Tag Archives: #SkillsForTheFuture

Web Archiving & Preservation Working Group: Social Media & Complex Content

On January 16 2020, I had the pleasure of attending the first public meeting of the Digital Preservation Coalition’s Web Archiving and Preservation Working Group. The meeting was held in the beautiful New Records House in Edinburgh.

We were welcomed by Sara Day Thomson who in her opening talk gave us a very clear overview of the issues and questions we increasingly run into when archiving complex/ dynamic web or social media content. For example, how do we preserve apps like Pokémon Go that use a user’s location data or even personal information to individualize the experience? Or where do we draw the line in interactive social media conversations? After all, we cannot capture everything. But how do we even capture this information without infringing the rights of the original creators? These and more musings set the stage perfectly to the rest of the talks during the day.

Although I would love to include every talk held this day, as they were all very interesting, I will only highlight a couple of the presentations to give this blog some pretence at “brevity”.

The first talk I want to highlight was given by Giulia Rossi, Curator of Digital Publications at the British Library, on “Overview of Collecting Approach to Complex Publications”. Rossie introduced us to the emerging formats project; a two year project by the British Library. The project focusses on three types of content:

  1. Web-based interactive narratives where the user’s interaction with a browser based environment determines how the narrative evolves;
  2. Book as mobile apps (a.k.a. literary apps);
  3. Structured data.

Personally, I found Rossi’s discussion of the collection methods in particular very interesting. The team working on the emerging formats project does not just use heritage crawlers and other web harvesting tools, but also file transfers or direct downloads via access code and password. Most strikingly, in the event that only a partial capture can be made, they try to capture as much contextual information about the digital object as possible including blog posts, screen shots or videos of walkthroughs, so researchers will have a good idea of what the original content would have looked like.

The capture of contextual content and the inclusion of additional contextual metadata about web content is currently not standard practice. Many tools do not even allow for their inclusion. However, considering that many of the web harvesting tools experience issues when attempting to capture dynamic and complex content, this could offer an interesting work-around for most web archives. It is definitely an option that I myself would like to explore going forward.

The second talk that I would like to zoom in on is “Collecting internet art” by Karin de Wild, digital fellow at the University of Leicester. Taking the Agent Ruby – a chatbot created by Lynn Hershman Leeson – as her example, de Wild explored questions on how we determine what aspects of internet art need to be preserved and what challenges this poses. In the case of Agent Ruby, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art initially exhibited the chatbot in a software installation within the museum, thereby taking the artwork out of its original context. They then proceeded to add it to their online Expedition e-space, which has since been taken offline. Only a print screen of the online art work is currently accessible through the SFMOMA website, as the museum prioritizes the preservation of the interface over the chat functionality.

This decision raises questions about the right ways to preserve online art. Does the interface indeed suffice or should we attempt to maintain the integrity of the artwork by saving the code as well? And if we do that, should we employ code restitution, which aims to preserve the original arts’ code, or a significant part of it, whilst adding restoration code to reanimate defunct code to full functionality? Or do we emulate the software as the University of Freiburg is currently exploring? How do we keep track of the provenance of the artwork whilst taking into account the different iterations that digital art works go through?

De Wild proposed to turn to linked data as a way to keep track of particularly the provenance of an artwork. Together with two other colleagues she has been working on a project called Rhizome in which they are creating a data model that will allow people to track the provenance of internet art.

Although this is not within the scope of the Rhizome project, it would be interesting to see how the finished data model would lend itself to keep track of changes in the look and feel of regular websites as well. Even though the layouts of websites have changed radically over the past number of years, these changes are usually not documented in metadata or data models, even though they can be as much of a reflection of social and cultural changes as the content of the website. Going forward it will be interesting to see how the changes in archiving online art works will influence the preservation of online content in general.

The final presentation I would like to draw attention to is “Twitter Data for Social Science Research” by Luke Sloan, deputy director of the Social Data Science Lab at the University of Cardiff. He provided us with a demo of COSMOS, an alternative to the twitter API, which  is freely available to academic institutions and not-for-profit organisations.

COSMOS allows you to either target a particular twitter feed or enter a search term to obtain a 1% sample of the total worldwide twitter feed. The gathered data can be analysed within the system and is stored in JSON format. The information can subsequently be exported to a .CVS or Excel format.

