On November 29 and 30 the Recordkeeping Roundtable, in partnership with the Australian Society of Archivists, held a two day workshop in Sydney; ‘Reinventing Archival Methods. Attended by almost 70 people from around Australia and even a couple of visitors from New Zealand, the workshop was stimulating, inspiring and energised many of us to look to what we can do next to examine and test the many great ideas that emerged over the two days. A report on the event, including copies of presentations where available is provided below, along with a plan for continuing the conversation.
- Why the need to reinvent archival methods?
- Day 1: Defining the problem
- Day 2: Looking for solutions
- Radio National Future Tense program featuring ‘Reinventing Archival Methods’
- Read our Tweets #archmethods
- What’s next?
- Speaker biographies
This workshop came about following discussions amongst some of us in the ASA and the Roundtable in which we shared concerns that that our professional methods are not coping with the scale and complexity of contemporary recordkeeping challenges, and they are failing us at a time of critical risk. Early on, we recognised that this is not the first call to reinvent our professional practices. In 1986 David Bearman first argued that our core methods of appraisal, description, preservation and access were fundamentally unable to cope with the volumes of information that archivists were required to process. He called on the profession to completely reinvent its core methods. While much has been done in the intervening 25 years, as a profession our methods are still ill-equipped to deal with the volume, fragility and complexity of contemporary archival records.
So, inspired by Bearman’s ‘Archival Methods’, we decided that it was time for us, as a profession, to explore how we can fundamentally reassess our methods and determine what can be done to create a stable archival record of the 21st century.
Day 1: Defining the problem
After a welcome from the workshop Chair, Cassie Findlay, Dr Kate Cumming reflected on the key findings of Archival Methods, and Bearman’s recommendations for reinvention. Drawing a direct line to the challenges which continue to occupy our minds today, Cumming called for more of us in the profession to be ‘loyal sceptics’, willing to challenge the status quo.
Read Kate’s presentation: Revisiting Bearman – Cumming (PDF, 104kb)
Following this recap on the ideas and strategies introduced by Bearman, David Roberts and Barbara Reed spoke about the ways in which these were embraced and implemented in Australia and beyond though the 1990s.
In his talk, David Roberts outlined the work done in New South Wales and in the standards environment that picked up on Bearman’s Pittsburgh Project investigating functional requirements for recordkeeping. Most notably, this flowed through to the development of the ‘DIRKS’ methodology in the Australian Standard AS4390 and then in the manual developed by State Records NSW (a later edition issued jointly with the National Archives of Australia). The Pittsburgh work turned records management on its head, said Roberts, by becoming about documenting business functions by creating and preserving evidence.
View David’s presention: David Roberts (PPT, 442kb)
Barbara Reed spoke about the environment in Australia in the 1980s and 90s which offered a strong base of ideas and practice which was fertile ground for Bearman’s ideas. Bearman gave us a language – and also some confidence in our own practices. The systems design thinking of his work gave us a new frame of reference: conceptual not physical; control not custody; accountability agents now, not 30 years later; authenticators, not preservers. Unless we fully embrace these concepts, Reed said, we are at risk of sliding back to being custodians of last resort and indistinguishable from other information providers.
As part of coming to grips with the current situation, a panel session comprising Andrew Waugh, Chris Hurley, Professor Sue McKemmish and Dr Tim Sherratt spoke about their perceptions of the problems with current practice in brief 15 minute addresses, followed by a panel discussion.
Chris Hurley‘s presentation addressed the question of whether our current struggles are new ones, and suggested they are not. We keep, he argued, trying to find a single solution for a problem of inherent diversity and complexity. Steps have been taken in the right direction with the work of Upward, the SPIRT project and more, but attempts to nail down a rigid set of requirements for recordkeeping as seen with systems specifications like ICA-Req veer too far from the essential elements of ensuring good recordkeeping by trying to satisfy too many other requirements, and are not sustainable.
