The ARA Conference
This annual event brings together the influential players of the recordkeepingsector. High profile speakers discuss latest developments and delegatescan network with fellow members of the community
ABOUT THE ARA CONFERENCE
Conference theme: 'Global Futures'
We know our future is a global one. Global relationships, interactions, communications and connectivity are shifting the way in which we live and work. The record, its information content and memory are an increasing global commodity and as professional custodians we are responsible for authenticity and integrity; which in turn ensures that global research, knowledge exchange, collective memory, political and legal rights, are able to be explored, scrutinized and upheld. Our professional lives often focus on pragmatic response to everyday situations, but we face a constant requirement to communicate and demonstrate to ourselves and to others our ability to place our work firmly in the future.
For those of you who have not been to an ARA conference take a look at this short video to get a taste
Conference 2016 - Day One
Geoff Pick, ARA Chair
Geoff welcomed everyone to the 2016 ARA Conference and to Wembley. Looking forward to a packed programme he talked about how the conference has grown over the years into what is now recognised as an international event and he warmly welcomed our many overseas visitors.
Introducing Colin Prescod, today's Keynote Speaker he talked of the years they have work together on the Huntley project, a record of Carribean immigrants arriving in the UK since the 1960's which is held at the London Metropolitan Archives.
Colin Prescod, Chair Institute of Race Relations on ‘Archives, Race, Class and Rage.’
In short, a culture of ‘agents’ and ‘agency’ means having an agenda: to deliberately seek out and protect records that might illuminate and support those marginalised by the dominant narrative and think again about what we ‘keep’ and what we consider ‘ephemeral’.
Colin used the example of the ‘missing’ Foreign Office records on Mau Mau (in Kenya) – and the now-notorious litigation that followed - as an example of the potential ‘duplicity of archivists at the highest level’ in protecting the dominant narrative. But accidental, unthinking behaviour, a doing-things-as-they-have-always-been-done mindset can be equally damaging. He explained the empowering impact of minority communities confronting and taking ownership of such issues, going beyond asking questions of society and focusing instead on providing answers. He explained how ‘black’ archives have grown and broadened in the past fifty years, and how they now enable ground-breaking events like the “No Colour Bar” exhibition at London’s Guildhall in 2015-16, where Black British art and related archive material combined to tell the powerful story of the evolution of a community and an identity, in the words and colours of that community.
James Lowry, Lecturer, Liverpool Universitty Centre for archive Studies
International collaboration on the repatriation of displaced archives
James Lowry delivered his paper with clarity and used a striking image of Embakasi who was castrated by the ruling regime at the time of the Mau Mau rebellion to highlight the international importance of archives held by a former government for future accountability. In Embakasi’s case, the records were used to call the British Government to account for their actions during the rebellion.
Instead of focusing upon bilateral efforts to repatriate displaced archives James Lowry’s paper focused upon multilateral efforts. Lowry gave a concise timeline with a clear explanation of the International work that has taken place since the 1960s to the near present-day which included UNESCO’s Archival Claims: Preliminary Study on the Principles and Criteria to be Applied in Negotiations, their Model Bilateral and Multilateral Agreements and Conventions Concerning the Transfer of Archives and Disputed Archival Claims: Analysis of an International Survey. He also examined the the Vienna Convention On the Succession of States in Respect of State Property, Archives and Debts (which was widely perceived to be a failure when it became a diplomatic battleground between France and Algeria) as well as the ICA’s input on A Reference Dossier on Archival Claims.
Lowry reviewed the terminologies involved in repatriation and displaced archive, where in the UK and the Commonwealth they are referred to as migrated archives, although he settles for ‘displaced archives’ as the preferred term. He then spoke about the ideas and issues involved with ‘shared heritage’ which relates to the sharing of archives between several states from one body although the archive cannot be broken up. This is discussed in greater detail in his forthcoming edited work Displaced Archives due for publication in February 2017.
Beyond repatriation, archival theory acknowledges that archival work is inherently political and it is an archival responsibility to consider the issues involved with displaced works and be aware of future global trends such as the possibility of digital repatriation, post-nationalist and global communities as well political will and archival ethics which vary from activism to description.
