Review of Preserving Complex Digital Objects

Janet Delve and David Anderson (eds), Preserving Complex Digital Objects, London, Facet, 2014.

In Neil Grindley’s introduction to Preserving Complex Digital Objects he explains that it aims to set out what is currently understood about dealing with complex digital objects and offer a broad framework for starting to manage and address relevant issues. The book is the product of a number of symposia held in the UK in 2011-2012 on different aspects of the preservation of complex objects, funded by JISC, a charitable organisation originally set up by the UK government as the Joint Information Systems Committee in the 1990s. JISC now champions and conducts research and development in the use of information and communications technology (ICT) in learning, teaching, research and administration. Formerly devoting much time to digital preservation research and information sharing, JISC is now more heavily focused on research data management and sharing for the universities and other higher education providers that make up the bulk of its members.

The Preservation of Complex Digital Objects Symposia were set up to investigate the preservation of three types of complex digital objects:

  • Simulations and visualisations
  • Software art
  • Gaming environments and virtual worlds

The speakers at these events – the authors in the resulting book – came from a diverse set of backgrounds and include computer scientists, research data specialists, visual artists, academics, curators, digital humanists, gaming experts and a digital archivist. Continue reading

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Decentralised and inviolate: the blockchain and its uses for digital archives

By Cassie Findlay

In the flow of information all around us – in businesses, governments, personal spaces, in the physical and online world, there is information that we want to fix at a point in time and give it an identifier that we know we can use to find it again. That is, be kept in a way so that it remains not only identifiable with a meaningful name, but also so it is inviolate and trustworthy over time. The information might be born digital (emails, datasets, web pages, tweets, PDF documents), digitised copies of physical formats (books, paper documents) or still in physical form only. It might be unique or duplicated many times, secret or published and widely disseminated.


Image: ASCII Bernanke, by unknown. Sourced from

Fixing information at a point in time and keeping it as evidence is recordkeeping. Traditionally this is about a person or organisation responding to a need for evidence to be kept (whether for personal, legal, business, other reasons), and keeping the thing (such as an email) in a recordkeeping system. That is, linking the thing to its business context, and making a relationship for the thing with others using metadata. Recordkeeping systems can be established for an individual, a business, or, in the case of state / national archives, for a society. An archive is simply another form of recordkeeping system. Continue reading

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The Invisible of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape our Identities and Our Futures

Reviewed by Cassie Findlay

In the world of recordkeeping and archives we like to bandy words like ‘memory’ and ‘identity’ around quite a bit. You’ll find them in the appraisal policies of most government archives and records authorities, and in the glossy brochures about our collections. Through our professional discourse we examine and discuss how the creation, keeping and uses of records can support memory and identity, as well as action and accountability, in countless ways. Our core professional competency, appraisal, is designed to encompass these uses for records and to ensure that our processes take account of them.Invis history cover

It is questions of memory and identity and how these are shaped that Christine Kenneally tackles in her book The Invisible History of the Human Race (Black Ink, 2014). However, in considering the forms of evidence that help us to understand who we are, she takes a wider view. She writes about the keeping and passing down of more than recorded information; she considers our attitudes to knowing our family history; how silence is passed down as well as information; cultural inheritance; and the role of the relatively new understandings we have of very essence of us; DNA. Making ‘nature vs nurture’ seem like a particularly blunt instrument with which to analyse ourselves, it is a unique and fascinating survey of the things that influence our formation as individuals, communities and as societies.      Continue reading

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The invisible history of the human race: An evening with Christine Kenneally

The Recordkeeping Roundtable is pleased to announce an evening with Christine Kenneally, author of The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures.InvisibleAuthorPhotoBlog Christine will read from her book and be interviewed by the Roundtable’s Cassie Findlay.

Where: Cafe1812, Berkelouw Books, 19 Oxford St, Paddington. Directions

When: 6-8pm, Wednesday December 3

FREE | Gold coin donation for drinks and nibbles

Please RSVP here

Christine Kenneally is an award-winning journalist and author who has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Slate, Time, New Scientist, The Monthly, and other publications. Her most recent book, The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures, is a fascinating examination of the many ways in which we leave our trace; how these are passed on from one generation to the next, and how these can shape our personal and collective identities.

