19 December 2007

Season's Greetings from the Archives Hub

Carol singers Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year! The Archives Hub Helpdesk will be closed for the holiday period December 22nd, 2007 to January 1st, 2008, inclusive. Above: Photograph courtesy of National Co-operative Archive. All enquiries about photographic collections and copyright to archive@co-op.ac.uk.

12 December 2007

The Rathbones

Elena Rathbone Elena Elizabeth Rathbone enjoys a game of golf at Redcar, Yorkshire, in September 1903 - looks like Elena has hit a great shot. From Photograph Album of Elena Rathbone dated 1887-1910 (Ref. GB 141 RP XXV.7.190), courtesy of the University of Liverpool, Special Collections and Archives.


07 December 2007

Archives 2.0: Fact or Fiction?

This being my first post to the Hub Blog as the new manager for the service, there’s a part of me that’s a touch tentative to have an inaugural post with the term “2.0” in the title. It might suggest a touch of flashiness on my part, a captivation with buzzwords but not the real work of archivists and archival researchers (!) But Jane and I have Web 2.0 very much on the brain right now, not least because we have just spent several days at the Online Information conference, and also because the JISC and other funders that support the Archives Hub and other Mimas services have Web 2.0 high on the agenda. Even if we wanted to, there is no avoiding Web 2.0. and What It All Might Mean. There is no question that there is a lot of currency to the term right now, entire conferences built around the topic, invocations of the "Facebook" or "Google" generation, The Researcher of the Future, all dizzying and impressive stuff. What’s a librarian or archivist to do? There’s a train called Web 2.0 and we had better jump on or miss it our peril. Or so it seems. Stephen Abram gave one of the opening talks of the conference, 'Library 2.0: Fact or Fiction?' and it was definitely a captivating (if slightly hyperbolic) talk. A room full of librarians listened as he told the group how distressed he is that a recent OCLC survey demonstrated that libraries feel they don’t need social networks. Abrams sarcastically joked about the conservative response --“Why would we be where the market is? Why would we go into facebook?” But, he warned “If we don’t invest in the future, it will happen to us anyway!” And he is right. Of course. Web 2.0—the ability for users to personalise, share, annotate, and repurpose content is not going anywhere, and such utilities have a profound impact for research and the development of research communities. If the archive primarily serves the needs of researchers, then of course we need to be in step with new technological developments that would enhance not only access but use of archival items—whether those items are online in digital repositories or stored in manila file folder at The Women’s Library. What tremendous benefit to archives to not only know what items are being used in research, but also to be able to easily track and gage how that item is being used within various research or teaching contexts. I do agree with Steve Abrams' point, that context (and not content) is king, and that relationships trump content every time. In other words, we learn and develop knowledge through inquiry, interaction and collaboration. As a former HE teacher, I know this to be true—learning and knowledge acquisition do not occur in a vacuum, and this point was made excellently by the third speaker on the panel, Phillipa Levy, Director of Centre for Inquiry-based Learning in the Arts and Social Sciences at Sheffield University. Web 2.0 technologies can certainly facilitate this sort of interaction and collaborative research and learning. I am not convinced, however, that librarians or archivists should be ‘going where their market is’—into facebook and other social networking applications. For one thing, I don’t think we’re wanted there—not as service providers, at least. Similarly, students are voicing distinct disgruntlement over well intentioned lecturers invading their online networking spaces in the interest of ‘collaborative e-pedagogy.’ I am doubtful that Facebook is a space where learning and knowledge communities will meaningfully come together. To be fair, I don’t think that this was Stephen Abrams main point, and the Facebook example was merely a dramatic and rather fun way to say the times, they are achanging. To me, the argument that ‘web 2.0 is not going anywhere, get used to it’ is a moot point. I think we can all agree that the research and information environment has rapidly shifted, and that tools such as the recommender systems you find through sites like Amazon and Ebay could have real potential for data service providers. The National Archives is providing new personalisation tools for users, Dave Pattern presented at the conference on how Huddersfield University Library is experimenting with a recommender system—Opac 2.0-- for its own holdings, an excellent tool for researchers to learn about other books in their field that might not come up in a traditional results display, and also to know what the competition is up to. These innovative projects that will no doubt reveal a great deal about how we can (or cannot) enhance our services for research-users. The question is less whether 2.0 is relevant (Yes. It is) Fact or Fiction (Fact) but of how such technologies can be relevant in our specific contexts, to the various communities of practice that utilise our resources. Who are our users, and what tools and online spaces would serve their needs? Are we responsible for providing these tools? Or would doing so merely be redundant? (why build a social bookmarking system for the Hub or Copac, for example, when de.licio.us performs that task perfectly well--and users are not limited to the UK Higher Education context?) I don't know the answers, but I do know that the questions are less related to technologies than to culture and understanding communities of practice.