From our special correspondent

Jantar Mantar observatory
The 2006 Conference: New Delhi, 10-15 December of the International Planning History Society has been a very successful event. The conferences were varied and rich, and the presentation of Town and Townscape: the work and life of Thomas Sharp was well received! The participants coming from all over the world were willing to share ideas and conversations and why not, a glass of wine or an Indian beer after the intense presentations! New Delhi is a vibrant cosmopolitan city and have so many things to see and experience… and we have so little time. It is a very remarkable place that has to be visited sometime, the food was delicious and the people so nice. Jantar Mantar (photograph above) is located on Sansad Marg between Connaught Place and Rashtrapati Bhavan. It is one of the five astronomical observatories across India built in the 18th century. The name of Jantar Mantar derives from corruptions of the words ‘yantra’ (instrument) and ‘mantra’ (formula). It is a fabulous site!

Report and photo by Laura Fernandez, Project Archivist of the Thomas Sharp Project, School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape, and Special Collections, Robinson Library, Newcastle University.

Thanks for the memories

Amanda and I attended an excellent colloquium this week, ‘Memories for Life’. This was the culmination of a project that sought to bring together a diverse range of academics with the aim of understanding more about how memory works and developing the technologies to enhance it:

The expert and very excellent panelists covered aspects of device engineering, computer science, psychology and neuroscience as well as ethical and legal issues. The stuff of our digital life may be created and controlled by us or it may be held externally, evidence of our interactions with the world around us. The colloquium looked at ways this stuff is growing, questioned how it is being used and how it might be used and looked at the implications for us as individuals and as a community.

As a magician in a former life, Professor Richard Wiseman showed us how magic tricks illustrate the sleight of hand that can fool us into certain beliefs that are not in fact true. To some extent magic actually manipulates memory and shows us that we can’t necessary trust what we see (or think we see). Similarly, Richard explained how psychological experiments that he has been involved with show just how open we are to suggestion. One example he gave was a s

“For archivists with strong geeky tendencies”

Yesterday saw the first meeting of the Data Standards Group of the Society of Archivists under its new name. It was formerly known as the EAD/Data Exchange Group. The new name reflects a new, broader remit for the group, which is now providing a focus for digital preservation as well as data exchange.

This was evident in the talks that were given by Susan Thomas and Dave Thompson at the meeting, which was held at the British Library. Susan talked about the work of the Paradigm project, which is investigating the issues surrounding the acquisition and processing of personal digital materials. Susan described some of the software that has proved useful to the project, much of which has been developed for use by police investigators, whose requirements for an audit trail of untampered-with-data are similar to those of archivists.

The findings of the project are being written up into a Workbook, which is building up into an exceptional, practical, resource for anyone faced with the task of dealing with the accession of electronic records.

Dave’s talk on the UKWAC project described some of the technical and political challenges involved with the preservation of web sites and focused on the skills needed for staff involved with this sort of work. His conclusion was the title to this entry. I think this description encompasses the majority of members of the Data Standards Group.

Paolozzi's statue of Newton in the British Library's Piazza
Sir Eduardo Paolozzi’s statue of Newton in the British Library’s Piazza

From our special correspondent

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Sofia 2006: 8-10 November – Globalization, Digitization, Access, and Preservation of Cultural Heritage – has been a successful conference where the participants had the opportunity to share knowledge, learn and meet new friends. Sofia is a cultural city with extraordinary buildings like the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The Bulgarians are very friendly people and proud of sharing the beauty of their country with visitors. The high quality of their cuisine and their smooth wines with a strong tradition in the whole country was the perfect attraction to add to the Conference. Just a little note for future tourists: nodding your head in Bulgaria means No and shaking it means Yes, you can get into funny situations if you don’t remember this!

Report and photo by Laura Fernandez, Project Archivist of the Thomas Sharp Project, School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape, and Special Collections, Robinson Library, Newcastle University.

The new digital archivist meets South Park

I’ve created a PDF of the talk I gave to the Society of Archivists’ Conference, succinctly titled ‘The New Digital Archivist: from relative isolation to global interoperability’, the talk is based on the premise of an archivist who does not actually have any archives to look after! In other words, the kind of archivist who works on a service such as the Archives Hub :-)
What sorts of skills do we need and will more archivists require these sorts of skills in the future?

