Designing the Archive conference in Adelaide 2019

Last week I attended the Designing the Archive conference, co organised by the ASA, ARANZ, ICA and PARBICA. This blog post is to jot down a few reflections on what I learned and experienced at the conference, and to give a few insights on doing professional development while on maternity leave. It was a big conference so I’m selecting just a few things that stood out to me. That is not to say that the presentations I missed or did not write about here were not important.

I’m on maternity leave and I chose to self-fund to attend. I could not pass up the opportunity to attend such an international conference when it was happening in Australia (I’ve previously attended ICA conferences in South Korea (2016) and Mexico (2017)). I’m finding that keeping my professional network active, and continuing to think about the profession, is helping to keep me sane and adjust to my new life as a parent with balance. Those first few months of first-time parenthood were really hard as not only was I learning what to do to care for a child, but I was also mourning being immediately (though temporarily) excluded from my usual network, professional community, routine and role/identity.

The first event I attended was the Australian Society of Archivists (ASA) University Special Interest Group (SIG) meeting, since I work at a University. I realised in the first few minutes that:

A ) my brain was a little rusty as I had to think for a moment, what do all those words like appraisal and accession mean? At first I felt like everyone was speaking a foreign language since the last few months have all been (reusable) nappies, breastfeeding, babywearing and nursery rhymes.

B ) I really missed using my brain for work stuff and I enjoyed hearing everyone’s updates on what projects they were working on and what challenges they were facing.

It was clear from the first day at the Welcome Reception that the conference organisers had made genuine efforts to be inclusive of Indigenous cultures and perspectives. It was great to have that embedded into the conference and to have a Welcome to Country to open the first day of presentations. Jennifer O’Neal from the University of Oregon provided in their presentation a list of authors that we should all read regarding Indigenous knowledge systems: Cheryl Metoyer, Ally Krebs, Miranda Belarde-Lewis, Marisa Elena Durante, Sandy Littletree, Camille Callison, Kim Lawson, Kirsten Thorpe, Shannon Faulkhead, Loris Williams, Angie Abdilla, Tasha James, Cassie Willis, Lauren Brooker.

It was clear from many presentations that as a profession we are able to admit and acknowledge that archives and archival practice is not neutral. That we have got it wrong and often continue to get it wrong. I have been hearing these messages for the last few years from the profession since I started attending conferences, but it is not always clear what can be done to improve the situation. An approach that seems to be helping is participatory research – including in your projects the people that the records are about or affect. The session presented by Belinda Battley, Seren Wendelken, Gregory Roland and Joanne Evans, Chaired by Nicola Laurent, showed the benefits and necessity of doing so. This was also covered by Elizabeth Shepherd’s talk on human-centred recordkeeping and the MIRRA project – memory, identity, rights in records, access. There is a short video about the project available to watch online.

It was such a rare luxury for me to be baby free at times during the conference (with my partner parenting bub, armed with a stash of expressed breastmilk) that I chose not to live tweet much of what I watched. I have been multitasking and pulled in all different directions so much this past year, that I wanted to really just be in the moment and watch without any distraction, even though for me Tweeting also doubles as my note-taking. As a side-note, the only reason I have two hands free to type this article today is because I’ve settled my baby to sleep on me in a baby carrier (I discovered early on that babies are programmed to protest being put down to sleep alone, quite rightly to ensure their survival in the forest, but that they quickly and easily fall asleep when tired and held in arms or in a baby carrier).

The first keynote, Michelle Caswell, had me nodding along to almost every word they said. She presented an approach to rethinking appraisal theory from a feminist perspective. She said things that needed to be said and heard, including criticisms (quite rightly) of white supremacy and the patriarchy. I’m looking forward to reading her paper on it. As a sneak peak, here’s a quote from the abstract about what is feminist standpoint appraisal:

“In valuing the unique insights gleaned by people on the margins, feminist standpoint appraisal refuses the notion that archivists from oppressed communities must overcome their positionalities to meet institutional goals and professional demands for neutrality, but rather, values and leverages the insights gained from outsider status, viewing the attendant insights as assets, rather than as detriments, to the archival endeavor. Furthermore, feminist standpoint appraisal calls on archivists who inhabit dominant identities to acknowledge their oppressor standpoints and actively work to dismantle them.”

Michelle Caswell’s abstract and full article is available online.

The morning and afternoon teas went for 45 minutes, and lunch for 1 hour, which I really appreciated. It was enough time to catch up with people and make new friends, and to take my time eating the delicious catering (the food was superb!). It also gave me time to walk to the parent’s room and pump milk so that I could leave bub with my partner for longer. There were times though that I needed to pump or spend time with bub away from the presentations, and I would have appreciated if presentations were streamed into the parent’s room, which is routine at some conferences.

