Friday 25 September 2009

Using and protecting personal data

Three news stories have caught our attention this week as they all concern the use of personal information and CAIS offers several courses which examine compliance with information legislation.

The first was this story on Wired Magazine's website. It details how the FBI have used data mining and aggregation techniques to build profiles of their suspects in attempts to prevent crime and terrorism.

The second was this story on the BBC's site highlighting the inappropriate release of personal data via social networking sites like facebook and twitter.

Finally, Demon, an internet service provider, have been in the news today for inadvertently releasing a spreadsheet containing the personal information of all of its customers.

Data protection and the associated issues of information compliance and information security remain some of the most rapidly evolving areas pertinent to the work of record keepers.

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Pitcures from the CAIS Study School

CAIS students taking a moment to relax between Study School sessions on the banks of the river Tay.
Susan Mansfield, Head of SPICe and the author and tutor of the CAIS module 'Strategic Management for Information Professionals', and Ingrid Thomson, CAIS Programme Administrator.
The four speakers from the CAIS Seminar on the development of the record keeping profession; Siobhan Convery, Kevin Wilbraham, Marion Stewart and Bob Steward.
Susan Thomas, Digital Archivist at the Bodleian Library, Oxford and tutor of the module 'Management and Preservation of Digital Records', speaking to a group of students during one of the sessions.

Monday 21 September 2009

CAIS Study School Seminar '09

CAIS held its annual Study School seminar last Friday evening. Those attending heard four distinguished speakers reflect on the development of the recordkeeping profession and the changes apparent to them over the last c.40 years.

Marion Stewart, latterly Archivist for Dumfries and Galloway Council, focused on the changes in the ways that recordkeepers are trained and the developments in professional theory. She noted that her first archival post at the Scottish Records Office (now the National Archives of Scotland) required her to undertake formal legal training at the University of Edinburgh. The belief was that without an appreciation of the legal status and purpose of any record an archivist was unable to properly manage the records in their charge. She also emphasised the rigorous in-house training she received from senior colleagues in Latin, palaeography and in the subject matter of the collections held by the institution. This understanding of the records and knowledge of diplomatic became one of the cornerstones of her career. Marion emphasised that in her subsequent posts she had always worked to ensure she had as full a knowledge as possible of the collections in her custody. She spoke of the implications of uncatalogued collections, with inevitable barriers to access and use.

Marion went on to reflect on the developments in the theoretical underpinning of the profession, particularly emphasising the rapid growth and development of records management as a discipline and the need for archivists and records managers to take the broadest possible view of the records for which they are responsible. The fundamental precepts she learned as a new entrant to the profession remain as important and as relevant as they were then.

Bob Steward, the retired Highland Council Archivist, responsible for a geographic area equivalent to Belgium, built on the themes introduced by Marion and also emphasised the importance of understanding the records and the record types for which archivists and records managers are responsible, noting the changes he found in record types when he moved to Scotland having worked as an English archivist. He also emphasised the need for recordkeepers to be able to manage stakeholder relations. He noted that relationships within organisations and with the broader stakeholder communities are vital for success in terms of the records and service development. Without a knowledge of the organisation recordkeepers are unable to properly fulfil their key functions and without a knowledge of internal and external users they are unable to illustrate their value. Bob used the development of the Highland Council Archive as an example of a small service which grew under his management, moving the archival services to Inverness Castle, developing a records management service by initially taking charge of a store on behalf of the Planning Department and developing a 'hub and spoke' approach to service provision with satellite office in Wick to help ensure community engagement. Since his retirement a new satellite office has been established in Fort William and a new bespoke archive building is almost complete in Inverness, which Bob placed in the context of a long term development based on the management of relationships and the engagement with the community.

Kevin Wilbraham, Corporate Records Manager, Edinburgh City Council, spoke from a records management perspective. Having had a successful career as an archivist which included establishing the Ayrshire Archive, Kevin had moved into Records Management. He stressed that the issues associated with electronic records and the ever increasing amounts of information within organisations offered the greatest challenges to recordkeepers. He asked the question, do you need to be an archivist to be a records manager, emphasising the need for programmes, like the ones offered by CAIS, to ensure that those persons entering the profession have a broad and relevant range of skills. He contrasted the formal university-based provision of archival and records management education today with that received by Bob and Marion and his own more recent training. Kevin also stressed the need for relationships with stakeholders. Finally, as a Records Manager with responsibility for Archivists, he used his own circumstances to highlight the shift in the priorities of many organisations when calling in the skills of recordkeepers.

