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A quick post in support of my lonely hearts ads for this year’s UKAD Forum.  I’ve submitted two – slightly concerned this makes me look rather archivally-geekily dissolute… Anyway, these were inspired by a chance conversation on twitter a few weeks back with a couple of archivists who had signed up in January for the Code Year lessons, but had found it hard going and fallen behind.

So firstly:

  • Digital professional, likes history, cake, structure & logic, hates dust, WLTM archivists interested in learning programming, for fun and comradeship.
I’ve posted here previously that I have occasionally mulled over the possibility/feasibility of some kind of online basic programming tutorial for archivists, and this even gathered a very welcome offer of assistance.  But I hadn’t taken the idea any further for a couple of reasons (a) I wasn’t sure of demand and (b) I think its really important that any tutorial should be based around real, practical archival scenarios.  I know from experience that it can be difficult to learn tech stuff (well, perhaps any stuff) if you can’t see how you might apply it in personally relevant contexts.  So, if you’re an archivist, what I’d like to find out in the comments to this post is why you’re interested in learning how to program – specifically in which archives-related tasks you hope such skills could usefully be applied.
And secondly:
  • Tech-loving archivist seeks passionate, patient devs with GSOH to help teach archivists to code.
Because I know I couldn’t put together what I have in mind on my own, and because I’d be embarrassed to show any of my code to anyone.  Those two things are linked actually: on a good day, with a following wind, and plenty of coffee and swearing, I can cobble together some lines of code which do something useful (for my purposes).  I am all too aware I am using perhaps 5-10% of the power of any given language, but then again if it works (eventually, usually!) for my purposes, perhaps 5% is all the function I require (plus the confidence to explore and experiment).  I need any real programmers interesting in helping out to understand all of that.  The aim here would be to put together a simple tutorial for beginners based around day-to-day archival tasks.  From programmers, I’d be interested in ideas of how to put together this tutorial, including what language(s) you might recommend and why.

I have absolutely no clue whether or how this might come off.  Maybe the only UK archivists interested are the three of us who talked on twitter.  Maybe we’ll decide its too much effort to tailor a resource specifically for archivists (and I do have the small matter of a PhD thesis to write over the next few months).  Maybe we’ll find there’s already something out there that’s perfect.  Maybe the consensus will be that archivists’ time would be better spent brushing up their markup skills, or learning about database design, or practising palaeography or something.  I just don’t know, but UKAD is all about networking and getting people together from different fields but with common interests in archives.  Or, as one archivist tweeted: “Wanted to be able to have halfway-sensible conversation with techies” – now there’s a challenge!

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“I hope there always will be, room for the Amateur, and in large numbers….that our School will always find a place for the part-time student – the Local Official or other enthusiast whose Archives do not need and cannot claim the whole of his time; but who can find enough to undertake their listing or repair or photographing and wishes to acquire, within those limits, something of a professional technique.”

From The English Archivist: A New Profession, being an Inaugural Lecture for a new course in Archive Administration delivered at University College London, 14 October 1947 by Hilary Jenkinson, C.B.E., Deputy Keeper of the Records.

My italics.

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Applications are now open for the 2011 Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowships, until 5th October 2010.  As many of you know, I began this blog to document my own Churchill Fellowship in 2008, when I traveled to Australia and the USA to research local and regional responses to digital preservation.

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust was established when Sir Winston Churchill died in 1965. Thousands of people gave generously so that a living memorial to Churchill could benefit future generations of British people.  Each year approximately 100 British citizens are awarded Fellowships for a wide range of projects. Fellows must travel overseas for between 4-12 weeks.  The Trust’s objective for the Travelling Fellowships is to provide opportunities for British citizens to go abroad on a worthwhile enterprise of their own choosing, with the aim of enriching their lives by their wider experience – through the knowledge, understanding, and/or skills they gain – and, on their return, enhancing the life of their community by their example and the dissemination of the benefit of their travels.

It’s not all work and no play though.  Fellows are encouraged to make the most of this unique opportunity and to take some time out during their travels to explore their surroundings.  During my six week Fellowship, inter alia, I took a journey along the Great Ocean Road, visited the Blue Mountains, flew over Sydney in a seaplane, rode the street cars in San Francisco, and took a helicopter trip over the Grand Canyon.

Tempted?  Do get in touch with me if you’re interested and would like a further chat about what a Fellowship involves.

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A quick reminder to UK archivists that the consultation on amendments to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act draws to a close this coming Wednesday, 31st March 2010.  The proposals include some important provisions for digital preservation – including allowing the making of multiple copies of copyright works for preservation purposes – and extensions to the fair dealing provisions and to the library and archive copying regulations.

Apparently, the more responses the Intellectual Property Office sees the better, and personal responses are welcome (although obviously organisational ones with clout are even better), so if you haven’t responded yet, get writing!  You can respond by email to copyrightconsultation@ipo.gov.uk (detailed instructions are on page 7 of the consultation document).

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Last week I goaded a couple of male colleagues into posting a (deliberately provocative) thread on the archives2.0 ning forum linking the high proportion of women in the archives profession (at least this is the case in the UK) with a slow take-up of web2.0 technologies.  From the ensuing discussion, it appears nobody really agrees with this premise, so maybe we need to change the title of the thread! 

