BBC 2.0

BBC2's opening night logoThe Archives Hub’s funding body, JISC, held a one-day conference on Tuesday in Birmingham. One of the keynotes was by Tom Loosemore, of the BBC’s Future Media and Technology section. The slides and notes of Tom’s talk on the fifteen Web Principles of BBC 2.0 are worth a look.

The image of BBC2 on its opening night has been taken from The Ident Zone. The logos from the BBC’s own site can’t be shared on the web (cf. Principle #13).

Travel tip for Berlin conference

I’ll be talking about the Archives Hub at the International Standards for Digital Archives Conference which runs from 24-26 April in Berlin.

I’d booked my flights a month or so back, but discovered yesterday that British Airways had cancelled them. Great. Couldn’t alter the booking online, so I spent 10 minutes on hold on the 0870 number trying to get through to the airline to get alternative flights. Then my brighter other half used the brilliant ‘Say No to 0870‘ site to see if there was an alternative, cheaper number. Even better, there’s a freephone number: 0800 123111 and my call to that number was answered straight away (as BA have pay for those calls). Thought I’d share this just in case anyone else is in the same situation!

Petition to the Prime Minister for freeing census data

1891 census return
There’s been a lot of news coverage of the PM’s petitions website in the last week, to do with the issue of charging for use of the UK’s roads, but one of the most popular petitions at the moment is one which relates to access to UK census data:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to reduce the classified period for census data from 100 years to 70 years. This would allow census information from 1911, 1921 and 1931 to be used by the general public researching their family history in the absence (or failing memories) of their elderly relatives. Birth, Marriage and Death information is already available so why is information about where people lived hidden.

This has attracted over 21,000 signatures so far, making it the fourth most popular on the site.

The image of an 1891 census return was taken from The National Archives’ Learning Curve resource, Focus on the Census.

How green are our online services?

Picture of fig plant and monitor
The Museums Computer Group’s JISCmail list had an interesting thread yesterday discussing the environmental impact and sustainability of museums’ online services. Matthew Cock of the British Museum started it off with this question:

I was thinking about how a museum might make its activities more sustainable, in terms of reducing its carbon footprint, etc. And then I got to thinking about the museum’s website (as is my job) and the internet in general. On a large scale, how much energy does the internet use up? Is anyone aware of any figures? On a local scale, we could evaluate the energy used up by the servers hosting our site, and the PCs and infrastructure inside our Museum. But how far could we decrease these (I’m not going to even mention ‘off-setting’ as an option), even as we aim to increase our site visits, and ensure good bandwidth and zero downtime? We increasingly demand that our websites are accessible, and require of 3rd parties that they help us to achieve that – is there a place for requirements that our ISPs use renewable sources of energy?

All the servers we’re using require lots of power to run and to keep them cool. Is that offset by the trips we save people making by putting lots of the information they need online?

I wasn’t sure about this comment from Nick Poole though:

If we are talking about the environmental impact specifically of digital publishing by museums, then I would argue that this is offset by several orders of magnitude by the mostly tedious and tangential blogosphere. If we’re talking about personal choices, preventing unnecessary blogging would probably be up there at number one on my list.

Oh dear. Should we shut this blog down?


Yesterday I was in London helping to run an ‘Introduction to EAD’ training day on behalf of the Data Standards Group and the London Region of the Society of Archivists. The last exercise I did with the delegates was to look at a randomly-selected set of resources based around EAD finding aids (courtesy of the EAD Implementor Listing maintained by the EAD Roundtable of the Society of American Archivists). One of the issues that came up was to do with labelling: both of parts of archival descriptions and of search options. Some of the sites are moving away from using the standard ISAD(G)/EAD headings for the descriptions, so that ‘Scope and Content’ becomes ‘Content’, which we agreed might be more meaningful for users of the services (although possibly confusing when comparing records from different sources). The search options and consequences of following links are sometimes not obvious without going ahead and testing them out, and the results displays were sometimes similarly confusing, even to a room full of archivists.

One of the sites we were looking at was that of the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam. We became distracted by its excellent ‘Today in History’ feature, which is rather like the Archives Hub’s ‘Collection of the Month’, but with the whole year’s supply of featured documents prepared in advance. The text for the last week’s worth is available through the Instiute’s Today in History RSS feed. Today’s document is entitled ‘Painkillers for Spirit Wrestlers‘, but it was the entry for 28th February that really woke everyone up at the end of the day.

On the way home I found myself looking at another label, this time on an electricity socket on the train:

Socket for Laptops and Mobile Phones only
It made me wonder why the railway company had felt compelled to attach the label. Had commuters been bringing their hairdryers on to the train in the mornings and blow-drying their hair? Or perhaps some entrepreneur had brought an electric kettle on to the train and started selling cups of tea to the other passengers. With a large cup of tea now costing

Balancing access and profit in the cultural sector

Externaliew of the National Gallery, London
A one-day conference (Connecting Culture and Commerce: Getting the Balance Right) at the National Gallery in London on Friday examined the ways in which cultural institutions can exploit their collections for commercial gain, while making them as widely accessible as possible. Much of the emphasis was on the world of museums and galleries, but the issues discussed were very relevant to libraries and archives too.

The day began with a conversation between the BBC’s Creative Director, Alan Yentob, and the Director of the National Portrait Gallery, Sandy Nairne. They discussed the impact of technology on the way that the BBC negotiates rights with programme-makers as well as the ways in which the BBC’s audience now expect to be able to view programmes on demand, often through mobile devices. The recent licence-fee discussions were also touched upon, in terms of the new willingness by the corporation to make the programmes in its archive available.

