31 January 2007


Yesterday I was in London helping to run an 'Introduction to EAD' training day on behalf of the Data Standards Group and the London Region of the Society of Archivists. The last exercise I did with the delegates was to look at a randomly-selected set of resources based around EAD finding aids (courtesy of the EAD Implementor Listing maintained by the EAD Roundtable of the Society of American Archivists). One of the issues that came up was to do with labelling: both of parts of archival descriptions and of search options. Some of the sites are moving away from using the standard ISAD(G)/EAD headings for the descriptions, so that 'Scope and Content' becomes 'Content', which we agreed might be more meaningful for users of the services (although possibly confusing when comparing records from different sources). The search options and consequences of following links are sometimes not obvious without going ahead and testing them out, and the results displays were sometimes similarly confusing, even to a room full of archivists. One of the sites we were looking at was that of the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam. We became distracted by its excellent 'Today in History' feature, which is rather like the Archives Hub's 'Collection of the Month', but with the whole year's supply of featured documents prepared in advance. The text for the last week's worth is available through the Instiute's Today in History RSS feed. Today's document is entitled 'Painkillers for Spirit Wrestlers', but it was the entry for 28th February that really woke everyone up at the end of the day. On the way home I found myself looking at another label, this time on an electricity socket on the train: Socket for Laptops and Mobile Phones only It made me wonder why the railway company had felt compelled to attach the label. Had commuters been bringing their hairdryers on to the train in the mornings and blow-drying their hair? Or perhaps some entrepreneur had brought an electric kettle on to the train and started selling cups of tea to the other passengers. With a large cup of tea now costing £1.39 from Virgin's on-board shop, perhaps that wouldn't be such a silly idea...

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29 January 2007

Balancing access and profit in the cultural sector

Externaliew of the National Gallery, London
A one-day conference (Connecting Culture and Commerce: Getting the Balance Right) at the National Gallery in London on Friday examined the ways in which cultural institutions can exploit their collections for commercial gain, while making them as widely accessible as possible. Much of the emphasis was on the world of museums and galleries, but the issues discussed were very relevant to libraries and archives too. The day began with a conversation between the BBC's Creative Director, Alan Yentob, and the Director of the National Portrait Gallery, Sandy Nairne. They discussed the impact of technology on the way that the BBC negotiates rights with programme-makers as well as the ways in which the BBC's audience now expect to be able to view programmes on demand, often through mobile devices. The recent licence-fee discussions were also touched upon, in terms of the new willingness by the corporation to make the programmes in its archive available. It was interesting to hear about the hierarchy of television programmes: some being extremely popular in the short term, but with little long-term value (e.g. Strictly Come Dancing), with others, particularly documentaries and programmes about the arts, seen as having more long-term 'view again' appeal. The negotiations on broadcasting rights for these different categories of programme will therefore be different. The 'Long Tail' effect was not mentioned in the discussion, but it seems likely that there will be a demand for niche programmes in the same way as there is a long-term demand for the obsure books and movies that can now be obtained through on-line stores. In response to a question from the floor about what cultural institutions can do to make things easier for broadcasters, Yentob suggested that linking the stand-alone websites of all the museums and galleries would be a good move. He also felt that museums should make their hidden treasures more obvious, to increase people's interest in them. Sandy Nairne added that having the materials properly indexed and with appropriate contextual information was vitally important, sentiments which are certainly held dear by the Archives Hub team. Over the day the importance of a clear framework and agreed common vocabulary for the description of rights, licences and intended uses was articulated on several occasions. The impossibility of small institutions being able to cope with such complex issues on their own was also mentioned more than once. Gretchen Wagner gave a presentation about the approach of ARTstor and suggested that neither litigation nor legislation were likely to help resolve conflicts around matters of copyright (legislation being much more likely to be influenced by the wealthy publishing lobby than by the impoverished cultural sector). Her solution was for community-derived solutions such as Creative Commons and ARTstor itself to be the way forward. The Victoria and Albert Museum's recent decision to make some images available free for academic use was mentioned several times during the day, and not always with approval. The results of a London School of Economics research project into the economic, social and creative impacts of museums and galleries were presented by Tony Travers. The report was very positive about the contribution made by the institutions covered, but Travers expressed concern about the level of current investment into the sector and predicted that this will eventually have an impact, drawing analogies with the lack of investment in UK railways over the last 40 years. One point I found particularly interesting during the day was in relation to the 'Open Access' argument for journal articles. One speaker complained that the big publishers of journals insisted that authors of articles had to sign away their copyright before publication. Charles Oppenheim of Loughborough University pointed out that if an author refuses to assign their copyright (and threatens to publish elsewhere instead), the publisher will produce a licence form instead, allowing the author to retain their rights. As authors of articles are not originally offered a choice in the matter, I'm sure many are unaware of this option (I certainly was). Update: you can now sign a petition in support of the European Commission's proposed Open Access Self-Archiving Mandate, which supports the principle of providing free access to publicly-funded research.

