Wednesday, 27 January 2016

What I Wish I Knew Before I Started: DPC Student Conference 2016

Senate House, London. Where the event was held.
Photo courtesy of Lorraine Murray, DPC (@Lorraine_DPC)
On the 22nd of January I attended the What I Wish I Knew Before I Started: DPC Student Conference 2016 at Senate House, London. This free event was primarily aimed at Archives students or those fresh to Digital Preservation like myself to give a bit of an introduction to the area and listen to some advice from experienced professionals who have worked around Digital Preservation and Digital Archives.

Digital Preservation Basics
The day started with an introduction from the DPC covering what the basis of Digital Preservation are and the seven main challenges that you are faced with when trying to plan for it.
  1. Starting can seem expensive, and it can be difficult to know how to start
  2. Digital Preservation systems can be complex and themselves become obsolete
  3. Capturing and access, it is essential to capture sufficient documentation
  4. Technology continues to change
  5. Storage media can fail and have a short life, they are also subject to obsolescence
  6. Digital Resources are intolerant to gaps
  7. Resources can be tampered without a trace

We then moved on to focus on what can be doing to help solve or at least mitigate these seven challenges. There were then two talks that covered some practical examples of Digital Preservation and the issues surrounding them. There was also a lot of time spent on what kinds of tools there are available to help and in what circumstances each one would be useful for.

Things I wish I knew before I started / What I actually do all day

Adrian Brown about to start the What I Wish I Knew section.
Photo courtesy of Lorraine Murray, DPC (@Lorraine_DPC)
The second half of the event was by a group of professionals working within the Digital Preservation field with each one covering what it is they wish that they had known before they got started as well as a little more about what they actually do in their jobs. There were some very interesting points brought up around various misconceptions that people can have around Digital Preservation for example the idea they you need to be a software programmer or equivalent in order to deal with digital preservation when in fact many of the skills that you have as an archivist are the same as what you will be doing simply in a different context. 

What the most common aspects of Digital Preservation that you would be dealing with if you did work in that field was also covered with some surprising points like the generally around 90 % of dealing with Digital Records is the ingest portion (from the OAIS model) and that there is plenty of automation to trying to deal with the quantity of records. Digital Archiving is mostly about risk management (and ideally prevention) but even then it is not all technology/ format obsolescence there is also the security, access and control of the records that you have responsibility for.

Key Lessons
There are several key lessons that I have taken away from the event:

-Digital Preservation is not backing up.
While this is something that professionals are very much aware of it nonetheless can be a point that is difficult to convey to other parts of an organisation. So this is something that is going to come up repeatedly, just backing up a file does not mean that it is preserved there is far more to it than that.

-Innovation does not always need to be large, but lots of smaller ones do add up.
I think this idea is that by making lots of smaller innovations they will eventually add up into a large one instead of spending a vast amount of time and effort preparing for big change from the get go.

-Doing something even if it is only a little is better than nothing. Don’t get preservation paralysis.
This ties in with the previous key lesson in many ways, with Digital Preservation it can be very easy to look at some of the larger operations and realise that there is no way that you can have the policy, time or resources in place to equal what they can do. So sometimes you can find yourself in a kind of paralysis where you spend so much time trying to get everything to a level that you would consider comparable when in actual fact the entire time simply doing something would have been far more effective. As a professional you are not always going to have the budget, resources and time needed to get it perfect so instead just get it started and try to get it as right as possible along the way.

-Breakdown is an inevitability – mitigate the risk
The technology behind many digital archives is not going to last forever and when we’re storing things on the same type of media that we are trying to preserve this is something that we need to be aware of. Bit corruption, physical decay or even a complete hardware failure will eventually render some data unreadable. But as a Digital Preservation specialist you need to have plans in place to mitigate and avoid these problems as much as possible even if you can’t stop them completely. There is also the idea that this is not just referring to the actual archives themselves but also to the systems that we have in place to protect them.

