Visit to Seven Stories
Yesterday I enjoyed a visit to Seven Stories, the centre for children’s books, and one of the contributors to our sustainable development project. One of the main reasons for my visit was to see the authority files they have created in CALM, for authors and illustrators. I also gave a quick demonstration of how to use the Hub’s new EAD Editor, which was very well recieved.
Once the business of the visit was over, Hannah (the archivist) showed me some of the treasures of the collection, which included some of Phillip Pullman’s manuscripts (in very neat handwriting!); original artwork by Jan Ormerod for her book ‘Sunshine‘; and the original illustrations for Noel Streatfeild’s ‘Ballet Shoes’. Included with these was, to my great excitement, the original copy of Pauline’s application for a stage licence, filled out (with book-appropriate information) by either Noel or her illustrator Ruth Gervis who, I discovered to my delight, was Noel Streatfeild’s sister.
I’m really pleased that Seven Stories are going to be adding their descriptions to the Hub in the near future, and I’d encourage you to have a look – I’m sure you’ll find plenty to interest you.
Hub contributors’ reflections on the current and future state of the Hub
Archival Context: entities and multiple identities
I recently took part in a Webinar (Web seminar) on the new EAC-CPF standard. This is a standard for the encoding of information about record creators: corporate bodies, persons and families. This information can add a great deal to the context of archives, supporting a more complete understanding of the records and their provenance.
Sustainable content: visits to contributors
I recently visited two of the contributors to the Archives Hub sustainable content development project. The archivists at Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL) and the BT Archives were nice enough to let me drink their tea, and see how they used CALM.
Axiell, developers of the CALM software, have kindly let us have access to a trial version of CALM to help with this project, but it
UK Archives Discovery Network is born!
Museums neglecting needs of researchers?
A recent RIN report ‘Discovering Physical Objects’ looks at how researchers find out about collections of objects relevant to their research. The report relates to museum objects rather than archives, but as ever, the Archives Hub feel that its always worth looking at library and museum studies, and seeing how they might apply to the world of archives.
Well, the results don’t seem to be very surprising. Researchers want online finding aids but are unaware of those that exist; they want contact with curatorial staff; and access to objects amongst museums is inconsistent.
I was interested to see that access to online finding aids NOW is more important than access to ‘perfect’ descriptions. The report states “technological developments that allow researchers
and others to easily add to and amend the content of these records have the potential to help all museums and other collections to improve the quality of their records.” I assume the report is reflecting what researchers have actually said here, rather than making an assumption, although the wording doesn’t make this explicit.
On the whole, the report gives the impression that museums are really rather behind the archive community in providing online access to descriptions. I’m curious about the statement that ‘only a few have the needs of researchers in mind’ when they create their online finding aids – I’d like to know more about this and the the evidence for it.
I’m surprised that curators apparently underestimate the value of online finding aids. It certainly seems that museum curators have not generally embraced technical possibilities and are not really into the spirit of collaboration and sharing.
The ways forward that the report recommends fit in quite nicely with the Hub’s ethos: to make museum descriptions open and interoperable so that people can create their own interfaces sourcing the data. We’ll keep an eye on the progress of Culture24 with interest.
Image from RIN report: Discovering Physical Objects (2009)
Let there be images!
I’m embroiled in our Enhancement Project at the moment, part of which is about enabling images to be displayed within the Archives Hub. Well, it’s actually more than that – it’s about using the tag and related tags to enable links to digital representations of archives and to enable images to be embedded at collection and item level. It’s something we’re really excited about, and we feel that it’s important to make this step in order to keep the Archives Hub moving onwards and upwards.
Due to the distributed nature of the Archives Hub, we aren’t able to use the element, but we’ve made the most of the tags on offer. We’re implementing options for embedded images; links to files; thumbnail links to full-size images; groups of images representing the same item.
We’ve made a conscious effort to implement this in a very standards-based way. I suppose you could say that the principle should be that if the EAD records are put into another system, everything should still work, and the markup does allow for this. I think that this approach is also important because we have a service where we are not creating the data – our contributors are – so we need to try to meet their various requirements whilst at the same time not knowing exactly what they will contribute. For example, we have to be aware that they might enter a large, high resolution image as a thumbnail and the system needs to be able to cope with this. I see it as a learning experience for both us and our contributors, and I think that it’s important to take that sort of perspective with the Hub.
