Recently I attended the ARA conference in Manchester (August 2017) just for one day. Three weeks since and I am still showing the same eagerness at writing about my experiences. I have now forgot most of the critical sentences, arguments, conversations and happenings. The many drafts I have written about the conference have been deleted, because I struggled to write about what I did not know. And this is my main reflection, I am really surprised at the extent of knowledge I did not know about the archives / digital management / information governance profession.
Have you ever scribbled a bunch of notes on paper, inspired by or thinking about what a lecturer was saying? Returning several weeks later to read over these (at the time) stunning notes only to discover you do not have a clue what they were on about. Had I written down every policy, concerning about accessing information, every standard from repositories to metadata. I would have now had an absolutely useless notepad. This is why I sketch my notes, this helps me build a visualisation of what is being discussed. This also helps me be objective through image, what does that image say, how far can an image be expanded upon.
The huge globe represents how data has no international borders. Yet we govern data through national or economic union laws. The UK information commissioner Elizabeth Denham highlighted that access to data is an international concern. It doesn’t need much imagination to see the problem where sensitive information is handled by global governments’ differently. Public information is now potentially known globally rather than locally.
This led me to consider the importance of our role as archivists’, which was further enforced by Dr Elizabeth Lomas from the University College London. We’re not at the point of using all knowing artificial intelligent robots to handle freedom of information requests. As technology advances, our ability to discover, track, organise, record all types of information is enhanced. Increasingly our profession is becoming an ethically questioning one. What is the morality of publishing information? How do we safeguard personal information? Especially since we now automatically published internationally online.
These dilemmas are not restricted to just archivists’. It concerns all information management professionals. I attended a thrilling discussion titled “Everybody is a heritage professional nowadays: Should archivists’ and curators remain as separate professions?”. Iain Watson, the Director of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums struck me as being on the same page as myself. The profession does need to embrace change, challenge itself to try different approaches to cataloguing, outreach, curation of records.
I enjoyed a point raised by Dr Adrian Steel, the Director of The Postal Museum, about a pair of shoes. Are the shoes duplicates or a pair? An archivist might be more inclined to keep one shoe as all informational and evidential value can be found on just the one. A museum professional though would keep both shoes, describe it as a pair, and have the urge to display it. Would an archivist want to keep this nicely preserved within a box?
There really is not that much difference between heritage professionals. Our methods of cataloguing and curating information may differ slightly. We all walk a neutrality and partiality tightrope. Our audiences are very different, and this is why we’re different and will remain apart. A museum displays artefacts / records while an archive offers a place to study artefacts / records. What is critical to our profession is to have regular meetings such as the ARA conference to share our knowledge and experiences, rather than worrying to much about definitions.
The central theme of the conference was asking a question about our role, how is our profession changing and how can we adapt with this change? My sketches were very simple, our profession tends to employ people with a master’s degree in Archives & Records Management, rather than hiring people on their potential. A lot of arguments have been made and I do not know where I sit here? Potentially we are losing out on employing highly skilled workers because they don’t have a specific master’s degree. On the other hand, many have argued there is already a shortage of funding and job opportunities within the profession. This might be a consequence of not being open enough to new ways of thinking and being selective about an employee’s qualifications?
What is unquestionable though is the need for more investment in archivists’. Geoffrey Yeo described the sheer scale of digital records which are dumbed without the proper management from records keepers. It is overwhelmingly scary the amount of data that is not archived or just simply buried. Handling digital records appraisal / selection for future preservation will need to be aided by automated software controlled by an ethically aware archivist. The handling, access and preservation of information remains critically important to a business / organisation / governments internationally.
In short, this was an incredibly challenging conference which has left me questioning “what do I not know?”, and now I am eager to build on this experience.