Lowry concluded that “by resolving disputes and reconstituting bodies of archives, physically or virtually, we can reconstruct the contents and connections that enable archives to tell their stories. This will have important consequences for historical narratives, accountability and justice.” He certainly gave the assembled delegates much to consider and apply to their own collections.
Zoe Reid, Head of Conservation, National Archives of Ireland
From 1916 - 2016 The journey of documents from the conservation bench to the Twitter post
Zoe Reid started by discussing property losses (Ireland) Committee (PLIC) which assesses claims for damages to buildings and property.
The collection consists of badly damaged and fragmentary plans on tracing paper media. Typical damage included creases, tears, surface and ingrained dirt, plus handling issues due to them being folded multi times.
Treatments included careful cleaning to remove surface dirt using a smoke sponge. The plans were then humidified using an ultra sonic humidifier. Tears and damaged areas were supported with OK remoistenable tissue. Missing areas were I filled with Usumino Japanese paper.
Other media that required treatment were a series of typescript reports written in purple typescript with annotations in red. Also, letters of correspondence where damaged areas see supported with Tapioca coated remoistenable OK tissue.
The software had been developed out of a desire to move away from the tedium of paper based report writing to something more advanced and ultimately less time consuming.
Creation of multi media templates
Use of App
Emma Stagg (UK National Archives), Simon Wilson (Hull History Centre), Tim Street (Adopt an Intern) and Caroline Brown (CAIS – University of Dundee).
Pushing Boundaries – Rethinking Recruitment Practices to Diversify the Workforce
Emma took us through some of the practical approaches that the UK National Archives (TNA) had taken when looking at improving diversity internally and in the sector more widely. They started in what should always be the obvious place (but often forgotten), ie learning from experience – what has shown promise and what has been tried but hasn’t worked. That opens up routes to identify and try new approaches – looking to recruit from outside the profession people with diverse skills. In all this, it was important (within a large organisation) to work closely with the in-house human resources professionals to identify means and methods used more widely in recruitment.
Simon took us through the principles used at Hull when looking at diversity – the need to focus on different backgrounds and different perspectives, and the need to put the individual at the centre of the process. It was vital that any new recruits, in whatever capacity, be ‘embedded’ in the organisation, not left out on a limb or as part-time team members. It was also vital that people should be given distinctive roles and projects – enabling them to self-audit and say ‘I did that’ – rather than feel like a spare wheel. In short, he was advocating an inclusion agenda that should have an impact on the host institution itself. Diversity also means changing how we think, work and communicate.
Tim focused on Adopt an Intern’s efforts to place people from more diverse backgrounds into archives and records roles in Scotland. A rigorous mapping of applicants for internship roles enabled them to break-down the (many hundreds of) applicants into distinctive groups, by age, ethnic diversity, gender and so on. The programme had enjoyed some evident success in getting applications from people without a prior professional background in archives and from ethnic minority groups. But he left us – tantalisingly – grappling with two competing sets of questions: should we discriminate positively or engage in ‘profile targeting’ in order to manufacture greater diversity in the archives and records workspace; and on the other hand, can we really employ ‘just anybody’, do organisations really have the time to train those without formal qualifications and is it really affordable for many people to simply switch careers into record-keeping?
Caroline explained the Dundee focus on improving their ability to ‘spot potential.’ Formal interviews, for example, has been shown to be an ineffective means of doing this: people who were bad at interviewing did not necessarily lack potential. Basic effort to identify people that had been prevented from a records career by some barrier, or with unusual but interesting skill-sets, had been more effective. We shouldn’t drop standards: we still wanted people who could demonstrate a passion/interest in archives and records. But we also mustn’t think of interns, trainees, etc. as free labour. She finished by saying that the simple process of looking at diversity had forced people to ‘ask ourselves who we are’, confront and address ‘the evident gaps in what we do’ and think more about ‘our social role.’ In other words, you aren’t doing diversity properly if it doesn’t end up changing you, too, and how you think about your roles and work as record-keepers.
There were several interventions from the floor, including the comment that diversity might be an easier proposition in smaller organisations, with flatter management, where collaborations (eg, between records managers and IT teams) might enable people from across the business to get a flavour of an archive, eg through short-term project work (and possibly later transfer in). The dynamic, ad hoc approach – just getting on and doing it – also had an important place.
