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Posts Tagged ‘Flickr’

A round-up and some brief reflections on a number of different events and presentations I’ve attended recently:

Many of this term’s Archives and Society seminars at the Institute of Historical Research have been been on particularly pertinent subjects for me, and rather gratifyingly have attracted bumper audiences (we ran out of chairs at the last one I attended).  I’ve already blogged here about the talk on the John Latham Archive.  Presentations by Adrian Autton and Judith Bottomley from Westminster Archives, and Nora Daly and Helen Broderick from the British Library revealed an increasing awareness and interest in the use of social media in archives, qualified by a growing realisation that such initiatives are not self-sustaining, and in fact require a substantial commitment from archive staff, in time if not necessarily in financial terms, if they are to be successful.  Nora and Helen’s talk also prompted an intriguing audience debate about the ‘usefulness’ of user contributions.  To me, this translates as ‘why don’t users behave like archivists’ (or possibly like academic historians)?  But if the aim of promoting archives through social media is to attract new audiences, as is often claimed, surely we have to expect and celebrate the different perspectives these users bring to our collections.  Our professional training perhaps gives us tunnel vision when it comes to assessing the impact of users’ tagging and commenting.  Just because users’ terminology cannot be easily matched to the standardised metadata elements of ISAD(G) doesn’t mean it lacks relevance or usefulness outside of archival contexts.  Similar observations have been made in research in the museums and art galleries world, where large proportions of the tags contributed to the steve.museum prototype tagger represented terms not found in museum documentation (in one case, greater than 90% of tags were ‘new’ terms).  These new terms are viewed an unparalleled opportunity to enhance the accessibility of museum objects beyond traditional audiences, augmenting professional descriptions, not replacing them.

Releasing archival description from the artificial restraints imposed by the canon of professional practice was also a theme of my UCL colleague, Jenny Bunn’s, presentation of her PhD research, ‘The Autonomy Paradox’.  I find I can balance increased understanding about her research each time I hear her speak, with simultaneously greater confusion the deeper she gets into second order cybernetics!  Anyway, suffice it to say that I cannot possibly do justice to her research here, but anyone in north America might like to catch her at the Association of Canadian Archivists’ Conference in June.  I’m interested in the implications of her research for a move away from hierarchical or even series-system description, and whether this might facilitate a more object-oriented view of archival description.

Last term’s Archives and Society series included a talk by Nicole Schutz of Aberystwyth University about her development of a cloud computing toolkit for records management.  This was repeated at the recent meeting of the Data Standards Section of the Archives and Records Association, who had sponsored the research.  At the same meeting, I was pleased to discover that I know more than I thought I did about linked data and RDF, although I am still relieved that Jane Stevenson and the technical team behind the LOCAH Project are pioneering this approach in the UK archives sector and not me!  But I am fascinated by the potential for linked open data to draw in a radical new user community to archives, and will be watching the response to the LOCAH Project with interest.

The Linked Data theme was continued at the UKAD (UK Archives Discovery Network) Forum held at The National Archives on 2 March.  There was a real buzz to the day – so nice to attend an archives event that was full of positive energy about the future, not just ‘tough talk for tough times’.  There were three parallel tracks for most of the day, plus a busking space for short presentations and demos.  Obviously, I couldn’t get to everything, but highlights for me included:

  • the discovery of a second archives Linked Data project – the SALDA project at the University of Sussex, which is extract archival descriptions from CALM using EAD, and then transform them into Linked Data
  • Victoria Peters’ overview of the open source archival description software, ICA-AtoM – feedback welcomed, I think, on the University of Stathclyde’s new online catalogue which uses ICA-AtoM.
  • chatting about Manchester Archive + (Manchester archival images on flickr)
  • getting an insider’s view of HistoryPin and Ancestry’s World Archives Project – the latter particularly fascinating to me in the context of motivating and supporting contributors in online archival contexts

Slides from the day, including mine on Crowds and Communities in the Archives, are being gathered together on slideshare at http://www.slideshare.net/tag/ukad.  Initial feedback from the day was good, and several people have blogged about the event (including Bethan Ruddock from the ArchivesHub, a taxonomist’s viewpoint at VocabControl, Karen Watson from the SALDA Project, and The Questing Archivist).

Edit to add Kathryn Hannan’s Archives and Auteurs blog post.

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In conversation with the very excellent RunCoCo project at Oxford University last Friday, I revisited a question which will, I think, prove central to my current research – establishing trust in an online archival environment.  This is an important issue both for community archives, such as Oxford’s Great War Archive, as well as for conventional Archive Services which are taking steps to open up their data to user input in some way – whether this be (for example) by enabling user comments on the catalogue, or establishing a wiki, or perhaps making digitised images available on flickr.

A simple, practical scenario to surface some of the issues:

An image posted to flickr with minimal description.  Two flickr users, one clearly a member of staff at the Archives concerned, have posted suggested identifications.  Since they both in fact offer the same name (“Britannia Mill”), it is not immediately clear whether they both refer to the same location, or whether the second comment contradicts the first.

Which comment (if either) correctly identifies the image?  Would you be inclined to trust an identification from a member of staff more readily than you’d accept “Arkwright”‘s comment?  If so, why? Clicking on “Arkwright”‘s profile, we learn that he is a pensioner who lives locally.  Does this alter your view of the relative trustworthiness of the two comments (for all we know, the member of staff might have moved into the area just last week)? How could you test the veracity of the comments?  Whose responsibility is this? If you feel it’s the responsibility of the Archive Service in question, what resources might be available for this work? If you worked for the Archive Service, would you feel happy to incorporate information derived from these comments into the organisation’s finding aids?  Bear in mind that any would-be user searching for images of “Britannia Mills” – wherever the location – would not find this image using the organisation’s standard online catalogue: is potentially unreliable information better than no information at all? What would you consider an ‘acceptable’ quality and/or quantity level for catalogue metadata for public presentation? You might think this photograph should never have been uploaded to flickr in its current state – but even this meagre level of description has been sufficient to start an interesting – potentially useful? – discussion.  Just as a relatively poor quality scan has been ‘good enough’ to enable public access outside of the repository, although it would certainly not suffice for print publication, for example.

