The National Archives Network of the UK (NAN) has been around for some time. It had a reasonably high profile around the turn of the century (that sounds weird!) when the cross-searching networks were being set up, but then in the following years its remit and purpose became less clear.
However, a great deal has been achieved over the past 10 years. The NAN projects and hubs have involved literally hundreds of archive repositories across the UK, ranging from public authorities through to the archives of small charities, and the result is that archives have had some resources to enable them to convert existing descriptions for contribution to the national projects, and that users have a number of very valuable cross-searching sites to use in order to facilitate discovery.
The vision was always to provide one gateway to search archives across the UK. Whilst this may still be a desirable vision, it may not be a realistic one, given the resources that it would involve and the issues of effective cross-searching of disparate descriptions. However, what we can do is to move towards opening up our data in ways that encourage cross-searching, sharing and working together to learn about how we can benefit users.
Over the past year, the NAN has been thinking about where it should be heading. At a recent meeting (August 2009), it was decided to change the name to the UK Archives Discovery Network, to reflect the UK-wide status of the network and to emphasise that we are about facilitating discovery for users.
The aims of the UKAD Network include working together in the best interests of archive users, surfacing descriptions, opening up data, sharing experiences and increasing links between repositories and networks. Whilst it may take some time for the Network to realise its remit, there are already benefits happening as a result of coming together, talking and sharing ideas and experiences.
I hope that the community continues down this path, because I think that it has become more important than ever to work together and really consider interoperability. Creating closed systems, however impressive they are in themselves, means continuing in a silo-based mentality, which is not truly responding to users’ expectations.
We have a social network site, which provides a fairly informal way of communicating:
There is also a JISC listserv: firstname.lastname@example.org. We encourage archivists to use this to raise any issues associated with cross-searching, data standards, use of technology and archive networks.
We hope that archivists will be keen to use the UKAD network as a means to foster connections and collaborate on projects. Here’s to the next 10 years – goodness only knows where we will have reached by then!
Image: Flickr cc. Jan Leenders