Conference 2016 - Day Two
Jason King, Department of Communities & Local Government, UK, Ross Higgins, Central Bank of Ireland and Marja van der Made, Banking Sector
Record service provision in a changing records management world
Jason led off proceedings by focusing on the pace of change in central government: multiple re-organisations in the core functions plus spin-off and accumulation of agencies. Managing the impact of that, plus the growth of the ‘shared service’ business model and culture are taking records managers (even in highly-bureaucratised central government) much more into a commercial orientation. Some of these changes are being driven by policy – such as the 2012 UK civil service reform agenda and ad hoc changes to the ‘machinery of government.’ Others are cost-driven: how to do more (or the same) with less funding and fewer people.
However, there is an upside. ‘Those who know what to do (in records management) and how to do it are becoming scarce.’ Previous cuts have resulted in a dearth of those with the skills needed to manage change and who understand the technical and legal requirements of the RM function. Common sense dictated that you didn’t need to move files physically in order to ‘share’ services or manage them. The new world means developing new skills: working as much with procurement colleagues and commercial colleagues and, in some cases, developing in-house consulting expertise that can be marketed to others. Offsite file storage constraints allow creative business management options to emerge, eg based on accurate pricing of alternatives based on unit accommodation costs, time needed/saved, etc. In short, ‘world is changing and we need to change with it; share your services or be "shared" yourself.’
Ross centred his talk on ‘transformation or transfiguration’, ie is the digital environment we are facing now really uniquely revolutionary? In his view, much of the traditional skills remain as relevant in archives and records; they have just been reformatted to meet the needs of today and tomorrow. He compared the classical records model – information object, metadata, surrogate, etc. to Amazon’s model: almost a direct parallel, just that one is in digital format. He also showed how the surge in records and material in archives is not new: it has been happening for many decades (since the First World War). We have adapted in the past and we will adapt (are adapting) again going forward. We may end up in coming decades having the facility to index our own thoughts’, eg through artificial intelligence and other forms of technologies.
True, there has been a ‘double blow’ to the records profession: moves from centralisation to decentralisation of records and the devolution of ‘authority’ to users as creators of files. Also, the need to develop contract management competence, operational risk and other new techniques have all meant a greater focus on ‘soft skills’ than in the past. But the future pillars of our work will remain ‘classification’ and ‘retention scheduling’ – we just won’t create records or metadata, arrange or organise records or dispose of them. We will become ‘managers of people who manage records’, that is to say a much more strategic and customer-facing role than hitherto. Our ‘home’ will be in teams involving other disciplines – archivists, IT, knowledge managers, librarians – and we’ll be much more about performance management, role design and analysis, helping define the business model and positioning records management within the organisation.
Marja took us through the logical steps of understanding customers – so easy to forget or overlook in busy or isolated work environments. Her basic principle: ‘better information management is better customer management.’ If we take the trouble to understand the customer’s business, we can develop common objectives. If we deliver information and solutions quickly and accurately, we add value to our headline business through building loyalty. Quality is the key to success. Conversely, unhappy customers leads to no customers, which in the end means no records management or managers.
On the question of ‘value-add’, Marja defined it as ‘the (positive) difference between what a service costs customers and the benefits they derive.’ So, invest time in finding out how each customer or team of customers defines as ‘value’ and their top priorities. Records managers can’t always satisfy everyone all the time, but we can prioritise the things that matter to our most important customers. Also, monitor their satisfaction: the happiest customers will do your marketing job for you and sell your expertise to others. This means monitoring complaints with just as much focus as you monitor satisfaction: fixing problems cleanly and efficiently. Ultimately, the best-case is having your own Customer Relationship Management (CRM) strategy and system, building in pro-activity around new ideas and evolving client priorities.
Marja finished, in line with the other speakers, by stressing the increasing need for records managers to develop the soft skills of relationship management: being friendly, accessible, outgoing, planning customer engagement, networking multiple channels, etc. to gain a deeper understanding of your client base. With our global futures likely to be dominated by new regulations, new technologies, security and risk factors, CRM would become even more complicated but even more essential.
Answering questions from the floor, speakers set out some simple ways of doing outreach even in the busiest of roles and without leaving your desk. For example:
- ‘people only tend to contact the records manager when they have a problem. Use the engagement to help them fix their problem and as an outreach opportunity, eg to organise a meeting and develop a relationship with that person.’
