Community Digital Archiving

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“Caring for Community Archives” event by the Scottish Council on Archives

  • March 26, 2019 3:10 pm

The Scottish Council on Archives, in conjunction with National Records of Scotland, presented a one day seminar on “Caring for Community Archives” at General register House in Edinburgh on Friday 22nd March 2019.

The day started with short introductions from John Pelan, the Director of Scottish Council on Archives, followed Paul Lowe, the Keeper of National Records of Scotland. One was aware, sitting in the room that was once the Keeper’s office, with the portraits by Raeburn of the first Keeper as well as others of Edinbirgh’s past nobility, of the significance of these positions. Somewhat trivially, a line from the Michael York film, Zeppelin, set in World War I, sprang to mind: “Destroy a nation’s archives and you destroy her soul.”

This was followed by a practical session by Peter Dickson, a man whose technical capability and understanding of his role was clear from his desire to share his knowledge. This session was mostly about how to handle and store physical artefacts, mostly paper, and the associated issues around environmental controls. One of the beauties of concentrating on a digital archive is that the specialised needs of physical artefacts are usually only needed briefly, but it was still a useful session.

We were also taken on a short tour of General Register House. This Robert Adam-designed building is now thought to be the oldest purpose-built national archive building still used for its original purpose. Details are on this wikipedia page.

A circle in a square – design detail of the building

After lunch, Dr Alison Rosie, the Head of the National register of Archives of Scotland provided a series of tips for community archives, based on her experience and knowledge. This was followed by Craig Geddes, the Council Records Manager from East Renfrewshire Council, on hos role and how local authority archives can work with community groups.

John Simmons then discussed a frequently misunderstood issue with regard to archives, the role of the GDPR and other privacy directives in relation to community archiving. The most significant takeaway from this talk was that, far from being a constraint to archiving, the GDPR specifically enables archiving to take place.

This was followed by two digitisation and digital sessions, one by Robin Urquhart on things to consider when setting up a project, and one by Tim Gollins, the Head of the Digital Records Unit at National Records of Scotland, talking about the safety and sustainability of digital community archives.

For me personally, the event was of interest to validate or reflect on the work of the last 8 years, as well as an opportunity to meet some practitioners associated with archives and records at a national scale. My Scottish Cultural Studies degree inter-disciplinary project and Honours dissertation looked at the issues between local expressions of heritage against such national cultural activity to see whether the scale of such activities, which on the face of it look the same, do in fact have much in common. So it was of great interest for me to understand a little more of the way the presenters of the seminar worked.

The entire event was skilfully and efficiently managed by Audrey Wilson, the Community Engagement Officer of the Scottish Council on Archives, and was a worth while way to spend a day for anyone with an interest in community archives. Thanks to Audrey and all the speakers.

Archiving an Archive site

  • August 18, 2018 2:41 pm

For a number of reasons, updates on this web site are slow at the moment.  However, the site itself will remain alive for anyone interested in its contents and interested in real-life stories of running a community digital archive, and I hope the site will soon have much to report.  Please contact me for any further information.


 

A visit to the island of Eigg

  • November 2, 2015 12:33 pm

It was a very welcome invitation from Lucy Conway of the Island of Eigg History Society, Commun Eachdraidh Eige, to visit to assist the group there to develop plans for a community digital archive. Late October weather and ferry crossings do not always make ideal partners, and in this case, the Loch Nevis, the usual ferry was out of operation.  The easiest way from Assynt to Eigg is via Skye, meaning two ferry trips, from Armadale to Mallaig and then on the Small Isles ferry.  In one of those delightful connections that bind small communities, the landlady of the B&B at which I stayed on Skye was the mother-in-law of the skipper of the MV Orion, the dolphin spotting boat brought on as a passenger ferry while the Loch Nevis was being repaired.

Not far from Armadale, just as inter-passenger chatting started up, we ran into a huge school of common dolphin, perhaps well over a hundred in the main group, though just a few at a time came to investigate us.

Dolphinss. Sound of Sleat

Dolphins. Sound of Sleat

From Mallaig, looking back to Knoydart in the morning light was dreamy.

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Once on Eigg, we held long discussion with Camille Dressler and Alex Boden, as well as with Trisha McVarish of the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust.  Later, Alex du Toit from the Highland Archive in Fort William joined us.  Bizarrely, Alex, like me, was born in Cape Town, and for two old Capetonians to meet and chat on the island of Eigg 6000+ miles from where we started was surreal.

And on the score of thinking about South Africa, I stayed at Lag Eorna, which, photographed from a particular angle, could easily be mistaken for a farmhouse in the Western Cape mountains.