When I booked my conference ticket I registered for the conference dinner without thinking through how that would work with a baby. I generally find that they are very unsettled when away from me in the evening (and much more settled in the daytime when we are apart). So I decided to pop bub in the baby carrier and get there right on time, so I could enjoy the event before it got too loud or we both got too tired. We have introduced solids using the Baby Led Weaning (BLW) approach, which avoids purees and spoon feeding and starts with finger food at around 6 months (For further info on baby led weaning, see the book by Gill Rapley). This meant bub could share my meal with me which made things easy. I also had someone kindly watch bub for a bit so I could have a few minutes to eat baby-free, which I was grateful for.

On the last day of presentations, Keynote Camille Callison was not afraid to speak her mind and to be honest about what we need to do to genuinely honour and include Indigenous voices in archival thinking and practice. While she was introduced as a librarian, she said that she calls herself a cultural memory activist. She noted that Western systems and approaches to recordkeeping do not work for a lot of Indigenous knowledge. Also that it took a long time in Canada for Indigenous oral histories to be recognised as evidence/records, compared to written documents. She emphasised that relationship building is essential to reconciliation.

The ICA runs a New Professionals program to support and encourage those with five or less years in the profession. It was great to see the program participants presenting on the last day of the conference. It’s wonderful to see the ICA supporting newbies to attend conferences and to network and be mentored. It was the ICA program which inspired me to co-establish, with Emma Harding, a student and new professional program locally within the professional association RIMPA. You can read more about the ICA’s program online, and about recent RIMPA Noobs initiatives too.

The last session I saw before the closing ceremony was on archives and data: opportunities and risks. Anne Lyon’s talk highlighted just how important records can be to national security and culture in Australia. She defined national identity data as records held in both public and private locations, assets around culture, history, identity, legal records. Births, deaths and marriages, court decisions, and more. She said it is a national security issue that this data has been undervalued. I look forward to reading her report which is available for free online. During question time, she was asked what records managers and archivists can do when information security is often seen as a technical IT issue and we are left out of the discussion. Her advice was to just turn up or invite yourself to meetings to ensure you are included.

While it was challenging to attend an interstate conference with a baby, it helped immensely that my partner took time off work and travelled with us, and parented bub for much of the conference. Though I did bring bub into some sessions. Attending wearing a baby sparked some interesting conversations around childcare and parenting. There were many references to Annabel Crabb’s writings on the matter such as her book ‘The Wife Drought’, and more recently, her Quarterly Essay, an extract of which is available online.

The call for papers is now open for the ICA 2020 Abu Dhabi Congress to be held 16-20 November, with the theme Empowering Knowledge Societies. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to make it, but I do hope I can find a way, financially and logistically!



Me attending the conference with my baby. Photo credit: Jenny Scott (thanks so much Jenny for taking some nice pics of me babywearing at a conference!)

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RIMPA Live wrap-up 2019

Last week I attended RIMPA Live in Melbourne, the annual conference that used to be called RIMPA inForum. This year is RIMPA’s 50th birthday, and my third inForum/Live. It has been over a year since I published something to my blog, as I have been busy growing a tiny human and then looking after them. I wanted to keep my brain active on work stuff while on maternity leave, and I have been using my RIMPA membership to do that. I stayed on the Victorian Branch Council and participated in the Victorian State Seminar, which was held earlier this year. I felt very welcome and encouraged by the branch leadership to attend the State Seminar with bub, which gave me confidence to attend RIMPA Live. This blog post is to capture a few highlights and to share my experiences trying to do professional development with a baby. Many presentations ran parallel to each other, and I was not able to attend everything, so there would be many presentations and ideas I cannot comment on. You can also see what others thought about the conference by looking up #RIMPALIVE2019 on social media such as Twitter.

Childcare is hard to come by, plus with exclusive breastfeeding it is not easy to be away from bub for too long, so I attended with baby for most days. I saw more of the conference when I had bub with me, as I could feed them while watching presentations (which also often kept bub quiet and/or put them to sleep). The day we were apart, I missed presentations when I had to go pump, and I had to leave early because there is a limit to how long I was prepared to be away from bub for (public pumping, like public breastfeeding, is protected under Australian law, but due to the logistics of it I prefer to pump in private). While common to do at conferences, unfortunately presentations were not being streamed into the private room made available for myself and another attendee who needed to pump.

I began the conference on the Tuesday by facilitating the Networking and Information Session for people who are new the conference, new to the profession, or just want a rundown of what to expect during the week. I presented with bub attached to me in a baby carrier (babywearing for the win!). Later that evening I attended the Welcome Reception. I had trouble networking as the music was too loud, it was hard to hear people and my throat was getting sore from trying to strain to speak loudly.

