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“Data, data, data” I can’t digitise without catalogue data

It’s another of those famous lines from a Sherlock Holmes story “Data! data! data!" he cried impatiently. "I can't make bricks without clay.” (The Adventure of the Copper Beeches) but it can be applied to many areas including archival practice particularly digitisation. Archives @PAMA recently covered the topic of digitisation in their blog Why Don’t Archivists Digitise Everything? Part of their argument covered Meta Data and how important it was to give archives context before digitisation. This has inspired us, in this week’s blog I would like to look more at the importance of cataloguing records before digitising them in relation to the Royal Voluntary Service Archive and Heritage Collection.


What is cataloguing?

Cataloguing is the process of creating a formal description of records held within an archival collection. This is based on a hierarchical structure showing where Items, files and series best fit within a collection and describes details such as the content, context, admin and custodial history, date and access details. Cataloguing records can help to make collections more accessible with details and keywords which help researchers find what they are looking for and link different records together on the same topics. If you would like to know more about Archival description why not read  Organising Archive material HeritageBulletin Volume 6.

Why is it important for digitisation?

Cataloguing is important to digitisation because it turns a single item on its own which may not tell us much about the activities of an organisation into a record which has context, a history of its own and links it to the rest of the collection. For example when cataloguing photographs, publications or posters if there are similar items or a series relating to each other we record their references in the Related Material Field. This helps lead researchers in looking at all the material available on a chosen topic. Recording this data before digitising records also gives the archivists the opportunity to assess the preservation needs of the material and repackage it into archival standard folders, boxes, papers etc.. It also allows of consultation on the need to digitise material and if digitised material could be published online depending on condition, content and copyright. This work can be very important in terms of preservation and access.

Our Collections and how cataloguing has helped make them more accessible

Cataloguing different parts of the Archive & Heritage Collection has allowed us to publish the catalogue records online for people to search for themselves. This work has given the team a greater knowledge of what materials are held in the collection and led in some case to digitisation.

Photographs and Posters

The Archive has been focusing on cataloguing and digitising records since 2010 and started with a collection of publicity photographs. Creating detailed descriptions of photographs allows researchers to find photographs easily and quickly by searching key words. Cataloguing also allows the Charity to record useful data about copyright holders and to distinguish which images can be used in promoting its rich history and heritage in many of the services it provides today. The Poster collection was catalogued and digitised in 2012 which has provided the same advantages as the photographs.

WVS/WRVS Bulletin/Magazine and WRVSAssociation

Newsletters Over the years Royal Voluntary Service has produced a number of publications including magazines containing news stories and information about its activities and that of the Association (1971-2013). Using the description field on our catalogue to its advantage and OCR software we were able to record all the information in each WVS/WRVS Bulletin/Magazine and WRVS Association Newsletters and make it searchable. Being able to do such a specific search can save time in trying to find articles covering particular services or activities. Recording months and dates also allows us to pin point key dates such as the first Trolley shop or mobile canteen.


Narrative Reports

Between March 2012 and March 2014 we catalogued all the Narrative Reports held in the collection which were written between 1938 and 1965. The information recorded included the areas the reports were from and this work enabled the archive to develop the Kickstarter Project Hidden histories of a million wartime women. The £27,724 raised via the crowdfunding site meant we could digitise all the reports written between 1938 and 1945 and publish them online. This allows more people access to these hugely important documents and it all started with a cataloguing project.

In General

The items mentioned above are also very fragile and cataloguing means we can pinpoint the exact records we are looking for without rifling through a number of documents before finding the correct information. Digitisation which leads on from this  helps us further in preserving fragile items as digital images are used as preservation copies for research meaning we reduce handling the original. Cataloguing also assist with the creation of finding aids such as the Guide to Archive Online; using data and description fields from the catalogue means we can assist researchers in their search for more knowledge about WVS/WRVS.

I have not included Voice of Volunteering Oral Histories in this week’s Blog as they are born digital records and in a future blog we’ll look at the difference between digitisation and born digital.


Conclusion

Cataloguing is the process of creating a formal description of records held within an archival collection. It is important to create these records before digitising to provide context and allow archivists to assess the need for the material to be digitised. Working on a project to both catalogue and digitise material can also help with preservation and digitisation which are very important activities in archives. Since 2010 Royal Voluntary Service has been working to catalogue its collection which as a result has led to some interesting digitisation projects including photographs, Narrative Reports and publications. However without the first stage of creating information about the these records this work could not have been carried out.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 13 August 2018.

Labels: Archives, Cataloguing , Digitisation, Records, Access, Preservation

Scrapbooks the Pinterest of the twentieth Century

Or even the fifteenth century if you count the commonplace book which emerged as a way to compile information such as sketches, poems, documents, recipes, etc. sound familiar?