It was interesting to hear about the hierarchy of television programmes: some being extremely popular in the short term, but with little long-term value (e.g. Strictly Come Dancing), with others, particularly documentaries and programmes about the arts, seen as having more long-term ‘view again’ appeal. The negotiations on broadcasting rights for these different categories of programme will therefore be different. The ‘Long Tail’ effect was not mentioned in the discussion, but it seems likely that there will be a demand for niche programmes in the same way as there is a long-term demand for the obsure books and movies that can now be obtained through on-line stores.

In response to a question from the floor about what cultural institutions can do to make things easier for broadcasters, Yentob suggested that linking the stand-alone websites of all the museums and galleries would be a good move. He also felt that museums should make their hidden treasures more obvious, to increase people’s interest in them. Sandy Nairne added that having the materials properly indexed and with appropriate contextual information was vitally important, sentiments which are certainly held dear by the Archives Hub team.

Over the day the importance of a clear framework and agreed common vocabulary for the description of rights, licences and intended uses was articulated on several occasions. The impossibility of small institutions being able to cope with such complex issues on their own was also mentioned more than once.

Gretchen Wagner gave a presentation about the approach of ARTstor and suggested that neither litigation nor legislation were likely to help resolve conflicts around matters of copyright (legislation being much more likely to be influenced by the wealthy publishing lobby than by the impoverished cultural sector). Her solution was for community-derived solutions such as Creative Commons and ARTstor itself to be the way forward. The Victoria and Albert Museum’s recent decision to make some images available free for academic use was mentioned several times during the day, and not always with approval.

The results of a London School of Economics research project into the economic, social and creative impacts of museums and galleries were presented by Tony Travers. The report was very positive about the contribution made by the institutions covered, but Travers expressed concern about the level of current investment into the sector and predicted that this will eventually have an impact, drawing analogies with the lack of investment in UK railways over the last 40 years.

One point I found particularly interesting during the day was in relation to the ‘Open Access’ argument for journal articles. One speaker complained that the big publishers of journals insisted that authors of articles had to sign away their copyright before publication. Charles Oppenheim of Loughborough University pointed out that if an author refuses to assign their copyright (and threatens to publish elsewhere instead), the publisher will produce a licence form instead, allowing the author to retain their rights. As authors of articles are not originally offered a choice in the matter, I’m sure many are unaware of this option (I certainly was).

Update: you can now sign a petition in support of the European Commission’s proposed Open Access Self-Archiving Mandate, which supports the principle of providing free access to publicly-funded research.

Archivaria back issues now online

I was really pleased to read on David Mattison’s The Ten Thousand Year Blog that articles published in the Association of Canadian Archivists’ journal Archivaria are now available online. The journal started in 1975 and all the articles published between then and the Spring 2002 issue are now freely available in PDF form. More recent issues are reserved for members of the association. That’s fair enough, though five years seems to me rather a long time to keep that content privileged.

Wouldn’t it be good if back issues of the Journal of the Society of Archivists could be made freely available in the same way? Journal articles are available through Taylor and Francis online, but only if you (or your institution) pay a subscription (over and above the subscription that members pay for the hard copy). These articles only go back to 1999, while the journal has been published since 1955.

Functions and activities of archive creators

A draft new standard has been published on the International Council on Archives’ website. ISAF (International Standard for Activities/Functions of Corporate bodies) is a sister standard to ISAD(G) and ISAAR (CPF), which are the standards for the description of archives and names respectively.

The description of records from a functional perspective has been becoming more common over recent years – partly a reflection of the number of times that governments and institutions re-organise their departments. The activities of a particular organisation (and the resulting records) often remain relatively constant, although the name of the section or department might change over time. ISAF provides a way of identifying these functions and linking them to the appropriate corporate entities and related records.

You can see the application of these functional descriptions in Glasgow University Archive Services’ GASHE website, where it is possible to browse the different activities and functions undertaken by the Scottish Higher Education institutions whose records are described in GASHE. The functional descriptions provide an overview of the activity (for example finance management/financial audit), with links to the various corporate entities involved in the activity (described in ISAAR authority records) and to the archives produced by the activity (described according to the ISAD(G) standard).

The deadline for comments on the draft standard is 31 March 2007.

Review of 2006

Archives Hub Christmas CardIt’s been an eventful year for the Archives Hub, so I thought I’d take this chance to select a few highlights.

Development work has been proceeding fast on the Spokes software. John Harrison (over in Liverpool), Jane and Steve have put a lot of energy into this and we’re also grateful to all the ‘early adopters’ who’ve given us so much useful feedback. I’m sure that 2007 will see widespread uptake of this software, which gives institutions a low-cost way of presenting their EAD files online. ELGAR is the Spoke installation at the John Rylands University Library here in Manchester, which has not been live for long, but which is already appearing in search engine results for searches on the names of John Rylands collections.

The Hub’s collections of the month have been brilliant this year: I think my favourite one was June’s look at Romanies and Gypsiologists, which is a great example of the way that services like the Archives Hub can bring together related collections from a range of archive-holding institutions. Thanks to Paddy for all the work that he does on this aspect of the service.

We’ve had a couple of interruptions to the Archives Hub’s service this year: a major power cut to Manchester Computing’s building in May and a hard disk failure in October. Steve ensured that the interruptions were as brief as possible!

We are a small team here, with five of us sharing an office, but all three of the men became fathers during 2006, so best wishes to all the new families for their first Christmas.

In the last week a complimentary review of the Archives Hub and other MIMAS services was published in the Guardian newspaper (scroll down the article to ‘The MIMAS Touch’), which was an excellent way to end the year.

We wish all our users, contributors and colleagues a happy Christmas and a fulfilling 2007.

The image is of the 2006 Archives Hub Christmas card, in case you didn’t get a hard copy version. Snowflakes were made using the Make a Flake site.