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Archive for the ‘Advocacy’ Category

Under the avuncular eye of fellow Pembrokian William Pitt the Younger, I was presented with my Churchill Fellowship Medallion by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall at the City of London Guildhall on Friday 21st May.  Unfortunately, I can’t blog the picture of me receiving my medallion; partly because its locked down by some horrible DRM system, partly because it looks as if my head has been stuck on at the wrong angle.  I also couldn’t find a decent picture of Mr Pitt’s Guildhall monument (slightly naff, it has to be said – with Britannia riding a sea-horse – apparently the design was chosen for its cheapness rather than its artistic merit).  So here instead is a picture of the much nicer Pitt statue at Pembroke, although I have often worried that a toga is really not the best costume for sitting outside on a cold Cambridge day.  No wonder his toes are blue:

;

Pitt the Younger, Pembroke College, Cambridge. Photo by James UK on flickr

I was amused by the text of the inscription¹ at the Guildhall:

HE REPAIRED THE EXHAUSTED REVENUES, HE REVIVED AND INVIGORATED
THE COMMERCE AND PROSPERITY OF THE COUNTRY;
AND HE HAD RE-ESTABLISHED THE PUBLICK CREDIT ON DEEP AND SURE FOUNDATIONS;

Sounds like he’d be a handy chap to have as Prime Minister right now really, although I’m less sure about this part (just about pulls it back in the last line):

HIS INDUSTRY WAS NOT RELAXED BY CONFIDENCE IN HIS GREAT ABILITIES;
HIS INDULGENCE TO OTHERS WAS NOT ABATED BY THE CONSCIOUSNESS 
OF HIS OWN SUPERIORITY;
HIS AMBITION WAS PURE FROM ALL SELFISH MOTIVES;

Joking aside, it was a suitably grand occasion to celebrate the incredible variety of all the recent Churchill Fellowships.  After the award ceremony, 2009 Fellow Michael Kernan sought me out.  Michael is the Honorary Historian and Archivist at the Fire Service College in Gloucestershire, and wanted advice on digital preservation with regard to the Fire Service College’s collection – both for digitised archive documents and born-digital oral histories of firemen’s exeriences of the Blitz.  So further proof, if proof were needed, of the ongoing relevance of the central tenet of my Fellowship – that we need to develop digital preservation solutions which scale down to the local level, as well as scale up to the (inter-)national.

I was able to point Michael towards the work in both digitisation and digital preservation taking place locally to him at Gloucestershire Archives.  This would not have been possible when I first put my Churchill Fellowship application together back in 2007.  Last week I also heard from a colleague at Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Archives, where similarly they are now taking some real, practical steps towards addressing digital preservation at a local level.  I would like to think that my Churchill Fellowship has played a small part in encouraging local archivist colleagues in the UK and giving them the confidence to take up the digital archives challenge.

Coincidentally, as I was picking up my Churchill medallion at the Guildhall, Viv Cothey, the developer at Gloucestershire Archives, was speaking at the seminar, ‘Practical Approaches to Electronic Records: the Academy and Beyond‘, organised by Chris Prom and held at the University of Dundee.  I was very sorry indeed to have to miss this event, but fortunately it has been covered in the blogosphere by Sue Donnelly of the LSE Archives and Simon Wilson from the University of Hull, representing another new digital preservation project, AIMS – Born Digital Collections: An Inter-Institutional Model for Stewardship.  Chris Prom will shortly be returning to Illinois at the end of his Fulbright scholarship.  I am sure that the following sentiments were expressed copiously on the day at Dundee, but I would also like to add my own personal vote of thanks to Chris for the huge contribution his project has made over the last year in discovering, developing and disseminating practical digital preservation methods and tools for ‘real’ archivists.  Safe journey home!

Edit: to add a link to Peter Cliff’s presentation from the Dundee seminar on Developing and Implementing Tools to Manage Hybrid Archives (slideshare).

¹ Copyright, apparently, George Canning – why do these people follow me about?

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On Monday I attended an event at the British Library – Digital Researcher: Managing your networks and building your profile.  I hadn’t intended to blog about it here, since the subject seemed somewhat tangential to the focus of this blog (or at least to the focus of this blog hitherto – on which more, possibly, later).