Although the system is only able to capture new (or live) twitter data, it is possible to upload historical twitter data into the system if an archive has access to this.

Having given us an explanation on how COSMOS works, Sloan asked us to consider the potential risks that archiving and sharing twitter data could pose to the original creator. Should we not protect these creators by anonymizing their tweets to a certain extent? If so,  what data should we keep? Do we only record the tweet ID and the location? Or would this already make it too easy to identify the creator?

The last part of Sloan’s presentation tied in really well with the discussion about the ethical approaches to archiving social media. During this discussion we were prompted to consider ways in which archives could archive twitter data, whilst being conscious of the potential risks to the original creators of the tweets. This definitely got me thinking about the way we currently archive some of the twitter accounts related to the Bodleian Libraries in our very own Bodleian Libraries Web Archive.

All in all, the DPC event definitely gave me more than enough food for thought about the ways in which the Bodleian Libraries and the wider community in general can improve the ways we capture (meta)data related to the online content that we archive and the ethical responsibilities that we have towards the creators of said content.

Because Digital Objects can Decay too: Conducting a Proof of Concept for Archivematica

Like other archives, the Bodleian Libraries has been searching for ways to optimize the conservation of our digital collections. The need to find a solution has become increasingly pressing as the Bodleian Electronic Archives and Manuscripts (BEAM), our digital repository service for the management of born-digital archives and manuscripts acquired by the Special Collections, now contains roughly 13TB worth of digital objects, with much more waiting in the wings.

In order to help us manage the ingest of digital objects within our collections, the Bodleian Libraries undertook an options review as part of its DPOC project. This lead to a decision to conduct a proof of concept of Archivematica. This proof of concept included the installation of a QA and DEV environment with the help of Artefactual followed by an extensive testing period and a gap analysis.

In November 2018 we started testing the system to establish whether or not Archivematica met our acceptance criteria. We mainly focussed on three areas:

  1. Overall performance/ functionality: Is the system user friendly? Can it successfully process all the different file types and sizes that we have in our collection?
  2. Metadata: Can Archivematica extract the metadata from the Excel sheets that we have created over time? What technical metadata does Archivematica automatically extract from ingested files?
  3. File extraction and normalization: Are disk images extracted properly? Is the content of a transfers normalized to the right file type?

Whilst testing, we also reached out to and visited other organisations that had already implemented Archivematica as well, including the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, the University of Edinburgh, the National Library of Wales and the Wellcome Trust.

Based on the outcomes of the tests we conducted, and the conversations we had with other institutions, we identified five gap areas:

  1. Performance: The Archivematica instance we configured for the Proof of Concept struggled with transfers over 200GB or transfers that contain over 5000+ files.
  2. Error reporting: It was often unclear what a particular error code and message meant. The error logs used by system administrators are also verbose, making it hard for them to pinpoint the error.
  3. Metadata: Here we identified two gaps. Firstly, there is the verbosity of the metadata. Because Archivematica records individual PREMIS events for each digital file, the resulting METS file becomes unwieldy, compromising the system’s performance. Secondly, we require a workflow to migrate our spreadsheet-held legacy pre-ingest capture metadata and file-level metadata into Archivematica, and to go on including this pre-ingest metadata, which will continue to be recorded in spreadsheet form for the foreseeable, in future ingests.
  4. User/ access management: Archivematica does not offer a way to manage access to collections or Archive Information Packages, and allows all users to alter the system work-flow. We are a multi-user organisation, and wish to have tighter controls on access to collections and workflow configurations.
  5. General reporting: Archivematica currently does not offer many reports to monitor progress, content and growth of collections.

Once we identified these gaps we had an intensive two day workshop with Artefactual to pinpoint possible solutions, which we subsequently presented to the wider Archivematica community during the Archivematica Camp in London in July 2019.

We will use all the input gathered from the proof of concept to inform our initial implementation of Archivematica, which will begin in January 2020. The project will focus on the performance and metadata gaps identified during the proof of concept, allowing us to bring Archivematica into production use 2021. We are keen to work with the Archivematica community, so do get in touch at beam@bodleian.ox.ac.uk if you’re interested in finding out more about our work.

Curating the UK Web Archive’s Mental Health Collection

The UK Web Archive’s Mental Health, Social Media and the Internet collection  seeks to document the changing conversation surrounding mental health, social media and the internet by capturing UK-based websites for posterity.