Read Chris’s presentation: Do we agree on what the problems are? (Word, 20kb)
Dr Tim Sherratt opened his talk with a story about an emotional response by a visitor to his “Invisible Australians” site. Considering the emotional landscapes around our archives, Sherratt wondered why there was so much resistance to emotion as a facet of meaning in records and archives. Emotion always happens around cultural collections. Voices from the past find their way into contemporary conversations online. We live in an age where our feelings (in social media and elsewhere) are harvested and analyzed to sell us more stuff. Open data is a means of making many small connections; perhaps by taking up more opportunities for archives on the web they could hack us through into corridors of meaning and understanding.
Read Tim Sherratt’s presentation: ‘Archives of emotion’ (external link)
Professor Sue McKemmish concentrated her remarks on how we should respond to the new Royal Commission on institutional child abuse. McKemmish touched on the development of access framework for children’s records but also the fear that private institutions may be likely to respond by mass shredding without any legislative restraints. Adults who were subject to abuse as children particular needs for access to, and management of, their records. Communities suffering from acute identity and memory crisis often in context of childhood abuse should be a priority for archives and record keepers. McKemmish made some suggestions for our future: online connections could substitute for physical communities to enable shared space and access. We have no national recordkeeping frameworks for supporting human rights or restitution of rights. Would a decadal plan to put such a thing in place be a useful solution?
Andrew Waugh spoke about a number of reports from the Victorian Auditor-General and Ombudsman. These have shown, her argued, that it is not the records management system where the smoking gun is, it’s always the email systems, it’s where we find the real evidence. He went on to describe the differences between transactional records systems of organic and unconscious record making with conscious records creation in EDRMS. Dedicated systems like EDRMS, Waugh argued, never really came to grips with the ways the computer altered work. We need to go where the work is not where the official conscious record is managed.
After lunch on Day 1 we heard from Antony Funnell, journalist and broadcaster, and presenter of Radio National’s Future Tense. Funnell opened with some comments on the nature of ‘futurism’. William Gibson said: the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed. Change is a given – it’s how well we adapt that is uncertain. The way the public deals with data has changed and is changing: quality is no longer key, cheaper and faster counts more, and, in the media, being free. Once, Funnell noted, when producing radio programs, they would request information from the ABC archives as part of their research. Now they can find the same content in a fraction of the time online. You Tube and Flickr are the public archives in the contemporary world, libraries and archives are no longer the first stop. And the vulnerability of these materials is less real than you might think, given the copies and distribution: they will survive because enough people want it to survive, based on the scale of copying and use.
The remainder of Day 1 involved group discussions on questions about the problems that participants identify currently with Access, Appraisal and Professional Identity, and a report back session.Some of the issues identified by these groups included:
Access and description
- delays in providing access
- unrealistic expectations, multiple points of access, people don’t know what we have and can’t use our systems – who are users?
- archivist mediator, facilitators
- need to collaborate with users
- re-using the records metadata in better ways
- access regimes broken, fragmented
- access systems , cannot meet users’ expectations, teaching archival literacy
- control systems, backlogs, radical scaling lacking: real question, why aren’t we providing interfaces for variety of users and communities, like Ancestry.com or ?
- suspicious of users but real opportunities if we looked for them
- crowd sourcing description of items
Appraisal and preservation
- what’s the business case for appraisal?
- volumes, proliferation of business systems
- sentencing still conducted at micro level
- agencies don’t implement disposal authorities – because they are unimplementable
- compliance issue, resourcing, risk management preservation
- how sacrosanct is the original?
- why do appraisal? is there a cost / benefit?
- what’s wrong with keeping everything?
- migration and preservation Don’t know if we are getting the important stuff? How would you know?
- proactive role is working, but being reactive is not
- what services do we offer? to who?
- we need clearer messages to society about what we do – organization history, we know where records are, how we are different to Google
- there are expectations that someone is keeping stuff, but this is not necessarily seen as relevant to modern current business
- need skills in marketing and communications, identifying what people need
- working with other people: IT but other communities and generate concept of our work into other professions, brokerage role, and management skills Lots of collaborators to work with (need to clear about what we do)
- passive idea of users coming to the archives but do they care about where the information has from, does it matter?
- digital use stats, Find and Connect site, 100,000 users, who knows if they found what they wanted New audiences?