-Connect not collect
This was something that came up as an interesting idea of what the future of digital preservation and digital archives may bring. In some cases as an organisation or an individual you may be unable to collect the relevant information. For example a collection you manage has a website that you have no way of storing appropriately so instead it can be worthwhile to instead link to somewhere else that can and has already done so if you know about it. For websites this could be the Internet Archive with the waybackmachine or even the British Library web archive if it happens to have a domain. This is an interesting idea when you consider how archives traditionally function, but having the information be digital does allow for this kind of connectivity and may be something that comes up more commonly as we move forward.
The speakers at the round table at the end. (Left to Right) Sharon McMeekin, DPC (@SharonMcMeekin), Helen Hockx-Yu, Internet Archives, (@hhockx) Dave Thompson, Wellcome Collection (@d_n_t) Steph Taylor, ULCC (@CriticalSteph) Adrian Brown, Paliamentary Archives (@realAdrianBrown) Matthew Addis, Arkivum (@Arkivum) Glenn Cumiskey, British Museum (@GlennCumiskey).
Photo courtesy of Lorraine Murray, DPC (@Lorraine_DPC)

Overall I found the event to be incredibly fascinating, there were plenty more key lessons and case studies that I just don’t have the space to mention in this blog post which I will definitely keep in mind as I start my Digital Preservation journey at the Hull History Centre. I think with a subject like this it can be very easy to discuss the ideas and concepts but to actually have someone who has worked with Digital Archiving and Digital Materials in that manner talk about their own experiences and what they actually do on a day to day basis really helps for a beginner like myself to understand a little better. 

One last idea that I will remember from the talks is just how much was impressed upon me that when it comes to something like this that there is nothing wrong with asking for help, and these days twitter seems to be the medium or choice for archivists. So if you do have a question don’t be afraid to to take it to twitter and ask people. I most definitely recommend and I would like to thank all of the speakers and staff who gave their time for it. I’ll be interesting to see how they match it with What I Wish I Knew 2017!

David Heelas
Transforming Archives Trainee

Friday, 8 January 2016

Odd Squads and Lucky Sods: The Plays of John Godber

Those involved with theatre and drama may well be familiar with the name John Godber. Originally from a mining family in Upton, West Yorkshire, Godber was later to become an adopted son of Hull.

After training as a teacher at Bretton Hall College, West Bretton, he was employed at Minsthorpe High School where he was promoted to head of drama. He moved to Hull to take up a lecturing position at the University of Hull where he was made a Professor of drama.

In 1984 Godber began an association with Hull Truck Theatre as Artistic Director in 1984. At this time the theatre was struggling financially and was situated in its old location on Spring Street. During his time there, the theatre’s financial position improved, its reputation grew nationally, and a new home on Ferensway was negotiated as part of the St Stephens shopping centre development.

Programme for a John Godber play staged at the Spring Street Theatre [U DJG/9]

Over the years many of Godber’s plays have been staged at Hull Truck. One of his most popular productions is Bouncers, performed on numerous occasions and stages. The play was first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1977 by drama students from Bretton Hall College. However, it was at Hull Truck during the 1980s that the play really came to prominence. It went on to be incredibly successful, being made into a TV production and becoming a staple on school syllabuses.

Godber has received many awards for his writing. Between 1981 and 1983 he won numerous awards at the National Student Drama Festival. He won five Edinburgh Fringe Festival awards including the 1984 Laurence Olivier Comedy of the Year award for Up 'n' Under. Bouncers was nominated for UK Comedy of the Year in 1985, won several Los Angeles Critics Circles awards and five awards in Chicago in 1987. On the Piste was nominated for Comedy of the Year in 1993, whilst April in Paris was nominated for Comedy of the Year in 1994. My Kingdom for a Horse was nominated for an alternative BAFTA and a television version of Shakers was nominated the UK's Best Children's TV Drama. Perhaps most notably though, he won two BAFTAs in 2005 for his screenplay ‘Odd Squad’. This was written, directed and filmed on location in Hull, and was broadcast as part of BBC’s children’s television programming.

