Joy and I went to a meeting last week at The National Archives to discuss the issues surrounding the National Archives Network, and the possible future directions that the archive community might take. We came away with our heads full of ideas and issues to take forward – so a job well done I think.
The National Archives Network as a concept really began after the 1998 seminal report by the National Council on Archives, ‘Archives On-line: The Establishment of a United Kingdom Archival Network‘ (PDF file). The vision was to create a single portal to enable people to search across UK archives. However, it is not really surprising that this never materialised given the resources and technical support necessary to make such a huge concept work. The landscape has changed since the report came out, and this solution seems to be less relevant nowadays. However, the concept of a network and the importance of collaboration and sharing data have continued to be very much on the agenda.
The meeting was initiated by Nick Kingsley and Amy Warner from TNA National Advisory Services. It included representatives from The Archives Hub, AIM25, SCAN, ANW, Genesis and Janus, as well as a number of other interested archivists from various organisations. The morning was dedicated to brief talks about the various strands of the network, and it quickly emerged that we had many things in common in terms of how we were working and the sorts of development ideas that we had, and therefore there would clearly be an advantage in sharing knowledge and experience and working together to enhance our services for the benefit of our users.
In the afternoon we formed into 3 groups to talk about name authority files, searching and sharing data and also hidden archives. A number of broad points came out of these break out groups and also the discussion that followed:
We need to ensure that our catalogues are searchable by Google (no surprises there) – it looks like some of us have tackled this more successfully than others, and obviously there are issues about databases that are not accessible to Google. It is important for contributors that services like the Hub and AIM25 are available via Google, and this provides an additional motivation for contributing to such union catalogues.
We really need to come together to think more carefully about name authority files – how these are created, who is responsible for them, how we can even start to think about reaching a situation where there is actually just one name authority file for each person!
It is important to progress on the basis of exposing our data so that it can be easily shared. This means working together on various options, including import/export options and Web Services that allow machine-to-machine access to the data. There are also issues here about the format of some of the catalogues. Some work has already taken place on exporting EAD data from DS CALM and AdLib, two major archive management systems. The Archives Hub and AIM25 have also been working together with the aim of enabling contributors to add the same description to both services.
We talked about other areas where sharing our experiences and understanding would be of great benefit, including Website design and how to present collection and multi-level finding aids online. We also recognised the importance of gathering together more information about our users – what they want, what they expect, what would be of benefit to them. In the end, this is one of the keys to producing a useful and rewarding service.
The meeting was very positive, and there are plans to take some of these issues forward through working groups as well as meeting again as a whole group, maybe sharing some of the specific projects that we have been involved with and collaborating on future initiatives.