Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Transforming Archives - Scottish Base Camp

Skills for the Future poster
Two weeks ago I attended my second Base Camp of the traineeship, this time it was up in sunny Edinburgh with the support from the Scottish Council on Archives. Both the Opening up Scotland’s Archives trainees and the Transforming Archives trainees were able to meet up for a three day event. This covered a variety of subjects ranging from Digital Preservation to Conservation, all packed into a series of workshops and lectures. In many ways this was a continuation and expansion of the things that we learned during the first BaseCamp Week at The National Archives back in November.

Day 1 – Scotland’s Archives and Digital Preservation
The first day featured talks from the National Records of Scotland, ScotlandsPeople, the Business Archives Council of Scotland (BACS) and in the middle of all this we had a fantastic tour of the General Register House where most of the base camp took place. It was interesting to have talks by a records manager as well as individuals working in the private archive sector, since these are both groups that I have not had a chance to interact with that much so far.

Lastly there was a talk by William Kilbride from the DPC. It was largely about dispelling some of the preconceptions and myths that exist around digital preservation. There was definitely a lot of discussion and ideas that I will be taking away with me including the fact 
that there has been so much research into the problem of digital preservation that it has started to become replete with jargon which is becoming a barrier in its own right. Trying to get through all the complicated workflows and policies is incredibly difficult and daunting for someone who is about to start their digital preservation journey. There were two provincial conclusion that I found particularly relevant 
1. If we want to preserve we’re going to have to dispose of something. 
2. If we want to preserve anything we need to act earlier in the lifecycle. 
And finally the idea that the challenges of obsolescence may not even arise if other problems are not dealt with first including: Data volumes, cyber-security, information security and sensitivity reviews.

Quote of the day:  “Data loss is going to come from chaotic workflows and a lack of capacity.” (William Kilbride, DPC)
Inside the General Register House

Day 2 – Previous Trainees and Conservation
The second day featured talks from two previous Cohort 1 trainees about their experience with the programme and what they are up to now and it was very interesting to see where they had come from and where they are now.

There was a talk on archival conservation especially in regards to exhibition and display. This concluded with a tour of Thomas Thomson House and a chance to meet some of the conservators who work there with quite different and quite specific specialisations including a paper conservationist, a book binding one, a 20th century material expert and even a fabric expert for all the Tartan! This specialisation it made it very interesting to hear from each of them and for them to give an overview of their work.

Quote of the day: “Digitisation is not a form of preservation, it is a form of access.” (Linda Ramsay, Head of Conservation NRS)
Conservation of a laminated document

Day 3 – Copyright and Electronic Records Management
The last day featured a talk from the Electronic Records Unit at the National Records of Scotland, which was particularly interesting since it was run as more of a freeform discussion. Their approach to digital records was also a lot more minimalist than I am used to and this brought up some interesting discussion around what is necessary for digital preservation. Instead they choose to focus on physical storage space and staffing, these are often brought up as being very important but it is interesting to see an institution follow through.

CREATe gave a talk on an Introduction to Copyright Law for Archivists. Copyright in regards to archives is something that I frequently remind myself that I need to look into in greater detail. But as a subject it can be quite dry, I have to say I was incredibly impressed with Victoria Stobo for managing to make it both engaging and informative. I definitely came out of that presentation knowing a lot more about copyright in general, and even with a little desire to look more into it.

We also had the National Register of Archives for Scotland (NRAS) talking about private collections. Glasgow School of Art Archive discussing their online catalogue.

Quote of the day: “Processes around digital records is in many ways stranger than those for paper.”

Edinburgh has some fantastic architecture!
Overall I had a fantastic time. The entire base camp was incredibly informative and in many ways I felt much more capable of dealing with all the discussion and information that was presented to me than I did at the previous Base Camp Week. 

This was a pleasant surprise for me since it is often difficult to see how much you have learned, but this was a comparable way of looking at how much more I know then I did six months ago. I’m a little sad that there won’t be another base camp to look forward to, the support of the other trainees and staff around the Transforming Archives traineeship has been fantastic and it was a great networking opportunity to find out what the others were working on. 

Bonus quote: “Copyright: So important they put a circle around it” (GSA Archives and Collections Volunteer)

David Heelas
Transforming Archives Trainee

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