Developing the Mental Health Collection

As well as including webpages which highlight the negative impact of social media on mental health, the mental health collection also serves to document online initiatives including web pages and social media platforms which are changing the conversation and helping to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health. Examples of sites within the mental health collection include:

  • HeadsTogether, a mental health initiative setup and run by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry incorporating a campaign to change the dialogue surrounding mental health and raise funds to provide new mental health services.
  • The Mix provides an important source of mental health information and advice for people under twenty-five, tackling topics such as anxiety and depression, self-care and counselling.
  • The Mental Health First Aid England Instagram account (mhfaengland) serves to raise mental health literacy through a series of eye-catching posts including: photographs, drawings and info graphics which promote self-care and good mental health.
  • The Mental Health Foundation is a UK charity which aims to help people to understand, protect and sustain good mental health as seen through their online Twitter page

Help us grow our collections

The mental health collection can become a richer resource with your help. You could see your site suggestions preserved in the UK Web Archive by nominating them here.

Online Enthusiast Communities in the UK Web Archive

There is a saying that ‘variety is the spice of life’ and this is certainly true when you think of the types of hobbies and interests the UK public engages in. There are the hobbies we have all probably heard of such as train spotting or metal detecting and there are the more obscure ones such as Poohsticks or Hand Dryer appreciation.  Websites are a useful tool for enthusiasts to communicate and share their passion with the world. At the UK Web Archive (UKWA) the Online Enthusiast Communities  collection aims to:

‘Capture how UK based public forums are used to discuss hobbies and activities and serve as a place for enthusiasts to converse with others sharing similar interests.’

This collection includes such a diverse and wonderful selection of websites and forums. I can honestly say that curating this collection has truly been a joy – there are probably very few jobs that allow you to look at The Letter Box Study Group (a website about the history and development of British roadside letter boxes) as part of your tasks for the day.

Differences I have noticed

As a curator you get to explore lots of sites and you begin to notice differences and similarities between websites. It is interesting to see the variety in website design and levels of expertise and to me it feels like this is reflected in the websites that are archived.

I have noticed lots of online communities using a variety of website builders. The huge diversity in tools appear to have made it easier to create more professional looking sites with ease. Compared to older sites, you notice:

  • the increased use of images
  • cleaner feel
  • neutral backgrounds
  • minimal text
  • occasional e-commerce sections

However, it is nostalgic to see some of the older more ‘blocky’ sites, as I do remember the days of dial-up internet access and early web sites. To me, forums tend to have a similar feel and the designs does not deviate greatly from each other.

I have also found how often a website updates intriguing. Some are regularly updated whereas others appear to have been untouched for several years. This may reflect that many websites are run by volunteers balancing other commitments. Regularity of updates is an important factor as it will contribute to deciding how often we capture the site – it is the skill of a web archivist to judge this accordingly however these frequencies can be updated.

Some of my Favourite sites

One of the joys of curating this collection is that you get to experience sites that are really unique that you would not normally explore. I wanted to highlight a few of the sites that particularly caught my attention, specifically from the ‘Miscellaneous’ sub section as this is my personal favourite.

Pylon of the Month

Pylon of the month (February 2018) from Sweden. Image Credit: Kristin Allardh, 2018

This is a site dedicated to electricity pylons highlighting a monthly winner. These could include current pylons or historic images and entries can come from the UK and beyond. Images are usually accompanied by some interesting history or facts.

Modernist Britain

Odeon cinema Leicester, Leicestershire. Image Credit: Richard Coltman, 2010

This site is beautifully designed and celebrates modernist architecture in Britain. There are fifty illustrated images with accompanying information about the history of the buildings and photographs taken by Richard Coltman.

Cloud appreciation society

A Lenticular cloud. Image Credit: © José Ramón Sáez, 2019

This site was launched in 2005 with the aim of ‘bringing together people who love the sky’. It has an international membership with members submitting images from all over the world. They also run events, cloud related news and in 2019 they are contributing to the non-profit FogQuest project.

The online enthusiast community is also very witty, there are some fantastically named sites and forums such as:

  • Planet of the Vapes – a forum about vaping
  • DIYnot Forum – a forum about DIY
  • Frit-Happens! – an online community for glass blowing and glass crafting

Curating the online enthusiast collection has been incredibly enjoyable. Having to actively seek new sites has made me more aware of the variety of hobbies and diversity of interests the public engage in.

