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Archive for February, 2009

Reading about the Foreign Office and the Treasury’s use of YouTube (see http://www.youtube.com/hmtreasuryuk and http://www.youtube.com/user/ukforeignoffice), government department bloggers, use of RSS and Flickr (for example, http://www.flickr.com/photos/foreignoffice/) in the 30 Year Rule Review got me wondering about the use of Web 2.0 services in West Yorkshire’s local authorities.

So I decided to find out!  The results of my search are, I think, quite interesting. 

All of the five Metropolitan Councils in West Yorkshire make use of RSS on their websites, except, apparently, Bradford.  The Council Press departments are getting into Twitter too, to keep local people up to date with current events in Wakefield, Kirklees and Leeds

Blogs were harder to track down – I’m sure there must be plenty of bloggers working in local government, but it seems they don’t want to identify themselves!  http://www.newgarforthlibrary.blogspot.com/ is an example of a blog being used to generate support and give updates on a council building project.  http://www.avhlblog.com/, is written by four members of staff at Aire Valley Homes, one of the arms-length management organisations (ALMOs) in Leeds, managing housing on behalf of the Council.  Blogging doesn’t appear yet to have had the take-up amongst local councillors as it has amongst MPs, although Councillor Clive Hudson’s Cleaner Greener blog is an interesting example, hosted by blogspot under the wakefield.gov.uk domain.  Local councillors’ websites (for instance, the Kirkstall Councillors in Leeds) are usually viewed as political activity, and separated from the ‘official’ council website, so this is an unusual development, which potentially raises all sorts of questions about responsibilties for the comments posted and for the longer-term maintenance of the content.

YouTube doesn’t seem too popular at present, although I did track down a Leeds Initiative channel.  What I did find were plenty of YouTube videos posted by members of the public which were highly critical of the local councils.  Perhaps the councils themselves should consider raising their YouTube presence?

There were a few examples of council Flickr sites, although not as many as I was expecting to find.  One of the most extensive is Kirklees Council’s Economic Development Service’s photostream, although Leeds cultural services departments are also experimenting – but not much content yet – see http://www.flickr.com/groups/leedsmuseumsandgalleries/, http://www.flickr.com/photos/30193899@N04/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/leedslibraries/.  Aire Valley Homes again showed up their Web 2.0 credentials with http://www.flickr.com/photos/avhl

There are also a few dabblings with facebook groups – though you could hardly say that the official facebook groups have taken off in a big way.  Kirklees Council apparently has an overwhelming 24 fans (though, to be fair, I did find also find a posting which intimated it had not been properly advertised as yet), Calderdale Council just 9 fans!  As with YouTube, there were plenty of external groups in evidence with some kind of grudge to bear against the various councils.  There were a few examples of council staff facebook groups – Kirklees Council staff with 91 fans, or Pugneys Country Park in Wakefield, for ‘staff new and old’.  Most of these staff groups seem to be unofficial.  Occasionally the messages they give out leave something to be desired, as with one (closed) council staff group profile which reads “you don’t need to be paranoid and leave the group if you think all facebookers can see it and what we are talking about.  The group can ONLY be viewed by us members.”  Hmm…

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Finally got round to reading Lord Dacre’s recently released Review of the 30 Year Rule, the legal arrangements under which central government records are transferred and made available to the public in the UK.  This affects West Yorkshire Archive Service (and most other local authority record offices in the England and Wales) as an officially recognised Place of Deposit (or POD) for central government records created locally – from organisations like the National Health Service, the courts service and so forth.

Like Steve Bailey on records management futurewatch, I’m a bit surprised by the quiet reception the recommendations seem to have had in professional archival circles, but perhaps everybody’s just slow at getting round to reading the thing, like me!  Certainly the report’s recommendations, if implemented, will have some very serious implications for PODs in terms of paper-based records, processing capacity and storage space, but that’s a debate for another forum perhaps.