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An eventful night passed, as around 4.00am, the large Coastguard helicopter landed roughly at the spot form which the above picture was taken, to get someone to hospital following a medical emergency. (All turned out fine.) The helicopter landed in driving wind and rain, apart from the pitch blackness of the night.  It was a reminder of how fortunate we are with our emergency and medical service in the Highlands and Islands.  A subsequent tweet about this drew the response from the coastguard that they come out to attend emergencies at any time of the day or night, and in any weather at all.  Such routine courage from people with lives of service.

The discussions with the History Society and Trust developed the ideas they were formulating.  Here is hoping for a long and fruitful connection with Eigg and it islanders.

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What?  The dolphin picture is the most interesting part of this post?  Righto, here’s another one.

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There was a film-maker on board the ferry, going to Eigg for an assignment, to whom I got chatting.  When the dolphins appeared, everyone was furiously photographing the delightful event… – except our film-maker, who was filming people’s reaction to the dolphins.  It was an interesting lesson in perspective, and I think perhaps he understood that the significance of these encounters is their almost mystical effect on us, rather than the sight of the animals themselves.

 

Archiving Project Open Day

  • May 10, 2014 6:17 am

The Assynt Field Club, as reported here, set up a project to begin the process of archiving digitally a huge set of physical collections of sighting records and other information they have accumulated over many years.  Key to these collections is the work of two local residents, Pat and Ian Evans.  Through the North Highland Initiative, funds were made available to employ an archivist to carry out a pilot project.  The pilot seeks to establish whether the Assynt Community Digital Archive is a suitable an practical repository for digitised information of this kind, and whether the collections are amenable to such processing.

Avril Haines was appointed as the Archivist.  Her first responsibilities were working with Pat and Ian Evans, as well as the Filed Club chairman, Andy Summers, to work out what part of the collection to use for the pilot.  It had to be manageable but also representative section of the whole.  The reptile collection was chosen as well as the material and a full copy of Pat and Ian’s unique book, Flora of Assynt.

This project is now coming to an end.  To date, Avril has added about 400 records to the Assynt Community Digital Archive.  The quality of the metadata and the consistency of recording are especially noteworthy regarding this project.  Avril has also used the project to demonstrate to other groups in the area the value of the Archive as a ready-made legacy for their work, in the present as well as older material.

On Friday 9th May 2014, the Field Club had an Open Day to demonstrate to members and others in the community the work that this pilot has achieved.  Refreshments were provided by the newly re-opened Mission Café.

DSC_4111 Field Club Open Dat

The funders for this project were represented by Eilidh Todd.  Eilidh has been especially helpful in easing the administrative burden of such a project, which relies otherwise on voluntary commitments.   While Avril was the Archivist, the project relied on others, including Eilidh, Andy Summers, and, of course, Pat ad Ian Evans.

Avril will now complete the project, including writing a report to examine the project, document any specific learnings and use it to inform the development of  future such archival projects.  From the point of view of the Assynt Community Digital Archive, this has been a wonderful project, professionally completed, and further demonstrates the way in which community archives can drive direct as well as more oblique value in a community.

Contact Stevan for more information.

AmbITion Scotland’s Practical Digital Communications workshop

  • March 12, 2014 9:51 am

A group of folk from a number of museums and cultural  collections in the Highlands gathered at Ironworks in Inverness on Monday 10th March 2014.  Folk from Inverclyde. Aberdeen, Gairloch, Applecross, Skye and Ullapool were there, keen to see how to improve communication with their audiences using digital options.  The workshop was arranged by AmbITion Scotland and presented by Diane Greig and Deborah Hair.

Workshop particpants

Workshop particpants

The workshop provided insights into aspects of marketing principles required to develop a coherent approach to communicating with different groups who may have, or should have, an interest in the museums and collections represented. It was important to have a measurement of success to determine how best to communicate, and one method was not sufficient.

Almost al participants had stories of how it was often quite difficult to communicate consistently with those nearest their projects, as well as those in the broader sphere.  It was at times difficult to create a connection between commercial approaches to communication and the realities of life in very small, rural communities, but there is no doubt that a better-understood, orderly method of communicating holds real benefits.

It was also very good to be able to meet other folk engaged in similar tasks.  The sense of being engaged in the cultural and heritage sectors for a greater good was a welcome one, and finding others with shared highs and lows was great. Face to face communication to learn about digital communication?  Yes, ideal.

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Thanks to Diane and Deborah and all from Ambition Scotland for a helpful day.