A review of Archival Futures (Caroline Brown, ed.) by Adrian Cunningham

Longtime friend of the Recordkeeping Roundtable Adrian Cunningham worked for 36 years in collecting archives, government archives and in university settings and research projects. During that time his work traversed almost all functional areas of archival endeavour, with his latter-day focus being on digital recordkeeping and digital archiving. He has published widely and now operates as an independent consultant and is a member of ISO TC46/SC11 Committee on Records Management and Archives and as a member of the International Council on Archives Experts Group on Archival Description.


This review was commissioned by The American Archivist, which will publish a version of the review that is about half this length in Volume 82, Issue 1 (Spring/Summer 2019). The author is grateful to the Recordkeeping Roundtable for agreeing to publish the full, unabridged review. The book in question stirred more thoughts and reactions than could be squeezed into the 1500 word limit of a review for The American Archivist.

Predicting the future is a courageous, perhaps foolhardy, undertaking. A friend of mine once proposed to write a book called “Past Futures” highlighting some of the more ludicrous attempts to predict the future that were ridiculed by hindsight. Nevertheless, preparing for what the future might bring is prudent—even if it just takes the form of trying to comprehend the changing world around us and our place in it. As William Gibson once said, “the future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed” (p. 17). To help us grapple with our possible futures Caroline Brown, an educator and university archivist from the University of Dundee, has assembled a short, varied, but eminently readable collection of essays from an impressive range of leading international archival thinkers.

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Recordkeeping Roundcasts Episode 5: Personal data, privacy and looking ahead

EllenHeadshot-15In part 2 of our chat with Ellen Broad, we talks about privacy and changing attitudes to data about – and of – ourselves.  Ellen’s book, Made by Humans: The AI Condition is available from Melbourne University Press, or from all the big online book retailers. You can read Ellen’s bio after the transcript.

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Recordkeeping Roundcasts Episode 4: AI, accountability and archives

51CJrKcgvFL._SY346_In this latest episode of Recordkeeping Roundcasts, we talk to Ellen Broad, author of Made by Humans: The AI Condition, about the way that rapidly advancing technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning are being deployed in business, government and society, and the wide ranging implications of their adoption. Ellen and the Roundtable’s Cassie Findlay discuss on real world results flowing from machine decision making, accountability for the use of these systems, the role of recordkeeping and archives, and changing perceptions of  privacy in the data economy.

Made by Humans is available from Melbourne University Press, or from all the big online book retailers. You can read Ellen’s bio after the transcript.


CF: I am thrilled to be talking to Ellen Broad today. Ellen is the author of Made By Humans: The AI Condition. There’s a link available from the site too. There’s information about the book and where to buy it. I heartily recommend it. It’s very timely. Look at the ethics and the societal implications really of what seems like ever increasing gallop towards the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning in so many different aspects of our lives. And of course, for the recordkeeping people like myself and hopefully people who follow this series of recordings, there are lots of things about the adoption of this technology that make us think about what our jobs are and potentially what our jobs might be in the future as far as keeping evidence in the way that these systems are set up through to trying to promote accountability around decisions to deploy the technology. So, first of all, hello Ellen, and thank you very much for joining me.

EB: Thank you very much for having me. Continue reading

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Recordkeeping Roundcasts Episode 3: Machine learning


Robot | by Sebastianlund

In this episode, we conclude our three part conversation with The National Archives UK’s John Sheridan, with a chat about machine learning and its possible applications in the management and use of records.

Our thanks again to John for being generous with his time and offering us so many interesting ideas. Remember to subscribe to the TNA blog for updates on the many interesting projects underway there.

You can subscribe to this podcast series on Google Play; iTunes is having a little moment with adding new podcasts but hopefully soon.


CF: Now, we have a short period of time remaining, so I hope I can continue for another little while with the conversation, if that’s all right with you, if you’ve still got the time.

JS: Absolutely.

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Recordkeeping Roundcasts Episode 2: Project ARCHANGEL and distributed ledger experimentation

In this episode of Recordkeeping Roundcasts, we pick up the conversation with TNA’s John Sheridan, turning to the experimentation that he and colleagues at allied institutions are doing in distributed ledger technologies.

For background, take a look at this recent post by Alex Green on the TNA blog about Project ARCHANGEL.