Our conversation will touch on Christine’s research into the origins and history of genealogy; the effects of the loss or deliberate suppression of records of the vulnerable; the rise of ‘Big Genie’ businesses like and more. It promises to be thought-provoking and timely discussion in the context of the Royal Commission into child abuse, widespread expectations of instant online access to archives and changing understandings about official recordkeeping and who may participate in it.

logo_black_FINALWith thanks to our hosts Berkelouw Books and Cafe 1812.

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Digital archives: Here’s the problem – how would YOU address it?

Report back from the Recordkeeping Roundtable workshop at #ARANZASA in Christchurch, NZ

By Anne Picot

A gathering of over 50 records and archives practitioners tossed ideas around for 4 hours wrestling with the difficulties of what, when and how of establishing a digital archives. The occasion was a workshop put together by the Recordkeeping Roundtable duo, @CassPF and @BarbaraREED, as part of the ASA/ARANZ 2014 conference, to get our profession thinking about what is really involved in a digital archives. As a stray tweeter in the “audience”, the question which kept running through my mind as the experts presented their views was “if a digital archives is the answer, what was the question?”

The prompt for the discussion was a case study presented by Natalie Dewson, Senior Electronic Archives Advisor for the Manawatu-Wanganui (NZ) local government shared services authority for 8 councils. After doing a digital recordkeeping systems stocktake at some of these councils, and identifying a number of digital series which are needed to be kept long term, Natalie set herself the task of making the case for a digital archives. Archives Central (the MWLASS Ltd archives facility) found that State Records NSW’s system migration model suited their needs, and at 300-400k was relatively costly but potentially achievable. However they are lacking a strong business reason to build a business case, so the project has been stopped. Another reason is that a dedicated archive for born-digital archives is an exercise in cost avoidance in the medium to long term: insurance is a hard sell. This was the problem presented for the workshop to “solve”. Continue reading

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What do records do in people’s lives that nothing else does?

Report from ‘Improving access to archives and other records’ – Melbourne edition

by Belinda Battley

This was the question posed by Anne Gilliland at the end of the discussion this week of Chris Hurley’s Modest Proposal, hosted by the Centre for Organisational and Social Informatics at Monash University, in association with the Recordkeeping Roundtable. The talk began with a suggestion that we need to determine functional requirements before developing a federated system for discovery and access. It ended with the suggestion that even before determining functional requirements, we need to look at the principles and rights involved, and deal with multiplicity by supporting contested territory, honouring the different narratives, and allowing people to arrive at the records they need from any direction, any description that meets their needs. At the end of the evening, Luke Bacon set up a space where the discussion and collaboration can continue and develop, beginning with a new set of archiving first principles. Continue reading

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Improving access to archives and other records: A modest proposal – Melbourne edition

MonashUni-Caulfield-H_buildingThe Centre for Organisational and Social Informatics in association with the Recordkeeping Roundtable invites you to a second discussion of Chris Hurley’s ‘Modest Proposal’ for improving access to archives and other records.

  • How can we make recordkeeping part of the online discovery world?
  • Is digitising vast quantities of gathered records in established “collections” what we need?
  • Do we need better ways of accessing un-gathered records online?
  • Are the existing online discovery tools adequate?
  • How can we break down the silos that separate one “collection” from another?

When and where

The panel

Chris Hurley has been a recordkeeper for over forty years, in both government and the private sector. He was Keeper of Public Records in Victoria in the 1980s and A/g Chief Archivist of New Zealand in the (then) National Archives in the early 2000s. He now works for the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. His particular interests lie in the areas of description, accountability, and archival legislation and he has taught and spoken extensively on these matters. Most of his many published articles and talks are now available on his web site

Luke Bacon is the Editor of Detention Logs and a web designer at Collagraph. Luke has built Detention Logs as an independent archive – an open, independent repository of public interest documents around a specific topic, where records of interest can be collected, organised and made accessible – and has proposed a set of principles for independent archiving projects.

