Archives Wales Catalogues Online: Working with the Archives Hub

Stacy Capner reflects on her first six months as Project Officer for the Archives Wales Catalogues Online project, a collaboration between the Archives and Records Council Wales and the Archives Hub to increase the discoverability of Welsh archives.

For a few years now there has been a strategic goal to get Wales’ archive collections more prominently ‘out there’ using the Archives Wales website. Collection level descriptions have been made available previously through the ‘Archives Network Wales’ project, but the aim now is to create a single portal to search and access multi-level descriptions from across services. The Archives Hub has an established, standards based way of doing this, so instead of re-inventing the wheel, Archives and Records Council Wales (ARCW) saw an opportunity to work with them to achieve these aims.

The work to take data from Welsh Archives into the Archives Hub started some time ago, but it became clear that getting exports from different systems and working with different cataloguing practices required more dedicated 1-2-1 liaison. I am the project officer on a defined project which began in April to provide dedicated support to archive services across Wales and to establish requirements for uploading their catalogue data to the Archives Hub (and subsequently to Archives Wales).

This project is supported by the Welsh Government through its Museums Archives and Libraries Division, with a grant to Swansea University, a member of ARCW and a long-standing contributor to the Hub. I’m on secondment from the University to the project, which means I’ve found myself back in my northern neck of the woods working alongside the Archives Hub team. This project has come at a time when the Archives Hub have been putting a lot of thought into their processes for uploading data straight from systems, which means that the requirements for Welsh services have started to define an approach which could be applied to archive services across Scotland, England and Northern Ireland.

Here are my reflections on the project so far:

  1. Wales has fantastic collections, holding internationally significant material. They deserve to be promoted, accessible and searchable to as wide an audience as possible. Some examples-

National Library of Wales, The Survey of the Manors of Crickhowell & Tretower (inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, 2016) https://www.llgc.org.uk/blog/?p=11715

Swansea University, South Wales Coalfield Collection http://www.swansea.ac.uk/library/archive-and-research-collections/richard-burton-archives/ourcollections/southwalescoalfieldcollection/

West Glamorgan, Neath Abbey Ironworks collection (inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World register, 2014) http://www.southwales-eveningpost.co.uk/treasured-neath-port-talbot-history-recognised/story-26073633-detail/story.html

Bangor University, Penrhyn Estate papers (including material relating to the sugar plantations in Jamaica) https://www.bangor.ac.uk/archives/sugar_slate.php.en#project

Photograph of Ammanford colliers and workmen standing in front of anthracite truck, c 1900.
Photograph of Ammanford colliers and workmen standing in front of anthracite truck, c 1900. From the South Wales Coalfield Collection. Source: Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University (Ref: SWCC/PHO/COL/11)
  1. Don’t be scared of EAD ! I was. My knowledge of EAD (Encoded Archival Description) hadn’t been refreshed in 10 years, since Jane Stevenson got us to create brownie recipes using EAD tags on the archives course. So, whilst I started the task with confidence in cataloguing and cataloguing systems, my first month or so was spent learning about the Archives Hub EAD requirements. For contributors, one of the benefits of the Archives Hub is that they’ve created guidance, tools and processes so that archivists don’t have to become experts at creating or understanding EAD (though it is useful and interesting, if you get the chance!).
  1. The Archives Hub team are great! Their contributor numbers are growing (over 300 now) and their new website and editor are only going to make it easier for archive services to contribute and for researchers to search. What has struck me is that the team are all hot on data, standards and consistency, but it’s combined with a willingness to find solutions/processes which won’t put too much extra pressure on archive services wishing to contribute. It’s a balance that seems to work well and will be crucial for this project.
  1. The information gathering stage was interesting. And tiring. I visited every ARCW member archive service in Wales to introduce them to the project, find out what cataloguing systems they were using, and to review existing electronic catalogues. Most services in Wales are using Calm, though other systems currently being used include internally created databases, AtoM, Archivists Toolkit and Modes. It was really helpful to see how fields were being used, how services had adapted systems to suit them, and how all of this fitted in to Archives Hub requirements for interoperability.

    Photo of icecream
    Perks of working visits to beautiful parts of Wales.
  1. The support stage is set to be more interesting. And probably more tiring! The next 6 months will be spent providing practical support to services to help enable their catalogues to meet Archives Hub requirements. I’ll be able to address most of the smaller, service specific, tasks on site visits. The Hub team and I have identified a number of trickier ‘issues’ which we’ll hash out with further meetings and feedback from services. I can foresee further blog posts on these so briefly they are:
  • Multilingualism- most services catalogue Welsh items/collections in Welsh, English items/collections in English and multi-language item/collections bilingually. However, the method of doing this across services (and within services) isn’t consistent. We’re going to look at what can be done to ensure that descriptions in multiple languages are both human and machine readable.
  • Ref no/Alt ref- due to legacy issues with non-hierarchical catalogues, or just services personal preference, there are variations in the use of these fields. Some services use the ref no as the reference, others use the alt ref no as the reference. This isn’t a problem (as long as it’s consistent). Some services use ref no as the reference but not at series level, others use the alt ref no as the reference but not at series level. This will prove a little trickier for the Archives Hub to handle but hopefully workarounds for individual services will be found.
  • Extent fields missing- this is a mandatory field at collection level for the Archives Hub. It’s important to give researchers an idea of the size of the collection/series (it’s also an ISAD(G) required field). However, many services have hundreds of collection level descriptions which are missing extent. It’s not something I’ll practically be able to address on my support visits so the possibility of further work/funding will be looked into.
  • Indexing- this is understandably very important to the Archives Hub (they explain why here). For several archive services in Wales it seems to have been a step too far in the cataloguing process, mainly due to a lack of resource/time/training. Most have used imported terms from an old database or nothing at all. Although this will not prevent services from contributing catalogues to the Archives Hub, it does open up opportunities to think about partnership projects which might address this in the future (including looking at Welsh language index terms).

The project has made me think about how I’ve catalogued in the past. It’s made me much more aware that catalogues shouldn’t just be an inward-facing, local or an intellectual control based task; we should be constantly aware of making our descriptions more discoverable to researchers. And it’s shown me the importance of standards and consistency in achieving this (I feel like I’ve referenced consistency a lot in this one blog post; consistency is important!).  I hope that the project is also prompting Welsh archive services to reflect on the accessibility of their own cataloguing- something which might not have been looked at in many years.

There’s a lot of work to be done, both in this foundation work and further funding/projects which might come of the back of it. But hopefully in the next few years you’ll be discovering much more of Wales’ archive collections online.

Stacy Capner
Project Officer
Archives Wales Catalogues Online

Related:

Archives Hub EAD Editor – http://archiveshub.ac.uk/eadeditor/

Archives Hub contributors – list and map

 

Making your digital collections easier to discover – Jisc workshops in November

Jisc is offering two one-day workshops to help you increase the reach of your digital collections, optimise them for discovery and evaluate their impact.

‘Exploiting digital collections in learning, teaching and research’ will be held on Tuesday 15 November.

‘Making google work for your digital collections’ will be held on Tuesday 22 November.

If your organisation has digital collections, or plans to develop them, our workshops will help you maximize the reach of those collections online, demonstrate the impact of their usage, and help you build for future sustainability. They will equip you with the knowledge and skills to:

• Increase the visibility of your digital collections for use in learning, teaching and research
• Encourage collaboration between curators and users of digital collections
• Strategically promote your digital collections in appropriate contexts, for a range of audiences
• Optimise your collection for discovery via Google and other search tools
• Use web analytics to track and monitor access and usage of your digital collections
• Evaluate impact and realise the benefits of investment in your digital collection

Who should attend?

Anyone working in education and research, who manages, supports and/or promotes digital collections for teaching, learning and research. Those working in similar roles in libraries, archives and museums would also benefit.