CF: It is a critical juncture, I think, for archives in all forms. Certainly, as you’ve articulated, the expectations for digital records, digital information, discoverability are exerting pressures on archives. I need to move on, as I could talk about this stuff all day. Continue reading

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Recordkeeping Roundcasts Episode 1: Scale and complexity, with John Sheridan

Welcome to Recordkeeping Roundcasts, a series of conversations with interesting people who are doing interesting things.

John-Sheridan - CopyIn this first episode the Recordkeeping Roundtable’s Cassie Findlay is talking with John Sheridan, Digital Director at The National Archives UK, about the challenges of scale and complexity that come with digital recordkeeping. As background for this conversation, take a look at TNA’s Digital Strategy, released in May 2017.


CF: It’s terrific to be speaking to you, John Sheridan from The National Archives UK. Thank you very much for agreeing to chat with me about a number of topics of interest.

JS: It’s a real pleasure to have this opportunity to talk about all these great things that we have to think about. Continue reading

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Flipping our focus

This week I got a strong response on Twitter for this tweet & image:

So I thought I’d share an excerpt from the talk, which was originally presented in Reus, Catalonia, as part of the Association of Catalan Archivists’ annual conference, bits of which were then included in a talk in Dublin organised by the National Archives of Ireland. Thanks so much to all my fabulous hosts.

Of course, many of these ideas are not new, nor are they mine alone. In particular, my Roundtable colleagues have written on this theme here on this blog and I’d encourage everyone to have a look (especially at ‘Reinventing Appraisal‘ and ‘Reinventing Access’).

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Archivists and journalists: It’s time to get serious

First up, thanks to Eira Tansey, whose Tweet prompted me to finally get back here and have a rant.

Yes! The (increasing) symbiosis of the work of recordkeepers and journalists, in particular, has been a preoccupation of mine for some time. Both the archival/recordkeeping and journalistic professions are going through fundamental change and risk extinction in the future without significant and rapid evolution. Both are losing their grip on forms of control that once gave them a monopoly; online, anyone can disseminate a story or construct an ‘archive’. Both are operating in the midst of the political forces come into play around information access, and both are struggling to find ways to continue to fulfil their missions as a result. Questions of trust, power, authenticity and connectedness are central to  understanding and responding to these changes, for both professions. At the same time, the availability of authoritative evidence of what governments and others do –  records – is more crucial than ever, both for journalists who want to want genuinely to offer a counter to so called ‘fake news’, and to society at large. Continue reading

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We need to talk about smart contracts and recordkeeping

D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin (seated) and Douglas Fairbanks at the signing of the contract establishing United Artists motion picture studio (LOC)

D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin (seated) and Douglas Fairbanks at the signing of the contract establishing United Artists motion picture studio (LOC)

Blockchain technology offer us a revolutionary new way to do business using the same database — a shared ledger, in effect, that is available to anyone who knows how to use it and has access to the tools. A ‘world database’ (as suggested recently by Vinay Gupta in his highly recommended piece on Medium, ‘Programmable blockchains in context’) that is owned by everyone participating, and controlled by no-one. This is trust through computation. Nothing is ‘entered’ in this environment unless it is agreed by the many thousands of computers that make up the network. Once coded, the transactions are uncorruptible and immutable.

Blockchain technology also enables us to build smart contracts on a platform like Ethereum. What are smart contracts? Essentially they are programs that execute “if this happens then do that”, that are run and verified by all the participants in the blockchain network. The blockchain stores the data, but the smart contract plans, executes and records the business. Continue reading

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Decentralization and DAOs: Opportunities for recordkeepers

Attending the Decentralized Web Summit at the Internet Archive wasn’t a bad way to spend my first week living in San Francisco. Big thanks to Peter Van Garderen and Courtney Mumma for encouraging me to go.

Decentralized Web Summit, June 8 2016. Photo by Brad Shirakawa

Decentralized Web Summit, June 8 2016. Photo by Brad Shirakawa

It was an exciting, challenging and inspiring few days. There are some excellent reports on the overall programme out there; including Brewster Kahle’s, Mouse Reeve’s or Maira Sutton’s. There’s also a slew of media reporting from Wired, NYtimes, Fortune, Boing Boing and more. So rather than reviewing the event as a whole I’d like to try to highlight some of the technologies, projects and ideas that struck me as important for recordkeepers to know about. I’ll also (tentatively) make some suggestions about how our professional practices might fit into this emerging world.

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