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)


Educating archivists

In a few weeks time, my colleagues and I will be meeting with the accreditation panel for our courses, drawn from ALIA, RIMPA and ASA. We’ve been elbow deep answering the questions posed, and looking at how our courses meet the very broad conceptual focus of the process.  We’re also preparing for Boards of Education to ratify the marking and, in the background, we have the University’s own student survey, Evaluate. With this all going on, you’d think that I was pretty over questions about academic qualifications for archivists.

Today, I found out about this survey from the Society of American Archivists.

I’d really like to hear what people think about the courses that we have here in Australia – use the SAA survey as a guide?  As I say to my students, be frank and open, but also respectful of other’s feelings.





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.




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

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


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.


#blogJune #bonusblog #cheating

As readers of this blog will know, I had a go at explaining some things about the OAIS model and AIPS, DIPS and SIPS with Chris Hurley the other dayDorothea Salo, an archives and library educator with a wicked sense of humour, has just tweeted about her OAIS lecture from a few years ago.

If you are struggling with OAIS and trusted repositories, not to mention models and standards, this is the one for you –

Enjoy. I did.