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Excellent news just in regarding the Assynt Community Digital Archive.  One of the trainees on the recent archivist training course run under the auspices of Assynt Learning has sought and obtained permission to digitise and archive the documents and photographs relating to the conversion of a local building into a village hall.  There's a lot of history associated with our village halls, and plenty of documentation, for example, on how they have dealt with existential threats etc. which will be of use to others in future.  Great stuff, and we look forward to the new collection.

An interesting couple of session were spent at the Assynt Centre recently chatting with a group of older folk who meet regularly to improve their computer skills.  The intention was to let the group know that their skills can be of use for the community by archiving some of their information, or information they generate using their computer skills.

We came up with some ideas, including short sessions in which people bring in interesting old photographs, and chat through the memories the pictures generate.  The discussion can then either be recorded or filmed and the results put into the Archive.  We tried this to see if it would work in practice, using a tablet computer to do the filming.  The results were stunning, the discussion and additional background being absolutely riveting. We thought it would work best if there was a time limit on each discussion, to ensure good information.  In this way, a broader group of people can contribute towards a contemporary and lively discussion, allowing a wider group of folk to take an active role in the Archive.
We will see what results from this.  It was encouraging, though, to note that age is no barrier - in fact it's a positive advantage - to contributing to a community archive.

The Assynt Community Digital Archive came of age as a community project, to some extent, when the local Learning Centre, also a community project, offered to add Archive Training to the winter learning programme.  Initially 6 people signed up for the training, but the number varied up and down over the five weeks and 10 hours of training.

The course covered the need for community archiving, archiving principles, file formats, legal issues and lots and lots of practice archiving.  The training was done on the Learning system at the Assynt Community Digital Archive, a system that is the same as the production system, an easy addition to the Archive, as all services run as virtual systems.

Trainees came with a range of expectations and motivations, from seeing what Archiving was about, to those wanting to learn to use the Archive for research.  Some trainees were just there out of general interest, but made interesting contributions tot he group anyway.  One trainee has signed up as a fully fledged, fully trained Archivist, who will be archiving the research he has carried out into the history of his immediate area, and has offered to be a general archivist for contributed information.  Another trainee will be investigating the possibility of gaining access to a collection of information that is currently in a different form.  If she is successful, it will be a great addition to the Archive.

The training went so well that an extra day was agreed on, where further details of running the Archive were investigated.  Reports from trainees were positive, and the training was done in a relaxed but focused atmosphere.

Thanks to Sharon and Sandra at Assynt Learning for arranging it all.

Web sites sometimes appear to be archives.  Some web sites can behave a lot like archives.  But anyone who has run a web site for any length of time will be aware of a perceived need to "freshen up" the look of the site, or to adopt new technologies as they develop.  Not so an archive, whose main purpose is the long term preservation of the information it contains.    So an aspect of running a community digital archive is also to make room for web projects which interpret and present selected objects from the archive.

This is a similar process to a physical museum or other physical archive.  there will be many more objects in warehouses than are displayed and interpreted in the public facing areas of the museum.  Curators will change the displays every now and again, to incorporate changes to the interpretation or simply to encourage revisits.

From the point of view of community digital archiving, though, bear in mind that, while the archive may be accessed via a web page, it is not necessarily a web project in its own right.  Web site presentation is a short term proposal that fulfills a different need to safe long term storage.

There is another aspect to this.  Presentational web sites can absorb quite a lot of time or financial resource and are suitable for a clearly defined project.  There is plenty of scope for creativity and "bling," all aspects of generating interest for the topic.  But that display will inevitably have a shorter life than that envisaged for an archive.  Yes it is possible to create a web site that allows for storage as well as presentation, but we believe the better option is to separate those functions completely, allowing a dedicated, specialised archival system to do what it does best, while allowing full scope for any and all creativity associated with developing an interesting presentational web display.

I was chatting with someone this morning regarding the different challenges facing community groups.  In particular, we were talking about long term storage and access to information which may be generated as part of a project.  Sometimes, information gets stored outside the community's or the project's control, and sometimes it doesn't get kept at all.  Sometimes, it is hoped someone else does all the storage.

The choice of Free and Open Source software that we have made here in Assynt shows that it is possible to retain control over information generated relating to your own location, project or community.  While technology fashions change, such as the latest fashion to store data "in the cloud," such options may not be conducive to long term needs of communities, especially when information is so important to who we are, and what makes our community important to us.

So whether you are involved in tourism, scientific projects, archaeology, geology, botany, social sciences, or the humanities, such as cultural projects, the need to store information remains.  As time passes, so the body of information collected becomes more valuable and more relevant to the community.  So when thinking about your project, remember that you can also manage the information legacy of the project, and do that in such a way that it has long term value to your community.