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To cloud or not to cloud

On 2nd March 2017 a dedicated group of Cardigan Continuum Southers met in Winchester to discuss Luciana Duranti’s article “Records and Archives in the Commercial Cloud.” Over dinner and drinks in a traditional pub we discussed cloud computing, went off on many tangents, and shared how we are responding to challenges in our own organisations.

We found more than enough to talk about but concentrated mainly on the practical information at the beginning of the article, before it gets very abstract and theoretical!

The group agreed with Duranti’s idea that cloud services have changed behaviour. So many people now use Gmail, for example, without thinking that using the cloud has become second nature, at least for personal information.

We spent a long time discussing the idea that it’s impossible to maintain a complete central recordkeeping system, even before information becomes stored in “several different clouds”. Some users find EDRMS so difficult to use, especially where multiple clicks are needed to save or access a document, that they take the familiar option of saving to shared or personal drives. At least in local government, there is less concern about the digital black hole because many services still keep hybrid records.

The idea of a generational difference in following policies also caught our attention – we agreed older generations are better at it but we weren’t sure why! Potentially anyone who has worked in a structured environment (paper-based or not) appreciates the value of good filing to find something again. Whereas younger people are more likely to have relied on search tools and see less value in saving information in a particular place?! These thoughts tied in with our experiences that there needs to be a corporate obligation to using any recordkeeping system, but also that the chosen system needs to be so easy to use that the benefits are obvious.

We diverted our chat to records retention and how relying on individuals to make decisions doesn’t work because people are notoriously bad at getting rid of stuff!  Apparently, this is more of a problem with digital information – are people more cautious because they create more digital files? Because they don’t give up custody by sending a physical file to a records centre? Are they overwhelmed?

In dealing with the issues raised we agreed that IT, records management and archivists all need to interact. This can be a challenge because of different perspectives but mainly because our IT departments prompt different levels of trust! We debated whose responsibility it is to keep safe records about mineral sites and listed buildings that are “in continuous becoming”. Do archives have an obligation to preserve these files or does it interfere with the lifecycle to keep a ‘live’ file?

Overall the group didn’t share all of Duranti’s concerns – in reality we just don’t have time to worry about it all!  And we weren’t sure that archive users worry about metadata and chain of custody either, yet… and what can archivists do if metadata has been lost long before? A couple of times we questioned whether paper can also be accessioned without a full history or with a history that has been faked.

Finally, we wondered how to get suppliers interested in unsexy recordkeeping requirements. Procurement rules seem to discourage long contracts yet suppliers claim their systems can manage records for up to 50 years. The Data Protection Act has caused new data centres to be built in the UK, can legislation or other new government regulations create a similar reaction?

Looking back, the article probably raised more questions than it answered but the discussion and sharing ideas was very useful for us all. Looking forward to the next one!


Next Cardigan Continuum South Meeting

The next meeting of Cardigan Continuum South will take place at The Westgate pub in Winchester on Thursday 2nd March 2017 at 7:30pm.

This time, we will be thinking about how archives and records management services are addressing the opportunities and challenges presented by storing records online in the cloud. Please do read Luciana Duranti’s interesting article on Records and Archives in the Commercial Cloud as a starting point for discussion.

Everyone is welcome, so if you’d like to come along, please email and we’ll reserve a spot for you.

Hope to see you there!

CC South 14th March

A small but perfectly formed group of archivists and records managers came along to the most recent Cardigan Continuum South meeting on 14th March. We met at Ebb & Flow in Southampton on a quiet Monday evening. We decided for a change to talk about an IRMS podcast: James Lappins’ discussion with Barclay T. Blair about big data, information governance and records management. Before talking about the chosen podcast we chatted over drinks about the upcoming changes to the ARA Registration Scheme and the need for some of us to get our portfolios ready in time for the October 2017 deadline.

Being from a variety of organisations, we had a balance of opinions and different levels of experience that led to a very interesting discussion. One of the first talking points was about what Hadoop is – none of us knew exactly what this meant and from some definitions we’d looked up, we tried to get our heads around it! We settled on the concept that instead of having a database that contains a single set of data in a single location, it was a way of distributing data and processing power over lots of different locations and so enabling the processing of ‘big data’. Currently although we are all aware of big data, none of our responsibilities extend to managing it.

Two big ideas from the podcast stood out to all of us. Firstly, we didn’t agree that data is necessarily good or bad but somewhere in the middle (see a similar discussion about how data is the new sugar). But we did agree with the assertion that changes in technology have overtaken changes in theory… the practical example being that the proliferation of emails in inboxes, and the information and attachments they contain, have stopped records from being actively filed.

Our thoughts later turned to information governance (deciding it’s an umbrella term for ALL activities that manage information, not just those relating to compliance) and then onto records management (RM). We discussed the drivers for RM and classification:

* Limiting the choices that users make when they work with documents, putting records into relevant categories instead of letting users make free choices about descriptions

* Narrowing search and so improving how records can be found

* Supporting archivists as it can be impossible to organise and understand a transfer of ad hoc information

* Also security is becoming a very news-worthy issue and so we saw the value in the idea that we need classification to separate out what needs securing most, surely otherwise we must secure everything?