As this collection develops, more sites relating to the variety of hobbies and interests will be captured and persevered for future generations explore, enjoy and research. However, due to the size, complexity and technological challenges of archiving all UK websites, some may get missed or we just do not know about them . If there is a site that you think should be included then you can nominate it on the ‘Save a UK website‘ page of the UKWA.

Developing collections on Gender Equality at the UK Web Archive

The Gender Equality collection

The UK web archive Gender Equality collection and its themed subsections provide a rich insight into attitudes and approaches towards gender equality in contemporary UK society and culture. This was previously discussed in my last blog post about the collection, which you can read here.

Curating the collection

A great deal of the discussion and activity relating to gender equality occurs predominantly in an online space. This means that as a curator for the Gender Equality collection, the harvest is plenty! The type of content being collected by the UK Web Archive includes:

Of course there is some crossover, not only regarding the type of content but also within subsections of the gender equality collection.

This image is made available and reproduced by CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0. [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/legalcode]

Specifically, I find the event sites in the collection really interesting. As well as documenting that the event(s) even existed and happened in the first place, they can give us a snapshot of who organised the event, as well as who the intended audience were. Also, the collection exhibits the evolution of websites related to gender equality over time (which can be very speedy indeed when it comes to sites like twitter accounts!), and the changing priorities, trends, initiatives and more that can tell us about attitudes towards gender equality in the UK. These kinds of websites are being created by and engaged with by humans right now.

Nominate a website!

The endeavour of the UK Web Archive never stops – if you would like to help grow the Gender Equality collection (or indeed, any other collections) click here to nominate a website to save. Go on…whilst you’re at it, you can explore the UK Web Archive’s funky new interface!

 

Image reference: Workers Solidarity Movement (2012) March for Choice

 

Oxford LibGuides: Web Archives

Web archives are becoming more and more prevalent and are being increasingly used for research purposes. They are fundamental to the preservation of our cultural heritage in the interconnected digital age. With the continuing collection development on the Bodleian Libraries Web Archive and the recent launch of the new UK Web Archive site, the web archiving team at the Bodleian have produced a new guide to web archives. The new Web Archives LibGuide includes useful information for anyone wanting to learn more about web archives.

It focuses on the following areas:

  • The Internet Archive, The UK Web Archive and the Bodleian Libraries Web Archive.
  • Other web archives.
  • Web archive use cases.
  • Web archive citation information.

Check out the new look for the Web Archives LibGuide.

 

 

Sixth British Library Labs Symposium

On Monday November 12, 2018 I was fortunate enough to attend the annual British Library Labs Symposium. During the symposium the British Library showcases the projects that they have been working on for their digital collections and issues awards to those who either contributed to those projects or used the digital collections to create their own projects.

According to Adam Farquhar, Head of Digital Scholarship at the British Library, this year’s symposium was their biggest and best attended yet: a testimony to the growing importance of digitization, as well as digital preservation and curation, within both archives and libraries.

This year’s theme of 3D models and scanning was wonderfully introduced by Daniel Prett, Head of Digital and IT at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, in his keynote lecture on ‘The Value, Impact and Importance of experimenting with Cultural Heritage Digital Collections’. He explained how, during his time with the British Museum, they began to experiment with the creation of digital 3D models. This eventually lead to the purchase of a rig with multiple camera’s allowing them to take better quality photos in less time. At the Fitzmuseum, Prett has continued to advocate the development of 3D imaging. The museum now even offers free 3D imaging workshops open to anyone who is in possession of a laptop and any device that has a camera (including a smartphone).

Although Prett shared much of his other successful projects with us, he also emphasized that much of digitization is about trial and error, and stressed the importance recording those errors. Unfortunately, libraries and archives alike are prone to celebrate their successes, but cover-up their errors, even though we may learn just as much from them. Prett called upon all attendees to more frequently share their errors, so we may learn from each other.

During the break I wandered into a separate room where individuals and companies showcased the projects that they developed in relation to the digital libraries special collections. A lucky few managed to lay their hands on a VR headset in order to experience Project Lume (a virtual data simulation program) and part of the exhibition by Nomad. The British Library itself showcased their own digitization services, including 360° spin photography and 3D imaging. The latter lead to some interesting discussions about the de- and re-contextualization of artworks when using 3D imaging technology.

