov.vic.gov.au/government/standards-and-policy/all-documents/as-iso-15489; http://www.naa.gov.au/records-management/strategic-information/standards/international-standards/index.aspx

There are other standards that are important to archives and records managers too, include the ISO suite of quality assurance standards, around ISO 9000, and the standards for digitisation and microfilm quality and storage. We rely on them a lot. They’re made available on the Standards Australia website, via SAI Global, but I expect most of us have searched for and found them in the catalogues and electronic databases provided by the National and State Libraries (NSLA), where we have accessed them for free. Recently, NSLA advised that this service would come to an end as they could not come to an agreement with SAI Global over how these standards are to be accessed. Standards Australia and SAI Global appear to be locked in a contract until 2018, with a likely renewal until 2023.

For most of us, this is a blow, but not a major problem. For those of us in Western Australia, however, the matter could become more complicated. If you are in the WA state and local government sectors, you’ll know that one of the key tools for records management assurance is the Recordkeeping Plan, developed in accordance with the State Records Commission’s (SRC) Principles and Standards. Standard 1 identifies AS ISO 15489 as the model for best practice recordkeeping. Standard 1, and all the other standards developed by the SRC have the same legal standing as regulations. Last week, a Parliamentary Committee brought down a report on access to Standards embedded in WA legislation and regulations. In part, if adopted, it will require Government agencies that include International and Australian Standards in their legislation to provide access to those standards to the public and to other organisations, for free.

The Committee has recognised that simple access can be provided to a physical copy in the offices of State and Local Government agencies. And, it has wrestled with the thorny issue of copyright, both for the physical copies and for ongoing online access. Their summary of the ALRC review into copyright is masterful (see s.5.13 and 5.14 on p.50 of the report), with some pithy yet subtle comments on the roundaboutation used by the ALRC when addressing fair use in copyright.

On the positive side, the Committee has recognised a right of free public access to information of benefit to the public. They have also recommended that

the Minister for Commerce seeks to arrange to have this matter placed on the agenda of the Industry and Skills Council of COAG as soon as possible, in the hope that the governments of the Commonwealth and other States and Territories might
reach an agreement whereby universal free access is achieved through a nationwide publicly-funded model.

I’m looking forward to that.


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.




EGAD, I found it

Or, why a 17th century exclamation may be the new way of sharing and encoding archival data.

A few days ago, I linked to a blog about ways of matching archival description with the museum community’s conceptual ontology CIDOC CRM.  I knew, as I was researching it, that there had been some mention of a similar ontology for the archival community, but I did not know much more.  When I searched for EAD and CIDOC, one of the references was to the EGAD project at ICA, so off I went to see what more I could find.

Sadly, for a recordkeeping organisation, there was surprisingly little. Yes, there is a web page, and yes, there are resources, mostly dating from 2012, when the group was set up, but minutes, reports, working notes, and so on appear to be lacking. I knew there must be more so I kept tracking.

EGAD, which stands for Experts Group on Archival Description, was set up by the ICA to look at ways of integrating the four ICA standards, ISAD(G), ISAAR – CPF, ISDIAH and ISDF. It is also looking at ways of modeling this data in line with current conceptual models and linked data protocols. It was established in 2012, and has a four year term, so there should be something to discuss more generally by the end of 2016.  The most recent document on the EGAD page is to a 2013 report.

However, there have been some EGAD presentations at various conferences and at the CIDOC meeting in 2015Daniel Pitti et al’s 2014 report in Girona identifies that the model will have at least four entities – agency (archival authority), records (including the concept of records set to accommodate fonds, record group or series), function, mandate. I think that relationships are being discussed as either an entity or process.  A discussion of how records and record sets might work is found in this powerpoint from Pitti and Rubenstein in 2015.

There’s an article about it in a Korean journal, so I’m looking forward to finding out more from the ICA conference in Seoul in Daniel Pitti’s panel (and I’m also hoping that the ICA page might be updated before then so I can stop hunting the interwebs 🙂 ).

Mander Jones commentary from 2015

The announcement that registrations are now open for the Australian Society of Archivists conference has just gone up. It’s time to start knuckling down to the judging of this year’s Mander Jones entries, so that the prizes can be awarded in October. It’s a long process – nominations come from the previous year, so this year I am looking at works from 2015, but the ones I will be summarising here were awarded at the 2015 conference and were completed or published in 2014. There were, therefore, a large number of commemorative publications in honour of the Anzac centenary. So many, in fact, that I suggested we start a separate category. This year, not so many…

The following remarks are mine, and mine alone (like Anne Elk), and do not represent the ASA in any way, or my fellow judges. The nominations and remarks are not comprehensive and do not necessarily reflect the winners, just the ones that I found of interest.

Digital information and records management capabilities (the capability matrix)

Exposure draft published November 2013, Revised version published November 2014

Available from http://www.naa.gov.au/records-management/development/qualifications/index.aspx

An interesting approach to the need to ensure that staff have the necessary skills and knowledge to undertake work in the current recordkeeping environment. It would have been good to see the last section on RM and IM staff being tied to the RIMPA and ASA competencies, or the Australian Qualifications Framework, which would have made the work more portable in terms of the profession.

