New Horizons

The Horizon Report is an excellent way to get a sense of emerging and developing technologies, and it is worth thinking about what they might mean for archives. In this post I concentrate on the key trends that are featured for the next 1-4 years.

Electronic Books

“[E]lectronic books are beginning to demonstrate capabilities that challenge the very definition of reading.”

Electronic books promise not just convenience, but also new ways of thinking about reading. They encourage interactive, social and collaborative approaches. Does this have any implications for archives? Most archives are paper-based and do not lend themselves so well to this kind of approach. We think of consulting archives as a lone pursuit, in a reading room under carefully controlled conditions. The report refers to “a dynamic journey that changes every time it is opened.” An appealing thought, and indeed we might feel that archives also offer this kind of journey. Increasingly we have digital and born-digital archives, but could these form part of a more collaborative and interactive way of learning? Issues of authenticity, integrity and intellectual property may mitigate against this.

Whilst we may find it hard to see how archives may not become a part of this world – we are talking about archives, after all, and not published works – there may still be implications around the ways that people start to think about reading. Will students become hooked on rich and visual interfaces and collaborative opportunities that simply do not exist with archives?

Mobiles

“According to a recent report from mobile manufacturer Ericsson, studies show that by 2015, 80% of people accessing the Internet will be doing so from mobile devices.”

Mobiles are a major part of the portable society. Archive repositories can benefit from this, ensuring that people can always browse their holdings, wherever they are. We need to be involved in mobile innovation. As the report states: “Cultural heritage organizations and museums are also turning to mobiles to educate and connect with audiences.” We should surely see mobiles as an opportunity, not a problem for us, as we increasingly seek to broaden our user-base and connect with other domains. Take a look at the ‘100 most educational iPhone Apps‘. They include a search of US historical documents with highlighting and the ability to add notes.

Augmented Reality

We have tended to think of augmented reality as something suitable for marketing, social engagement and amuseument. But it is starting to provide new opportunities for learning and changing expectations around access to information. This could provide opportunities for archives to engage with users in new ways, providing a more visual experience. Could it provide a means to help people understand what archives are all about? Stanford University in the US has created an island in Second Life. The unique content that the archives provide was seen as something that could draw visitors back and showcase the extensive resources available. Furthermore, they created a ‘virtual archives’, giving researchers an opportunity to explore the strong rooms, discover and use collections and collaborate in real time.

The main issue around using these kinds of tools is going to be the lack of skills and resources. But we may still have a conflict of opinions over whether virtual reality really has a place in ‘serious research’. Does it trivialize archives and research? Or does it provide one means to engage younger potential users of archives in a way that is dynamic and entertaining? I think that it is a very positive thing if used appropriately. The Horizon Report refers to several examples of its use in cultural heritage: the Getty Museum are providing ‘access’ to a 17th century collector’s cabinet of wonders; the Natural History Museum in London are using it in an interactive video about dinosaurs; the Museum of London are using it to allow people to view 3D historical images overlaid on contemporary buildings. Another example is the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, using AR to show the environment around the Museum 100 years ago. In fact, AR does seem to lend itself particularly well to teaching people about the history around them.

Game-Based Learning

Another example of blending entertainment with learning, games are becoming increasingly popular in higher education, and the Serious Games movement is an indication of how far we have come from the notion that games are simply superficial entertainment. “[R]esearch shows that players readily connect with learning material when doing so will help them achieve personally meaningful goals.” For archives, which are often poorly understood by people, I think that gaming may be one possible means to explain what archives are, how to navigate through them and find what may be of interest, and how to use them. How about something a bit like this Smithsonian initiative, Ghosts of a Chance, but for archives?

These technologies offer new ways of learning, but they also suggest that our whole approach to learning is changing. As archivists, we need to think about how this might impact upon us and how we can use it to our advantage. Archives are all about society, identity and story. Surely, therefore, these technologies should give us opportunities to show just how much they are a part of our life experiences.

Democracy 2.0 in the US

Democracy 2.0: A Case Study in Open Government from across the pond.

I have just listened to a presentation by David Ferriero – 10th Archivist of the US at the National Archives and Records Administration (www.archives.gov). He was talking about democracy, about being open and participatory. He contrasted the very early days of American independence, where there was a high level of secrecy in Government, to the current climate, where those who make decisions are not isolated from the citizens, and citizens’ voices can be heard. He referred to this as ‘Democracy 2.0.’ Barack Obama set out his open government directive right from the off, promoting the principles of more transparecy, participation and collaboration. Ferriero talked about seeking to inform, educate and maybe even entertain citizens.

The backbone of open government must be good record keeping. Records document individual rights and entitlements, record actions of government and who is responsible and accountable. They give us the history of the national experience. Only 2-3 percent of records created in conducting the public’s business are considered to be of permanent value and therefore kept in the US archives (still, obviously, a mind-bogglingly huge amount of stuff).