Ailie Smith is a Research Archivist at the University of Melbourne’s eScholarship Research Centre. Her work includes documenting archival collections, building and maintaining databases, and the development and implementation of database outputs, including online content and standards-based xml. Ailie completed a Master of Business Information Systems degree at Monash University in 2012, specialising in archival and recordkeeping systems, and received the ASA’s Margaret Jennings Award

Kirsten Thorpe is the Coordinator of the Indigenous Unit at State Library of New South Wales. She is passionate about creating spaces of engagement for Aboriginal people to connect with archival sources documenting their history. Kirsten’s professional and research interests relate to the return of archival sources of material to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the opportunities that the digital domain presents for communities to be actively involved in managing their cultural heritage resources. Kirsten is a descendant of the Worimi people of Port Stephens, New South Wales and is descended from the Manton, Feeney and Newlin families.

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Reinventing archival methods: Continuing the conversation


Iris, Ayasdi’s data-visualization tool, finds connections in abstract data sets. Image: screenshot

A collection of articles and short contributions from The Recordkeeping Roundtable, our friends and colleagues, on the theme of archival reinvention.

Introduction by Kate Cumming, Cassie  Findlay, Anne Picot and Barbara Reed


Dr Kate Cumming and Anne Picot ‘Reinventing appraisal

Barbara Reed ‘Reinventing access

Short contributions

Xiaomi An, Hepu Deng, Bin Zhang ‘Reinventing the Concept of the State Archival Fond in China

Luke Bacon, ‘A Sea of Kites: Pushing access to archives with progressive enhancement

Belinda Battley, Elizabeth Daniels and Gregory Rolan, ‘Archives as multifaceted narratives: Linking the “touchstones” of community memory

Nicole Convery, ‘From reactive to proactive appraisal

Mark Crookston, ‘Reinventing Archival Methods: Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?

Adrian Cunningham, ‘Eternity Revisited: In pursuit of a national documentation strategy and a national archival system

Dr Katrina Dean, ‘Digitizing the modern archive

Dr Joanne Evans, ‘Reflections on the Promise and Pitfalls in Reinventing Recordkeeping Metadata

Cassie Findlay, ‘Full docs or it didn’t happen

Antony Funnell, ‘Give me a serve of data with that

Chris Hurley, ‘Re-Inventing On-Line Access

Mike Jones, ‘Contrapuntal archival methods

Richard Lehane, ‘Building an integrated digital archives (Part II)

Charlotte Maday and Magalie Moysan, ‘Records management for scientific data

Julie McLeod, ‘Reconceptualising ERM as a wicked problem

Adelaide Parr, ‘In an interconnected world – why do we think in functions?

Barbara Reed, ‘Rethinking approaches to recordkeeping metadata

Sonya Sherman, ‘People telling stories

Dr Tim Sherratt, ‘Contexts, connections, access: the glorious possibilities of getting it all wrong

Kirsten Thorpe, ‘Indigenous Records: connecting, critiquing and diversifying collections

Andrew Waugh, ‘Email – a bellwether records system

Kirsten Wright, ‘Broadening the record and expanding the archives

Articles also available via Readlist for download to Kindle, iPad, DropBox and more:

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Kate Cumming, Cassie Findlay, Anne Picot and Barbara Reed

When we started the Recordkeeping Roundtable at the start of 2011 [i] our aim was to start new conversations in, across, and especially, outside of the recordkeeping profession. The events we have run have reflected this; we have had guest speakers who are journalists, information security experts, hackers, digital humanists, lawyers and self-described ‘loudmouths’.[ii] We have heard from a curator of digital games concerned about their preservation and access over time,[iii] information activists testing the boundaries of Australia’s freedom of information laws and systems,[iv] a former senior public servant turned journalist who spoke about the vagaries of information access,[v] and many more. In a way, we have been having these conversations as part of a mission of self-discovery. Perhaps by understanding how others see us, and where our interests and needs intersect, we can identify how we as archivists need to evolve. Continue reading

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