Both workshops will be held at Jisc office, Brettenham House, London and will offer a mix of discussion, practical activities and post-workshop resources to support online resource discovery activities.

For more information and to book your place please visit http://www.jisc.ac.uk/advice/training/making-your-digital-collections-easier-to-discover.

Engineering and innovation during the First World War

Archives Hub feature for October 2014

Image of woman worker
Woman worker, making the Napier Aero engine

The centenary of the First World War is rightly being commemorated by a wide range of people and organisations. At the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, we have been investigating how the war sparked a technological battle for the best weapons, infrastructure and defences, and what this meant for engineering. New innovations include the tank and the gun mounted aircraft. The loss of workforces to the front saw women being employed in aspects of engineering, such as munitions, like never before.

Women workers

Image of women factory workers during WW1
Press photograph of women factory workers during WW1

In 1918 Olive Monkhouse presented a paper at the Institution on the employment of women in munitions, the first women to do so. The discussion that followed highlights professional thinking on women workers prevalent at the time. It was generally accepted that the women had shown themselves to be good and reliable employees but there was real concern for their welfare (due to male colleagues potential wandering hands and teasing!) and the welfare of the nation: women as homemakers and the primary care givers were seen as the linchpin of society; the glue that held the nation together. Photographs in our collections give a glimpse into the conditions and working lives of these women, showing them both on the shop floor and in research areas and therefore, working at a variety of technological and skill levels.

Technological advances

Image of Maughan's tripod for a Vicker's gun
Side elevation of Maughan’s tripod for a Vicker’s gun, showing variant gun positionings

As for technological advances, several of our records make it clear that the army and other national organisations did not always solicit, or indeed welcome, invention. Lieutenant Walton Maughan of the Tank’s Corps, in response to an article in The Times, designed a new machine gun mounting. He took the invention to the forces, pushing hard for trials- you can almost hear him shouting at them off the pages how urgent the need for the mount is. The invention was put into production and used with Vicker’s guns; it updated an obsolete mount and allowed machine guns to be more efficiently targeted. Maughan was injured during the tank advance at Cambrai. The tank being another key innovation of the war, although its full capacity was not felt until the Panzer divisions of the Second World War used it.

Image of a Destroyer fitted with a type 'N' paravane
Destroyer fitted with a type ‘N’ paravane

Other inventions include paravanes, these were hung from boats and used against marine mines to clear shipping lanes; design drawings at the Institution show how different destruction/tow methods were used and thus how quickly such items were developed. The drawings are rather exquisite and show how even technical draughtsman thought about aesthetics, as well as giving detailed information.

Image of railway elevations
Caledonian Railway elevations for the moving of heavy guns

Already existing infrastructure was also mobilised, elevations show how the railways were adapted for the carrying of heavy guns to ports etc. On the Continent, the railway transporters could themselves become integral to the gun; instead of moving these cumbersome items they were fired from the railway line. In both advancing existing designs and creating the need for innovations the war advanced engineering and this had an impact on future conflicts.

Mercedes model and 3D photography project

We hold a more curious First World War item, a model of Marshal Otto Liman von Sanders Mercedes.  Sanders was a German general who served as adviser and military commander to the Ottoman Empire during the conflict. So far not so strange but the model was made by German prisoners of war in Palestine during 1918, as a present to the British Major Pinder Commander 347 MT Coy Royal Army Service Corps. Pinder is an elusive figure and represents how searching for, even ranked officers, can be difficult. He is quite possibly EC Pinder, a Captain and temporary Major who was Mentioned in Dispatches 24th Dec 1917. The model is fine, with upholstery, a turning door handle, a bonnet that opens to reveal workings  and turning wheels. It was donated by Pinder in 1939 but has no contextual information recorded about it. The car has also been the basis of our new 3D photography project, tests of which are available (http://engineersatwar.imeche.org/docs/default-source/Resources/object.swf?sfvrsn=2). The project aims to allow access to items mainly in storage.

Honour Roll research

Image of a propeller from the Lusitania
Propeller from the Lusitania

Another key project has been researching our Honour Roll. In common with many places, we have a board with a list of names. Using this and contemporaneous journals we have been able to piece together the stories behind those names. We also added details of two civilian casualties: William Martin-Davey went down alongside Colin Stanley Fenton on RMS Lusitania when she was torpedoed by a German submarine; both were involved in munitions work. The Roll reveals that engineers worked at every level of the campaign, from privates moving transport to one of Lord Kitchener’s men who died on the HMS Hampshire with him. It also illuminates the ‘world’ aspect of the conflict, with engineers from as far afield as Canada, Nigeria and India taking part. Members were encouraged to invest in war bonds and join new military divisions that were seeking engineers.

Occupation of the Institution’s headquarters

The Institution’s headquarters building also did its bit: almost immediately, the top floor was taken over by the Prince of Wales’ National Relief Fund; then rooms on the third floor were occupied by the Office of Works for the Explosives Department (Ministry of Munitions), who soon spread to the fourth floor; next the meeting hall was occupied; and in June 1915 the whole of the building was given over to the Office of Works. It was returned in 1919.

‘Engineers at War: from battle front to home front’

To more fully tell the story of engineering during the war, we are collaborating with the Institution of Civil Engineers and The Institution of Engineering and Technology. ‘Engineers at War: from battle front to home front’ (http://engineersatwar.imeche.org ) looks at ways engineers supported the war effort through infrastructure, defence/weaponry and at home; some personal stories are also told. Pieces from guests (starting May 2015) on specific related areas will rotate. Launched officially on the 11th Nov 2014, it is available now. The war allows an opportunity for us all to reflect on how we view our records: an event with such devastating consequences makes us remember that what we sometimes view as informational transactions in fact have a human side; archives can be intimately related to people’s lives, minds and deaths.

Karyn Stuckey, Archivist
Institution of Mechanical Engineers

All images copyright the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

Kettle’s Yard Archive

Archives Hub feature for September 2014

Image of Kettle's Yard House
Kettle’s Yard House, University of Cambridge

Kettle’s Yard – A Way of Life

Kettle’s Yard is a unique and special place.  It is so much more than a house, a museum or a gallery, and it invariably leaves a lasting impression with those who visit.

Between 1958 and 1973, Kettle’s Yard was the home of Jim and Helen Ede. In the 1920s and 30s, Jim had been a curator at the Tate Gallery in London. It was during this time that he formed friendships with artists and other like-minded people, which allowed him to gather a remarkable collection of works by artists such as Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Christopher Wood, David Jones and Joan Miro, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Constantin Brancusi, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.  Ede also shared with many of his artist friends a fascination for beautiful natural objects such as pebbles, weathered wood, shells or feathers, which he also collected.

Jim carefully positioned artworks alongside furniture, glass, ceramics and natural objects, with the aim of creating a perfectly balanced whole. His vision was of a place that should not be

“an art gallery or museum, nor … simply a collection of works of art reflecting my taste or the taste of a given period. It is, rather, a continuing way of life from these last fifty years, in which stray objects, stones, glass, pictures, sculpture, in light and in space, have been used to make manifest the underlying stability.”

Image of Jim Ede's bedroom table
Jim Ede’s bedroom table – Kettle’s Yard, 
University of Cambridge. Photo: Paul Allitt.

Jim originally envisaged making a home for his collection in quite a grand house, but unable to find a suitable property, he opted instead to remodel four derelict 19th century cottages and convert them into a single house.

Kettle’s Yard was conceived with students in mind, as ‘a living place where works of art could be enjoyed . . . where young people could be at home unhampered by the greater austerity of the museum or public art gallery.’  Jim Ede kept ‘open house’ every afternoon of term, personally guiding his visitors around his home. This experience is still faithfully recreated as visitors ring the bell at the front door, and are welcomed into the house.