Programme for Happy Families performed at the Theatre Royal, Windsor, in 1993 [U DJG/9]

In the 1993 ‘Plays and Players Yearbook’ Godber was calculated to be the third most performed playwright in the UK behind William Shakespeare and Alan Ayckbourn. Recognising that his papers contained records of significance to the city and to the University’s unique literary archives, Godber deposited his papers with Hull University Archives in 2006.

The papers include notebooks containing drafts and directions regarding the staging of Godber’s productions and adaptations, scripts, correspondence, publicity material, programmes, photographs and videos. There is also material relating to work produced in collaboration with his wife, the playwright and actress Jane Thornton (also known as Jane Clifford).

Directors notebooks kept by John Godber [U DJG/1]

Having been catalogued by Kate Butler, one of our archive assistants, these papers are now available for use by researchers. Anyone wanting to access this material can do so in the searchroom at Hull History Centre. You can search the collection using our online catalogue, simply search for U DJG using the RefNo search field. If you prefer to browse the catalogue, a PDF version is available to download.

Claire Weatherall, Assistant Archivist, Hull University Archives

Monday, 4 January 2016

Happy New Year from Hull History Centre

When trying to find an interesting way to say Happy New Year to our blog readers we came across a couple of interesting items from our collections that could both say and sing it for us.

Firstly we can would like to wish you a continental Happy New Year with U DDFA3/6/31/83, a postcard found amongst the papers of the Lords Wenlock of Escrick.

Front of postcard sent by Albert Debouvrie to Miss Irene Lawley, 28 Dec 1916 [U DDFA3/6/31/83]
Reverse of postcard sent by Albert Debouvrie to Miss Irene Lawley, 28 Dec 1916 [U DDFA3/6/31/83]

A century ago, on the 28 December 1916, one of the unmarried members of the Lawley family of Escrick, Miss Irene Lawley, received a postcard at 10 Portland Place, London, from a Mr Albert Debouvrie residing at the seaside resort of Nice-Havrais in Sainte-Adresse, Northern France. Written in French, he gives her his best wishes for a good and happy year, and hopes the card finds her in good health. It would be nice to think that Debouvrie was an admirer, and that the New Year signalled a new relationship for Miss Lawley. Unfortunately, we just don’t know anything more of the story....

We can also sign you a Happy New Year with U DAS/29/23, a curiosity from 1862 found amongst the papers of Colonel Rupert Alec-Smith of Winestead. This item is a hymn sheet containing the words for a ‘New Year’s Hymn’ dated 1 January 1862.

Sheet with words for New Year's Hymn, 1 Jan 1862 [U DAS/29/23]

On reading the words, you are reminded that life is but fleeting and that nothing can shield us from eventual and inevitable death. Now this might seem a little doom-and-gloom to us, but being a hymn intended to be sang at New Year’s Day services, the second part of the hymn then consoles the audience with the promise of eternal life with God. However, if we only focus on the first part of the hymn then it should remind us to make the best use of the coming year – I’m sure it will fly by!

We have lots of New Year’s resolutions here at the History Centre so it should be an exciting year. Stewart Mottram will launch this year’s Lunchtime Club lecture series at 12.30pm on 12 January with a talk titled ‘The Hull Charterhouse: Re-imagining Andrew Marvell’s Boyhood Home. Our 2016 History Makers programme begins at 9.30 on 16 January when we will be recreating our favourite things about history using Lego and crafts. And the first Family History Helpdesk of 2016 will be held 10am-12pm on 21 January.

Just because we have City of Culture Year coming up in 2017 doesn’t mean this will be a quiet year for us. Keep reading the blog and follow us on Twitter to find out what we are doing and how we are making 2016 count.  

All the Staff at Hull History Centre