Pinterest is a web and mobile app, founded in 2009, to enable people to find and collect ideas on various topics. Royal Voluntary Service has its own boards including preserve and bread making and you can find and pin many posts about WVS or WRVS on the site. However this blog isn’t about our history or records on Pinterest; it’s once again time to think what did we do before the internet. How did we collect memories, images and news stories to inspire others and create a record of our own interests? We created scrapbooks of course. 

Scrapbooking is a method for preserving, presenting and arranging personal and family history in the form of a book. Typical memorabilia includes photographs, printed media, and artwork. In the twentieth century WVS/WRVS centres and services made scrapbooks to record their work in a more personal and less official way than the Narrative Report they produced monthly. Of course some of these have made their way to the Archive shelves included in local office collections or as personal donations to the collection. Like any other traditional archive item they need to be preserved but also made accessible here are some of the issues faced by archivists when caring for scrapbooks.

One of the major issues we face is how to preserve scrapbooks which have usually been created using the enemies of the archivists; glue, sellotape and paper full of acid I could go on but there isn’t enough time.  The major issue when preserving a scrapbook is its condition. When it has just arrived in your collection you look inside and some things have come loose. You have to think about how you put it back/mark where it originally belonged; perhaps some corn starch glue of a paper clip but it must be reversible. The book itself may also be fragile and you should handle it carefully proper storage can help with this acid free paper, folders and boxes can be a good start. The condition of scrapbooks may also deteriorate where it contains materials which can cause damage in the future, there are conservation treatments available however in terms of preservation we must constantly monitor the condition of our archives. We do a very good job here at Royal Voluntary Service the memories of service users and volunteers carefully preserved. Today being an archivist appears to be like standing in the middle of a seesaw and trying to balance it perfectly on one side sits preservation, on the other access.

Scrapbooks are a unique way for showing current and future generations the ideas and activities of people in the past while Pinterest boards and digital scrapbooks are easily accessible (for the moment) archived physical scrapbooks often sit on shelves and access means visiting the archive. You may ask why don’t we just catalogue and digitise these collections however there is a major issue here, copyright.

Scrapbooks are often compiled using many different sources of course the creator but then they may have used newspaper articles, publications and other documents whose copyright belongs to someone else so before they can be made publically accessible in a digital format we’d need to gain permission from several different people. Here many of our scrapbooks contents will still be in copyright because are collection is a very modern one (in terms of history). This isn’t the only barrier there is also the question of how this would be hosted and maintained as some digital formats become obsolete but of course were archivists I’m sure we could find a solution. Perhaps a national project called save our scrapbooks (inspired by save our sounds of course) a campaign to preserve these unique insights into history and make them more accessible.

Obviously all traditional archives have similar issues which we have to apply expertise to. As archivists we preserve scrapbooks in our collection and find ways to allow the public access to them. However In the twenty-first century we must also ask how we do this and do we need to start focusing digital equivalents such as Pinterest or even people’s own artwork on their home computers? But this is a blog for another day.

Posted by jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 05 February 2018.

Labels: Scrapbook, Pinterest, WVS, WRVS, Preservation, Access

A Year in Archives: my experience of the pros and cons of digitisation

I have now spent just over 14 months digitising the Hidden histories of a million war time women contained in the WVS Narrative Reports written between 1938 and 1944 (currently more than half way through 1945). It has been a really enjoyable experience and has helped to preserve these invaluable records while making them more accessible. In this week’s blog I would like to reflect on the pros and cons of carrying out a digitisation project in relation to my work here as Archives Assistant.



Digitisation can theoretically improve the life span of a document due to the reduction of manual handling. By making a document of certain significance to be viewed through an online catalogue, the physical copy can return to being untouched and potentially spoilt. However, it is actually the digitised copy that is the most fragile of all. It is far easier to place a piece of paper in a suitable box for three hundred years than to deal with a long-term solution for digital storage. For example, data is kept on mechanical drives that live on servers. After an extended period of time, those drives will fail. This means that for long-term digital storage to be continuously available for everyone, data constantly needs to be backed up. Similarly, the data also needs to have duplicate copies and ideally have a safe home off-site in case of a crash or fire. It is widely known that for something to exist digitally, it must be backed up at least three time. We have used archival standard formats such as TIFF and PDF to ensure that the digitised reports are preserved for as long as possible. As well as helping to preserve the original documents with digital copies I have also assisted with improving online access to the collection.


