Tuesday 17 May 2011

The Fourth Conference on Archival Information Databases

Michael Bolik, the Senior Assistant Archivist, presented a paper in May at the Fourth Conference on Archival Information Databases organized by the Brazilian Archivists Association and held in Rio de Janeiro. The paper was a reflection on the University of Dundee Archives’ quarter century of experience with varying types of archival databases and the issues associated with the use of databases.

Encountering pipes and drums marching beside the beach in Ipanema shortly after stepping off the plane was a surreal experience but one that augured well for the conference. The programme was intense and varied and related to the effect of information technology on archival theory and practice.

The eight keynote addresses were delivered by speakers from Brazil, the United States and Portugal and reflected on several interesting and challenging themes. Overall the conference examined such issues as the changing nature of archival language necessitated by the growth of IT in archives, the application of archival management systems, the increasing requirement to address the needs of users, and the growing tension between traditional archival practices and the expectations of a generation accustomed to the internet and to instant information retrieval.

Judging from the papers at the conference there seems to be a general trend towards cooperation between archivists and IT professionals to develop solutions applicable to the archival world. Archivists agree that information technology can and should be used to open up collections but issues relating to standards, controlled vocabularies, and preferred types of archival software remain. The conclusion of the conference was, however, optimistic. Current developments will draw the archival world closer together as it adapts to a future in which information technology will play an increasingly dominant role.

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