The Wednesday was Day 1 of presentations. There were many seasoned professionals presenting, reflecting on the last 50 years of the profession and how things have changed. There were also some professional speakers from non-records backgrounds, covering topics like leadership and adapting to change.  After many trips down memory lane on Day 1, Day 2 covered some innovative projects and approaches to professional practice. Such as Sandra Ennor’s work to appraise and manage large sets of research data by applying existing records management tools and theory to new areas. And Siân Sewell’s talk on deciding to work in the records and information management industry, where she noted the importance of networking to promote your records management program and get buy-in. She identified four keywords to inform our professional practice: be relevant, collaborative, influential, and innovative.

Day 2 was my childfree day and included me chairing ‘The future of the profession – RIMPA Noobs panel discussion’, with panellists Megan Cappelleri, Rebecca French, Siân Sewell, Chris Simpson, and Susannah Tindall. The discussion focused on the need for more formal and informal mentoring, on the job and formal training, and job security. We also talked about how newbies who enter the profession with a qualification have been trained in innovative approaches to professional practice, which may clash with how their workplace is currently running their records management program. There were some good ideas mentioned on how to better support and get value out of new professionals, such as:

  • When a more senior staff member has a speaking or writing opportunity, they could get a more junior staff member to co-write or co-present part of it as a learning/mentoring opportunity
  • For managers to consider sometimes sending more junior staff to industry training and events, so they get the experience, and can report back on learnings to the team
  • Newbies should not hide their previous qualifications or experience in other industries and roles, as that is where they learned or demonstrated valuable transferable skills such as customer service, project management, commitment to study and lifelong learning and more.



The view from my private pumping room

I really enjoyed the opening presentation of Day 3 by Matt O’Mara, on the need to innovate our approach to records and information management. The take-home message was that as information professionals, we need to insert ourselves into the right networks and conversations and be seen as trusted advisors and strategic enablers. Another highlight was Helen Palmer’s workshop on change management. She highlighted the human side, that we have to be mindful of the impact change can have on people. And that change is not always negative. The talk by Susan Bennett and Chris Colwell on leading information governance in the digital age was inspiring. They said that records and information managers are well placed to step up and lead information governance in organisations. They noted the importance of leadership and soft skills like influencing and strategy to complement technical skills. They saw information governance not as records and information management by another name, but as a multidisciplinary ‘super-profession’.

Throughout the conference I had many people come up to me to say hi to bub and say positive things about me attending with a baby. I think I met more people than I usually would, as babies are a great conversation starter. Many commented on how rare it was for new parents/carers to attend conferences, and that I was setting a good example that they are welcome if they want to attend. I only had one person say something negative to me, which included referring to bub as ‘really annoying’ and saying that I was being ‘confronting’ (the irony of confronting someone and accusing them of being confronting!). The encounter was a surprise for me, as they requested that I do exactly what I had already been doing, as if I had not been doing just that: if bub gets noisy (happy noisy or sad noisy), leave the room immediately and return when they are settled again. I did not know what to say other than, ‘that’s a reasonable request, and I am doing that, so I don’t know what else to say’. It was a blip on the radar as far as my overall experience goes, but I reported my encounter to management in the hope that it does not happen again to me or anyone else. **Edited to say, I have no intention of naming the person, so that they have the opportunity to save face. I strongly believe in ‘know better, do better’ and giving people the opportunity to bounce back. I’ve certainly make mistakes before and would not want to be identified for such. We all make mistakes and my point was never to identify the person, only to share my experience and how I navigated it.***

I do not need to explain how damaging an interaction like that, especially from someone holding a senior position, could be to a parent or carer’s confidence, mental health, and likelihood of leaving the house with bub again for some much needed social interaction.

While overall I felt supported to be there, I made a list of a few things I thought of that could make conferences even more parent/carer friendly:

  • Have a diversity and inclusion policy that states that parents/carers are welcome at the event and will be accommodated (to empower parents/carers to stand up for themselves in case someone does feel the need to say something negative to them)
  • Provide a space to pump (or breastfeed) that is private, has electricity and a fridge, and ideally a microwave in case one needs to sterilise equipment and bottles
  • Ensure high chairs are available at meal times (I had trouble getting one for the one sit-down meal I had requested it for)
  • Provide a play space where children can be noisy and stretch out
  • Live stream the audio, and ideally video too, of at least the main presentation room, into the feeding/pumping/play room(s)
  • Provide free or affordable childcare onsite, since it is difficult to organise private childcare to fit in around the conference span of hours, or if you have travelled for the conference you will not have access to your usual childcare options.

The 2020 conference will be held in Canberra. I encourage you all to start thinking about what you can present. What research have you done or could you do before then, or what projects could be written into a case study? And if you are a parent or a carer, and want to attend, I hope I have given you some ideas of how it can be a positive experience and empowered you to ask for whatever you need to accommodate you.