In the midst of all this there was one stand that did not lure its spectators with fancy technology or gadgets. Instead, Jonah Coman, winner of the BL Teaching & Learning Award, showcased the small zines that he created. The format of these Pocket Miscellany, as they are called, are inspired by small medieval manuscripts and are intended to inform their readers about marginalized bodies, disability and queerness in medieval literature. Due to copyright issues these zines are not available for purchase, but can be found on Coman’s Patreon website.

The BL labs symposium also showed how the digital collections of the British Library can inspire both art and fashion. Fashion designer Nabil Nayal, who unfortunately could not accept his BL labs Commercial Award in person, for example, had used the Elizabethan digital collections as inspiration for the collection he presented at the British Library during the London Fashion week.

Artist Richard Wright, on the other hand, looked to the library’s infrastructure for inspiration. This resulted in The Elastic System, a virtual mosaic of hundreds of the British Library books that together make-up a sketch of Thomas Watts. When you zoom in on the mosaic you can browse the books in detail and can even order them through a link to the BL’s catalogue that is integrated in the picture. Once a book is checked out, it reveals the pictures of BL employees working in the stacks to collect the books. It thereby slowly reveals a part of the library that is usually hidden from view.

Another fascinating talk was given by artist Michael Takeo Magruder about his exhibition on Imaginary Cities which will be staged at the British Library’s entrance hall from 5 April to 14 July 2019. Magruder is using the library’s 19th and early 20th century maps collection to create new and ever changing maps and simulations of virtual, fantastical cities. Try as I might, I fear I cannot do justice to Magruder’s unique and intriguing artwork with words alone and can therefore only urge you to go visit the exhibition this coming year.

These are only a few of the wonderful talks that were given during the Labs symposium. The British Labs symposium was a real eye opener for me. I did not realize just how quickly the field of 3D imaging had developed within the museum and library world. Nor did I realize how digital collections could be used, not simply to inspire, but create actual artworks.

Yet, one of the things that struck me most is how much the development of and advocacy for the use of digital collections within archives and libraries is spurred on by passionate individuals; be they artists who use digital collections to inspire their work, digital- and IT-specialists willing to sacrifice a lunch break or two for the sake of progress or individual scholars who create little zines to spread awareness about a topic they feel passionate about. Imagine what they can do if initiatives like the BL labs continue to bring such people together. I, for one, cannot wait to see what the future for digital collections and scholarship holds. On to next year’s symposium.

 

DCDC 2018: Memory and Transformation

Entitled ‘Memory and Transformation’, this year’s DCDC conference (Discovering Collections Discovering Communities) sought to bring together a variety of practitioners from different cultural sectors including museums, libraries and archives to discuss the importance of memory management across the cultural heritage sector and the duty of archives as memory institutions in ensuring our rich past is not forgotten but routinely remembered, commemorated and celebrated.

Celebrating Anniversaries: The Memory Milestones of History

In an opening keynote Jane Ellison (Head of Creative Partnership, BBC) stressed the need for archivists as custodians of memory to mark important anniversaries through a regular programme of outreach events and activities to ensure past histories are not overlooked or misinterpreted but suitably commemorated. Ellison discussed the pivotal role of the BBC Archives in facilitating such events including the recent centenary anniversary of the First World War through the provision of archival memories including: photographs, first-hand accounts from the front line and oral histories. In employing archival evidence we help to honour our history in the truest form possible, adding colour to past events and bringing them to life in a way simply retelling stories from the front line would struggle to achieve. In bringing the keynote to a close Ellison ended with a thought-provoking quote taken from the Armistice day Sunday service which really brought home the importance and duty of archives to act in an effort to remember well,  “we are not responsible for what happened in history but we are responsible for remembering it well”.

Recalling Past Memories: The Role of Archives in Dementia Care

An example of a memory box

Having had the opportunity to work with individuals suffering from dementia In the past I have experienced first-hand the life-altering impact the condition can have both on the individual and their friends and family. It was extremely refreshing therefore to have the opportunity to hear from Sophie Clapp (Boots UK Archive) about the therapeutic role archives can play in helping to revive forgotten memories and transform the lives of people living with dementia.

