Friday 11 March 2011

My thoughts on the UK Archives Discovery Network (UKAD) Forum on Wednesday 3rd March 2011

My first visit to the National Archives – after getting slightly disorientated when I came out the station I eventually got on the right road and made my way to the National Archives.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the day – would it all be too ‘techy’ and over my head, would it be practical or theoretical, what would I be able to take away and apply to my work? One thing I certainly had not expected was the high attendance of the conference, I was expecting maybe 30 or 40 people not the 100 or so people that attended.  There was a real buzz on arrival of expectation and enthusiasm which was just great.  I felt slightly overwhelmed at first as it’s the first archive meeting I’ve been to since moving down to London and although the archives world is still relatively small it is of course a lot smaller in Scotland, so not so many familiar faces for me.  However this was great as it was an opportunity to meet and chat to archivists and information professionals from all over, Scotland included.  

The event was the first event organised by the UK Archives Discovery Network (UKAD) who describe themselves as “a network of like-minded archivists and other professionals working towards opening up archival data in order to promote the use of archives.”  I liked the sound of this, had a look at the planned agenda for the day, and decided to sign up, and, the event was free – even better!

The day began.. with tea and biscuits of course! As anyone who knows me can attest I don’t function well until I’ve had my obligatory morning caffeine kick.  The day proper began with two keynote speakers in the plenary session, John Sheridan (The National Archives) and Richard Wallis (Talis).  Both these speakers talked about open data and linked data.  The definition given of linked data, as I remember it, was information that is known about the information you have, and how to exploit this using the web.  So basically how do we create the links between the information we have and other information about our information on the web.  So far so straightforward.  At least two speakers references Tim Berners-Lee’s  ‘Five Stars of publishing data’ which i really like as a brief guide of 'what to do'.
* putting on web
** make it available as structured data
*** standardized format
**** URL’s to identify things
***** link data to other data, context

So, what I have taken away from the day? First off, as a side product of the actual presentations and workshops, I came away with a reaffirmed belief in the friendliness and enthusiasm of my colleagues in the profession because of the energy and enthusiasm of the day.  I’m always banging on about how much I love being an archivist, well this day just reinforced many of the reasons why.

I also came away with some specific tips for increasing the profile of an institution, for example using Google Analytics; using URL’s which make sense & are relevant, & not using acronyms in URL’s; checking to see if there’s a Wikipedia entry for institution, if not, why not, and can we create one?

Importantly I feel I gained a deeper awareness of the importance of thinking about what we want to achieve with the use of social media.  Do we want to attract the same users as would come through the door, are we targeting specific user groups at all or do we just want to promote generally?  Is it about promotion or interaction, or both?  Generally thinking of the use  of social media in the same way you would any other activity i.e. formulating plans and aims beforehand.

The day ended with a great session by Teresa Docherty from the Women’s Library about the relaunch of Genesis.  Genesis is a project which works as a portal allowing people to search across women’s studies resources in a huge number of locations – archives, libraries and museums across the UK.  Teresa finished her talk with the sentiment that ‘lets get out data out and let people play with it.  It’s time to have some fun!’ (paraphrased).  I love this attitude as I think it’s too easy to get stuck in the trap that our Archive, or a particular set of records in our archive, would only be of interest to one set of users.  One example I can think of from my own experience so far is artists coming in and doing projects in the archive and producing outstanding new work based on the archives.  This ties into a point made earlier in the day by Alexandra Eveleigh that we are maybe too accustomed to thinking only of study and research in terms of use of our archive and we need to think of archives outside of this narrow definition for example the use of apps and gaming devices by museums.  There were of course mountain of other topics discussed and areas covered, and far more eloquently than I could summarise, so here is a link to Slideshare where some of the speakers have uploaded their presentations:

Teresa Docherty – Genesis Relaunch

Richard Wallis – Linked Data

There are also some blog posts I've come across about the day - a great post by Bethan Ruddock at the Archives Hub and another on the SALDA blog.

So, the task now is to apply what has been learned, continue to be open and receptive to new ideas, and keep up the enthusiasm!

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