Digitisation is also an excellent method of showcasing the prestigious wealth of material that exists within many boxes on the shelves of an archive’s storeroom. This is largely beneficial for everybody involved as it can make the archive much more accessible. The Narrative Reports have been hidden away from view for a long period of time and everybody can now enjoy looking at them for free online. Digitisation may be viewed as a short-term solution to engage the wider populace with the material, but it is actually as long-term as the box at the back of the storeroom. It is essential however, that the importance of the physical collection is never undermined by its digital counterpart. For example, the same piece of paper can be digitised three times in one hundred years, but it can never be photographed again if the original is lost forever. Although it is brilliant that we have improved preservation and access to the collection we have had to think about other aspects of digitisation including cost.

As with any digitisation project time and money has had to be spent on the Hidden histories of a million war time women. It
can be quite financially challenging to implement into the day to day running of an archive, but digitisation grants are becoming increasingly available. However crowdfunding such as Kickstarter can provide archives with the financial support they need to purchase equipment and employ additional staff. I have been employed as a full time member of staff that focuses primarily on photographing and editing the Narrative Reports. There are also a number of companies which can take on digitisation work for archives. However the project has involved preparation work and a number a checks to the catalogue records when attaching documents to CALM which would have still been done in house.

While carrying out the project as well as making it easier for the Archivist and Deputy Archivist to answer enquires, since July 2017 they have not had to move from their desks when looking for local information from the period 1938-1943, I have also been able to help them in ways they did not foresee. Digitising the reports has enabled me to spend time amending any mistakes to the packaging of our original copies due to the digitisation process. This may include finding a report with the incorrect year or location. After these mistakes were corrected, it has actually improved the overall accuracy of the collection, which can only be a good thing.
Overall there are three main aspects to consider the pros and cons of when digitising archival material; these are preservation, access and cost. You may also as I did come across some added bonuses like improving the overall accuracy of your collection. In this week’s blog I have provided a balanced view but I would argue that digitisation is a wonderful method of opening up a particular part of an archival collection. Obtaining access to all things via the internet has become a progressively important part of society and if financially viable, archival digitisation has become an efficient method of improving accessibility.

Posted by Jacob Bullus Archives Assistant (Digitisation) at 09:00 Monday, 08 January 2018.

Labels: Digitisation, preservation, access, Kickstarter, WVS, Narrative Report

“Many archives have digitisation programmes. Is this digital preservation?” - @ArchiveHour

There appears to be a growing trend of debate on twitter; It’s usually an hour during the day where like minded people discuss a topic using #somethinghour. Now Archives appear to have jumped on the bandwagon with #archivehour (not that jumping on the bandwagon is a bad thing). Unfortunately I was unable to take part in the first #archivehour on 26th October as I was in Russia. However the intriguing topic hosted by @ARAScotland was digital preservation. One question posed was: 

I would now like to answer this question from the perspective of Royal Voluntary Service Archive and Heritage Collection’s digitisation projects.

Over the years we have had a few digitisation projects including the Bulletins, Narrative Reports, photographs, posters and now the publications (more on that in a later blog). One reason for these projects was to provide online access to our records as we cannot currently provide physical access to the collection. Another reason was the general preservation of the physical document, not the digital reproduction. Digitising means less handling of fragile items and keeps them in the ideal environment rather than constant temperature changes as they move from store to search room. This is digitisation providing access to analogue/traditional archives to help preserve the originals. Therefore digitisation is not digital preservation but preservation in its wider sense, for Royal Voluntary Service digital preservation applies to its born digital records.

Interestingly we have very few born digital archives, a lot of our records are still produced in a physical format. However we do have a set of born digital records which have been mentioned several times; the Voicesof Volunteering Oral Histories and their transcript/summary sheets. The oral histories were recorded as WAV the transcripts and summary sheets were typed as word documents. Over time we will need to monitor how these records are kept the word documents have already been converted to pdfs. An open source document which follows archive standards of digital preservation and allows easy access, they have at least three backups each. The WAV files are already at an archival standard for audio records however the file format makes them two large for access purposes we have created MP3 versions for Archive Online. Over time we will need to make sure these files don’t become obsolete, corrupt or suffer from bitrot as well as making sure they are not accidently deleted. This is digital preservation protecting born digital documents from many dangers and keeping them accessible for future generations.

In conclusion digitisation programmes are not digital preservation because they are about access to original documents and digital preservation is about protecting born digital records from destruction once they have made their way to the archive. I am sure at some point someone will raise the question is a digitised copy of a traditional archive a born digital record i.e. an archive/document in its own right and therefore keeping it a case for digital preservation. However I don’t have enough words in the blog to look at this now it is a discussion for another day.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 06 November 2017.