Siobhan Convery, Head of Special Libraries and Archives at the University of Aberdeen, illustrated the changes in the profession during her time as an Archivist, starting out as a volunteer, becoming qualified and moving to Aberdeen to work in the City Archives there, before moving to the University. Siobhan highlighted the importance of the collections and the records and diverted from the earlier speakers in her assertion that it is possible to work as an Archivist within an organisation and remain relevant without taking responsibility for records management, though acknowledging the vital relationship between all branches of the recordkeeping professions. Siobhan concentrated on the need for stakeholder management to ensure success, of aligning service provision with the business aims of the parent organisation and the need for cross-domain working with partners in museums and libraries. As one of the lead officers in the development of the new library, which will house the Special Collections, at the University of Aberdeen Siobhan was able to illustrate her points with reference to the reality of developing this multi-million pound research facility. She also highlighted the need for recordkeepers to become managers in a general sense and understand and interact with the strategic vision of their organisation. She illustrated the change from the days when archivists could concentrate on the collections alone with no involvement with their organisation’s strategic goals.

The seminar was a very interesting and enjoyable evening. The recurring themes were ones of stakeholder management and a need to understand the organisational culture and community structures in which recordkeepers work, without losing sight of their fundamental roles and responsibilities with the records. Programmes like those offered by CAIS must reflect both the traditions and the future of the profession.

Thursday 17 September 2009

Digital dissemination

Students at a session on digital records and information at the CAIS Study School earlier today. The session, entitled 'Digital Dilemmas', looked at the issues faced by record keepers when dealing with digital information in respect of the unique properties and significant characteristics of electronic records, their capture, processing and access to them. The students also examined a variety of digital media and thought about the problems that the evolution of digital media and digital formats create for records managers and archivists. Some of the more interesting items included a program on punched paper tape from the 1970s and a USB thumb drive that needed to read a biometric signature before its contents could be accessed.

The speakers at this session were Chris Prom, visiting Fullbright Distinguished Scholar, Susan Thomas, Digital Archivist, Bodleian Library, Oxford and Philip Lord, Director, The Digital Archiving Consultancy Ltd.

Earlier today the students heard Jan Merchant, Perth and Kinross Council Archive, discuss archival access and preservation issues, followed by Susan Mansfield, Head of the Scottish Parliament Information Centre and Vanessa Charles, Book and Paper Conservation Unit, University of Dundee, examining business and management issues and disaster recovery.

The students have another full day tomorrow concluding with a seminar on the development of the record keeping professions. We'll put up a post about that session soon.

Tuesday 15 September 2009

Professional body accreditation

Everyone at the Centre for Archive and Information Studies is delighted to announce that the Council of the Society of Archivists (SoA) today accepted the recommendation of their Accreditation Team at an Extraordinary General Meeting and confirmed the accredditation of all the Masters degrees in Archives, Records Management, Information Rights and Digital Preservation offered by CAIS.

Our Masters degrees were evaluated against the Society of Archivists' criteria for postgraduate degrees in the record keeping disciplines. During their visit to Dundee earlier this year the Accreditation Team were very positive about the courses offered by CAIS saying that the degrees 'meet and exceed' the requirements of the SoA.

Monday 14 September 2009

They're my archives!

A number of papers at the recent Society of Archivists conference referred to the functionality of Web 2.0 in providing new ways of access to archival collections. There are many blogs actively discussing this including Archives 2.0 and ArchivesNext as well as the wiki Archives 2.0. One of the things that interests me is the idea of control of the archives. Many of the functions that archivists carry out - appraisal, arrangement and description - involve ensuring control of their collections and then allowing access to them. This control is challenged by Web 2.0 - users can potentially add descriptions to records, by tagging them they create their own index terms, they can view them online and create links and contexts that are personal and pertinent to them.

At the conference George Oates and Fiona Romeo gave two very interesting presentations about the Commons on Flickr successfully demonstrating that by democratising access to our collections, by loosing our 'control' over them we can successfully make our collections richer and improve the community's, and our, knowledge of our archives. Fiona spoke about the impact of the National Maritime Museum's presence on Flickr, see their pages here. She acknowledged that to ensure the most rewarding and effective use of Flickr you need to be prepared to input staff time to upload and monitor the images and respond to comments but felt that this was worthwhile.