However, about halfway through the day it suddenly struck me that the communities I know best – archives, digital curation, libraries – appear to be well ahead of the crowd when it comes to using social media and exploiting the best of web2.0.  There was an enthusiastic response to Adrian Arthur’s presentation on current work at the British Library, which highlighted several archives initiatives, including @PeggyRamsay and user collaboration features in the Sound Archive, such as tagging, adding metadata and the google maps mashup.  “Cool stuff” said the tweeters in the room (despite the dodgy wifi), “sounds great” thought several of my followers, as I was re-tweeted across in the U.S. and in Australia.  Later in the day, the discussion moved on to the pros and cons of using institutional repositories, and there was even a question on how to cite a tweet, with a response pointing to JISC PoWR.  There is a twapperkeeper archive of #DR10 tweets at http://twapperkeeper.com/dr10, if you want to explore further, and some (not yet all – hopefully that’ll be fixed soon) slides are available on the Vitae website.

[Edit: to say that all the slides are now available at http://www.vitae.ac.uk/dr10]

Much of my early dabbling with social media platforms was prompted by my interest in digital preservation:  I finally caved in and joined facebook when a group was established following the DELOS Summer School I attended in 2008.  I started this blog to document my journeys around digital archives in Australia and the USA on my Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship.  I joined twitter to enable me to keep up with conferences across the world on the subject of digital curation, that I couldn’t get to, and to follow digital preservation people, that I wouldn’t dare talk to (then!).  The purpose of a feed reader finally became evident to me when the number of people blogging about things which interested me grew to such proportions that I could no longer keep up by visiting favourite websites.  Just this morning (as a result of #DR10), I have registered for FriendFeed, and discover – surprise, surprise – that most of the digital curation community are already there.

Until Monday, I suppose I took most of this activity for granted.  The open ethos which informs much code development in the digital curation field also pervades its scholarship, so that I, an ordinary archivist working for an average county record service in the north of England, could grasp the opportunity not only to find out about the latest research in the field, but also to engage in a dialogue with many of its leading figures.  Only on a few occasions can I remember encountering some peer-reviewed, subscription journal wall I could not find a way to circumnavigate.  The same is broadly true of the wider archives and library communities, and for my current research interest in user collaboration – the best example I can think of here would be the Smithsonian’s experiences with Flickr, which were published as an article in Archival Science, but also made available as a pre-print in the Smithsonian’s own research repository.

I guess I just assumed that this was how academia worked in the modern world.  But it seems that sometimes it isn’t.  Nor are my own communities of practice entirely immune to attacks of scepticism about what has been called the democratisation of knowledge production.

But the next time somebody opines in my hearing (as happened to me only last week) that libraries and archives “haven’t really got to grips with the virtual world”, I’ll be asking them what an RSS feed is.

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Digital Innovation?

Stumbled across this (anonymous – I have my theories!) posting, Getting to Grips with Digital Preservation, on the Collections Trust’s OpenCulture blog, and the point about abandoning the phrase ‘digital preservation’ has struck something of a chord.  “Digital Preservation sounds like a tautology anyway – Digital is fast-moving, energetic, ever-changing, Preservation is, well, it’s dull, isn’t it?”

One of the most alarming pieces of feedback I’ve read from the recent Society of Archivists’ digital preservation roadshow series said something along the lines of ‘its a difficult subject to make interesting, but the speakers did quite well’.  Why should it be a difficult subject to make interesting?  Digital curation is a an innovative, fast-moving discipline, with a vibrant international research base, and nobody – if they’re really being honest – knows what the right answers are.  Or at the most, they may have a few potentially right answers to a small subset of the questions.  We’re living through the greatest revolution in recorded information creation and use since probably the invention of the printing press, and a professional archivist doesn’t find that interesting?!

One of the points I make in my roadshow presentation is that all the propaganda surrounding digital preservation – all that stuff about digital black holes in history – has actually been very effective.  Only not perhaps, where we hoped it would hit home, amongst users and record creators, as amongst recordkeeping professionals ourselves.  And then there’s the problem with digital preservation theory – unfortunately, you can learn to use all the jargon in the world but  it won’t actually preserve anything. 

If the digital preservation marketing strategy is working so well amongst archives and records professionals, then god help us when it comes to trying to persuade information creators and users to take an interest!

As campaigning organisations of various other kinds take a deliberate step away from thundering scare stories towards softer advocacy strategies promoting the benefits of their chosen cause, I agree with the OpenCulture blogger that the digital preservation community needs to become much more sophisticated in the way seeks to promote itself in the quest for longer-term sustainability of digital content. 

Did you hear about the amazing success story of the re-created BBC Domesday project?

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