The records continuum made waves in Britain in the early 2000s and was variously hailed as a long needed theoretical framework for electronic information management or rejected as an abstract model that has little relevance for recordkeeping processes. What made the model so appealing to some was its move away from a linear view of recordkeeping processes to a multi-dimensional way of seeing and perceiving recordkeeping responsibilities (Upward 198, McKemmish 10). Archivists and records managers, now no longer seen as at opposite ends of the professional scale, were asked to exert their influence at creation state to ensure the right records were created and to help develop coherent recordkeeping systems. A proactive approach to the creation, management, and not least the appraisal of records was stipulated, so that records were fit to not only serve business needs but also wider societal interests in permanence. Proactive appraisal at creation stage is essential to ensure the continued accessibility, authenticity and integrity of digital material. Practically that meant that recordkeeping professionals should concentrate on embedding recordkeeping concerns into ICT systems used in modern organisations. The reality is that most of us are still sorting through the paper legacy mountain trying to reactively apply appraisal criteria that would satisfy primarily the organisation’s compliance framework and risk appetite and often only as an afterthought wider societal expectations. It seems that even though the continuum provided many answers to emerging professional issues, it has never really gained much traction in UK recordkeeping practices and appraisal is mostly still a reactive assessment of semi- or non-current records, often even still in paper format. Continue reading →
Open access to archives enriches our knowledge of human society, promotes democracy, protects citizens’ rights and enhances the quality of life.
—UNESCO Universal Declaration on Archives
Access to information is about power. Accessibility describes an evolving power relationship between those holding information and those seeking it.
In any project there are types of access we want to deny. Privacy is an access issue. On the other hand access to the records of government programs provides citizens the power to hold them accountable. Open access to public records empowers citizens to enact participatory democracy. Secrecy is a key tenet of tyrannical governments, as is the systematic destruction of citizens’ privacy. Continue reading →
I try to be a good archivist. I’m driven by the want to make the information system robust and efficient enough to support good governance; to enable communities (whomever they are) to have access to documentation to support their rights and entitlements; so that society can critique itself. I’ve convinced myself that this is a honorable way to spend a career. My resolve in this cause has become stronger the more I realise that I most definitely can’t be doing all of this for the money. But this profession of ours seems to be struggling to address the well-known challenge of implementing that robust and efficient information system in a digital age with limited resources and waning influence. How did it come to this? I’m not going to even attempt to answer that question, but I do have a couple that I’ve been struggling with of late that I’m trying to find the answers to. It’s making me doubt whether I’m being a good archivist. Continue reading →
As I sit down to write this thought piece in January 2014 our Canadian colleagues are preparing for a Canadian Archives Summit with the enviable title ‘Towards a New Blueprint for Canada’s Recorded Memory’. To me the most interesting word in this title is the word ‘new’. While the Canadian summit has been organised in response to the crisis associated with the removal of federal funding for their National Archival Development Program, Australians can nevertheless only look with wonder at another Commonwealth country with a federal system of government that has the luxury of an existing national blueprint for recorded memory – for surely one cannot create a ‘new’ blueprint if an old one does not already exist. Continue reading →
Dr Katrina Dean
In 1979 French sociologist Jean Paul Lyotard predicted ‘that anything in the constituted body of knowledge that is not translatable’ into computer readable packages of information ‘will be abandoned and that the direction of new research will be dictated by the possibility of its eventual results being translatable into computer language.’Despite the efforts of archivists and (digital) scholars, most of the archival legacy of the modern period remains untranslated into computer readable language and accessible only to those with traditional archival research skills or specialist reference services. Archivists remain the keepers of important stores of evidence and authentic information that are becoming dangerously irrelevant. The postmodern, digital archive only compounds the fundamental flaws of the modern archive, itself an incomplete project. Continue reading →
Dr Joanne Evans
Transforming recordkeeping metadata management infrastructure lies at the heart of the challenges raised in the 2012 Reinventing Archival Methods Recordkeeping Roundtable Forum and subsequent Access and Appraisal issue papers. Both issues papers give examples of where our current ‘fast paper’ processes, practices and systems fail to deliver for ourselves, our users and ultimately for recordkeeping in society. Most disturbingly is where we are not even at the table as professionals in the situations in which we have a stake, and where there is a desperate need for an archival systems solution. Continue reading →
It is natural and understandable when considering issues relating to the preservation of information to focus on new technologies. Changes in technology directly affect what is and is not available to be preserved, as well as influencing issues of access. However the nature of the technology used by any generation of people to record, transact and to correspond is only a part of the equation. Understanding how data formats may vary over time is useful, indeed essential, but so too is developing the ability to comprehend crucial shifts in societal attitudes toward data. Continue reading →
The methods I most want to re-invent are description and federation of access. I have been interested in this for thirty years and have recently re-entered the lists with A Modest Proposal for Improving Access to Archives and Other Records by using a Wiki. This was discussed at a Recordkeeping Roundtable Workshop earlier this year. The results of that Workshop should be known by now and the Modest Proposal … itself, along with some sample pages, should be up on my website. There is near universal support for federated access but uncertainty still about how to achieve it. Here is a distillation of some of the issues as I see them. Continue reading →
As a post-custodial research archivist I have worked in many contexts, from projects involving major archival institutions, governments and universities through to advising and training people working at the other end of the scale, in small archives, single room collections and inadequately resourced community or religious organisations. Similarly, I have collaborated with many archivists, from senior figures in large collecting institutions and established academics to part-time, casual, unfunded and accidental archivists, and people responsible for archival collections who do not consider themselves ‘archivists’ at all. Continue reading →
Integration is at the heart of the archival endeavour. You can read most archival methods (appraisal, arrangement and description, access) as being fundamentally about integration: the task of creating a coherent archives that incorporates disparate recordkeeping systems. Sue McKemmish contends that records are ever in a state of ‘becoming’. The continuum model suggests that the same is true for archives, that we are constantly re-creating archives as we integrate new records and recordkeeping systems with them over time. With paper records, this integration happened above the ‘item’ layer through the documentation of ambient and provenancial context (i.e. descriptions of series, functions etc.). With digital records, we have an opportunity to support much deeper integration. David Bearman devotes a chapter of Archival Methods to this opportunity (and challenge): Continue reading →