The talk is available from our website on the Introduction page at under ‘Presentations’.

South Park character creations are by permission of Zwerg-im-Bikini (Janina Koppel)

P.S. Our software developer is supposed to look thoughtful and not grumpy!

The Tomorrow People

I attended the Society of Archivists’ conference last week. It was quite a long and full programme, extending from Tuesday afternoon to Friday morning. The theme was ‘Education, Development and Tomorrow’s Professionals’. I used to want to be one of the Tomorrow People when I was a kid and at this conference I gave a talk on myself as a ‘tomorrow’s professional’. Well, I’m not able to teleport and I’m not telepathic, which is a shame, but I thought it was worth raising the subject of an archivists, such as myself, who do not actually look after archives, be they paper or binary. As I work for the Hub, an archival gateway, my work is all about enabling cross-searching of descriptions of archives.

I hope that I made the case for the importance of archivists being willing to become more technically-aware and the importance of understanding technical concepts and language to a degree in order to work successfully with software developers and systems support staff. Whilst the majority of archivists are not likely to need to gain an in-depth knowledge of systems, metadata standards, protocols, etc., it is going to be necessary for an increasing minority to be willing to work more closely with new technologies. In addition, we need to be aware of the way that younger people especially are working with the Web.

The morning session during which I gave my presentation was introduced with a very fine paper by Louise Craven from The National Archives talking about new ways of thinking about archives and the status of community archives and internet archives. Caroline Williams from LUCAS then talked very eloquently about the new prioritising of personal papers, which have traditionally been under-valued compared to organisational archives. Both of these papers raised the concept of context, which is so central to the way that we think about archives. The lively discussion after the session continued this theme.

We usually think in terms of archival context, but it is something that is worth thinking about in a broader framework. For instance, the whole issue of context on the Web and the way that people use Web resources is well worthy of further thought. It may be that archivists find it increasingly difficult to promote the importance of archival context in an age where users so often create their own context. In the end, documents can have any number of contexts, and this will affect the way that they are interpreted. Maybe all we can do is to ensure that the archival context is maintained, for those who want to recognise it.

Well worth going to see

The CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group Conference was fascinating: there were some excellent, thought-provoking presentations and an opportunity to see the Giant’s Causeway (described by Samuel Johnson as “worth seeing, yes, but not worth going to see”).

The slides from the presentation I gave on the Archives Hub are available in PDF format. In the talk I mentioned that we have recently changed the collecting policy of the Hub to make it possible for institutions beyond the higher and further education sectors to contribute descriptions to theRock formations at the Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland service. This formalised the existing situation, where some such institutions were already represented on the service through involvement with collaborative projects, and also brought us into line with the practice of our sister service, COPAC, which describes books and other printed materials in a range of research libraries.

Conference season

Members of the Archives Hub team will be out and about this week speaking at two conferences. Paddy and Jane are both going to be at the Society of Archivists’ Conference in Lancaster, with talks entitled Permitted use and users: fallout shelter’s sealed environment and The new Digital Archivist: From relative isolation to global interoperability, respectively. I’ll be crossing the Irish Sea to Coleraine, where I’m talking about the Archives Hub in Opening up the archives: from basement to browser in the conference of the CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group.


Spent yesterday in Wolverhampton at the Collection Description & Cultural Portals event, organised by Rachel Cockett of MLA West Midlands. I was talking about the Archives Hub and my other project, the Information Environment Service Registry (IESR): the first time ever that I’ve talked about both services at the same event.

The principle difference between the two is that IESR is supposed to be a machine-to-machine service for use by other applications, rather than being aimed at human users, which is the main focus of the Archives Hub. Although the developments we’re planning for the next few years will ensure that the Hub will be almost as interoperable as the IESR.

The collections described within IESR are electronic resources, rather than the physical collections of archives that you find in the Hub. Its main aim is to help owners of these resources advertise their existence; the developers of portals and cross-searching services can use IESR to identify relevant resources for their users, then. The IESR also holds information about the technical connection details for resources: the Hub’s Z39.50 service is described in there, for example. This helps the developers to set up their applications so that they can interact with the resources they want to provide for their users. As you see, now I’ve talked about the Hub and the IESR in the same presentation, I can’t stop myself. Will try to desist in the future and keep this blog an IESR-free zone.

Label of 'crudities' next to picture of crudités