Reminiscence Therapy: The Value of Memory Boxes

Through their work with Professor Victoria Tischler (Head of Dementia Care at the University of West London) Boots UK Archive have been able to develop multi-sensory memory boxes for care home residents living with dementia. Boxes include specially selected items from the Boots Archive which houses over ten thousand items including recipes, formulations and health-care products thought to trigger memories of nostalgia. From carbolic soap to Devonshire bath salt, the smell of these items was reported to have a powerful impact on dementia sufferers enabling them to recall past memories and strike up conversations, sparking new hope for researchers and families of those living with dementia.

The Power of Archival Memories

It was wonderful to attend the DCDC conference this year and learn more about the power of archives beyond their traditional research, evidential and community value as memory institutions with a duty and ability to commemorate historic milestones, acquire archival memories of different cultures and even provide reminiscence therapies.

Archives Unleashed – Vancouver Datathon

On the 1st-2nd of November 2018 I was lucky enough to attend the  Archives Unleashed Datathon Vancouver co-hosted by the Archives Unleashed Team and Simon Fraser University Library along with KEY (SFU Big Data Initiative). I was very thankful and appreciative of the generous travel grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that made this possible.

The SFU campus at the Habour Centre was an amazing venue for the Datathon and it was nice to be able to take in some views of the surrounding mountains.

About the Archives Unleashed Project

The Archives Unleashed Project is a three year project with a focus on making historical internet content easily accessible to scholars and researchers whose interests lay in exploring and researching both the recent past and contemporary history.

After a series of datathons held at a number of International institutions such as the British Library, University of Toronto, Library of Congress and the Internet Archive, the Archives Unleashed Team identified some key areas of development that would enable and help to deliver their aim of making petabytes of valuable web content accessible.

Key Areas of Development
  • Better analytics tools
  • Community infrastructure
  • Accessible web archival interfaces

By engaging and building a community, alongside developing web archive search and data analysis tools the project is successfully enabling a wide range of people including scholars, programmers, archivists and librarians to “access, share and investigate recent history since the early days of the World Wide Web.”

The project has a three-pronged approach
  1. Build a software toolkit (Archives Unleashed Toolkit)
  2. Deploy the toolkit in a cloud-based environment (Archives Unleashed Cloud)
  3. Build a cohesive user community that is sustainable and inclusive by bringing together the project team members with archivists, librarians and researchers (Datathons)
Archives Unleashed Toolkit

The Archives Unleashed Toolkit (AUT) is an open-source platform for analysing web archives with Apache Spark. I was really impressed by AUT due to its scalability, relative ease of use and the huge amount of analytical options it provides. It can work on a laptop (Mac OS, Linux or Windows), a powerful cluster or on a single-node server and if you wanted to, you could even use a Raspberry Pi to run AUT. The Toolkit allows for a number of search functions across the entirety of a web archive collection. You can filter collections by domain, URL pattern, date, languages and more. Create lists of URLs to return the top ten in a collection. Extract plain text files from HTML files in the ARC or WARC file and clean the data by removing ‘boilerplate’ content such as advertisements. Its also possible to use the Stanford Named Entity Recognizer (NER) to extract names of entities, locations, organisations and persons. I’m looking forward to seeing the possibilities of how this functionality is adapted to localised instances and controlled vocabularies – would it be possible to run a similar programme for automated tagging of web archive collections in the future? Maybe ingest a collection into ATK , run a NER and automatically tag up the data providing richer metadata for web archives and subsequent research.

Archives Unleashed Cloud

The Archives Unleashed Cloud (AUK) is a GUI based front end for working with AUT, it essentially provides an accessible interface for generating research derivatives from Web archive files (WARCS). With a few clicks users can ingest and sync Archive-it collections, analyse the collections, create network graphs and visualise connections and nodes. It is currently free to use and runs on AUK central servers.

My experience at the Vancouver Datathon

The datathons bring together a small group of 15-20 people of varied professional backgrounds and experience to work and experiment with the Archives Unleashed Toolkit and the Archives Unleashed Cloud. I really like that the team have chosen to minimise the numbers that attend because it created a close knit working group that was full of collaboration, knowledge and idea exchange. It was a relaxed, fun and friendly environment to work in.