Ending the meeting on a positive note we discussed how RM has a particular role to play in organisations – taking a long-term view of information to counter business focus on immediate needs. However, we did say that if we could have a magic RM tool, it would be the ability to make people care more about their information and records, which would be much more useful than any technical solution!

Data Matters

Here is a quick write-up of the Cardigan Continuum London meeting that was held after the UKAD Forum on 17th March. The text under consideration was The application of technology-assisted review to born-digital records transfer, Inquiries and beyond: research report but inspired by the talks and posters at the Forum, discussion tended to range quite broadly around the theme of ‘data’ and the question raised at the Forum of ‘what does it mean to have a data mind-set?’

As usual at our gatherings, no firm conclusions were reached, but what did start to emerge was the sense in which a data mind-set was not really an attitude towards data, but an attitude towards how we worked with others. An attitude characterised by a strange tension between being, on the one hand, more open and inclusive in building collaborative working relationships with others (particularly those seen as being more ‘techie’ than your average archivist), and, on the other hand, being more assertive in those relationships, by pushing back against the idea that people could just dump their data on us and then run, leaving us to sort it all out for them.

Three of those attending were coming to the end of a very data focused week and spoke of their reflections on another conference – the Our Digital Future conference which was held in Cambridge on 14th and 15th March and which they had also attended. Here they had started to explore what it might feel like to inhabit the role of ‘data archivist’ alongside colleagues from CERN and similar large scale infrastructures in the Biosciences and beyond. Also at this conference they had heard first hand reports from those at TNA involved in the experiments being reported in the reading set for the meeting, which brings us back to what we were supposed to be discussing all along…..

So, as to the report itself, everyone thought it was very interesting, whilst recognising that there was still a long way to go before such techniques could be seen or accepted as part of the routine work of archivists. Nevertheless they did see it as vital that such experiments were carried out, and even more crucially, widely reported and the results shared, by those with the resources to do so. We will increasingly need to start ‘delegating’ more of our processing work to machines if we are to cope and we do need to start thinking and discussing and working out what this means and how it can be done. The meeting wished to pass on a big thank you to those at TNA involved in this work and a plea to keep up the good work and the open reporting of their results.

Cardigan Continuum @ UKAD Forum 2016

This year’s UKAD Forum, will be held at The National Archives on 17 March on the subject of ‘Data Matters’. The UKAD Forum is always a very stimulating and energising event and so we will be riding the wave of this energy with a meeting of the Cardigan Continuum at 5.15pm, following on from all the discussions and talks of the day.

The text we will be reading will be some of TNA’s own research stemming from the Digital Transfer Project, namely, and in keeping with the UKAD theme of ‘Data Matters’, The application of technology-assisted review to born-digital records transfer, Inquiries and beyond: research report

We will be meeting at the Coach and Horses on Kew Green so join us there, or, if you are at the UKAD Forum, walk over with us when the event finishes.

Next Cardigan Continuum South meeting – Postponed

The next meeting of Cardigan Continuum South was due to take place at the Ebb and Flow Café Bar in Southampton on Tuesday 1st December 2015 at 7:30pm, but has been postponed until further notice.

In a shocking break from the norm, we will be listening to a podcast, rather than reading an article. You can download or stream the podcast from the IRMS website: Barclay T. Blair on big data, information governance and records management.

We will be pondering general questions about the relevance of big data and information governance to our own archive and records services, and asking whether traditional records management is ‘broken’ (as NARA would apparently have us believe).

Everyone is welcome, so if you’d like to come along, please email and we’ll reserve a spot for you.

Hope to see you there!

Sarah Gerrard (in Hampshire) and Kate Watson (in Dorset)

Pondering Provenance

On Monday 14th September, seven hardy souls met to discuss the W3C Provenance Standard. Everybody agreed that it was interesting to see another community’s take on provenance and that it did offer some reassurance that we were not alone in our belief that provenance was a very important concept with the potential to bring all sorts of benefits, if it could be harnessed and implemented. We did have doubts though about how these benefits might be realised and we felt that in our experience, recognition that ‘the question of how to collect adequate provenance, especially from end-users, is a challenging open problem’ (1) was probably something of an understatement.

As to the question of how it might be of benefit to archivists and records managers, we considered that it was a useful document for the following reasons;

  • It can act as a tool to build common understanding of provenance between the profession and IT professionals. It was envisaged that giving our IT colleagues a copy of this document, written as it is in a language they are more familiar with, would probably get our point across a lot more effectively than talking about Jenkinson and the fonds.
  • It can act as an educational tool for us, acting as it does as a reflection on and deconstruction of an idea that tends to be so all-encompassing for us that we find it hard to see it at all. For example, one answer, to the question ‘what have you learnt from this document’, was ‘that provenance is not as complex as I thought it was’.

On a personal note, I was left thinking that perhaps we (as a profession) do have a tendency to want to see provenance as this hugely complex and difficult thing since that then supports our sense of identity through our claim to a special understanding of and expertise in it? Indeed one of the things we found it quite hard to do at the meeting was to articulate what we could add, what we knew as archivists and records managers that would support the claim that we are the experts in provenance? If you have an answer to that one, please add it below.

  1. Requirements for Provenance on the Web”, Paul Groth, Yolanda Gil, James Cheney and Simon Miles, International Journal of Digital Curation, 2012, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 39-56.