26 September 2008

The Big Draw 2008: The Big Wheel

THE BIG DRAW. The Campaign for Drawing This October the Archives Hub is taking part in The Big Draw. We want you to make drawings on the themes of Fairgrounds and Playgrounds or Cycling and Recycling. Scan or photograph your drawing, and then email the digital version to us. We'll post your pics here each Friday. And we'll give an Archives Hub notepad and propelling pencil to everyone who sends us a drawing, and the first name out of the cycle helmet will receive colouring pens, a pencil case and a notepad - all made from recycled car tyres! If you send us your postal address, we won't use it for anything else. Ferris wheel design for A.I. Above Concept drawing by Chris Baker for a submerged ferris wheel for the film Artificial Intelligence: AI, originally developed by Stanley Kubrick and realised by Steven Spielberg after Kubrick's death in 1999. From the Stanley Kubrick Archive. Image provided by University of the Arts London with all rights reserved by the respective owners and reproduced with the permission of the Stanley Kubrick Estate. Submitted by Karyn Stuckey, Archivist.

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16 September 2008

History and memory

"History and memory share events; that is, they share time and space. Every moment is two moments." (Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces) When I attended a workshop on the Ontology of the Archive back in March 2008, Louise Craven from The National Archives talked about archives referenced in literature in a very engaging and thought-provoking way. It made me more aware of how archives are evident in many novels in one way or another. Fugitive Pieces (a truly great and inspiring book) is not particularly about archives but it resonates because it is about memory and history and understanding, and about the spaces, the emptiness, about what is missing...but then the absence is just as important as the presence in so many things, and not least in shaping and interpreting history. Archivists know this better than most, as they can be responsible for choosing what stays and what goes as far as documentary evidence is concerned, and they are responsible for deciding how to describe what exists, which has so much impact upon whether and how things are accessed and used, and arguably on how things are actually interpreted. In some ways, archives represent history rather than memory because they are not consciously created to be research material - at least not in the sense that they may become historical evidence years into the future. When the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) wrote over 2,000 letters to his wife, particularly whilst he was in India designing New Delhi, he did not think about the letters being read nearly one hundred years hence, and used by social and architectural historians (at least we assume he did not). So, do letters such as these give us a piece of history? Do they represent the history rather than the memory? I have generally been inclined to think that archives are a means to access history in a direct way, as much as that is possible at all - they bring history closer because they are not an interpretation or an intellectualising of past events, but the stuff of past events. Having said that, reading a novel such as Fugitive Pieces, the past is brought to life and is given soul and emotion so effectively, and maybe that is really the life blood of history. In many ways its central theme is the holocaust, but rather than describing events, it just barely touches upon them. Yet the poignancy of the writing builds up emotions and empathy that seem to bring history to life far more palpably than facts could ever do. Documents may not be emotional in themselves, but they can convey a great deal of emotion. Love letters may be obviously moving, and there may be expectation of the emotion that we should feel when reading them, but the simplest of texts - maybe a list of household goods or a hastily scribbled note, can also convey a great deal of feeling, especially if we know something of the context. This partly explains the continual importance that archivists place on provenance and the integrity of the whole archive. If we want to try to understand the feelings of past events, then it may be that the more context we have the better. But ironically by having so much context, the reality of a place in time will always elude us in the end; a broader perspective can draw us away from understanding the experience that the creator of the material might have felt. When I worked as an archivist in a repository, I didn't really muse on these things; now that I am surrounded by descriptions of archives without having to concern myself with the actual physical materials, it seems to encourage the occasional philosophical outburst. I think it has something to do with the fact that the descriptions are removed from the physical things and so I spend quite a bit of time thinking about them in abstract...or something along those lines.

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12 September 2008

Beyond Brochures -- A Few Thoughts about Marketing

The Archives Hub is headed for a bit of a makeover this autumn, and lately my head has been spinning with buzzwords like 'brand identity,' 'brand values, "strategic marketing" and ''USPs," (Unique Selling Points -- for those who don't know...I didn't). For someone like me who's been in the HE sector for many a year, these terms lift me out of my comfort zone -- from academia, where we like to be low-key about these matters (or at least act that way) to the business world, where we suddenly asked to think about our users and stakeholders as 'customers.' On the other hand, the process is an exciting one, and I am learning to rethink my view of 'Marketing' as something much more than advertising and spin. An excellent book I can recommend to anyone in our sector who is undertaking marketing or promotional activities is Developing Strategic Marketing Plans That Really Work: A Toolkit for Public Libraries by Terry Kendrick. (Incidentally, I learned from Kendrick that Marketing and Promotions are certainly not the same thing -- more on that below). Obviously, we're not a public library, but Kendrick's points are very applicable to those who are running library or archival services that are funded by public money. Significant amounts of this money are devoted to services like ours, and maximising value from this expenditure requires that we communicate effectively with our users. We need to demonstrate value to "meet, and hopefully exceed, government standards and performance targets" (2). Kendrick points out that marketing as a concept is often misunderstood -- it is not synonymous with advertising and promotions, which is just one facet of marketing. Instead,
"Marketing is a dialogue over time. In other words, it is a two-way process which is not simply the sending out of messages from the library to users or non-users. In our everyday lives all of us are bombarded with advertising messages and slogans, many of which completely wash over us... For libraries this suggests that the most effective marketing is based upon an ongoing conversation with users and non-users and not simply upon slogan-based marketing campaigns."
This approach to marketing appeals because this is something that many of us in this profession strive for -- understanding and responding to user's needs. I realise that a great deal of the planning and engagement we undertake at the Hub could fall under the umbrella of 'marketing activity.' This doesn't mean that all we are is 'marketers,' but it does highlight that user-engagement is central to what we do, and that engagement comes in many forms (whether via a usability test or the Hub's interface, or a meeting with our colleagues at The National Archives and other archival networks to discuss where we are headed as a collective). What we need to be clearer about is our mission, our values, and where we want to be headed. Thankfully, our central mission is coming into sharper focus, and this autumn, in addition to a surface makeover, we're looking forward to creating a marketing strategy that achieves a more effective dialogue with our users.