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Data Matters

March 23, 2016

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.

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