- working across multiple collections (to facilitate access cross institutions)
Anne Picot wrapped up with her reflections on the findings of the day. She expressed concern about some of the reactive interpretations of appraisal and disposal that were still about, and urged us all to heed Antony Funnell’s advice: the future is now. If we do not intervene in record making there will be no archives. Where need to know where the essential evidence is. The problem, Anne said, is with identifying what is really important – and coming to grips with how we do this. What should we be focusing our attention on that really must be authentic and evidential – the critical records of our times?
Day 2 commenced with ‘Observations from the real world’ – in which we heard from recordkeeping practitioners working at the coal face, and the issues that they see in their work.
Judith Ellis (presented by Cassie Findlay) addressed the many challenges facing those working to build better systems for recordkeeping.
View Judith’s Powerpoint presentation: Judith Ellis -Reinventing Archival Methods (PPT, 66kb)
Read Judith’s presentation notes: Judith Ellis – Reinventing Archival Methods- Notes (PDF, 92kb)
Barbara Reed then spoke from her perspective as someone who has been working with government and private sector organisations on improving recordkeeping systems and frameworks. Barbara called on recordkeepers to take a more pragmatic approach, to embrace the ’80/20′ rule and devise strategies that would capture and manage key evidence of business.
This was followed by a series of case studies on what is happening now to reinvent archival practice.
Emma Murray and Julie McCormack from the Public Record Office Victoria spoke about the review of PROV’s disposal program. They noted the inefficiencies in their current processes, where the slow pace of authority development meant that it was difficult for them to keep pace with demand. They posed the question of whether the effort that went into the development of these documents was worth it? They had found that under the current system key records of government were not being identified, the products were too complex and not being implemented. Murray and McCormack explained that they were interested in developing a solution that would serve as a form of risk mitigation for the Government of Victoria, rather than meeting bureaucratic needs for PROV. While the review is still underway, some preliminary ideas under discussion include the establishment of communities of practice, more stakeholder engagement, using a precedent approach, flexibility in appraisal, generic coverage for low risk business and filtering out high risk business for special attention.
View Emma and Julie’s presentation: Disposal presentation McCormack Murray (PPT, 7,228kb)
Richard Lehane spoke about how State Records NSW is tackling the capture and management of digital recordkeeping systems as archives. Lehane commenced by observing that some of the debate on preservation techniques; migration, emulation etc is in many ways a minor concern. That in fact some of the key challenges are things like the integration of recordkeeping systems and sophisticated searching across systems. The Digital Archives project at State Records is seeking to address some of these matters with a robust but flexible recordkeeping systems migration methodology and maximising the potential of recordkeeping metadata.
Read Richard’s presentation: Building Integrated Digital Archives by R Lehane (PDF, 502 kb)
Dr Joanne Evans from Monash University spoke about challenges and opportunities for recordkeeping metadata education and research. Evans spoke about the Clever Recordkeeping Metadata project and other investigations into how we can establish metadata frameworks that support business, interoperability and archival concerns. Evans suggested that if metadata is not about documenting relationships then it’s probably not the kind of metadata we want. Essentially records are networked objects, without metadata they simply do not exist. She urged us to work together on automating and maximising the benefits from well designed and implemented recordkeeping metadata – from the ‘chaotic sandpit’, to the ‘healthy hothouse’ and finally to the engine room.
View Joanne’s presentation: RK Roundtable 2012 Healthy Hothouses v2 (PPT, 1.6mb)
Brendan Somes from the National Archives of Australia addressed the challenges of volumes and varieties of records and the critical need to redesign business processes and systems to cope. Somes looked at some of the shifts in descriptive practices at NAA over the years – from a focus on series and agencies in the 1980s and 1990s to then being very much item level focused from the late 1990s onwards. He noted the need to focus on metadata quality in agencies – 600,000 emails from the HIH Royal Commission with the title ‘Unknown’ just won’t work. Somes also talked about audiovisual records management and preservation, and the new asset management system that the NAA uses for these. Finally, he made some observations about the problems with most government archives’ archival management systems, and proposed a modular approach to their redevelopment.