Day One

After a quick coffee and light breakfast, the Datathon opened with introductory talks from project team members Ian Milligan (Principal Investigator), Nick Ruest (Co-Principal Investigator) and Samantha Fritz (Project Manager), relating to the project – its goals and outcomes, the toolkit, available datasets and event logistics.

Another quick coffee break and it was back to work – participants were asked to think about the datasets that interested them, techniques they might want to use and questions or themes they would like to explore and write these on sticky notes.

Once placed on the white board, teams naturally formed around datasets, themes and questions. The team I was in consisted of  Kathleen Reed and Ben O’Brien  and formed around a common interest in exploring the First Nations and Indigenous communities dataset.

Virtual Machines were kindly provided by Compute Canada and available for use throughout the Datathon to run AUT, datasets were preloaded onto these VMs and a number of derivative files had already been created. We spent some time brainstorming, sharing ideas and exploring datasets using a number of different tools. The day finished with some informative lightning talks about the work participants had been doing with web archives at their home institutions.

Day Two

On day two we continued to explore datasets by using the full text derivatives and running some NER and performing key word searches using the command line tool Grep. We also analysed the text using sentiment analysis with the Natural Language Toolkit. To help visualise the data, we took the new text files produced from the key word searches and uploaded them into Voyant tools. This helped by visualising links between words, creating a list of top terms and provides quantitative data such as how many times each word appears. It was here we found that the word ‘letter’ appeared quite frequently and we finalised the dataset we would be using – University of British Columbia – bc-hydro-site-c.

We hunted down the site and found it contained a number of letters from people about the BC Hydro Dam Project. The problem was that the letters were in a table and when extracted the data was not clean enough. Ben O’Brien came up with a clever extraction solution utilising the raw HTML files and some script magic. The data was then prepped for geocoding by Kathleen Reed to show the geographical spread of the letter writers, hot-spots and timeline, a useful way of looking at the issue from the perspective of engagement and the community.

Map of letter writers.

Time Lapse of locations of letter writers. 

At the end of day 2 each team had a chance to present their project to the other teams. You can view the presentation (Exploring Letters of protest for the BC Hydro Dam Site C) we prepared here, as well as the other team projects.

Why Web Archives Matter

How we preserve, collect, share and exchange cultural information has changed dramatically. The act of remembering at National Institutes and Libraries has altered greatly in terms of scope, speed and scale due to the web. The way in which we provide access to, use and engage with archival material has been disrupted. All current and future historians who want to study the periods after the 1990s will have to use web archives as a resource. Currently issues around accessibility and usability have lagged behind and many students and historians are not ready. Projects like Archives Unleashed will help to furnish and equip researchers, historians, students and the community with the necessary tools to combat these problems. I look forward to seeing the next steps the project takes.

Archives Unleashed are currently accepted submissions for the next Datathon in March 2019, I highly recommend it.

Attending the ARA Annual Conference 2018

ARA Annual Conference 2018, Grand Central Hotel, Glasgow

ARA Annual Conference 2018, Grand Central Hotel, Glasgow

Having been awarded the Diversity Bursary for BME individuals, sponsored by Kevin J Bolton Ltd., I was able to attend the ARA Annual Conference 2018 held in Glasgow in August.

Capitalising on the host city’s existing ubiquitous branding of People Make Glasgow,  the Conference Committee set People Make Records as this year’s conference theme. This was then divided into three individual themes, one for each day of the conference:

  • People in Records
  • People Using Records
  • People Looking After Records

Examined through the lens of the above themes over the course of three days,  this year’s conference addressed three keys areas within the sector: representation, diversity and engagement.

Following an introduction from Kevin Bolton (@kevjbolton), the conference kicked off with Professor Gus John (@Gus_John) delivering the opening keynote address, entitled “Choices of the Living and the Dead”. With People Make Records the theme for the day, Professor John gave a powerful talk discussing how people are impacting the records and recordkeeping of African (and other) diaspora in the UK, enabling the airbrushing of the history of oppressed communities. Professor John noted yes people make records, but we also determine what to record, and what to do with it once it has been recorded.

Noting the ignorance surrounding racial prejudice and violence, citing the Notting Hill race riots, the Windrush generation,  and Stephen Lawrence as examples, Professor John illustrated how the commemoration of historical events is selective: while in 2018 the 50th anniversary of the Race Relations Act received much attention, in comparison the 500th anniversary of the start of the Transatlantic Slave Trade was largely ignored, by the sector and the media alike.  This culture of oppression, and omission, he said, is leading to ignorance amongst young people about major defining events, contributing to a removal of context to historically oppressed groups.

