Rising to the challenge: Are records professionals up to the task?

TigerSome of us Roundtablers were honoured to be speakers at a conference at Beijing’s Renmin University in early June. Keynoting at that event was distinguished archivist and Roundie friend Hans Hofman.

Hans’s talk was on a subject many of us have been concerned about for a while. As many of our methods, assumptions and attitudes become increasingly out of touch with the realities of the world we are working in, are we recordkeeping professionals ever going to truly rise to the challenge? Hans examined the evidence and drew some of his own conclusions in this sobering, but critically important contribution to the conversation.Hofman_Rising to the challenge- Beijing June 2015-1 (PPT, 10.6 MB)

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Principles for recordkeeping metadata

As recordkeeping professionals we have not been very successful in conveying what we believe metadata for records to be and its uses. This has been played out in numerous conversations within and outside of the profession in the wake of the (meta)data retention push by the current government.

Example of an Entity-Relationship diagram by Pável Calado

Example of an Entity-Relationship diagram by Pável Calado

Do we actually share an understanding within the profession as to what recordkeeping metadata is and what it does? Can we agree? We Roundies would like to find out.

Roundtable co-founder Barbara Reed has said:

“Strictly defined and constraining specifications of recordkeeping metadata elements have failed to gain traction in the world of business systems. These models are needed as a canonical touchstone for reference, but these should not be the only desirable implementation model. Rather, we need to clearly articulate the principles by which our metadata approaches are to be measured. A recordkeeping informatics [1] focus would focus on:

  • the transactional nature of action: ensure that we acknowledge and capture the multiple entities involved in transactions
  • relationships: ensuring the multiple entities are linked to their actions in recorded form in ways that will enable them to be sustainable and interpretable over time
  • traceability, not auditing: being able to tell the ‘story’ of the transaction. The who, where, when, what, why and how the record (or other data) came to be what it was
  • persistence: ensuring that the identification of records of transactions is persistent and the links remain viable
  • re-usability: ensuring that the record in its entirety (including the metadata) is constructed and sustained in ways that encourage re-use
  • sustainability: that the records (including the metadata) remain viable through numerous system and technical environment changes
  • dynamic: the ability to add to metadata over time to allow new and alternative interpretations of a single event or transaction to be added to (not replacing) the record.”

We would like to test out these principles, by conducting a series of Q&As with implementers. People who are designing systems, migrating them and using them. People who work with data. Archivists, technologists and others.

Can they see the value in paying attention to this stuff? Are they doing it now? What would be needed to implement useful, business focused systems that adhere to these principles?

Our implementers will be from different work environments, but all will have some form of recordkeeping obligation inherent in what they do.

We’ll be posting again soon with further details of this event, currently planned for late April 2015.

[1] For an explanation of recordkeeping informatics, see Frank Upward, ‘Recordkeeping Informatics: A discipline under construction’, September 2011. Available at: http://recordkeeping.net.au/2011/09/06/recordkeeping-informatics-a-discipline-under-construction/

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Hey kids, do you like rhizomes?

Rhizomic archives? Our interest in all things blockchain and its applications for recordkeeping continues..

speculative materialism

Recent years have introduced profound evolutions in web technologies. Most significantly are new differentiations in blockchain technologies –namely, smart contracts, decentralized applications, and decentralized autonomous organizations.

Smart Contracts. Already in the early 1990s cryptographer and legal scholar Nick Szabo observed that combining digital protocols with user interfaces facilitated the creation of decentralized systems of contracts to hold, move, or divide-up any number of different classes of assets according to any rules pre-agreed to by its participants.[1] The problem, of course, was that no web technology actually then yet existed which were capable of addressing the complex of issues (e.g. the infamous “double-spending problem“, etc.) any attempts to implement an absolutely rhizomatic economy would convoke.


Enter the Blockchain. Then in 2009 Satoshi Nakamoto introduced the first fully-decentralized digital currency, known as the bitcoin, which enables peer-to-peer transactions wherever there’s internet access. Until recently, media…

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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 http://www.righto.com/2014/02/ascii-bernanke-wikileaks-photographs.html

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 Ancestry.com 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 descriptionguy.com

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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