Image of Jim Ede
Jim Ede at Kettle’s Yard – Kettle’s Yard, 
University of Cambridge

In 1966 Jim gave the house and its contents to the University of Cambridge, though he continued to occupy and run it until 1973. In 1970, the house was extended, and an exhibition gallery added to ensure that there would always be a dynamic element to Kettle’s Yard, with space for contemporary exhibitions, music recitals and other public events.

The archive

If Kettle’s Yard is the ultimate expression of a way of life developed over 50 years and more, the archive adds an extra dimension by documenting the rich story of how that philosophy evolved.  At its core are Jim Ede’s personal papers, which chart a wide range of influences throughout his life, from his experience of World War I, through the ‘open house’ the Ede’s kept in Hampstead through the late 1920s and early 1930s and the vibrant set who attended their parties; the weekend retreats for servicemen on leave from Gibraltar at the Ede’s house in Tangier at the end of World War II; the ‘lecturer in search of an audience’ who travelled to the US in the early 1940s; the prolific correspondence not just with artist friends, but figures such as T E Lawrence; and the development of Kettle’s Yard and its collections.

Thanks to the support of the Newton Trust, we are now half way through a 2-year project to improve access to the archive and support research by producing a digital catalogue of the collections, putting in place proper preservation strategies, and establishing procedures for public access. This work builds on the foundations laid by the dedicated archive volunteers, who continue to work with us.

We have started out by publishing a high-level description of the Ede papers on the Archives Hub [http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1759-ky/ede?page=1#id1308050], to which we will add more detail over the coming year.  The catalogue already includes detailed descriptions of c.120 letters Jim Ede received from the artist and writer David Jones between 1927 and 1971, and c. 200 from the collector and patron Helen Sutherland, from 1926 to 1964.   We will soon be adding correspondence with the artists Ian Hamilton Finlay and Richard Pousette-Dart, and the museum director Perry Rathbone; papers relating to Jim Ede’s lifelong mission to promote the work of Henri Gaudier Brzeska, and the establishment and running of Kettle’s Yard; and other small collections such as Helen Sutherland’s letters to the poet Kathleen Raine.

In another exciting development, Kettle’s Yard has now received backing from the Arts Council England Capital Investment Programme Fund to create a new Education Wing and carry out major improvements to the exhibition galleries.  The plans [http://www.kettlesyard.co.uk/development/index.php] include a purpose-built archive store and dedicated space for consulting and exhibiting archive material.

One recent addition to the archive is a letter that Jim Ede wrote in 1964, in response to a thank you note from an undergraduate who had visited Kettle’s Yard.  In typical style, Jim expresses concern about whether he really is providing pleasure to others through his endeavours at Kettle’s Yard, and draws strength from the expression of gratitude.  He ends the letter ‘Do come in as often as you like – the place is only alive when used’.

Image of letter from Jim Ede
“the place is only alive when used” – Kettle’s Yard Archive, University of Cambridge

This is very true of the house, but equally true of the archive – and hopefully everything we are doing to improve physical and intellectual access to the archives, and integrate it into all aspects of the Kettle’s Yard programme, will ensure that it is well used.

Frieda Midgley, Archivist
Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge

All images copyright Ketttle’s Yard, University of Cambridge, and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

A Spring in Your Step

Archives Hub feature for May 2014

Photograph of ballet dancer, Anthony Crickmay Dance Photographs, © V&A Department of Theatre and Performance.
Anthony Crickmay Dance Photographs (THM/20), © V&A Department of Theatre and Performance, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The Archives Hub contains a range of material linked with dance – dancers, choreographers and teachers, schools and companies, ballet, contemporary and other styles of dance. This feature highlights some of these collections.

Dancers and Choreographers

Jack Cole Scrapbook Collection, 1910s-1970s, dancer and choreographer. He was known for his unpredictability and originality, grafting on elements from Indian, Oriental, Carribean, Latin American, Spanish, and African-American dance. He worked on Broadway and in Hollywood as both dancer and choreographer, being popularly remembered for his choreography for Marilyn Monroe. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb71-thm/106

Ram Gopal Collection, 1930s-2004, dancer, choreographer and teacher. Gopal was trained in classical Indian dance forms of Kathakali, Bharatra Natya and Manipuri. He wanted Eastern and Western dance forms to work together and taught Indian folk dance at the Harlequin Ballet Company. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1975-ram

Papers of Diana Gould, 1926-1996, dancer. Diana Rosamund Constance Grace Irene Gould was a British ballerina. Early in her career Sergei Diaghilev spotted her and invited her to join his Ballets Russes but he died before this could be arranged, events said to have been fictionalized in the film ‘The Red Shoes’. Diana married Sir Yehudi Menuhin in 1947.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb2228-dpdg

Papers relating to the career of Bruce McClure, 1925-1989, dancer and choreographer. Bruce McClure trained as a dancer and worked as a dancer at the Citizens’ Theatre among other places. In the 1960s he moved on to choreography including for television. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb247-stabmc

Collection of material relating to Margaret Morris, 1891-1980, ballet dancer and choreographer. She established the first national ballet company for Scotland, developed a modern dance technique and a system of movement therapy. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb247-stabq1

Harry Relph (Little Tich) volumes, 1881-1974, dancer. Known on stage as Little Tich (he was 4 foot 6 inches tall), Harry Relph became one of Britain’s most popular music-hall and variety acts. One of his best known routines was called ‘Big Boots’, which had him dancing in boots that were 28 inches long.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb71-thm/326

Shirley Wimmer Collection, 1946-1987, dancer, choreographer and dance scholar. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1701-d3

Dance schools, companies and educational organisations

Photograph of tap dancing class 1942
Tap dancing class in the gymnasium at Iowa State College, 1942. Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-00250.

Papers relating to the Pushpalata Dance Company, 1991-2005. The company focuses on Odissi and Kathak dance practices, but also performs in a number of collaborations with Western dance forms, most notably investigating the point at which Flamenco and Kathak dance meet. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1975-pu

Philip Richardson Archive Collection, Royal Academy of Dance, c1900-1963; c1760-1780; c1800-1900. Richardson’s interest in the history of dancing led him to become an avid collector of rare books on the subject. His personal library collection was bequeathed to the RAD after his death in 1963. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb3370-rad/pjsr

The Mimi Legat Collection, The Royal Ballet School, White Lodge Museum, 1900-1970. Papers relating to the Russian ballet dancers Sergei Legat, Nicolas Legat, and Nadine Nicolaeva-Legat. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb3208-rbs/mim

Rita Dow Ballet Bequest, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, 1920s-1990s. Dancer and teacher. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb2607-rd000-682

Rambert Dance Company logo
Rambert Dance Company logo

Marie Rambert collection, Rambert Dance Company, 1890s-1980s. Collection of films, costumes, photographs, correspondence, diaries, programmes, press cuttings, personal papers, autobiographical notes, awards and medals owned and collected by Dame Marie Rambert throughout her life as well as papers relating to her death and memorials. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb2228-mr

Laban Collection, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, 1918-2001. Papers and other material relating to Rudolf Laban: teacher, philosopher, dancer, choreographer, author, experimentor and the father of modern dance. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1701-lc

Ballet

Dance scrapbooks (ballet), c1951-1978. Containing newspaper cuttings of national and international ballet companies and dancers including Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1701-lz

Ekstrom Collection: Diaghilev and Stravinsky Foundation, 1902-1984. Letters, financial records, and telegrams, which give a unique insight into the day-to-day running of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb71-thm/7

Russian Ballet Collection, 1911-1914. Programmes of the Russian Ballet’s seasons at the Theatre du Chatelet, Paris, held by the University of Exeter. Included are many colour illustrations of costume designs, as well as photographs and illustrations of various dancers and text about various ballet productions. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb29-eulms158

Records of Scottish Ballet, 1952-1999. Programmes, photographs, leaflets, periodicals, press cuttings, posters and other papers relating to the Scottish Ballet and Western Ballet Theatre. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb247-gb247stasbetc

