30 November 2006

Free XML editor

Screenshot of XML Copy Editor and preview of HTML Many Hub contributors have invested in proprietary XML editing software such as XMetaL or Oxygen, but if you haven't yet done so you might be interested in a free program called XML Copy Editor. It comes in Linux and Windows versions and makes it easy to validate EAD files. It's also easy to associate style sheets such as the Hub's so that you can get an impression of how your file will appear in a browser (which makes it a lot easier to proof-read). One feature I particularly liked was the ability to choose which browser to use for this: this is a failing in XMLSpy, which defaults to Internet Explorer (which then always crashes on my machine). I've never worked out how to change it to use Firefox (or any other browser), but it was easy to do that with XML Copy Editor. Of course you don't get all the functionality of the proprietary systems, but you are prompted as to which tags are valid at any point in the file, and there's a handy special-character insertion menu, so if you don't mind working with EAD tags visible, this looks like a good alternative to the paid-for options. Picked up from Digitizationblog via the ArchivesBlogs aggregator.


27 November 2006

Random death

Geoff Pick of the London Metropolitan Archives made an appearance on BBC Radio 4's statistical programme 'More or Less' this evening, talking about the way the V1 rockets hit London in 1944. The way the bombs landed, often in clusters, meant that many people thought that they were being deliberately aimed at certain targets. The London County Council Architect's Department's maps of the locations of the strikes were used by R. D. Clark, a statistician, to prove that they were in fact perfectly random. During the next seven days you can listen to the programme through the BBC's website. P.S. For what it's worth, I tried very hard to find a reference number for these maps, but with no joy. Please chip in if you know better...


23 November 2006

Researchers and Discovery Services

Researcher at computerA study commissioned by the Research Information Network has just been made available on the RIN's website. The study interviewed 395 researchers and 55 librarians/information professionals to assess their use and perceptions of resource discovery services. I hoped that the report would have something interesting to say about access to information about archives, but found it rather disappointing in that regard.
Key finding 1.3.1 General satisfaction with discovery services The picture that has emerged from the survey is one of general satisfaction with the research discovery services available across the disciplines. Researchers in the sciences are most satisfied with the resource discovery services on offer, whereas interviewees in arts and humanities have more concerns about gaps in service coverage. The interviews with librarians broadly confirm this: librarians in the sciences and social sciences are generally satisfied with the range of discovery tools available while those in arts and humanities identify some gaps. (Section 4.2.9)
One of these gaps is access to archives: sections 2.1.1, 4.2.9, 6.1 and 6.2 all mention "the need for more online archives and manuscripts". Section 4.1 records that a whopping 61.5% of researchers look for "Original text sources, e.g. newspapers, historical records". This percentage seems quite high, given that only 16% of the researchers interviewed were Arts and Humanities researchers, and 19% Social Scientists. Or perhaps the inclusion of newspapers has caused confusion for the interviewees on this point. The authors of the study have categorised the work of researchers in the following way: Finding a reference Tracing full details of a specific source (e.g. article, book, thesis, chapter in a book, presentation at a conference etc) when some information about the specific source is known, such as details of the author, or title, or journal number, or conference date. Literature review The identification and critical appraisal of key sources published on a specific subject by other researchers. Researching a new area The process of finding and analysing relevant sources covering a discipline, subject area, topic, or theme not previously researched by the researcher. Keeping up to date Method chosen by the researcher to keep up-to-date on new research, new initiatives and other trends in a specific area. Finding datasets Locating published or unpublished datasets. Datasets are groups of data from experiments or observations, or from surveys and other data collection methods. Published datasets are led by official datasets from government and multinational bodies, but other sources include trade associations and professional bodies, research organisations, academic research institutes, survey companies etc. Finding non-text sources Locating images (photographs, DVDs, art work), audio, artefacts. Finding sources of research funding Locating details of external sources of research funding such as national funding bodies, research councils, grant-making bodies, private-sector sources of funding etc. Finding organisations/finding individuals Locating details of specific organisations and individuals, such as addresses, web sites, and contact details, plus general details of activities, research interests etc.
Of these, I would venture to guess that is the category that would include original historical research, but the analysis of how researchers approach this area of work (which is surely one of their most significant activities) is pretty minimal:
In comparison with the activities of finding a reference and literature review, responses to this group of questions showed less use of specialist services, but again a very wide range of ‘other’ tools... Google is by far the most popular starting point when researching a new area, but also important are research colleagues, bibliographic databases, Web of Science/Web of Knowledge, and books/monographs. Not far behind the top 5 choices are Google Scholar, library catalogues and portals, library visits, online journals, and PubMed.
And that's it! A fairly wide range of online archival resources are listed in Appendix 2 (including the ArchivesHub), but with the rather mysterious explanation that guides to archives are "very similar to dataset portals". My overall impression was that the study authors' understanding of researchers' activities and needs was rather limited. But I might just be being biased because of lack of coverage of my particular area of interest. I'd be fascinated to hear opinions from any 'real' researchers who have read the study, or from providers of any other types of resources.