Such ambivalence and uncertainty about accepting user contributions is one reason that The National Archives wiki Your Archives was initially designed “to be ‘complementary’ to the organisation’s existing material” rather than fully integrated into TNA’s website.

In our discussion on Friday, we identified four ways in which online archives might try to establish trust in user contributions:

  • User Profiles: enabling users to provide background information on their expertise.  The Polar Bear Expedition Archives at the University of Michigan have experimented with this approach for registered users of the site, with apparently ambiguous results.  Similar features are available on the Your Archives wiki, although similarly, few users appear to use them, except for staff of TNA.  Surfacing the organisational allegiance of staff is of course important, but would not inherently make their comments more trustworthy (as discussed above), unless more in-depth information about their qualifications and areas of expert knowledge is also provided.  A related debate about whether or not to allow anonymous comments, and the reliability of online anonymous contributions, extends well beyond the archival domain.
  • Shifting the burden of proof to the user: offering to make corrections to organisational finding aids upon receipt of appropriate documentation.  This is another technique pioneered on the Polar Bear Expedition Archives site, but might become burdonsome given a particularly active user community.
  • Providing user statistics and/or manipulating the presentation of user contributions on the basis of user statistics: i.e. giving more weight to contributions from users whose previous comments have proved to be reliable.  Such techniques are used on Wikipedia (users can earn enhanced editing rights by gaining the trust of other editors), and user information is available from Your Archives, although somewhat cumbersome to extract – in its current form, I think it is unlikely anybody would use this information to form reliability judgements.  This technique is sometimes also combined with…
  • Rating systems: these can be either organisation-defined ratings (as, for instance, the Brooklyn Museum Collection Online – I do not know of an archives example) or user-defined (the familiar Amazon or e-Bay ranking system -but, again, I can’t think of an instance where such a system has been implemented in an archives context, although often talked about – can you?). Flickr implements a similar principle, whereby registered users can ‘favourite’ images.

A quick scan of Google Scholar reveals much research into establishing trust in the online marketplace, and of trust-building in the digital environment as a customer relationship management activity.  But are these commercial models necessarily directly applicable to information exchange in the archives environment, where the issue at stake is not so much the customer’s trust in the organisation or project concerned (although this clearly has an impact on other forms of trust) so much as the veracity and reliability of the historical information presented?

Do you have any other suggestions for techniques which could be (or are) used to establish trust in online archives, or further good examples of the four techniques outlined in archival practice?  It strikes me that all four options above rely heavily upon human interpretation and judgement calls, therefore scalability will become an issue with very large datasets (particularly those held outside of an organisational website) which the Archives may want to manipulate machine-to-machine (see this recent blog post and comments from the Brooklyn Museum).

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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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Melbourne

Melbourne

As a gentle introduction to the serious business of my Fellowship, and whilst it still feels like I have left my brain behind somewhere, I’ve spent this afternoon at the Melbourne Museum. The visit was the result of a chance last-minute connection, but fitted into a theme I shall also be looking into at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney and the Computer History Museum near San Francisco.

One of the challenges for local archives in the UK will be to encourage digital deposits. Few digital preservation projects have addressed this issue (Paradigm is a notable exception), mostly because it isn’t really a problem where there is strong archival legislation or other sticks in place to encourage deposit (such as deposit being a requirement of research funding).

Another problem is that potential depositors don’t seem to see computer-generated records as archives. For them, archives = old stuff, and computers = new stuff. At WYAS, I’ve been doing some research on the first computer purchased by the West Riding County Council in 1957 (see the photo in the blog header) as one possible way of addressing this problem, hoping that people will be interested and surprised to learn that computers have been around (even in local government!) for fifty years.

Could we as archivists learn anything from the way in which the museums profession markets technology for a non-specialist audience? Is there anything we could take from this to hook in potential depositors of digital archives?

Well, it turns out that the Museum Victoria (of which Melbourne Museum is a part) don’t display much of their historical technology collection! However, the CSIRAC, Australia’s first computer and the only complete first-generation computer still intact anywhere in the world, is on display. A (modern) computer program simulates the look and sound of the computer in action, and there is a short video showing reminiscences from those who worked with the computer, some fascinating contemporary footage, and even some music programmed on the CSIRAC.

Melbourne’s Biggest Family Album is an example of what we in the UK would call ‘community archives’ and makes extensive use of Web 2.0 technologies. More relevant perhaps to the digital preservation topic, the Visitor’s Photo Album part of the online exhibition links to the Melbourne Museum group on Flickr and allows visitors to share their photographic experiences of the exhibition. I also had a tour of the museum looking at the way ICT is used in presenting the exhibits, and discussed how Web 2.0 tools can be used to promote usage of the collections, and even bring additional visitors into the museum. Melbourne Museum are experimenting with podcasts by the curators and staff blogs. We also discussed how social tagging can be used in conjunction with traditional collections management databases to encourage visitor engagement – see STEVE – The Museum Social Tagging Project for a wealth of research into the topic. I was also introduced to the Museum’s Archivist and Records Manager, and looked at how the Museum structures and manages its own administrative records, both paper and digital.

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