Posted by: Marie Owens
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Final conference blog: On Friday, the final day of the conference, the sun came out. In several ways.
First, the sun really did come out and Brighton was transformed: the beach was packed, the sea tranquil and the conference delegates were taking well-earned quick breaks outside and coming back with broad smiles. A few who had looked slightly the worse for wear after duty on the latin dance floor the night before, really came to after coffee and that injection of sunshine.
There was optimism in the air everywhere. Sue Donnelly, Ed Fay and Elinor Robinson from LSE gave a stirring three-hander on their practical experience of how to take in digital material – from those vital conversations with depositors to the physical ‘what we do with memory sticks when they arrive’ (sometimes in the post!) Conference loved the actual pictures of what gadget is plugged into what – the scary made quite normal and do-able.
The afternoon ‘roundup’ was memorable. Five professionals opined on ‘the way forward for the sector’. Four men and a woman – not very balanced in that way (though it was meant to be Annie Mauger from CILIP not the outstanding Simon Edwards...) Oliver Morley always tends to steal the show and this time he spoke simply about – confidence. He’d been in Brisbane, he’d spent the day at this conference. He was completely convinced the sector could deal with all things thrown at it.
Geoff Pick always manages to be funny and memorable. The 100 years since the South Pole conquest gave him his theme. To move ahead we’d need some of the Amundsen winner mentality, some of Scott’s dedication and multi-tasking, some of Shackleton’s pure heroic leadership.
Fabi Barticioti and her New Professionals section make one terribly optimistic about the future of the profession. Funny, bright, dedicated and worth listening to. ‘Are we professional information jugglers?’ she asked. Anyone new to the professional who isn’t in Fabi’s gang is really missing a trick.
David Wallace gave the opening address on Wednesday about Wikileaks. On Friday he had the unenviable task of trying to ‘sum up/give concluding remarks’. It was quite a tour de force. David reminded us what we had heard and what it might mean. He joined some wonderful dots for us all.
So, okay, I’m biased. Of course I think that ARA members and ARA conferences are hard to beat. We’d had three days of important papers, lots of questions, full engagement. And there was a real sense of belief and grit as everyone headed out into the sun.
Blog written at 11.30 pm, 30 August: Thursday afternoon for me was about the Journal – soon to be Archives & Records – and all aspects of its mission and operation. Under new publisher Taylor and Francis there are plans for quick online publication. It is a grade 1 peer-reviewed journal and really enhances the ARA’s reputation. I also caught most of Caroline Peach’s presentation about the BL’s Preservation Advisory Centre. Caroline was doing an excellent ‘trends of the last 12 months’ roundup. We’ve been working together on a new advocacy day for collection care - looking forward to that. Everyone is now pretty much talking to everyone and is very relaxed and comfortable. It all makes for a delightful feeling of camaraderie. A very nice gala dinner – well done the Grand Hotel - and then Latin dancing. Who would have put money on the dance floor being full of archivists and record managers swaying to the rhythm. Great joy. (People are still talking about the Wikileaks 'good leaks/bad leaks' issue and the strong impression left by Tony Ageh. But general feeling is that the standard of all papers/presentations is very high, higher than Edinburgh probably. Didn't think we'd be saying that.)
Blog written at 2.30pm 30 August:
So what mostly happened this morning? Well, mostly I got very very inspired.
Tony Ageh described himself as a man who refuses to take no for an answer. With the I-player and the Guardian Guide to his credit, you get his point. And his points were electrifying: 1. Our creative and proud juices have been gradually worn away. In the 2012 Olympics we reminded ourselves, with Danny Boyle's and an army of volunteers' help, what we are capable of
2. The BBC’s archives are ours – they belong to licence payers. We deserve access
3. Archives are powerful – they could fuel the next revolution – and archivists can own this new world Sue Breakell, Archivist at the University of Brighton Design Archives, took up a similar theme when she described how everyone was using OUR words (archives!!) but not always involving us. We need to get into the conversations – with all kinds of people – that we should be leading. Heather Briston helped us all think about innovation. What is it and how do archivists make innovation happen? Google employees have 20% thinking time. How about that? Finding a balance between innovation and ‘stuff’ – maybe that was the challenge? With more iphones being bought than babies born, Michael Gallagher described the impossibility of banning employees from ‘bringing their own IT gadgets to work’. His strategy was to agree a way forward – a deal – so work records are not lost but employee choice remains. It seems that those who use their own (preferred) technology are working more hours a day than other people.....
Steve Bailey is pretty sure that record managers have to pass the baton on technology to a new generation of computer specialists and retain ownership and guidance of the traditional record and the strategy for the future. The King is dead was his argument, but the new King would need a Protector.
Another morning bursting with things to talk about and think about.
Blog written 9pm on 29 August: Day one of the annual ARA conference and it was the PEOPLE who kept breaking through. In a world where WEB 2.0 technology was probably the single biggest factor enabling Wikileaks – and lots of other leaks - to happen, the actions and ethics of individuals – sometimes the archivists – are key. David A Wallace talked about good leaks and bad leaks. Is it possible to rationalise what Julian Assange and others before him did? Wallace gave a meaty presentation, documenting amongst other things the HUGE amount of information involved in the Wikileaks disclosures over several years. Made possible by new-style, non-locked down website technology. The implications for the public in an age of leaks were profound. Government may look to be even more secretive if nothing remains private. So the right channels of record keeping – involving archivists – may become redundant. How does one form ethical codes – and does one inevitably form them too late? Hull History Centre has 96 volunteers working on their projects. They had been vital in highly successful progress. You just have to say – wow. Cathy Williams gave a very human face to her presentation on The Record, TNA's huge project to record the 2012 Games. Her own snapshots of her own Olympic day. Full of people. Jack Latimer tried to define what makes community archives websites work – and not. The difference, he believes is – people. And the right sort of people. An editor, passionate about content and keen to engage and respond, often made the biggest difference. Real people that other real people want to talk to. Caroline Adams had faced challenging times as cuts hit West Sussex Record Office. But change had brought some new audiences and new friends. My mental image of the day was of Caroline and her colleagues recruiting to the family history world the customers of the new ‘service next door’ now space was at a premium – those registering their new babes.
The Keep, the new home the records of East Sussex partners, looks to be a success story well on the way to fruition. New vision, new partnerships, new buildings (coming soon). Wendy Walker spoke – here it is again – of the value of people. Working together all the way, sharing and taking time to celebrate progress. The formal day ended with John Chambers and me reminding ARA members what the Association was all about. So that was pretty much about people too!
Drinks at the end of a windy pier brought an unexpected delight in a witty and welcoming Mayor who clearly knew his archives and 'got' our work. A splendid day all round.