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20 January 2007

Have another slice

Cookery class Glasgow Caledonian University's Carole McCallum supplied us with a couple of splendid photos for Collections of the Month once again. This photo here unfortunately didn't make it into the final version, due simply to pressure of time... Illustration: Cookery class at The Glasgow and West of Scotland College of Domestic Science (Incorporated), 1931. From The Records of The Queen's College, Glasgow,part of Glasgow Caledonian University Institutional Archive. Photograph copyright © Glasgow Caledonian University Archives.


12 January 2007

From our special correspondent

Jantar Mantar observatory The 2006 Conference: New Delhi, 10-15 December of the International Planning History Society has been a very successful event. The conferences were varied and rich, and the presentation of Town and Townscape: the work and life of Thomas Sharp was well received! The participants coming from all over the world were willing to share ideas and conversations and why not, a glass of wine or an Indian beer after the intense presentations! New Delhi is a vibrant cosmopolitan city and have so many things to see and experience... and we have so little time. It is a very remarkable place that has to be visited sometime, the food was delicious and the people so nice. Jantar Mantar (photograph above) is located on Sansad Marg between Connaught Place and Rashtrapati Bhavan. It is one of the five astronomical observatories across India built in the 18th century. The name of Jantar Mantar derives from corruptions of the words 'yantra' (instrument) and 'mantra' (formula). It is a fabulous site! 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.


10 January 2007

Archivaria back issues now online

I was really pleased to read on David Mattison's The Ten Thousand Year Blog that articles published in the Association of Canadian Archivists' journal Archivaria are now available online. The journal started in 1975 and all the articles published between then and the Spring 2002 issue are now freely available in PDF form. More recent issues are reserved for members of the association. That's fair enough, though five years seems to me rather a long time to keep that content privileged. Wouldn't it be good if back issues of the Journal of the Society of Archivists could be made freely available in the same way? Journal articles are available through Taylor and Francis online, but only if you (or your institution) pay a subscription (over and above the subscription that members pay for the hard copy). These articles only go back to 1999, while the journal has been published since 1955.

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09 January 2007

Functions and activities of archive creators

A draft new standard has been published on the International Council on Archives' website. ISAF (International Standard for Activities/Functions of Corporate bodies) is a sister standard to ISAD(G) and ISAAR (CPF), which are the standards for the description of archives and names respectively. The description of records from a functional perspective has been becoming more common over recent years - partly a reflection of the number of times that governments and institutions re-organise their departments. The activities of a particular organisation (and the resulting records) often remain relatively constant, although the name of the section or department might change over time. ISAF provides a way of identifying these functions and linking them to the appropriate corporate entities and related records. You can see the application of these functional descriptions in Glasgow University Archive Services' GASHE website, where it is possible to browse the different activities and functions undertaken by the Scottish Higher Education institutions whose records are described in GASHE. The functional descriptions provide an overview of the activity (for example finance management/financial audit), with links to the various corporate entities involved in the activity (described in ISAAR authority records) and to the archives produced by the activity (described according to the ISAD(G) standard). The deadline for comments on the draft standard is 31 March 2007.