In response to questions from the audience, Professor John noted that one of the problems facing the sector is the failure to interrogate the ‘business as usual’ climate, and that it may be ‘too difficult to consider what an alternative route might be’. Professor John challenged us to question the status quo: ‘Why is my curriculum white? Why isn’t my lecturer black? What does “de-colonising” the curriculum mean? This is what we must ask ourselves’.

Following Professor John’s keynote and his ultimate call to action, there was a palpable atmosphere of engagement amongst the delegates, with myself and those around me eager to spend the next three days learning from the experiences of others, listening to new perspectives and extracting guidance on the actions we may take to develop and improve our sector, in terms of representation, diversity and engagement.

Various issues relating to these areas were threaded throughout many of the presentations, and as a person of colour at the start of my career in this sector, and recipient of the Diversity Bursary, I was excited to hear more about the challenges facing marginalised communities in archives and records, including some I could relate to on a personal and professional level, and, hopefully, also take away some proposed solutions and recommendations.

I attended an excellent talk by Adele Patrick (@AdelePAtrickGWL),  of Glasgow Women’s Library, who discussed the place for feminism within the archive, noting GWL’s history in resistance, and insistence on a plural representation, when women’s work, past and present, is eclipsed. Dr Alan Butler (@AButlerArchive), Coordinator at Plymouth LGBT Community Archive, discussed his experiences of trying to create a sense of community within a group that is inherently quite nebulous.  Nevertheless, Butler illustrated the importance of capturing LGBTQIA+ history, as people today are increasingly removed from the struggles that previous generations have had to overcome, echoing a similar point Professor Gus John made earlier.

A presentation which particularly resonated with me came from Kirsty Fife (@DIYarchivist) and Hannah Henthorn (@hanarchovist), on the issue of diversity in the workforce. Fife and Henthorn presented the findings from their research, including their survey of experiences of marginalisation in the UK archive sector, highlighting the structural barriers to diversifying the archive sector workforce. Fife and Henthorn identified several key themes which are experienced  by marginalised communities in the sector, including: the feeling of isolation and otherness in both workplace and universities; difficulties in gaining qualifications, perhaps due to ill health/disability/financial barriers/other commitments; feeling unsafe and under confident in professional spaces and a frustration at the lack of diversity in leadership roles.

As a Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist, I couldn’t abandon my own focus on digital preservation and digital archiving, and as such attended various digital-related talks, including “Machines make records: the future of archival processing” by Jenny Bunn (@JnyBn1), discussing the impact of taking a computational approach to archival processing, “Using digital preservation and access to build a sustainable future for your archive” led by Ann Keen of Preservica, with presentations given by various Preservica users, as well as a mini-workshop led by Sarah Higgins and William Kilbride, on ethics in digital preservation, asking us to consider if we need our own code of conduct in digital preservation, and what this could look like.

Image of William Kilbride and Sarah Higgins running their workshop "Encoding ethics: professional practice digital preservation", ARA Annual Conference 2018, Glasgow

William Kilbride and Sarah Higgins running their workshop “Encoding ethics: professional practice digital preservation”, ARA Annual Conference 2018, Glasgow

I have only been able to touch on a very small amount of what I heard and learnt at the many and varied talks, presentations and workshops at the ARA conference,  however,  one thing I took away from the conference was the realisation that archivists and recordkeepers have the power to challenge structural inequalities, and must act now, in order to become truly inclusive. As Michelle Caswell (@professorcaz), 2nd keynote speaker said, we must act with sensitivity, acknowledge our privileges and, above all empower not marginalise. This conference felt like a call to action to the archive and recordkeeping community, in order to include the ‘hard to reach’ communities, or alternatively as Adele Patrick noted, the ‘easy to ignore’. As William Kilbride (@William Kilbride) said, this is an exciting time to be in archives.

I want to thank Kevin Bolton for sponsoring the Diversity Bursary, which enabled me to attend an enriching, engaging and informative event, which otherwise would have been inaccessible for me.

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Because every day is a school day, as homework for us all, I made a note of some of the recommendations made by speakers throughout the conference, compiled into this very brief list which I thought I would share:

Reading list