View Brendan’s presentation Brendan Somes NAA (PPT, 632kb)
In the final session of the day, participants were asked to respond to a number of questions as a group. The group was called upon to think radically, and come up with ‘dangerous and disruptive’ alternatives to existing practices. The aim of the session was to assemble ideas for two issues papers to be developed by the Recordkeeping Roundtable in 2013 (see ‘What’s next?’)
Disposal techniques should die. What should replace them?
This prompted calls to keep everything or return to Jenkinson and let the business decide. Macro appraisal was discussed, with some discussion on why it has not been successfully applied in Australia to date. Risk was agreed as a key element in any disposal program, and also that transparency was critical. A research project was suggested involving email disposal based on high risk business participants.
Where is the stuff that really needs authoritative, quality evidence? Methods for locating, doing something about this?
The discussion on this question addressed questions of multiple provenance including external stakeholder views, and how to build a macro appraisal framework by considering the ‘sharp points’ of State and citizen interaction and thinking cross jurisdictionally. There were some interesting ideas raised about ‘reverse macro appraisal’ from series descriptions and other existing archives documentation, and also about mining the wealth of information in existing disposal schedules. During this discussion a research project was proposed to test a fourth dimension documentation strategy project on climate change.
Case files / personal information is what people want. Issues – privacy, past practices, eg sampling not great. How can we meet this need?
It was agreed that this is an area requiring careful navigation to manage personal privacy issues. The notion of a ‘case file’ is increasingly giving way to information in transactional systems. There are a number of barriers to sharing, legislative and systems based. Some interesting discussions emerged on how the subject of the records can be more directly involved in their creation and management, for example with the advent of e-health. An idea for a prototype recordkeeping solution for children in care was discussed; where they can move through multiple institutions all with different recordkeeping systems. It was noted that we had much to learn from the collecting institutions on the nature of personal recordkeeping. It was proposed that further investigations along these lines could be of direct relevance to the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
If there’s no transfer or collecting, what value do we bring to how records are managed and used over time? And how do we do it?
In the world of Google, organisational and jurisdictional boundaries don’t matter. How can we build the connected archives?
With time running out, these last questions were combined for discussion. The question of presenting archives online in the world of Google and Trove was discussed. Lots of fans of Trove, but it was noted they could do more to encourage use of their API and empower people to use and create from the data. Digital NZ was cited as a great example of connected, open content, and some of the great ideas were put forward including the use of the series system as a good model to use for contextual layers around records online and moving to build a network of archives that makes use of linked open data for out contextual entities (agencies, people) as well as for records.
Listen to the Future Tense program ‘Reinventing Archival Methods featuring interviews by Antony Funnell with a number of our speakers: available as a podcast.
Antony Funnell’s book The Future and Related Nonsense is available for purchase here: http://thefutureandrelatednonsense.wordpress.com/
Check out the Twitter discussions during the workshop collected in the Reinventing Archival Methods Storify
At the end of Day 2, it was announced that members of the Recordkeeping Roundtable would lead the development of two issues papers drawing on discussion and ideas from the workshop. Volunteers from the workshop participants will assist in the drafting of the issues papers, one on access and one on appraisal.
The aim is for the papers to identify opportunities for further research, for prototypes and projects that could be run either by the Roundtable or other stakeholders such as the Universities, government archives or professional associations.
We plan to publish the issues papers in March 2013, and report on the initiatives that flow from them at the Australian Society of Archivists’ national conference in Canberra in October 2013.
Kate Cumming is a member of the Government Recordkeeping program of State Records NSW where she works with current government agencies on their recordkeeping practice. Kate holds a PhD in Information Management and Systems from Monash University. Kate is one of the founders of the Recordkeeping Roundtable, a Sydney-based discussion group fostering discussion and debate on issues of relevance to contemporary recordkeeping practice and regularly blogs at http://futureproof.records.nsw.gov.au
Cassie Findlay @CassPF is the Project Manager, Digital Archives at State Records NSW. She is a member of the National Council of the Australian Society of Archivists and the Project Lead for the current ISO review of the International Standard on Records Management, ISO 15489. Cassie is a co-founder of the recordkeeping and archives discussion group the Recordkeeping Roundtable.