21 November 2006

Yule be amazed

The Insect Circus: Hoxton Hall, December 19th-30th Those of you who enjoyed the Insects and Entomologists feature in March will be thrilled to see that the Insect Circus is appearing at Hoxton Hall, London N1, for the Christmas season this year, December 19th-30th. Once one has encountered the magical world of the Insect Circus, how could one come away and forget about the Knife Thrower and the Brave Butterfly, or the Heroic Capt. Courage and his Vicious Vespa Wasps? Mr. Maroc the Beast Tamer, The Balancing Scarab Dungo, The Antics, Tallulah the Worm Charmer, Ephemera, Hat-trick Hattie or Fleur de Paree? "A Unique Theatrical Extravaganza."


17 November 2006

"For archivists with strong geeky tendencies"

Yesterday saw the first meeting of the Data Standards Group of the Society of Archivists under its new name. It was formerly known as the EAD/Data Exchange Group. The new name reflects a new, broader remit for the group, which is now providing a focus for digital preservation as well as data exchange. This was evident in the talks that were given by Susan Thomas and Dave Thompson at the meeting, which was held at the British Library. Susan talked about the work of the Paradigm project, which is investigating the issues surrounding the acquisition and processing of personal digital materials. Susan described some of the software that has proved useful to the project, much of which has been developed for use by police investigators, whose requirements for an audit trail of untampered-with-data are similar to those of archivists. The findings of the project are being written up into a Workbook, which is building up into an exceptional, practical, resource for anyone faced with the task of dealing with the accession of electronic records. Dave's talk on the UKWAC project described some of the technical and political challenges involved with the preservation of web sites and focused on the skills needed for staff involved with this sort of work. His conclusion was the title to this entry. I think this description encompasses the majority of members of the Data Standards Group. Paolozzi's statue of Newton in the British Library's Piazza Sir Eduardo Paolozzi's statue of Newton in the British Library's Piazza


16 November 2006

From our special correspondent

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Sofia 2006: 8-10 November - Globalization, Digitization, Access, and Preservation of Cultural Heritage - has been a successful conference where the participants had the opportunity to share knowledge, learn and meet new friends. Sofia is a cultural city with extraordinary buildings like the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The Bulgarians are very friendly people and proud of sharing the beauty of their country with visitors. The high quality of their cuisine and their smooth wines with a strong tradition in the whole country was the perfect attraction to add to the Conference. Just a little note for future tourists: nodding your head in Bulgaria means No and shaking it means Yes, you can get into funny situations if you don't remember this! Report and photo by Laura Fernandez, Project Archivist of the Thomas Sharp Project, School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape, and Special Collections, Robinson Library, Newcastle University.


06 November 2006

Constructive comments

Foamhenge Could there be such a thing as experimental archives science, in the same way as experimental archaeology? What sort of experiments might it involve? And could there be, say, an office building constructed for archives training purposes, along the same lines as the crime scene houses for forensic science training at the University of Central Lancashire? Illustration: 'Foamhenge', Wiltshire, 2005. Photograph by Alun Salt. Image courtesy of Archaeology Image Bank. This reminds me of the short story "FOAM", 1991, by Brian Aldiss. The acronym stands for "Free Of All Memory".

03 November 2006

Gunpowder treason

BonfireThe Parliamentary Archives have put together a great online exhibition for all ages in The Gunpowder Plot: Parliament & Treason 1605. It featured today on BBC Radio 2 as Website of the Day, which rarely mentions our sector. The programme in question attracts an audience of 6.5 million people, so that's quite a PR achievement.


01 November 2006

Mobile shelving and Mozart

Here's a suitable-for-a-Friday film called 'Interval Library' from Kim Huston. From LISNews.

Top ten Archives Hub users

The table below shows the top ten UK institutional users of the Archives Hub service for the 2005/06 academic year (courtesy of the JISC's Monitoring Unit).

Institution Name% of ac.uk useRank 2005/6Rank 2004/5
University of Manchester15.3814
Oxford University8.9622
Manchester Computing7.3433
University of Cambridge7.2941
University of Edinburgh7.2355
University of Glasgow5.57619
University of Liverpool2.2876
University of Aberdeen 2.21815
University of Wales, Bangor2.11914
University of Nottingham1.941013