I do hope that Hub contributors take advantage of this development. It will be great for them to be able to include images and link directly to content. We’ve made it very easy to add the necessary markup by providing the facility to do this within our new Data Creation and Editing Template, so there is no need to get down and dirty with the EAD markup unless they want to. We’ll be talking to our contributors about this at our workshops in March/April, which are already pretty much full, so that’s a good indication for us.
For more information, see our page on adding digital objects to Hub descriptions.
The Archives 2.0 Hub
No…we’re not thinking of changing the name…but I am thinking about a presentation that I’m giving on the Archives Hub in the context of ‘Archives 2.0’.
We’ve been doing a great deal of work recently that relates to the interoperability of the Hub. As part of an Enhancements Project taking place at Mimas, we are promoting data sharing, and an important part of this is work on import and export routines between services. Ideally, of course, it would be great to share data without any need for complex routines that effectively alter the structure of the data to make it suitable for different services, and remote searching of other data sources is something that we are also going to be looking at. But I guess that whilst we like to think of our service as interoperable, it’s currently still within certain limitations. It is problematic even sharing data held as EAD (Encoded Archival Description XML for archives) because EAD is really quite a permissive standard, allowing a great deal of flexibility and thus in some ways inhibiting easy data exchange. It is even more challenging to share data held in different databases. Many archives use the CALM system or the AdLib system, and we are working towards improving the export option from these systems, thus allowing archivists to have all of the advantages of an integrated management system, whilst at the same time enabling them to contribute to a cross-searching service such as the Hub.
I firmly believe that Archives 2.0, as an implementation of Web2.0 for archives, should primarily be viewed as an attitude rather than a suite of tools or services, characterised by openness, sharing, experimentation, collaboration, integration and flexibility that enables us to meet different user needs. Whilst widgets and whizzy features on websites are certainly a way to work towards this, I do think that more fundamentally we should be thinking about the data itself and how we can open this up.
Where next for the National Archives Network…?
Joy and I went to a meeting last week at The National Archives to discuss the issues surrounding the National Archives Network, and the possible future directions that the archive community might take. We came away with our heads full of ideas and issues to take forward – so a job well done I think.
The National Archives Network as a concept really began after the 1998 seminal report by the National Council on Archives, ‘Archives On-line: The Establishment of a United Kingdom Archival Network‘ (PDF file). The vision was to create a single portal to enable people to search across UK archives. However, it is not really surprising that this never materialised given the resources and technical support necessary to make such a huge concept work. The landscape has changed since the report came out, and this solution seems to be less relevant nowadays. However, the concept of a network and the importance of collaboration and sharing data have continued to be very much on the agenda.
The meeting was initiated by Nick Kingsley and Amy Warner from TNA National Advisory Services. It included representatives from The Archives Hub, AIM25, SCAN, ANW, Genesis and Janus, as well as a number of other interested archivists from various organisations. The morning was dedicated to brief talks about the various strands of the network, and it quickly emerged that we had many things in common in terms of how we were working and the sorts of development ideas that we had, and therefore there would clearly be an advantage in sharing knowledge and experience and working together to enhance our services for the benefit of our users.
In the afternoon we formed into 3 groups to talk about name authority files, searching and sharing data and also hidden archives. A number of broad points came out of these break out groups and also the discussion that followed:
We need to ensure that our catalogues are searchable by Google (no surprises there) – it looks like some of us have tackled this more successfully than others, and obviously there are issues about databases that are not accessible to Google. It is important for contributors that services like the Hub and AIM25 are available via Google, and this provides an additional motivation for contributing to such union catalogues.
We really need to come together to think more carefully about name authority files – how these are created, who is responsible for them, how we can even start to think about reaching a situation where there is actually just one name authority file for each person!
It is important to progress on the basis of exposing our data so that it can be easily shared. This means working together on various options, including import/export options and Web Services that allow machine-to-machine access to the data. There are also issues here about the format of some of the catalogues. Some work has already taken place on exporting EAD data from DS CALM and AdLib, two major archive management systems. The Archives Hub and AIM25 have also been working together with the aim of enabling contributors to add the same description to both services.
We talked about other areas where sharing our experiences and understanding would be of great benefit, including Website design and how to present collection and multi-level finding aids online. We also recognised the importance of gathering together more information about our users – what they want, what they expect, what would be of benefit to them. In the end, this is one of the keys to producing a useful and rewarding service.
The meeting was very positive, and there are plans to take some of these issues forward through working groups as well as meeting again as a whole group, maybe sharing some of the specific projects that we have been involved with and collaborating on future initiatives.