Antony Funnell is a Walkley award-winning journalist and broadcaster. He is also the author of the newly-released book The Future and Related Nonsense published by ABC Books/Harper Collins. Antony has been the presenter of Future Tense on ABC Radio National since 2009, exploring the influence of technology and rapid change on individuals and society. Prior to that he fronted Media Report. Over the past two decades he has worked for many of the country’s leading news and current affairs programs, including AM, PM, the 7.30 Report and Background Briefing.
Judith Ellis is the owner and Managing Director of Enterprise Knowledge Pty Ltd. She has worked in the information and knowledge management field for over 30 years, throughout Australia, Asia and the Pacific in consulting, recruitment, education and training.
Dr Joanne Evans is a lecturer in the Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University, and co-ordinator of the Records Continuum Research Group, part of the Faculty’s Centre of Organisational and Social Informatics. She has many years of experience in archival systems development, with the technologies she has been involved in designing and developing deployed into a number of research projects, as well as being utilised in small archives settings. Her research interests lies in the multifarious roles metadata plays in creating, managing, and sustaining information and recordkeeping infrastructure and systems.
Emma Murray commenced working at the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) at the beginning of 2006 and has been a member of the records disposal team ever since. Emma’s substantive role at PROV is Coordinator Disposal although she is currently Acting Manager of the Appraisal & Documentation team. Emma completed the Graduate Diploma in Information Management – Archives/Records at University of NSW in 1995 and since then has worked in records and archives for various public and private bodies in Australia and overseas.
Chris Hurley has been an archivist at the National Archives (Canberra), Keeper of Public Records (Melbourne), and General Manager and A/g Chief Archivist at Archives NZ. He has been associated with research projects at Monash University (RCRG), at UCLA (Center for Information as Evidence), and with the InterPARES2 Project. Since 2003, he has been at the Commonwealth Bank where he is now working part-time as Information & Archives Specialist in preparation for retirement. His specialises in archival description, archival legislation, and recordkeeping accountability.
Richard Lehane works as an archivist at State Records NSW where he is a member of the digital archives team. He is also a sessional tutor at Edith Cowan University.
Julie McCormack manages the appraisal and documentation program at PROV,
authorising the disposal of public records and the identification of records required as State Archives. Julie also manages the archival transfer program for digital and hardcopy records. She is particularly interested in issues surrounding the appraisal of records to build an archive that meets current and future needs. Julie has a BA (Hons) in History and a Graduate Diploma in Information Services and has worked as an archivist in the public and private sectors for many years.
Professor Sue McKemmish is Director of COSI, the Centre for Organisational and Social Informatics at Monash University. She is an archival educator, researcher and writer with particular interests in recordkeeping metadata, community archiving, the relationship between human rights, social justice and the archive, and inclusive education and research practice.
Anne Picot has worked on or led the development of a number of international standards on recordkeeping and is widely published in records/archives journals. She is the Deputy Archivist, University of Sydney and a Recordkeeping Roundtable co-founder.
Barbara Reed is an internationally known and respected recordkeeping thinker, speaker and author, and has led the development of several international standards for recordkeeping. Barbara is a Director of Recordkeeping Innovation and a Recordkeeping Roundtable co-founder.
David Roberts is the inaugural Archivist at Newington College in Sydney. Having worked with the (then) Australian Archives from 1980, he was Manager of the NSW Records Management Office from 1993 to 1998, and then Director of the State Records Authority of NSW until 2008. He was a member of the Standards Australia IT/21 Committee from 1992 to 1998.
Dr Tim Sherratt (@wragge) is a freelance digital historian, web developer and cultural data hacker in search of a real job. He discovered rather late in life that he’s only really happy when he’s making things about the past and sharing them with others.
Andrew Waugh is the Senior Manager, Standards and Policy at the Public Records Office Victoria. He started his professional life, however, as a computer scientist at CSIRO and got sidetracked with VERS.