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!
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll reserve a spot for you.
Hope to see you there!
Sarah Gerrard (in Hampshire) and Kate Watson (in Dorset)
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.
- “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.
On 10th July 8 archivists and records managers from the south met at a bistro in Bournemouth to discuss all things digital!
We came from a range of backgrounds, from universities to local authorities to a religious order. This was great because those experiences meant we had different perspectives on what to digitise and how to deal with born digital records.
Our first subject for discussion was the blog post “For God’s sake, stop digitizing paper” by Joshua Ranger. We thought the blog’s message wasn’t clear enough and wished it had more of the argument that audiovisual materials are in greater danger of obsolescence. Even so, it provoked discussion about how the public expects to find records online but don’t understand the amount of work needed to get them there.
Next, the 2011 presidential address by Helen Tibbo in the American Archivist led us to talk about opportunities for the profession. Ideas from the group included how to help our organisations deal with huge digital volumes by promoting/legitimising destruction and being a hub of knowledge. We spoke about how archivists are often driven by a love of content and preserving history, which may be limiting how we take these chances.
We talked about it being difficult to make decisions about what digital records to keep. Decisions are needed upfront but we can’t always foresee future uses. A useful example was that digitised records can be used to study physical formats when the quality and resolution is high enough.
It was a helpful get-together as the subject meant everyone had something to offer, though with it being so broad we went off on lots on tangents! Looking forward to the next one…
After a long hiatus, the next meeting of Cardigan Continuum London has finally been organised for 14th September at 6pm. The challenge for those coming along is to read and gain some understanding of the W3C PROV Standard.
According to the W3C Group on Provenance ‘Provenance is information about entities, activities, and people involved in producing a piece of data or thing, which can be used to form assessments about its quality, reliability or trustworthiness.’ Is this a definition we recognise? Is this a standard we understand? What (if anything) does its development mean for archives and records management? Can we even follow the standard, expressed as it is in a language many of us are not familiar with? All these questions and more will be open for discussion, so please join us.
The venue is to be confirmed, so please email me at email@example.com if you would like to come along and I will send you the final details in due course.
P.S. If you get stuck – this article might help “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.