Weds 2nd March was the inaugural event of the UK Archives Discovery Network – better known as UKAD. Held at the National Archives, the UKAD Forum was a chance for archive practitioners to get together, share ideas, and hear about interesting new projects.
The day was organised into 3 tracks: A key themes for information discovery; B standards and crowdsourcing; and C demonstrating sites and systems. Plenary sessions came from John Sheridan of TNA, Richard Wallis of Talis, David Flanders of Jisc, and Teresa Doherty of the Women’s Library.
I would normally have been tweeting away, but unfortunately although I could connect to the wifi, I couldn’t get any further! So here are my edited highlights of the day (also known as ‘tweets I wish I could have sent’).
Richard Sheridan kicked off the proceedings by talking about open data. The government’s Coalition Agreement contains a commitment to open data, which obviously affects The National Archives, as repository for government data. They are using light-weight existing Linked Data vocabularies, and then specialising them for their needs. I was particularly interested to hear about the particular challenges posed by legislation.gov.uk, explained by John as ‘A changes B when C says so’: new legislation may alter existing legislation, and these changes might come into force at a time specified by a third piece of legislation…
Richard Wallis carried on the open data theme, by talking about Linked Data and Linked Open Data. His big prediction? That the impact of Linked Data will be greater than the impact of the World Wide Web it builds on. A potentially controversial statement, delivered with a very nice slide deck.
Off to the tracks, and I headed for track B to hear Victoria Peters from Strathclyde talk about ICA-AtoM. This is open source, web based archival description software, aimed at archivists and institutions with limited financial and technical resources. It looks rather nifty, and supports EAD and EAC import and export, as well as digital objects. If you want to try it out, you can download a demo from the ICA-AtoM website, or have a look at Strathclyde’s installation.
Bill Stockting from the BL gave us an update on EAD and EAC-CPF. I’m just starting to learn about EAC-CPF, so it was interesting to hear the plans for it. One of Bill’s main points was that they’re trying to move beyond purely archival concerns, and are hoping that EAC-CPF can be used in other domains, such as MARC. This is an interesting development, and I hope to hear more about it in the future! Bill also mentioned SNAC, the Social Networks and Archival Context project, which is looking at using EAC-CPF with a number of tools (including VIAF) to ‘to “unlock” descriptions of people from finding aids and link them together in exciting new ways’.
David Flanders’ post-lunch plenary provided absolutely my favourite moment of the day: David said ‘Technology will fail if not supported by the users’… and then, with perfect timing, the projector turned off. One of David’s key points was that ‘you are not your users’. You can’t be both expert and user, and you will never know exactly how what users want from your systems, and how they will use them unless you actually ask them! Get users involved in your projects and bids, and you’re likely to be much more successful.
Alexandra Eveleigh spoke in track B about ‘crowds and communities: user participation in the archives’. I especially liked her distinction between ‘crowds’ and ‘communities’ – crowds are likely to be larger, and quickly dip in and out, while communities are likely to be smaller overall, but dedicate more time and effort. She also pointed out that getting users involved isn’t a new thing – there’s always been a place in archives for those pursuing ‘serious leisure’, and bringing their own specialist knowledge and experience. A point Alexandra made that I found particularly interesting was that of being fair to your users – don’t ask them to participate and help you, if you’re not going to listen to their opinions!
I have to admit that I’d never really heard of Historypin before I saw them on the conference programme. Don’t click on that link if you have anything you need to get done today! Historypin takes old photographs, and ‘pins’ them to their exact geographic location using Google maps. You can see them in streetview, overlaid on the modern background, and it is absolutely fascinating. Photos can be contributed by anyone, and anyone can add stories or more information to photos on the site. One of the developments on the way is the ability to ‘pin’ video and audio clips in the same way.
CEO Nick Stanhope was keen to point out that Historypin is a not-for-profit – they’re in partnership with Google, but not owned by them, and they don’t ask for any rights to any of the material posted on Historypin. They’re keen to work with archives to add their photographic collections, and have a couple of things they hope to soon be able to offer archives in return (as well as increased exposure!): they’ll be allowing any archive to have an instance of Historypin embedded on the archive’s site for free. They’re also developing a smartphone app, and will be offering any archive their own branded version of the app – for free! These developments sound really exciting, and I hope we hear more from them soon.
Teresa Doherty’s closing plenary was on the re-launch of the Genesis project. As Teresa said ‘many of you will be sitting there thinking ‘this isn’t plenary material! what’s going on?”, but Teresa definitely made it a plenary worth attending. Genesis is a project which allows users to cross-search women’s studies resources from museums, libraries and archives in the UK, and Teresa made the persuasive point that while the project itself might not be revolutionary, how they’ve done it is. Genesis has had no funding since 200 – everything they’ve done since then, including the relaunch, has been done with only the in-house resources they have available. They’ve used SRU to search the Archives Hub, and managed to put together a valuable service with minimal resources.
As a librarian and a new professional, I found Teresa’s insights into the history of archival cataloguing particularly fascinating. I knew that ISAD(G) was released in 1996, but I hadn’t had any real understanding of what that meant: that before 1996, there were no standards or guidelines for archival cataloguing. Each institution would catalogue in entirely their way – a revelation to me, and completely alien to my entirely standards-based professional background! And I now have a new mantra, learned from one of Teresa’s old managers back in the early 90s:
‘We may not have a database now, but if we have structured data then one day we will have a database to put it in!’
I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better definition of the interoperability mindset.
After the day officially ended, it was off the the pub for a swift pint and wind-down. An excellent, instructive, and fun day.
Slides from the day are available on SlideShare – tag ukad.