Reinventing archival methods: Continuing the conversation

Compilation of 2 featured articles and over 20 short essays

The original workshop from which the inspiration for these papers was taken was an invigorating session, designed to get archivists to consider current and future practice. The papers represented here provide evidence of current practice and demonstrate a willingness to engage with the future and to think laterally. The editors are to be congratulated on pulling together a diverse range of writers, including some from outside the archival circle. Many authors and presenters are familiar to the RecordKeeping (RK) Roundtable, and it would be interesting to gain some additional and possibly dissenting voices.

Available online through the RK Roundtable but also as a special edition of Archives and Manuscripts, this work explores open access in a number of different ways.

Cassie Findlay ‘Reinventing Archival Methods’ Paper presented to the seminar to mark the retirement of Hans Hofman from the National Archives of the Netherlands.

27 January 2014,

Available at http://rkroundtable.org/2014/02/05/reinventing-archival-methods-in-the-hague/



A call to arms, or at least to move to the side of Pharaoh, for the archives and RM profession.

Beyond 1914. The University of Sydney and The Great War.


It is beautifully designed with clear and easy links to follow. The video from the archives provides a good background to the information in the display. Disappointingly, images are labelled 0001.jpg rather than with an ID that would encourage further investigation into the archives, or allow for deeper research. There are links with other institutions and collections which could be explored further.

Biographies of the men from the Banyo District who served in the Great War (including a short history of the Banyo Memorial School of Arts and Memorial Hall).2014 – Printed by Digital Synergy, Hendra Qld

This is a nice take on the local memorial, with links to archival information at QSA and NAA.

The presentation is clean and neat and appropriate for distribution among the Banyo community.

A Row of Goodly Pearls, One Hundred and Twenty Five Years of Loreto in Melbourne

The book is a lavishly illustrated, and well written history of Loreto Mandeville, with a short history of the Loreto order. Good use of archives to illustrate the book, if not the text, and one which is sure to please its intended audience.

Walata Tyamateetj: A guide to government records about Aboriginal People in Victoria

Beautifully presented volume, which could easily have been developed into a glossy hardcover coffee table book. Great introduction by Justine and David, while Richard Broome’s historical overview is comprehensive and well written. The opportunity to present this as an interactive finding aid and exhibition has been missed, with the online version as a pdf or e publication only. The historical overview is interesting, but the work lacks punch as a finding aid.

In Good Faith: Waverley College and the Great War 1914-1918 ISBN 9780992463168 published May 2014

Lovely section about the importance of access to archives, highlighting the challenges and benefits, pp10 – 11.

Beautifully presented and illustrated, the book brings together the archives of Waverley College, through the Admission Register and other details, and the National Archives WW1 Service records. An impressive effort to explore a contemporary issue in a way that engages with the audience and presents both history and archives in a new light.

Gilliland, A., & McKemmish, S. (2014). The Role of Participatory Archives in Furthering Human Rights, Reconciliation and Recovery. In Archivio di Stato (Trieste), Mednarodni Institute Arhivskih Znanosti (Maribor), Atlanti: review for modern archival theory and practice. Trieste: Archivio di Stato.

A powerful call for archives and those described in them, and users of the archive to work together in participatory spaces to explore ideas of agency, authority, provenance, control and access. Well written and researched.

Opening Government: Open Data and Access to Information’, in ‘Integrity in Government through Records Management’

Published by: Ashgate Publishing

Following the news that the independent report had recommended that the SRSA archives and records components be separated, James Lowry’s review of the open data and Freedom of Information movements reminds us why this is not such a good idea. Beyond the ‘good records mean better archives’ mantra, Lowry reviews Ann Thurston’s involvement with open government and open data, through recordkeeping. The example of Norway, provided by way of a case study?, which uses a ‘whole of life cycle’ approach (not continuum?) emphasises the role of archives and records in ensuring governments are open, transparent and accountable. The need for records and archives to be authentic and integral is emphasised. The role of good record keeping both now and for the future of open government is seen as fundamental.

Cathy Humphreys, Gavan McCarthy, Melissa Dowling, Margaret Kertesz, and Rachel Tropea. 2014. “Improving the Archiving of Records in the Out-of-Home Care Sector.” Australian Social Work 67 (4): 509–24. doi:10.1080/0312407X.2013.856453.

Following on from the call for Participatory archives by Sue McKemmish, et al, we have this surprisingly practical response, from the Who Am I? Project. The subject and the discussion is densely written, yet the work and the benefits come through clearly. I would have thought the records continuum to be a concept too far for this non-archival audience, but I am reassured by the findings that the continuum was well understood and proved a useful tool in the project.

And finally, two great student projects! I expect to see and hear more from these two.

Viviane Hessami

To ‘reverse engineer’ and critique a Retention and Disposal Schedule for the Trust and Technology Project

Make this strike three for participatory archives. A detailed and nuanced approach to appraisal and access.

Chris Stueven

FIT5104 Assignment 4: Research Essay

Recordkeeping Issues Arising from the Public Hearings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

This is an important study that deserves to be published. It is well researched and well written, and points to a number of contemporary recordkeeping challenges.