Ferriero emphasised the need to ensure that Federal records of historical value are in good order. But there are still too many records are at risk of damange or loss. A recent review of record keeping in Federal Agencies showed that 4 out of 5 agencies are at high or moderate risk of improper destruction of records. Cost effective IT solutions are required to address this, and NARA is looking to lead in this area. An electronic records archive (ERA) is being build in partnership with the private sector to hold all the Federal Government’s electronic records, and Ferriero sees this as the priority and the most important challenge for the National Archives. He felt that new kinds of records create new challenges, that is, records created as result of social media, and an ERA needs to be able to take care of these types of records.

Change in processes and change in culture is required to meet the new online landscape. The whole commerce of information has changed permanently and we need to be good stewards of the new dynamic. There needs to be better engagement with employees and with the public. NARA are looking to improve their online capabilities to improve the delivery of records. They are developing their catalogue into a social catalogue that allows users to contribute and using Web 2.0 tools to allow greater communication between staff. They are also going beyond their own website to reach users where they are, using YouTube, Twitter, blogs, etc. They intend to develop comprehensive social media strategy (which will be well worth reading if it does emerge).

The US Government are publishing high value datasets on data.gov and Ferriero said that they are eager to see the response to this, in terms of the innovative use of data. They are searching for ways to step of digitisation – looking at what to prioritise and how to accomplish the most with least cost. They want to provide open government leadership to Federal Agencies, for example, mediating in disputes relating to FoI. There are around 2,000 different security classification guides in the government, which makes record processing very comlex. There is a big backlog of documents waiting to be declassified, some pertaining to World War Two, the Koeran War and the Vietnam War, so they will be of great interest to researchers.

Ferriero also talked about the challenge of making the distiction between business records and personal records. He felt that the personal has to be there, within the archive, to help future researchers recreate the full picture of events.

There is still a problem with Government Agencies all doing their own thing. The Chief Information officers of all agencies have a Council (the CIO Council). The records managers have the Records Management Council. But it is a case of never the twain shall meet at the moment. Even within Agencies the two often have nothing to do with eachother….there are now plans to address this!

This was a presentation that ticked many of the boxes of concern – the importance of addressing electronic records, new media, bringing people together to create efficiencies and engaging the citizens. But then, of course,  it’s easy to do that in words….

Opening up UK archives data (II)

This is the second post relating to the recent UKAD meeting, concentrating on the brainstorming that took place around digital and digitised archives.

The driving forces that were identified:

  • Crowd-sourcing – metadata generation
  • Attracts funding
  • Promotes access
  • Open up wealth of possibility
  • Remain relevant
  • Meet user expectations
  • Centres of excellence in digitisation – common approach
  • Collections already digitised are hidden – in silos – return on investment
  • Potential to capture richer information about users
  • Potential to draw people in
  • Increasing ‘digitisation on demand’ – needs to be harnessed effectively
  • Increasing amount of born-digital media need to be made accessible online – drive to discoverability of digital materials
  • Changing profession – becoming more confident in this area as a result of above
  • Web makes it much easier

The group felt that it all added up to a resouding “we have to do this!”.

The resistors included:

  • Systems don’t talk to each other
  • Insufficient metadata of legacy digitised material – retroconversion – cost*
  • Copyright/IPR – complex, lots of local specificity
  • Work needed to marry user generated content and standard metadata
  • Community resistance to UGC
  • Vast amounts of content – prioritisation is intellectually challenging
  • Bulk digitisation is happening commercially – restricted rights
  • Clashes with business models – or perception that it does (e.g. models based on commercial digitisation assume increasing return on investment; the opposite may occur if the most commercially enticing material digitised first)
  • Fears – grounded in truth – could affect funding: diminish user/visitor numbers on site, diminishes value of on-site expertise
  • Challenges in bringing catalogue data and digital object systems together
  • Query: not ultimately cost effective
  • Cost
  • Web makes it easier – but it’s hard to keep up…

The group looked at actions that are required:

1. Accrue evidence of user demand and current behaviour

  • Identify user communities (family, academic, student researchers)
  • Secondary research of existing analysis
  • Market research
  • Produce cost-benefit analysis – impact on site visits?

2. Systems talking to each other

  • People talking to each other about systems!
  • Develop definitive list of systems in use – a picture of UK situation > crosswalks/maps between (see Library world)
  • Needs to cover both catalogue and digital object management systems
  • Discmap?

3. Copyright/IPR

  • Produce decision tree to help archivists make decisions – risk assessment but beware risk aversion
  • Encourage sharing of experience/lessons learned
  • Gathering what has already been done

4. Impact of digitised resources

  • Gather existing articles/research
  • Share practice in assessing impact in differing contexts

5. Metadata and costs

  • Establish costs of differing levels of metadata generation
  • Identify how much data needs to be converted into digital metadata (how much is not online?)

