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Quantum Archiving

“Traditional” skills needed by archivists today include arrangement, description and an understanding of the importance of original order. Applying all three skills/theories when repackaging and cataloguing a series can lead to issues when original order is being kept to but does not fit with the original order of the collection (you can find out more about collections and series and their structure here). However this can be easily solved with some Quantum Archiving (as thought of by our Archivist). In this week’s blog we look at what Quantum Archiving is and how this has been applied in the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage Collection.

Quantum Archiving is similar to the second interpretation of Quantum theory known as the many-worlds or multiverse theory; where an object can exist in many states in a number of parallel universes.  In archiving, a collection could exist in many states: analogue; digital or a reconstructed version e.g. in a transcript to name a few. These formats would be in different places (universes) such as a store room, a server or a database.  Over the years we have been working on preserving and making accessible the 300,000 fragile pieces of paper which hold the hidden histories of millions of women and men who have given their time as volunteers to WVS and WRVS between 1938 and 1996 also known as the Narrative Reports. In 2018 we started work on more recent reports written in 1980s and 1990s however this part of the series is very different from earlier reports.

By 1980s the geographical structure of WRVS had changed from being organised into twelve regions following the Civil Defence Corps organisational structure to the follow Local Authorities restructured in 1974. This meant WRVS was split into districts rather than centres, thus fewer reports were produced and less frequently from monthly to quarterly and finally biannually. As well as writing monthly narrative reports areas particularly counties wrote annual reports. These reports were usually kept separately in the archive’s collections from the Narrative Reports however when the 1980s annual reports for some counties and districts arrived at HQ they were stored with the Narrative Reports for those areas.

When volunteers started working on the reports carrying out basic preservation and giving sub series reference numbers they noticed that sat on top were some annual reports. The team then discussed what we should do and how they should be ordered. Should they be classed as Narrative Reports? Should they be moved to the collection of annual reports? It was decided that the physical order should be kept as the original order while the catalogue record, reference and description would reflect the order of the rest of the archive’s theoretical structure e.g. fonds, series and files. Therefore the annual reports exist in two different states in two different “universes”; the physical and the theoretical. To further complicate matters the 1980s and 1990s reports are ordered differently to the 1938-1979 reports. Earlier reports are ordered by region then date then county then centre but after 1980 they have been ordered by region then county then centre then date. A slight difference but means that they are physically stored in their original state but described and referenced as the rest of the series was intended.

In conclusion arrangement and description (including reference) do not always fall in to line in archiving. Therefore a collection can exist in two different states in a physical and theoretical/digital world. This example is just one of many and I’m sure we will continue receiving surprises from the Narrative Report collection which makes us look at the different ways it can exist.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 14 January 2019.

Labels: quantum, archiving, arrangement, Narrative Reports, description, theory