Labels: Archive, Royal Voluntary Service, Digitisation, Digital Preservation, Access, Twitter

A rose by any other name

(or an archivist by any other name would still be an archivist)

Very recently there has been a lot of discussion about what an archivist is and how they identify themselves within the world of heritage and history. The most recent term to be used is the Hybrid Archivist. They are defined as an archivist who manages hybrid collections (mix of analogue and digital) but also bring traditional and new skills together, but isn’t this what every archivist has been doing, even since Jenkinson and Schellenberg’s time?

The rapid changes in technology, culture and society through the twentieth and twenty-first Centuries have meant archivists have had to adapt new ways to conserve archives such as film, cassette tapes, CDs and photographs. Looking after a collection does not just mean preserving it archivists should have IT, communication, volunteer management and social media experience to name a few examples. Thus again I will point out that archivists should be whatever their collections need them to be to balance preservation and access. They should not be trying to identify themselves to fit with new terms or theoretical thinking.

Here at the Royal Voluntary Service we use a range of skills every day for example this was all the different tasks we completed last Monday.

08:00 – arrived at the archive on foot, I could not be bothered to get the bicycle out of the shed. Checked emails for enquiries had none and proceed to start my “favourite” job labelling. Our Archives Assistant also arrives and sets up the digitisation equipment to begin photographing more Narrative Reports written between 1943 and 1945.

09:00 – first volunteers arrive one is working on sorting a photograph collection, the other is writing a blog we have a quick discussion about this and other jobs which can be done today.

10:30 – the blog is finished and ready to be posted, my labelling is abandoned for a while I lay this up, post it online, send out update to mailing lists and prepare social media posts. In this time two more volunteers have arrived they are repackaging and have a question about the reference for Radnorshire it is RAD.

11:00 – discussion with volunteer who is working on a local office collection about how to create labels for the boxes. Also talk about Continue with my own labelling. Man arrives to check the fire alarms.

12:00 - an enquiry has arrived as I have chosen to answer any enquiries today I work on this. The enquirer wants to know if we have any images for Carshalton WVS making Chess Pieces out of Cotton reels in World War II we do, which is a nice surprise and I ask them to fill in a copyright form. Also help volunteer who is working on the photograph collection to identify what is happening in each image and where they belong in the collection.

1:00 – Lunch time conversation turns to The Silk Worm and Strictly Come Dancing

2:00 – back to work on the labelling for the afternoon as well as the odd administrative task.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 18 September 2017.

Labels: Archivist, Royal Voluntary Service, Hybrid, Access, Preservation, skills

Who are we?

"The archivist is dead long live the archivist"

Last week I attended my first Archives and Records Association (ARA) Conference in Manchester, where the main theme appeared to be how we identify ourselves as Archivists and how the heritage sector is changing. Ideas ranged from the definition of appraisal, search room experience, community engagement and skills. However the main topic of discussion was the role of the Archivist.

There appeared to be a move away from the traditional archivist protector of records and preserver of history with a set of core skills which stood them apart from the museum curator. In their place stands the postmodern archivist who is all things to all men, a heritage professional, throwing open the doors of the archive, engaging with the community and letting go of their control. By this they mean  allowing others use the archive how they want and not be told how it should be used or how they can access it.  

Looking into the theory is all well and good but what about the practicalities of being an archivist, how are these ideas applied.

Let’s put this into the context of the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage Collection and a more practical definition of an archivist. In my career I have worn a few different guises as a cataloguing coordinator, project archivist and deputy archivist and have moved from traditional to sort of post-modern to somewhere in-between. Most of what was said at conference applied to local record offices who are becoming destinations for tourists like museums and facing different situations to a charity/specialist collection.

Here the role of an archivist is to preserve the history of the WVS, WRVS and Royal Voluntary Service and to make sure it is accessible now and in the future through cataloguing, digitisation, and a remote enquiry service and through working with colleagues managing our services. The Archivists are also there to support the work of the charity. It is not yet time for us to let go but we can still be innovative e.g. Voices of Volunteering and Hidden history of a million wartime women. These were projects which came from and where directed by the archives but upheld the values of the postmodern archivist and did them well; including community engagement (local, national, global) and providing access to records and information about the charity. We also hold what might be deemed a museum collection of objects and uniform but we care for them as archivists. We don’t yet have exhibition space to display these items but make them accessible through remote outreach such as our timeline. In this archive we are a mix of the two perhaps we should be called revisionist archivists not quite in the time of Jenkinson but pragmatic enough to change and develop when necessary. Essentially we don’t prioritise preservation or access but try to balance them out.

As with many things there is no definite definition of an archivist because it depends on many factors including where you work and the collections you work with. The Archivist is whoever we or our collections need us to be.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 12:00 Monday, 04 September 2017.

Labels: Archivist, Archives, Royal Voluntary Service, Heritage, Preservation, Access