Whatever the benefits of increasing access, what about the loss of revenue if you surrender your control of images? Many repositories rely on this revenue to supplement their core funding and would be very reluctant to give it up. I found an article by Paula Bray from the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney useful here. As well as looking in general at the issues involved in allowing greater access to images from collections she specifically addresses this issue of revenue and demonstrates that, for the Powerhouse Museum at least, joining Flickr Commons had no negative impact on sales. The whole article is available here.

We're not on Flickr just now, although Museum Services here at Dundee is, but it is something we will be thinking seriously about in the months to come.

Monday 7 September 2009

Thoughts on the keynote at the Society of Archivists' conference

The general consensus seems to be that the Society of Archivists conference, held last week in Bristol, was a great success. The range of speakers and topics was broad enough to maintain interest but remained focused on the issues of dealing with digital media. Randall Jimerson’s keynote on archives and justice provided an excellent framework for later discussion. He emphasised that archivists cannot be impartial, that archives are for accountability, open government, diversity and identity, as well as for justice. Given this, and the potential power that this implies that archives hold and, by association, archivists wield, recordkeepers should not be impartial. They should try to be objective while recognising their own biases and seek to promote social justice even if this means partiality. They should break from the traditional view of archivists as passive custodians and be prepared to stand up and use the power of archives.

However Jimerson emphasised that ultimately our decisions are our own and our personal codes of ethics and sense of justice should be the final basis on which we make our decisions. This raises interesting questions as to the nature of justice – one person’s idea of ‘right’ may be very different to another’s – and the role of a professional code of ethics in relation to a private sense of right and wrong.

SAA vs. SOA Conference

When I submitted my grant application, I argued strongly that international cooperation would be necessary if archivists would find practical ways to work with electronic materials.  Last week, I had the pleasure of attending my first Society of Archivists Conference, and I certainly learned a great deal about e-records work in the UK and Europe.  (I'll be posting throughout this week at my blog concerning the sessions I attended.)

While I certainly learned a lot about the varied and productive approaches that UK archivists are taking to e-records, I also learned much more than I expected about the differences in how the 'archives sector' (as they would call it here) is organized in the US vs. the UK.

At the most basic level, I was surprised that the SOA conference was significantly more intimate (one is tempted to say civilized) than a typical SAA meeting, with all that those words imply.   

This might not seem surprising, since SOA attendance is much smaller than SAA , since the conference sessions do not begin until 9 am, since they do not spill over into weekends, and since  all meals, breaks and social events, as well as lodging, were included for one fixed price. In any case, I found that the all inclusive nature of the conference made it easy to meet and chat with people in the fairly relaxed settings, and I have more contacts to follow up on than at the typical SAA meeting where I seem to be constantly looking for someone amongst the crowd.   On the other hand, there is a lot less diversity to the sessions--although this may be due to the fact the theme was 'digital futures'.

I have to say I was very impressed by the presentations I heard; the conference was well organized around this theme, and the talks displayed a good balance between research and practice, with both informing each other.   For the most part, people debated issues honestly while not pulling punches.   I saw researchers and practitioners debating issues directly and effectively, particularly in the panel discussion on archival education and training and in the e-records sessions I attended.

I was also interested to note that numerous representatives of the National Archives, both of England/Wales and Scotland, were attending and speaking.  The National Archives in Kew plays a much stronger leadership/coordination role than NARA does in  the United States.  Under its relatively new executive director, TNA is developing a strategy document called "Archives for the 21st Century." 

This is certainly not news to UK readers of this blog, but the document will shape government policy toward archives services not only at the national level but within local government and other institutions.   One can debate whether on not the policy is wise and well argued, and clearly many people have commented on it, but the most salient point for me (as an American observer), is that such an attempt to coordinate policy is even taking place.  Admittedly, the NHPRC serves a bit of this role in the US by funding records management and archives projects that affect archival workout side of NARA, but even if the PAHR bill becomes law, the US government will have a much more limited role in affecting records issues at a local level than will government here.  NHPRC and other federal agencies have softer and indirect impact, since their role is mainly defined as funding research and projects, not setting policy for local archives.  

The ways of organizing the archive sector in each country reflect the different ways that the US and UK organize socieites and conceive the proper role of government and I'm sure each has its benefits and drawbacks.  I'll leave it for others to debate theological questions such as 'how big should government be'.  I am just interested to see the practicalities of how policy differences affect archival work on a day to day basis.

Friday 4 September 2009

Let's not be Luddites

Caroline speaking at the conference of the Society of Archivists highlighting the frustrations we all feel occasionally when dealing with digital technology.