- ‘If people aren’t calling you, you have a problem. They are going somewhere else for solutions or doing it themselves. That way, you’ll quickly become endangered.’
- ‘Try to get to ‘yes’ quickly – take on problems and say you’ll do something, especially for someone you’ve been trying to reach for a while. Then panic about how you’re going to do it!’
- ‘Get in with human resources and make sure you’re part of every induction process for new staff and part of the internal training and mentoring roster.’
- ‘Understand what makes your senior managers tick, what interests them. Then try to do something that sticks in their mind; in my case, it meant writing a blog because s/he was interested in history and we had some interesting stuff in the repository.’
Dr Janette Lisa Martin, Archivists, The John Rylands Library, The University of Manchester
Claire Mayoh, Archivist, Leeds Museums & Galleries/The Henry Moore Institute
Tutorial: Beyond the collecting policy – establishing boundaries in archives
This tutorial lead by Janette and Claire explored what if scenarios, working through 4 different situations where archivists had to make a decision on whether of not the collection be made available. This was something that I had previously done as part of my Archival Studies MA and loved (perhaps this is just the pleasure I get in playing the devil’s advocate!)
Record-keepers and Archivists are by nature, gate keepers of information does this give us the right to give, or not to refuse access to a particular item? We are, after all, individuals with different boundaries on what is and isn’t acceptable. To what extent do we have a responsibility to protect the users in our reading rooms?
Notable features in the session were: ‘embarrassing’ accounts, sexual and/or illegal activities, pornographic images, ’questionable’ images, notable individuals and comments relating to young adults.
Individuals rights to anonymity and privacy was the big point and topped the list of the greatest consideration to be taking into account.
Threats from individuals with an ulterior motive, seeking to exploit a situation without context was another talking point but if access is available, should it be available to all? One delegate argued the case of ‘beating them to it’, neutralising potentially sensitive material by exhibiting the material themselves.
We were challenged to discuss the possible ways to resolve the situation and the conclusions drawn were that the decision must be shared due to the subjective nature of the decisions and situations. Each situation would need to be addressed on a case by case basis.
This brought to discussion questions of whether age should be a barrier. Whilst films and pornographic material have guidelines, should historical collections? Should there be a ‘warning: this collection contains …’ notice for the collection?
Making what was once private and making it available for public consultation cannot help to be a minefield of what ifs. It is completely dependent on the situation, but should it be dependent on the user? You cannot help but notice that this session appears before ‘The Archive effect’: users, emotions and global impact’ session, this implies that we as archivist do have, at least, some responsibility to protect our users. We cannot limit access to history but we can at least be sympathetic and aware of sensitivities that our readers may experience in our reading rooms.
Tutorial: the 'archive effect': users, emotions and global impact.
I attended this tutorial because while I was aware using archives created emotional responses, it wasn't a concept I had thought much about or discussed before. We are more aware of the tangible outcomes archives have for users: their ability to support research, assert legal rights, confirm or refute theories etc, these are outcomes we can easily record with statistics and report back to our stakeholders as evidence advocating our services. But we also know as archivists that there is more to archival use than just the physical outcome of a visit, what about the emotional experience of the user? Caroline Williams illustrated this by reading out a moving entry from her grandmother's personal diary relaying a tragic experience in her life, it was plain to see Williams' own emotional experience. We were also reminded of scenes from the BBC's "Who do you think you are?" television series which Williams asserted capitalised on the emotional affect the celebrities had engaging with their past through archives with it's entertainment value. So we know there is an emotional experience, whether it is an upsetting response to a tragic event, that all too well known gleeful moment of experiencing holding that centuries old item that many members of the public can't believe they are allowed to hold. I myself still get overwhelmed holding documents that were written hundreds of years ago as I imagine the lives of those that have held it before me; through to the euphoria of finding that integral piece of information that pulls together someone's research. Using archives is an emotional experience, but this is not something I have thought about before and the workshop raised a lot of questions and started a discussion. Should we be exploiting this? This is something museums have apparently had success in doing for their own advantages, is this potentially a way to getting funding? If it can be exploited then should we be recording it? We are very good at recording our quantifiable activities with statistics such as the number of users, staff hours given and items collected for example, but how do we begin to collect this kind of information? Emotional response may not be shown in a physical way, a feedback form asking the user how they felt was suggested. In the workshop we didn't answer the questions with definitive answers, but it started a discussion and made me think more about the social impact archives have and how this starts from an individual's experience. I'm not sure if I will start collating emotional responses at this stage, but it has made me think about how I will engage with my users and the questions I will ask them about their experience, to think beyond just asking "did you find everything you were looking for?"
