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

New ways of learning

With the advent of Web 2.0 people are communicating, sharing and learning in new ways. Essentially Web 2.0 is about flexible applications that are consumer orientated, lightweight, simple, informal and interoperable. You may have come across Flickr, Del.icio.us, MySpace, and various other applications (there are zillions of them out there). Jane has recently been looking at 43things, which provides a place for people to express their interests and ambitions and to team up with others with the same goals to set targets and discuss issues.

Yesterday Jane went to a very interesting talk by Scott Wilson of CETIS about Web 2.0 and how it might influence learning within the higher and further education communities. It seems that Web 2.0 heralds a move away from heavyweight, industrial-scale services to smaller, flexible services that provide people with a greater sense of individual ownership. We also like the idea that these services blur the boundaries between learning, which can be considered formal and structured, and leisure interests. Jane’s aims on 43things include both practising yoga regularly and learning XSLT.

The Archives Hub has been looking to embrace these new technologies. We have RSS for feeds for our Collection of the Month, and needless to say we also have a blog. We are currently looking at providing modules that people can use in ‘mash-ups’. If that means nothing to you (and it didn’t mean anything to us until recently), the idea is that people combine content and services in ways that suit them. For example, rather than coming to the Hub website to search, they can incorporate a Hub search facility within their own personalised page. We have now created modules to enable people to do this for their own personalised home pages with netvibes and Google homepage.

There are clearly questions, problems and challenges with Web 2.0, but it is a reality and it is a very interesting and exciting new era. Any move towards simplicity, flexibility and the creation of global communities for sharing and learning can’t be bad.

There’s a really good introduction to Web 2.0 in the archival context in a talk by Peter Van Garderen which he gave at the recent Association of Canadian Archivists conference in St. John’s, Newfoundland. If you’ve got a spare half-hour, we can highly recommend the webcast of the talk on Peter’s site. Peter is doing a PhD on access to digital archives, and has some excellent ideas about the ways in which archives can take part in the future digital landscape.