Valentine Gross Archive, 1700-1960s. Valentine Gross, a.k.a. Valentine Hugo (1887-1968), was a French art ballet enthusiast, illustrator, researcher and painter and still a student at the time of 1909 Saison Russe in Paris.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb71-thm/165

Contemporary dance

Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance logo
Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance logo
Bonnie Bird Choreography Fund Archive, 1981-2001. The Bonnie Bird Choreography Fund was established in 1984 to support and promote innovative choreographers and dance writers in Britain, Europe and America. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1701-d25

Contemporary Dance Trust Archive, 1957-1998. Consists of papers relating to the running of the Contemporary Dance Trust which incorporated the London Contemporary Dance Theatre and the London Contemporary Dance School.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb71-thm/22

Independent Dance at the Holborn Centre for Performing Arts Archive, 1989-1999. Independent Dance is an artist-led organisation which provides specialist training to contemporary dance artists. It was established in 1990 and has the longest running daily training programme in the UK.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1701-d17

Bob Lockyer Collection, 1970-1995. Photographs and scripts from various dance programmes produced for the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) by Bob Lockyer. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1701-d8

Dorothy Madden Collection, 1912-2002. Dr Dorothy Gifford Madden, former Professor Emerita of the University of Maryland, United States of America who was responsible for bringing American modern dance practice to the United Kingdom.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1701-d23

Transitions Dance Company Archive, c1985-2009. Established in 1983, Transitions Dance Company was among the first graduate performance companies in the United Kingdom. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1701-d24

Clubs, societies and other dance-related collections

Image of couple dancing, 1900s.
Lecon de Cake-Walk, 1900s.
Image in Public domain

Cambridge Dancers’ Club (Cambridge University), 1963-1983. Correspondence, minutes and other papers. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb012-ms.add.8694

Classical and Ballroom Dancing Society (University of Manchester), 1946-1948. The Society was set up in 1946 to encourage “the improvement of all forms of dancing” amongst its membership. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb133-vss.html?page=2#idp32580000

Dance theatre programmes collection, c1950-1999. A collection of over 3,000 dance theatre programmes from over 500 national and international dancers and dance companies. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1701-ld

Folk Dance Society (University of Manchester), 1948-1976. Established in 1948 to promote folk dancing, particularly the traditions of the British Isles. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb133-vss.html?page=3#idp18573024

Papers of the Foundation for Community Dance and predecessors, 1984-2011. Papers of the Foundation for Community Dance and its predecessors the Community Dance and Mime Foundation and the National Association of Dance and Mime Animateurs. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb3071-d/036

Henry Rolf Gardiner: Letters to Margaret Gardiner, 1921-1960. 34 letters from Gardiner (businessman and author) to his sister Margaret Gardiner, on his time at Cambridge. Topics include folk-dancing, morris-dancing and work on a dance-book. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb012-ms.add.8932

Els Grelinger Collection, c1928-2000. Notation scores, papers and videos of Els Grelinger, dance notator. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1701-d22

Sadler’s Wells Theatre Archive, c1712-2012. The Sadler’s Wells site has been occupied by six different theatres since 1683. The current theatre, which opened in 1998, is dedicated to international dance. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1032-s/swt

Peter Williams Collection, c1950-1980. Williams was the editor of the journal Dance and Dancers. The collection includes c40,000 black and white photographs of dancers and dance companies from all over the world. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1701-d11

Photo of Bharatanatyam male dancer.
Bharatanatyam male. Image in Public Domain.

Be my Valentine

Archives Hub Feature for February 2014

Diamond ring photo
© Image is in the public domain: Diamond ring photo [by Ruby Ran – My Ring][CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]

The Archives Hub contains a host of romantic material linked with St Valentine’s Day, including love letters, cards and poetry. This feature picks out some of these, together with less directly connected descriptions!

Hearts and Flowers

Collections

Photographs of the film The Captive Heart, starring Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson, 1946.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb71-thm/31/thm/31/2/1/8/1-20

Songs from the Heart, 1889 (Yiddish).
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb152-mss.240w/mss.240w/4/6/15

Records of the Health & Refugee Trust of South Africa (HEART), registered charity, Great Britain. 1984-1995.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1847-ghjarc/he

Declaration of Captain William Higgins regarding the Rose, 1741.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb96-ms624

Records of the Princess Margaret Rose Orthopaedic Hospital,
1926-1990s. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb239-lhb30

Girls with Eastern Rose Tea Packets. Photo, 1940s.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1499-cup/cup/1/112/20

Champagne and Chocolates

Collections

File for champagne reception at the Mansion House, 25 April 1978.
Contemporary Dance Trust Archive.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb71-thm/22/thm/22/5/7/6

Script for Winkles and Champagne by Terry Newman and William Rowbotham, 1946.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb71-thm/9/thm/9/7/164

Rose Champagne
© Image is in the public domain: Rose Champagne [By FXR (aka Soundz’FX) (originally posted to Flickr as Champagne Supernova) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]

Records for Mair & Dougall, bottlers, Glasgow. 1946-1962. They produced “Sparkling Kola Champagne”.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb0248-md

The Cadbury Papers, 1884-1970.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb150-cadbury

Certificates for Cocoa, Chocolate and Sugar Confectionary Manufacture, 1960 and 1962. Two City & Guilds of London Institute certificates presented to Hubert Walter Graham.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb2110-lsbu/lsbu/3/14/1

Photographs of groups of students, known as the “chocolate soldiers”, 1915.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb0812-hb6/hb6/4/3

Cards and Poetry

Collections

Valentine card designed by Cecil Collins for his wife Elisabeth Collins. Christmas, Birthday and Valentine cards from Cecil Collins to Elisabeth Collins, c.1930s-1980s.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb70-tga200015?page=1#id1563309

Handrawn Valentine’s card sent to Pontecorvo from his students at the University of Glasgow, 14 February 1950. Included in the papers of Guido Pellegrino Arrigo Pontecorvo (1907-1999: geneticist and Professor of Genetics, University of Glasgow).
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb0248-ugc198-9?page=1#gb-0248-ugc-198-9-1-3

Valentine rhymes. Included in manuscripts belonging to Ty’n y Braich in Dinas Mawddwy, Merioneth. 18th Century.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb222-bmsstyb

Valentine poem by Alice Williams to the Queen Mother, 1955.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb106-7ahw?page=2

Doves and Cupid

Collections

Records for the Dove Brothers Ltd, builders, 1850-1970.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1032-s/dov

Sketch of Cupid with poem (c.1811-1863). Attributed to W M Thackeray, the Victorian novelist. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb982-gp/gp/3/17

Letters from John Hadfield, The Cupid Press to John Piper, 1954-1984. Specimen page for ‘Elizabethan Love Songs’ enclosed.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb70-tga200410/tga200410/1/1/982

Diamonds and Pearls

Collections

Papers and correspondence of Robert William Ditchburn, 1903-1987. Chair of Physics at Reading University, Ditchburn was instrumental in forming the De Beers-supported international Diamond Research Committee which he chaired from its inception in 1956 until 1982.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb006-ms4621:ditchburn

Menu for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration Banquet at Beverley Assembly Rooms, 30 Jun 1897.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb050-uddmm/uddmm/x1/2/64

Receipt for a pearl necklace (1920-1970). Lady Violet Deramore Collection.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb0193-vder?page=3#id752980

Macdonald Critchley: Collections on Cora Pearl and Napoleon III, 20th Century.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb012-ms.add.8569

Records for National Union of Insurance Workers, Pearl Section, 1926-1972. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb152-mss.79/pa

Love and Romance

Collections

Photo of Barbara Cartland, 1925

© Image is in the public domain: Barbara Cartland, 1925

Papers of Barbara Cartland, 1993-1998.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb106-7bca

‘The Romance of a Plain Princess’, a children’s book, c 1973.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1840-umw/umw/01/02/06