But in terms of local digital records, I was delighted to see the final recommendation (8.25) that:

the appropriate central government authority does more to monitor and prompt continuing work on the preservation of electronic records that are generated by local government.

…and this in a report reviewing a piece of legislation (the Public Records Act, 1958) which strictly doesn’t even apply to local government!  Its great too to see suggestions at last that local government records should be subject to the same system of access as central government ones (7.25). Furthermore, the report’s authors believe that digital recordkeeping in local government

deserves the highest possible priority, including regular consideration by senior decision-makers alongside normal business and financial planning.

In terms of digital preservation at a local level then, bring it on!!

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All UK local archives hold collections of ‘personal papers’ – diaries, correspondence, working papers and notes scribbled by dignitaries and officials, local people ‘made good’, and even the average person-in-the-street can provide a rich seam of historical content for social history.  For many local authority archive services, personal digital archives – perhaps a few floppy disks or CDs in amongst a bigger deposit – will be the first kind of digital content they will encounter, the foundation of a future digital archives programme.

In 2007, the British Library in partnership with University College London and the University of Bristol launched the Digital Lives Project to study personal digital archives.  The project conference, held on 9-11 February, aimed to examine how libraries and archives can offer support and advice to individuals who wish to organise, preserve and transfer their personal digital archives.  

The highlights for me of the two days I attended included two presentations from Emory University.  Naomi Nelson described Emory’s born-digital personal records programme as “trying to work the problem at both ends: building the collection and developing new ways of providing access.”  This is a relatively unusual approach for the preservation community, which tends to think about preservation first, and access only second.  I was particularly interested in her ideas for facilitating social networking amongst researchers, capturing researcher annotations, or by using tags or GIS analysis.  The presentation struck a chord with me, as I’ve been looking at some similar ideas with the aim of promoting greater exploitation and use of catalogue records of our traditional collections at WYAS.  But, as Naomi pointed out, in the digital realm, it is possible to capture and share research access in ways previously not imaginable.

The second Emory presentation from Erika Farr concerned the processing of Salman Rushdie’s literary papers, which included an early Macintosh desktop, 3 laptops and an external hard drive.  I was particularly interested in the overlaps of content between successive generations of Rushdie’s computer hardware, and how the archivists at Emory had approached the resulting archival appraisal issues.  There are similarities here with the MLA Yorkshire archives we have accessioned at WYAS, where the last server operated by the organisation contained duplicate records inherited from previous systems and from former members of staff.  Also some useful ideas for providing basic access in the reading room via a network port disabled laptop.

Further case studies were presented by John Blythe, on digital ingest at the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, using a processor tool from Duke University – and their aspirations for more integrated workflow in the future.  And Gabriella Redwine from the Harry Ransom Center, on the processing, arrangement and description of the Michael Joyce papers.

I also enjoyed the panel discussion on the potential monetary value (or lack of it) of digital personal papers – do records survive because they are valued?  Or is value related to scarcity, in which case endlessly replicable digital materials might be largely value-less?  Annamaria Carusi’s philosophical paper on value in the digital economy drew out the relationship between value and trust.  She suggested that since all new technologies (for example, the printing press) are disruptive of our normal practice, we should look to learn lessons from the gradual acceptance of other new technologies into society.

The Digital Lives Project  research has revealed some insights into personal digital information management, with the hope of helping repositories guide future depositors into good information management practices.  However, like the Harry Ransom Center, we have found the response to pro-active guidance to be limited, and I felt some of the ‘educating users’ suggestions from members of the Digital Lives team to be somewhat unrealistic, at least for the kinds of local personalities likely to deposit their personal records with a local authority record office.  I am interested in the potential for technological ‘memory aids’, like the Self-Archiving Legacy Toolkit from Stanford University, and for forensic discovery of linked digital content, but suspect (hope?) on a local level, there is likely to be continuing need for retrospective detective work on description by archivists.

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