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Cardigan Continuum North West #2

December 15, 2012

The North West group met for the second time on 14 November, this time at Leaf in Liverpool.  Turn-out was again very good and we were especially pleased to welcome some of the students from the Liverpool course.

Our discussion on the issues around the release of the Hillsborough records was greatly aided by the attendance of one of the project archivists, who was able to give us a real insight in to the work that had been done.  On the subject of neutrality, it was generally agreed that both the archives and archivists had been completely neutral in this case, but there was some debate as to the neutrality of the panel and indeed the neutrality of the project as a whole, which had, after all, been set up in response to campaigning by the Hillsborough families.  In the end, the archives had been all the more powerful for being neutral, and everyone felt that this was one of the best examples we’d ever seen of the power of archives.  For that reason, there was some disappointment that more had not been made of the archivists’ role in the process.

We were not entirely convinced about user uncertainty.  Most archivists’ experience suggested that lots of users come to archives with a premeditated hypothesis and want to find archives to fit.  It was suggested that modern search tools can encourage this behaviour.  Enabling researchers to search for key words or certain records means that they may be the only resources they view, remaining unaware of the huge number of alternatives that disprove their theory.  Browsing a traditionally structured catalogue would make it harder to ignore the whole picture.

The idea of ‘discovery’ was discussed and it was generally felt that a record can be catalogued and accessible, but is often not perceived to have been ‘discovered’ until an academic or journalist has done something with it.  Should this worry archivists?  Is it symptomatic of our low profile, or is that how it should be?  Is it our job to draw conclusions or to enable others to do so?  And in drawing any conclusions, how far should any archive be regarded as ‘the truth’?  In a case where a great deal of attention had been on finding the truth, it was very noticeable that records such as witness statements were only ever one person’s version of events.

Finally, and slightly depressingly, the question was posed: if a similar event happened today, what would be the chances of being able to find and access electronic records 20+ years later?  We were not optimistic, but thought there might be plenty of out of focus and wobbly footage on YouTube.

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