Will you be my Valentine? Drawing
[undated]. Papers of André Charlot Archive. The drawing includes the name “Joan Charlot”, Charlot’s daughter.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb71-thm/336

Also, on a lighter note:

Ronnie Barker Collection: Valentine’s Day sketch by Gerald Wiley, hand-written script and set plan, 1966-1987.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb71-thm/407?page=5

Other Valentines

Collections

Valentine Gross Archive (a.k.a. Valentine Hugo, 1887 – 1968).
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb71-thm/165

Correspondence of Valentine Lawless, 2nd Baron Cloncurry, 1822-1848. Robert Owen Collection. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1499-roc?page=76#id1986019

Records of Dr James Valentine – Clinical Clerk, 1930-1939. Gartnavel Royal Hospital, Glasgow. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb812-hb13/hb13/20/222

Valentines of Dundee Ltd, 1896-1975.
Established in 1851, the firm began as early exponents of photography, became pioneers in the postcard industry and later developed the production of greetings cards, novelties, calendars and illustrated children’s books.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb227-ms38562

Sentimental Journey: a focus on travel in the archives

Archives Hub Feature for August 2013

Steel engraving of Capri from 1875 named Picturesque Europe
© Image is in the public domain

The season of summer often brings hopes and plans for holidays and this month we’re looking at the wider theme of travel.

The hundreds of collections relating to travel featured in the Archives Hub shed light on multiple aspects of travel, from royalty to the working classes, and encompassing touring, business, exploration and research, the work of missionaries and nomadic cultures.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page” – St. Augustine.

Travel diaries

There are a number of travel diaries recording impressions of, and experiences in, the UK, Europe and beyond from a bygone era. ‘Grand tours’, leisurely and often luxurious, were the domain of the more privileged classes, where sometimes business and pleasure were combined. In more recent times, the pursuit of knowledge, education and ideas has motivated similar educational journeys.

Collections:

Thomas Moody, journal of a tour through Switzerland and Italy, 1822.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb227-msd919.m7e22

Beatrice Webb, A summer holiday in Scotland, 1884.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb227-msda865.w4

Harriet Susan Miller: Continental Tour Journal, c. 1856.
https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/data/gb12-ms.add.6230

Watercolour paintings and photographs of Canada by an unidentified artist, 1884.
The paintings and photographs are held within a large album, providing a record of a journey by unidentified travellers to Canada from Liverpool in 1884. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb159-ms57

Extracts from the journal of William George Meredith during a trip to Spain and the East in the years 1830-1831.
Accompanied by Benjamin Disraeli, together with associated correspondence.
https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/data/gb206-brothertoncollectionms19cmeredith(1)

Diary of travels through Italy and France, compiled by Sir William Trumbull, 1664-1665.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb206-brothertoncollectionmstrvd1

Nassau William Senior Papers, 1830-1864.
Copies of journals kept by Nassau William Senior recording his visits to France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Algeria and Egypt between 1850 and 1862. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb222-bmssnws

Papers of Sir Leonard David Gammans and Lady Ann Muriel Gammans, ne Paul, 1916-1971.
Diaries, notebooks, etc. of Leonard David Gammans, 1916-1956; diaries. etc. of Ann Muriel Gammans, 1918-1970; tourist brochures and other printed material concerning South Africa, [1965-1971]. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb161-mss.brit.emp.s.506

J.R.T. Pollard Papers, 1930-1999.
The collection consists of diaries and papers of J.R.T. Pollard. The diaries include details of the author’s extensive travel, particularly in Europe and observations regarding his years of army service in Africa (1941-1945). http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb222-bmssjpol

Manuscript Itinerary of Henry III of England.
Not quite a diary, but of special note, is the late 19th Century Manuscript itinerary showing the geographical whereabouts of Henry III, where known, for all dates from 1216 to 1272. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb133-engms123

Business and work-related travel

Collections:

Records of the United Commercial Travellers’ Association (Nottingham Branch), 1908-1975.
The collection comprises accounts from 1932-1967, Committee minutes from 1908-1967 and registers from 1920-1975.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb159-ct

Papers of James Craig Henderson, fl. 1941-1950, commercial traveller.
Commercial traveller in the Middle East.
https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/data/gb248-ugd305

Papers of John Hunter, fl 1865-1912, carpenter’s mate, Royal Navy.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb248-ugc076

John William Ramsay, 13th Earl of Dalhousie: Naval Notebook, HMS Galatea , 1869-1871.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb12-ms.add.9279

Papers of John Wylie, merchant, Glasgow, Scotland, 1809-1840.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb248-ugd028

Household book of James Sharp, Archbishop of St Andrews, 1663-1666.
Household account book of James Sharp, archbishop of St Andrews, kept by his secretary George Martin of Claremont, including details of journeys to Edinburgh and London.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb227-msbx5395.s4m2

Exploration and research

Photograph of Icebergs, Greenland Sea by Frank Illingworth.
Photograph of Greenland Sea by Frank Illingworth. Copyright © Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge.

Contrasting with travel for pure pleasure, was travel for the purpose of exploration, discovery and research.

Collections:

William Gibb: Journals of Voyages in the Carnatic and the Yangtze River, 1838-1844.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb12-ms.add.9377

Johan Hjort collection, 1912.
The collection comprises of correspondence by Hjort to polar explorer William Speirs Bruce (leader of the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition, 1902-1904).
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb15-johanhjort

Michael William Leonard Tutton: Natural History Diary, 1930-1932.
Natural history diary kept while Tutton was a King’s Scholar at Eton, which was awarded the Natural History Prize, 1930-1931. The diary contains notes on occurrences of insects, especially butterflies and moths, and occasionally birds and mammals.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb12-ms.add.8769

Henry Seebohm: Ornithological Notebook.
Unfinished notes of visits to Glossop, Worksop, Ashopton and other places in Derbyshire; to the Farne Islands and Coquet Islands, Northumberland; to Flamborough Head, Yorkshire; and to Asia Minor (Constantinople and Smyrna) in 1872. The notebook also includes some watercolour sketches.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb12-ms.add.8794

Missionaries

Collections:

Memoirs of Elizabeth Thomson, 1847-1918.
Teacher, missionary, traveller and suffragette, c1914.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb248-ugc053

Diary of the Rev. David Cargill, 1 May 1842 – 29 Mar 1843.
Diary kept on his second missionary journey to Tonga.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb231-ms0911

Papers of George Murray Davidson Short, 1890-1978.
Arts graduate and missionary, Glasgow, Scotland 1927.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb248-ugc049

Alexander Gillon Macalpine.
Malawi missionary papers and linguistic studies, 1893-1964.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb237-coll-48

Records of the Calabar Mission, 1849-1969.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb237-coll-212

St Joseph’s Society Missionary Society (Mill Hill Missionaries), 1865- .
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb2254-stjosephsmissionarysociety

Romanies and Gypsies

Romany Vardo of the English Gypsies
© Image is in the public domain

Collections:

The Gypsy Collections, c.1860-1998.
The collection consists of two separately-catalogued but interlinked parts, the Gypsy Lore Society Archive (GLS) and the Scott Macfie Gypsy Collection (SMGC).
https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/data/gb141-gls%26gb141smgc

Manuscripts relating to gypsies and other travellers collected by Sir Angus Fraser, 1752-1976.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb206-brothertoncollectionmsrom-fraser2

Georg Althaus Photographs (including Hanns Weltzel Papers and Photographs).
1907 – 1960s.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb141-glsadd.ga

Letters of Jeanie Robertson, 1954-1956.
The Scottish traditional folk singer Jeanie Robertson is regarded as a seminal figure in the music culture of Scotland’s travelling people. The collection includes letters from Robertson to the poet Hamish Henderson (1919-2002).
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb237-coll-725

Miscellaneous and related information

The Records of the Traveller’s Aid Society, 1885-1939.
The Travellers’ Aid Society was initiated in 1885 by the Young Women’s Christian Association to aid female passengers arriving at ports and railway stations, where they were met by accredited station workers who reported to the Travellers Aid Society Committee.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb106-4/tas