However, it did catch the attention of a colleague who works at the Dutch Institute of Women’s History, and hence has a particular interest in gender issues.  She points out that my blog header includes a picture of a woman with an early computer.  Indeed, there are two women in the header pictured with computers – so I thought as an August bank holiday kind of post, I would tell you a little about both of them.

As it happens, I know quite a lot about the woman in the oldest photograph:

Miss Rowena Wilby with the West Riding County Council's 'Electronic Brain' 1957

Miss Rowena Wilby with the West Riding County Council's 'Electronic Brain' January 1958

Her name is Rowena Wilby, and she was just 18 when this photograph was taken for a press call to announce the arrival of the West Riding County Council’s new ‘Electronic Brain’ in January 1958.  In 1955, (a full two years before a government grant provided Leeds University with its first computer), the Council had resolved “that an order be placed immediately with the British Tabulating Machine Company Ltd. for a Hollerith Electronic Computer, at an estimated cost of £28,000”[1].  The West Riding was the first local authority to order a HEC-4 (Type 1201) computer, which was duly delivered in December 1957.

As well as photographs of the new computer, which was used primarily for payroll and the occasional calculation for the Highways Department, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield also holds a diary which documents the installation of the new computer at County Hall, Wakefield.  It appears to have been something of a temperamental beast, frequently ‘jumping out of programme’ and requiring constant attention:

Diary recording the installation of the West Riding County Council's first electronic computer, 1958

Diary recording the installation of the West Riding County Council's first electronic computer, 1958

Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that Miss Wilby played a major part in the arrival of computing to West Yorkshire.  The Council minutes record the names of those chosen for special training at the premises of the British Tabulating Machine Co., and none of them are women.  It is more probable that Rowena Wilby was recruited as a photogenic candidate from amongst the ranks of a small army of female card punchers and tabulating machine operators who had been employed in the West Riding Treasurer’s Department since before the second world war:

Punching cards at County Hall, Wakefield.  Annoyingly, I can't quite read the date on the calendar in the room!  Probably 1940s or 1950s.

Punching cards at County Hall, Wakefield. Annoyingly, I can't quite read the date on the calendar in the room! Probably 1940s or 1950s.

Woman with a Holllerith Machine at County Hall, Wakefield.  Not dated. 1940s or 1950s.

Woman with a Holllerith Machine at County Hall, Wakefield. Not dated. 1940s or 1950s.

About the second woman in the blog header, I know rather less, except that this was one of a series of posed photographs taken sometime in the 1980s to illustrate the history of computing at West Yorkshire Police.  The West Riding Constabulary was one of the first departments to book computer time on the County Council’s Type 1201, and in time their needs grew to the extent that the police acquired their own computer.  This photograph shows a civilian police officer using the UNIVAC computer which was in use in the 1980s:

Civilian police officer with UNIVAC computer, 1980s

Civilian police officer with UNIVAC computer, 1980s

All images reproduced by permission of West Yorkshire Archive Service.

[1] West Riding County Council minutes 19 October 1955 – West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield: WR/52 p.242.  The ‘Purchasing Power’ calculator at http://measuringworth.com/calculators/ppoweruk/ estimates £28,000 in 1955 to be the equivalent of just over half a million pounds in today’s terms.

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I’d also failed to get round to a posting about the Society of Archivists’ Digital Preservation Roadshows, which I’ve helped to organise. These are being run around the UK and Ireland by the Society of Archivists in partnership with the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC), The National Archives, the Planets project and Cymal.

The events aim to raise awareness of the issues, to demonstrate that there are solutions that don’t involve spending large amounts of money, and to show how to take the first, small, incremental steps in this field. I’m presenting a case study at each event about WYAS’ work on the MLA Yorkshire archive.

The programme and presentations are now available from the pilot roadshow in Gloucester and last Friday’s event at York. Hope people are enjoying them – feedback from Gloucester was good, and there’ll be an article from a couple of delegates featuring in the August edition of ARC – watch this space!

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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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I’m quite pleased with the article in the Yorkshire Post today – even the things I didn’t say aren’t too far wrong!  Unfortunately they’ve mixed up the picture on the online version with the wrong caption, although one of my colleagues is captivated by the idea that when you open up your computer you’ll find a cardboard box inside it.  Another tells me that if it wasn’t for Barack Obama, I’d be on the front page… Interestingly, elsewhere, the press is reporting a surge in newspaper sales following Obama’s victory – perhaps we underestimate the public interest in the preservability of a keepsake.

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One noteworthy factor about several of the digital preservation initiatives I’m visiting during my Churchill Fellowship is how each approach is underpinned by a certain philosophical world view.

For NLA, a key challenge for the digital preservation community is sustainability:

  • The community needs to know as much about routes which haven’t worked as those which have.
  • How do the parts of the preservation puzzle fit together?  Which parts of the puzzle have still to be solved?  How do we co-ordinate the game?
  • Could we make better use of informal knowledge from enthusiasts?  We should recognise that we can’t be experts in everything (and that we can’t preserve everything – a principle most archivists should be happy enough with).
  • Perhaps we are better at digital preservation than we think we are, but merely lack confidence in presenting this to management.

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