Stacey Kennedy, Archives Manager, Peterborough Archives Service (Vivacity).
Martin Springell, Preservica
Workshop: Making digital preservation part of the overall information lifecycle: From automated ingest to global public access
This session explored the advantages and challenges of making digital preservation part of the overall information lifecycle. Martin used practical examples and case studies to show how the ingest of digital content and records from a variety of systems and sources can be automated using Preservica. His demonstration focused on four steps to building a ‘living and flexible digital archive’:
1. Content upload and ingest
2. Collection arrangement, including re-arrangement and virtual alternative collections
3. Active preservation though file format migration
4. Internal and public access provision
Martin demonstrated the process of uploading and ingesting contentto ensure content safety, and explained that quality assurance checks (such as virus checking and checksum verification) are done automatically at the point of ingest.He showed how to ‘drag and drop’ to organise and reorganise content, and explained how alternative hierarchies can be created through links in ‘virtual collections’ without the need to create copies of content. Martin highlighted the importance of audit trails for proving provenance and outlined how metadata (description and audit trail) can be captured and viewed for any information object. He explored the idea of ‘active preservation’, using MOV and MSG files as examples to demonstrate how to migrate file formats using automated tools in order to ensure accessibility over time. Martin also demonstrated how to provide global online accessto a digital archive or collectionusing an easy to customise browser interfacewith search capabilities.
Victoria Stevens, Library and Archive Conservator, Oxford Conservation Consortium
Workshop: A forward looking tradition: textile dyeing for book conservation, using Daubeny library board slotting project as an exemplar
The following images were taken to follow the process demonstrated in this workshop.
Photo 1 - Introduction of Glauber's salt (sodium sulphate) to the dye bath. Quantity according to weight of fabric
Photo 2 - Rocking of dye bath from side to side for 20 minutes to ensure even uptake of dye. Textile is then left in dye bath for up to 1 hour
Photo 3 - Introducing the dyed salted textile into the now alkaline dye bath
Conference 2016 - Day Three
Annie Starkey, Conservator, Lancashire Archives
The Paper Trail
Annie gave a fascinating and interesting talk of her experiences of travelling to Fabriano in Italy to learn about the art of paper making. She will then move on to France and the Netherlands.
Annie was awarded a travelling fellowship via the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, the aim of which is to create a repair paper with similar properties to Japanese Kozo using traditional Western methods. The award will also enable Annie to develop her knowledge of the ancient craft of paper making.
Annie started her journey in Fabriano (the first time hand made paper was manufactured in Europe), Italy and she illustrated through a series of slides how paper has been made by hand since the 13th Century and the equipment used in this process such as vats and presses. She also spoke about her experiences of using this equipment , working alongside artisan paper makers and what she learnt from it
This journey will provide invaluable experience in this ancient art and hopefully lead to creation of a high quality repair paper for use on our western archives.
Zoe Kennington, Conservator, Lancashire County Council
All for one and one for all: working together in collaborative practice
Zoe's talk illustrated how important it is to work and share information and knowledge with fellow conservators across multi disciplines.
This was explained in detail via a series of projects Zoe has been involved in, working with conservators whose specialisms include textiles and paintings (works of art on paper).
These collaborative projects aim to share cross disciplinary skills and knowledge to formulate and to find solutions to problems and issues such as the removal of varnish and the treatment of textiles such as silk. Items assessed for treatment included a Llama bound book!
At the end of her presentation Zoe reflected on her experiences working with other highly skilled individuals and in particular highlighted the following points:
1. Gave a positive learning curve and challenged her working practices and expectations
2. Links with colleagues forged during this time have continued
3. Still involving each other in projects which are ongoing
4. Constantly learning and developing knowledge through cross disciplinary collaboration
5. This has lead to some unexpected CPD (Continual Professional Development Opportunities)
2016 Programme is now available click here