Cold Comfort, The Franklin expeditions (previous feature).
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/features/jul04.shtml

Charles Darwin and the Beagle Collections in the University of Cambridge: a Voyage Round the World (previous feature).
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/features/darwin.shtml

Romanies and Gypsiologists (previous feature).
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/features/jun06.shtml

200 years of railways (previous feature).
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/features/railways.shtml

Sea-Fever: Britain’s maritime heritage (previous feature).
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/features/apr05.shtml

Also of interest

Perthshire Cant: Secret language of Scottish travellers, BBC History:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/0/22874080

20 Gorgeous Posters From a Time When Travel Was Glamorous blog post:
http://gizmodo.com/20-gorgeous-posters-from-a-time-when-travel-was-glamoro-758243140

Save

A Web of Possibilities

“Will you browse around my website”, said the spider to the fly,image of spider from Wellcome images
‘Tis the most attractive website that you ever did spy”

All of us want to provide attractive websites for our users. Of course, we’d like to think its not really the spider/fly kind of relationship! But we want to entice and draw people in and often we will see our own website as our key web presence; a place for people to come to to find out about who we are, what we have and what we do and to look at our wares, so to speak.

The recently released ‘Discovery’ vision is to provide UK researchers with “easy, flexible and ongoing access to content and services through a collaborative, aggregated and integrated resource discovery and delivery framework which is comprehensive, open and sustainable.”  Does this have any implications for the institutional or small-scale website, usually designed to provide access to the archives (or descriptions of archives) held at one particular location?

Over the years that I’ve been working in archives, announcements about new websites for searching the archives of a specific institution, or the outputs of a specific project have been commonplace.  A website is one of the obvious outputs from time-bound projects, where the aim is often to catalogue, digitise or exhibit certain groups of archives held in particular repositories. These websites are often great sources of in-depth information about archives. Institutional websites are particularly useful when a researcher really wants to gain a detailed understanding of what a particular repository holds.

However, such sites can present a view that is based more around the provider of the information rather than the receiver. It could be argued that a researcher is less likely to want to use the archives because they are held at a particular location, apart from for reasons of convenience, and more likely to want archives around their subject area, and it is likely that the archives which are relevant to them will be held in a whole range of archives, museums and libraries (and elsewhere). By only looking at the archives held at a particular location, even if that location is a specialist repository that represents the researcher’s key subject area, the researcher may not think about what they might be missing.

Project-based websites may group together archives in ways that  benefit researchers more obviously, because they are often aggregating around a specific subject area. For example, making available the descriptions and links to digital archives around a research topic. Value may be added through rich metadata, community engagement and functionality aimed at a particular audience. Sometimes the downside here is the sustainability angle: projects necessarily have a limited life-span, and archives do not. They are ever-changing and growing and descriptions need to be updated all the time.

So, what is the answer? Is this too much of a silo-type approach, creating a large number of websites, each dedicated to a small selection of archives?

Broader aggregation seems like one obvious answer. It allows for descriptions of archives (or other resources) to be brought together so that researchers have the benefit of searching across collections, bringing together archives by subject, place, person or event, regardless of where they are held (although there is going to be some kind of limit here, even if it is at the national level).

You might say that the Archives Hub is likely to be in favour of aggregation! But it’s definitely not all pros and no cons. Aggregations may offer a powerful search functionality for intellectually bringing together archives based on a researcher’s interests, but in some ways there is a greater risk around what is omitted. When searching a website that represents one repository, a researcher is more likely to understand that other archives may exist that are relevant to them. Aggregations tend to promote themselves as comprehensive – if not explicitly then implicitly – which this creates expectation that cannot ever fully be met. They can also raise issues around measuring impact and around licensing. There is also the risk of a proliferation of aggregation services, further confusing the resource discovery landscape.

Is the ideal of broad inter-disciplinary cross-searching going to be impeded if we compete to create different aggregations? Yes, maybe it will be to some extent, but I think that it is an inevitability, and it is valid for different gateways to service different audiences’ needs. It is important to acknowledge that researchers in different disciplines and at different levels have their own needs, their own specific requirements, and we cannot fulfill all of these needs by only presenting data in one  way.

One thing I think is critical here is for all archive repositories to think about the benefits of employing recognised and widely-used standards, so that they can effectively interoperate and so that the data remains relevant and sustainable over time. This is the key to ensuring that data is agile, and can meet different needs by being used in different systems and contexts.

I do wonder if maybe there is a point at which aggregations become unwieldy, politically complicated and technically challenging. That point seems to be when they start to search across countries. I am still unsure about whether Europeana can overcome this kind of problem, although I can see why many people are so keen on making it work. But at present, it is extremely patchy, and , for example, getting no results for texts held in Britain relating to Shakespeare is not really a good result. But then, maybe the point is that Europeana is there for those that want to use it, and it is doing ground-breaking work in its focus on European culture; the Archives Hub exists for those interested in UK Archives and a more cross-disciplinary approach; Genesis exists for those interested in womens studies; for those interested in the Co-operative movement, there is the National Co-operative Archive site; for those researching film, the British Film Institute website and archive is of enormous value.

So, is the important principle here that diversity is good because people are diverse and have diverse needs? Probably so. But at the same time, we need to remember that to get this landscape, we need to encourage data sharing and  avoid duplication of effort. Once you have created descriptions of your archive collections you should be able to put them onto your own website, contribute them to a project website, and provide them to an aggregator.

Ideally, we would be looking at one single store of descriptions, because as soon as you contribute to different systems, if they also store the data, you have version control issues. The ability to remotely search different data sources would seem to be the right solution here. However, there are substantial challenges. The Archives Hub has been designed to work in a distributed way, so that institutions can host their own data. The distributed searching does present challenges, but it certainly works pretty well. The problem is that running a server, operating system and software can actually be a challenge for institutions that do not have the requisite IT skills dedicated to the archives department.  Institutions that hold their own data have it in a great variety of formats. So, what we really need is the ability for the Archives Hub to seamlessly search CALM, AdLib, MODES, ICA AtoM, Access, Excel, Word, etc. and bring back meaningful results. Hmmm….

The business case for opening up data seems clear. Project like Open Bibliographic Data have helped progress the thinking in this arena and raised issues and solutions around barriers such as licensing.   But it seems clear that we need to understand more about the benefits of aggregation, and the different approaches to aggregation, and we need to get more buy-in for this kind of approach.  Does aggregation allow users to do things that they could not do otherwise? Does it save them time? Does it promote innovation? Does it skew the landscape? Does it create problems for institutions because of the problems with branding and measuring impact?  Furthermore, how can we actually measure these kinds of potential benefits and issues?

Websites that offer access to archives (or descriptions of archives) based on where they are located and based on they body that administers them have an important role to play. But it seems to me that it is vital that these archives are also represented on a more national, and even international stage. We need to bring our collections to where the users are. We need to ensure that Google and other search engines find our descriptions. We need to put archives at the heart of research, alongside other resources.

I remember once talking about the Archives Hub to an archivist who ran a specialist repository. She said that she didn’t think it was worth contributing to the Hub because they already had their own catalogue. That is, researchers could find what they wanted via the institute’s own catalogue on their own system, available in their reading room. She didn’t seem to be aware that this could only happen if they knew that the archive was there, and that this view rested on the idea that researchers would be happy to repeat that kind of search on a number of other systems. Archives are often about a whole wealth of different subjects – we all know how often there are unexpected and exciting finds. A specialist repository for any one discipline will have archives that reach way beyond that discipline into all sorts of fascinating areas.

