Posts Tagged ‘ukad’

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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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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