6. Identify quick wins!

  • Working together to create user cases and examples, sharing experience, getting onvolved in Resource Discovery Task Force and linking projects to this

Of course, the gathering of such evidence can help us to see where we are and where we need to go, and also how to get there. But implementation is quite another thing. The UKAD Network is hoping to build upon this work to encourage collaborative initiatives and the sharing of expertise and experiences. We are considering events and training opportunities that might help. We do feel that it will be useful to create a stronger presence for UKAD, as a means to provide a focus for this work, and we are looking at low-cost options to do this.

Opening up UK archives data (i)

UKAD meetingOn 14th April the UK Archives Discovery Network (UKAD) met in Manchester to discuss challenges surrounding the opening up of archival data. We were looking to develop our understanding of the key issues driving or preventing these developments and to start pulling together an action plan. We also talked about digital and digitised archives, which I’ll blog about in a separate post.

We split into two groups to brainstorm driving and restraining factors. There was no chance of drying up – we all had plenty to say, and of course, the restraining influences grew rapidly, threatening to outstrip the drivers by quite some way. However, in the end we had a good balance, and we felt that the day had been very positive, although summing up the position is one thing, implementing actions is quite another. However, we hope to start putting some things into place that will help to take us along the road to promoting archival discovery.

We are looking to create a UKAD website, which will help us to promote UKAD to archivists and others, and we’ll let you know about that as soon as we can.

With thanks to Melinda Haunton from The National Archives, who, as the UKAD secretary, galliantly pulled together the large number of flip charts and made them into something coherent, here is a summary of the points.

Our driving forces included:

  • Perceived user demand
  • Time saving – easier to search, more effective customer service
  • Opportunities – for use of data and for benefiting from others’ use
  • Government policy drivers in this direction (data.gov.uk is evidence of Govt buy-in)
  • Rich data – think about opportunities to make the most of events, people, places, concepts within the finding aids
  • Serendipitous collaboration – working together is a big driver – a common way to hear about initiatives and experiences of others that could be of benefit to you
  • Potential to get new users – eg via GIS data connected to archives data – users who may not think of using archives
  • Standards exist to drive openness
  • Sustainability of resources – less tied to a single service if data is open
  • Enrichment and adding value – others can enrich our data
  • Archives making use of others’ open data – sector benefits from open data as well as contributing to it
  • Connecting archives – new narratives – data can coalesce around events, people, places, subjects
  • Exposure of holdings – especially for small repositories who have limited resources to promote themselves
  • Unlikely to be restrictions on opening up descriptive data (unlike digital/digitised archives)
  • Could glean evidence of impact – ways to gather usage statistics are increasingly effective – provide evidence of benefits
  • Opening up could reach out to excluded communities more effectively (different routes into archives)
  • Potential for wider impact – e.g. in demonstrating impact of academic research (RAE)

Our restraining forces included:

  • Lack of evidence of user demand – it may not be what we expect/assume
  • APIs – where they exist, are they used? (possibly not)
  • Users’ understanding what they’ll get – you won’t normally get direct access to archives through descriptions
  • Proprietary software providers – may not ‘play ball’
  • Archivists understanding of open data issues – need understanding to get buy-in
  • Access to developer expertise – archivists frequently find getting IT or developer support very difficult
  • Machine to machine – not visual, not easy to sell – need to understand the potential
  • Messy data – all the issues we are so aware of with different data sources; the balkanisation of data
  • Backlogs – if its not catalogued, we can’t open it up
  • Sustainability of resources
  • Data becoming out of date as it gets further from the original source – end up reusing out-of-date data
  • Contractual embargoes – e.g. involving commercial partners e.g. software providers
  • Dependencies  – potentially data may be dependent on other things – e.g. attached to schema, source code, IPR
  • Evidence of impact – can be difficult to get this and prove the worth of open data
  • Branding – or lack of it on reused open data – may affect funding if funders can’t see direct benefits
  • Loss of control causes fear – once its open anything can happen
  • Lack of ‘archival developers’ – very few developers with some understanding of archives and archival issues

Our Actions included:

  • Working together – collaborative evidence gathering and sharing, not competing – use examples/evidence from others
  • Evidence – case studies, knowing what researchers are requesting, evidence for advantages of digitising
  • Understanding funders – shared understanding of funders can help with internal funding
  • Archives developer days – bringing developers together as has been done with Dev8D – collaborative approach to programming
  • Strategy for approaching software vendors to get buy-in – appeal to their commercial interests, a concerted approach from aggregators may be more effective
  • UK based evaluation of archival cataloguing systems – still know little about percentages using different systems and evaluation of systems
  • Conference/workshops to raise awareness of buy in including practical demonstrations – must be interactive and practical and encourage sharing of projects, experiences and ideas