It seems undeniable that data is going to become more open and that we should promote flexible access through a number of discovery routes, but this throws up challenges around version control, measuring impact, brand and identity. We always have to be cognisant of funding, and widely disseminated data does not always help us with a funding case because we lose control of the statistics around use and any kind of correlation between visits to our website and bums on seats. Maybe one of the challenges is therefore around persuading top-level managers and funders to look at this whole area with a new perspective?

Arrive in Wonder, Leave in Wisdom!

Roll Up Roll Up for Open Cuture!

image of open culture banner

I arrived at the Open Culture conference just in time to grab a cup of tea and dash along to hear Malcolm Howitt’s talk on Axiell. He focussed on Axiell Arena,
software, a new content management option. It provides for a more interactive experience, complete with tag cloud and the ability to add comments.  It looked pretty good, very much in line with where things are going in terms of these kinds of websites. However, from our point of view as an aggregator what we are keen to see is an API to the data to enable others to engage with it more flexibly, something that has yet to happen on CALM. Maybe this raises the whole issue of the challenge of open data to commercial suppliers – it does rather appear to threaten their business model, and I can see that this would be of concern to them.

The second presentation I saw was from Deep Visuals on ViziQuest, ‘a new way to explore digital collections’. They used natural language processing to extract the concepts from the text.  So the system uses existing metadata in order to enable semantic browsing.  The idea is to provide a different kind of search experience, where the user can meander through a collection of images. You can flip over image to find metadata about the image, which is quite neat.

Deep Visuals have worked with the Scott Poloar Research Institute, one of the Hub contributors, and there are some wonderful images of expeditions. For some images, the archivist has recorded an audio and there are also some film clips  – I saw a great clip on board a ship bound for the arctic.  Currently the software is only available for users within the institute, but it may be made available through the website. You can see a small demo here: http://www.deepvisuals.com/Demo/.  In addition, ViziQuest have taken some expedition diaries and recorded some audio with actors.

The morning was rounded off with a talk about Culture Grid. The importance of Culture Grid being part of national and international initiatives was emphasised, and there was reference to RDTF (now UKDiscovery) and the whole HE agenda, which was good to hear.

Currently Culture Grid contains about 1.65 million item records, mostly referring to images. There are also about 10,000 collection records and 8,000 institution records. We were told that ‘Cuture Grid site and search is not a destination in itself.’  This slightly surprised me, as I did think that this was one of its purposes, albeit only one and maybe not the primary one.

I was impressed by the way Culture Grid is positioning itself as a means to facilitate the use of data by others. Culture Grid has APIs and we were told that a growing range of users do take advantage of this. They are also getting very involved in developer days as a means to encourage innovation. I think this is something archives should engage with, otherwise we will get left behind in the innovative exploration of how to make the most of our data.

Whilst I am very much in agreement with the aims of opening up data, I am not entirely convinced by the Culture Grid website. It does appear to prioritise digital materials – it works much better where there are images. The links back to resources often don’t work. I did a search for ‘victorian theatre’ and first of all the default search was ‘images only’, excluding ‘collections’ and non-images based materials. Then, two of the first four links to resources I clicked on got an internal server error.  I found at least six links that didn’t work on the first two pages of results. Obviously this is not Culture Grid’s fault, but it is certainly a problem. I also wonder about how intuitive it is, with resource links going to so many different types of websites, and at so many different levels of granularity. Quite often you don’t go straight to the resource: one of the links I clicked on from an item went to the Coventry Council homepage, another went to the ‘how do I?’ page of the University of Hull. I asked about the broken links and didn’t feel that the reply was entirely convincing – I think it should be addressed more comprehensively.  I think if the Hub was to contribute descriptions to Culture Grid one of my main concerns would be around updating descriptions. I’m also not sure about the need to create additional metadata. I can’t quite get the reasoning behind the Culture Grid metadata, and the way that the link on the title goes to the ‘resource’ (the website of the contributor), but the ‘view details’ link goes to the Culture Grid metadata, which generally provides a cut down version of the description.

The afternoon was dedicated to Spectrum, something I know only a little about other than that it is widely used as a framework by museums in their collections care. Spectrum is, we were told, used in about 7,000 institutions across Europe. Nick Poole, the CEO of the Collections Trust, emphasised that Spectrum should be a collaborative venture, so everyone needs to engage in it.  Yet maybe it has become so embedded that people don’t think about it enough.  The new Spectrum 4 is seen as providing an opportunity to re-engage the community.

There was an interesting take on Spectrum by the first speaker as a means to actually put people off starting museums…but he was making the important point that a standard can show people what is involved – and that it is a non-trivial task to look after museum collections. I got the impression that Spectrum has been a way to get curators on board with the idea of standards and pulling together to work more professionally and consistently.

Alex Dawson spoke about the latest edition of Spectrum in her capacity as one of the co-editors. Spectrum is a consensus about collections management procedures, about consistency, accountability and a common vocabulary. It is not supposed to be prescriptive; it is the ‘what’ more than the ‘how’.  It has 21 procedures describing collections management activities, of which 8 are considered primary. We were told that the link to accreditation was very important in the history of spectrum, and other milestones have included the introduction of rights management procedures, establishing a clear link between procedures and policy and greater recognition of the importance of the knowledge held within museums (through Spectrum Knowledge).

There has been an acknowledgement that Spectrum started to become more cumbersome and information could get buried within this very large entity, it was also starting to get out of date in certain areas. I can see how Spectrum 4.0 is an improvement on this because it contains clear flow diagrams that bring out the processes much more obviously and shows related procedures. It also separates out the procedural and information requirements.  The advisory content has been stripped out (and put into online Spectrum Advice) in order to concentrate on procedural steps through flow diagrams.

The consultation on Spectrum 4 was opened up via a wiki: http://standards.collectionslink.org.uk/index.php/Collections_Link_Standards_wiki

The main day of the conference included some really great talks. Bill Thompson from the BBC was one highlight.  He talked about ‘A Killer App for Culture’, starting with musings on the meaning of ‘culture’. He talked about digital minds in this generation, which may change the answers that we come up with and may change the meaning of words. Shifting word sense can present us with challenges when we are in the business of data and information. He made the point convincingly that the world is NOT digital, as we often state; it is reassuringly still organic. But digital DATA is everywhere. It is an age in which we experience a digital culture, and maybe the ways that we do this are actually having an effect on the way that we think. Bill cited the book ‘Proust and the Squid’ by Maryanne Wolf which I would also throroughly recommend. Wolf looks at the way that learning to read impacts on the ways that we think.

Matthew Cock from the British Museum and Andrew Caspari from the BBC presented on A History of the World in 100 Objects.  We were told how this initiative gradually increased in scale to become enjoyed by millions of people across the world. It was a very collaborative venture between the BBC and British Museum. There were over 2.5 million visits to the site, often around 40,000 in a week when the programme was not on air.  It was interesting to hear that the mobile presence was seen as secondary at the time, but probably should have been prioritised more. ‘Permanent availability portable and for free’ was absolutely key said Andrew Caspari.

It was an initiative that really brought museums together – maybe not surprising with such a high profile initiative.  The project was about sharing and a different kind of partnership defined by mutual benefit, and most importantly, it was about closing the gap between public engagement and collection research. It obviously really touched people’s imaginations and they felt a sense of being part of something.  It does seem like a very successful combination of good fun, entertainment and learning. However,  we were told that there were issues. Maybe the digital capacity of museums was overestimated and longer lead in times were required than the BBC provided. Also, the upload to the site needed to be simpler.

Cock and Caspari referred to the way the idea spread, with things like ‘A history of the world in 100 sheds’. Should you be worried that this might trivialize the process, or should you be pleased that it caught on, stirred imaginations and controversy and debate?

David Fleming of National Museums Liverpool followed with an equally absorbing talk about museums and human rights. He said museums should be more aware that they are constructs of the society they are in. They should mirror society. They should give up on the idea of being neutral and engage in issues.  He is involved in the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, and this is a campaigning museum. Should others follow suit? It makes museums an active part of society – both historical and contemporary. Fleming felt that a visit to the museum should stir people and make them want to get involved.

He gave a number of examples of museums where human rights are at the heart of the matter, including:

District Six in South Africa: http://www.districtsix.co.za – very much a campaigning museum that does not talk about collections so much as stories and lives, using emotion to engage people.

The  Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide Victims in Cambodia, a building that was once Pol Pot’s secret prison. The photographs on this site are hugely affecting and harrowing. Just seemingly ordinary portrait shots of prisoners, but with an extraordinary power to them.

The Lithuanian Museum of Genocide Victims . This is a museum where visitors can get a very realistic experience of what it was like to live under the Soviet regime. Apparently this experience, using actors as Soviet guards, has led to some visitors passing out, but the older generation are passionate to ensure that their children understand what it was like at this time.

We moved on to a panel session on Hacking in Arts & Culture was of particular interest to me.  Linda Ellis from Black Country Museums gave a very positive assessment of how the experience of a hack day had been for them. She referred to the value of nurturing new relationships with developers, and took us through some of the ideas that were created.  You can read a bit more about this and about putting on a hack day on Dan Slee’s blog: https://danslee.wordpress.com/tag/black-country-museums/

What we need now is a Culture Hack day that focuses on archival data – this may be more challenging because the focus is text not images, but it could give us some great new perspectives on our data. According to Rachel Coldicutt, a digital consultant, we need beanbags, beer, pizza, good spirit and maybe a few prizes to hand out….. Doesn’t seem too hard. ….oh, and some developers of course :-)

Some final thoughts around a project at the New Walsall Art Gallery: Neil Lebeter told us that the idea was to make the voice of the artist key. In this case, Bob and Roberta Smith. The project centered around the Jacob Epstein archive and found ways to bring the archive alive through art – you can see some interesting video clips about this process on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/newartgallerywalsall.

I found Open Culture was billed as a conference meeting the needs of museums, libraries and archives, but I do think it was essentially a museums conference with a nod to archives and maybe a slight nod to libraries. This is not to criticise the conference, which was very well presented, and there really were some great speakers, but maybe it points to the challenges of bringing together the three domains?  In the end, they are different domains with different needs and interests as well as areas of mutual interest. Clearly there is overlap, and there absolutely should be collaboration, but maybe there should also be an acknowledgement that we are also different communities, and we have some differing requirements and perspectives.

The long tail of archives

For many of us, the importance of measuring use and impact are coming more to the fore. Funders are often keen for indications of the ‘value’ of archives and typically look for charts and graphs that can provide some kind of summary of users’ interaction with archives. For the Hub, in the most direct sense this is about use of the descriptions of archives, although, of course, we are just as interested in whether researchers go on to consult archives directly.

The pattern of use of archives and the implications of this are complex. The long tail has become a phrase that is banded around quite a bit, and to my mind it is one of those concepts that is quite useful. It was popularised by Chris Anderson, more in relation to the commercial world, relating to selling a smaller number of items in large quantities and a large number of items in relatively small quantities, and you can read more about it in Wikipedia: Long Tail.

If we think about books, we might assume that a smaller number of popular titles are widely used and use gradually declines until you reach a long tail of low use.  We might think that the pattern, very broadly speaking, is a bit like this:

I attended a talk at the UKSG Conference recently, where Terry Bucknell from the University of Liverpool was talking about the purchase of e-books for the University. He had some very whizzy and really quite absorbing statistics that analysed the use of packages of e-books. It seems that it is hard to predict use and that whilst a new package of e-books is the most widely used for that particular year, the older packages are still significantly used, and indeed, some books that are barely used one year may be get significant use in subsequent years. The patterns of use suggested that patron-driven acquisition, or selection of titles after one year of use, were not as good value as e-book packages, although you cannot accurately measure the return on investment after only one year.

Archives are kind of like this only a whole lot more tricky to deal with.

For archives, my feeling is that the graph is more like this:

No prizes for guessing which are the vastly more used collections*. We have highly used collections for popular research activities, archives of high-profile people and archives around significant events, and it is often these that are digitised in order to protect the originals.  But it is true to say that a large proportion of archives are in the ‘long tail’ of use.

I think this can be a problem for us. Use statistics can dominate perceptions of value and influence funding, often very profoundly. Yet I think that this is completely the wrong way to look at it. Direct use does not correlate to value, not within archives.

I think there are a number of factors at work here:

  • The use of archives is intimately bound up with how they are catalogued. If you have a collection of letters, and just describe it thus, maybe with the main author (or archival ‘creator’), and covering dates, then researchers will not know that there are letters by a number of very interesting people, about a whole range of subjects of great interest for all sorts of topics. Often, archivists don’t have the time to create rich metadata (I remember the frustrations of this lack of time). Having worked in the British Architectural Library, I remember that we had great stuff for social history, history of empire, in particular the Raj in India, urban planning, environment, even the history of kitchen design or local food and diet habits. We also had a wonderful collection of photographs, and I recall the Photographs Curator showing me some really early and beautiful photographs of Central Park in New York. Its these kind of surprises that are the stuff of archives, but we don’t often have time to bring these out in the cataoguing process.
  • The use of a particular archive collection may be low, and yet the value gained from the insights may be very substantial. Knowledge gained as a result of research in the archives may feed into one author’s book or article, and from there it may disseminate widely. So, one use of one archive may have high value over time. If you fed this kind of benefit in as indirect use, the pattern would look very different.
  • The ‘value’ of archives may change over time. Going back to my experience at the British Architectural Library, I remember being told how the drawings of Sir Edwin Lutyens were not considered particularly valuable back in the 1950s – he wasn’t very fashionable after his death. Yet now he is recognised as a truly great architect, and his archives and drawings are highly prized.
  • The use of archives may change over time. Just because an archive has not been used for some time – maybe only a couple of researchers have accessed it in a number of years – it doesn’t mean that it won’t become much more heavily used. I think that research, just like many things, is subject to fashions to some extent, and how we choose to look back at our past changes over time. This is one of the challenges for archivists in terms of acquisitions. What is required is a long-term perspective but organisations all too often operate within short-term perspectives.
  • Some archives may never be highly used, maybe due to various difficulties interpreting them. I suppose Latin manuscripts come to mind, but also other manuscripts that are very hard to read and those pesky letters that are cross-written. Also, some things are specialised and require professional or some kind of expert knowledge in order to understand them. This does not make them less valuable. It’s easy to think of examples of great and vital works of our history that are not easy for most people to read or interpret, but that are hugely important.
  • Some archives are very fragile, and therefore use has to be limited. Digitising may be one option, but this is costly, and there are a lot of fragile archives out there.

I’m sure I could think of some more – any thoughts on this are very welcome!

So, I think that it’s important for archivists to demonstrate that whilst there may be a long tail to archives, the value of many of those archives that are not highly used can be very substantial. I realise that this is not an easy task, but we do have one invention in our favour: The Web. Not to mention the standards that we have built up over time to help us to describe our content. The long tail graph does demonstrate to us that the ‘long tail of use’ can be just as much, or more, than the ‘high column of use’. The use of the Web is vital in making this into a reality, because researchers all over the world can discover archives that were previously extremely hard to surface.  That does still leave the problems of not being able to catalogue in depth in order to help surface content…the experiments with crowd-sourcing and user generated content may prove to be one answer. I’d like to see a study of this – have the experiments with asking researchers to help us catalogue our content proved successful if we take a broad overview? I’ve seen some feedback on individual projects, such as OldWeather:

“Old Weather (http://www.oldweather.org) is now more than 50% complete, with more than 400,000 pages transcribed and 80 ships’ logs finished. This is all thanks to the incredible effort that you have all put in. The science and history teams are constantly amazed at the work you’re all doing.” (a recent email sent out to the contributors, or ‘ship captains’).

If anyone has any thoughts or stories about demonstrating value, we’d love to hear your views.

* family history sources