Babywearing helped me settle bub on the move and not take up too much space on peak hour public transport

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Some brief reflections on #ICHORA8 / #GLAMblogclub

This is a very rushed post to capture some of the things I learned and intend to reflect on from the 8th International Conference on the History of Records and Archives. It is a 3 day conference being held in Melbourne this week, and due to an unavoidable clash I could only attend the first 2 days. A number of attendees have been tweeting about it, so please check out #ICHORA8 for the details. The program and abstracts are also online, and papers will be online later.

This is also a shameless attempt to get in at the last minute with a #GLAMblogclub post on this month’s topic: passion. The claim I will make is that I am passionate about my profession and my professional development, and passionate about sharing with people OUTSIDE the profession what we do and why we are important. I was privileged to be able to attend most of this week’s conference, and I am aware that many people would have wanted to go but couldn’t due to limited time, funding, travel limitations etc. I did my best to live Tweet my observations and reflections during the conference to share these with others, and here I am expanding on some of the themes in my Tweets.

1) Control records are important – if you destroy records, make a record that you did so

Its not possible to keep every record or piece of data permanently, so there will be times that records and data are destroyed. In the case of public sector records in Australia, the authority for that usually comes from a ‘disposal authority’ or RDA (retention and disposal authority). When records are destroyed, its usually required that a record is made about it. What were the records about, what date range were they from, who or what (RDA) authorised the destruction etc.

The presentation by Nicola Laurent and Cate O’Neil about their work on the Find and Connect web resource makes it clear just how important control records are. Care leavers often get told that the records they are looking for were destroyed by flood or fire, but some investigations into some of these claims have proven that wrong.  Generally if your organisation had records you should be able to say where they are, or explain when and why they were destroyed.

2) If you’re going to capture records, think NOW about how you will preserve them and provide access to them

Its quite important to think at the start of a project, how will I ensure that what I’m creating or capturing can remain available over time? I.e. digital preservation. Mary Grace Golfo-Barcelona gave a presentation about the use of terrestrial laser scanning to capture 3D images of cultural heritage sites. It’s an opportunity to preserve what particular sites are like now, in case they get damaged or destroyed later by things like natural disasters. The irony is, that there may be no guarantee that these scans will remain available over time.  Digital preservation is complicated and there may be no easy answers. However, thinking about it from the start of a project is presumably going to increase the chances of success in preserving the information captured.

3) Recordkeepers and archivists need to do more to increase awareness of what we do and who we are

The presentation by Sara Tam and Jenny Yu about research with Cynthia Ho in Hong Kong explained their work in establishing a community archive about Pok Fu Lam Village. They opened their talk with a brief overview of the history and current status of recordkeeping and archival practice in Hong Kong. They said that due to limited access to formal education in the discipline, along with other factors, almost no-one in Hong Kong knows what an archivist is.

I laughed when they said that, as in my experience in Victoria, Australia, where there are plenty of tertiary courses in the discipline, I often feel that no-one in Australia knows what an archivist is. No offence to bookkeepers, but I was disappointed when I recently told someone ‘I’m a recordkeeper.’ I got a bit of a blank look so I expanded my explanation with,  ‘You know, records, archives, information management…?’ and they said, ‘Oh so you’re a bookkeeper then?’

Archives and recordkeeping is just one discipline in the #GLAMR world, and we are lagging behind other information disciplines such as libraries in making it clear what we do. I presume that most librarians don’t need to explain what a library or librarian is, even if they might need to explain some aspects of their professional practice or exactly what their responsibilites are. However, outside of the #GLAMR world I often can’t get far into a conversation about my career or ‘what I do’ without having to do some serious explaining. What can we do to get the word out about us?

I am passionate about recordkeeping and archives, but I passionately believe we need to do more to get the word out about what we do, why we do it, and why anyone should care. The presentations at ICHORA this week highlighted the history and ongoing importance of recordkeeping and archival work. Now the challenge is to get the word out more broadly about all these interesting histories, stories and projects.

That’s as much as I have time to write, but please check out #ICHORA8 on Twitter for more observations, and the ICHORA website for the abstracts, and eventually the papers.

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Vocation equals happiness – Glam Blog Club March 2018

I recently started reading ‘The Happiness Project’ by Gretchen Rubin. In the book, the author describes a year-long quest to change her life, with monthly goals divided into twelve chapters. I plan to read one chapter per month this year, and so far I am keeping up.

The March chapter focuses on happiness with work. Rubin opens with, ‘Happiness is a critical factor for work, and work is a critical factor for happiness’. She notes that ‘happy people work more hours each week’ and they ‘work more in their free time too’. At some points of my career I would have disagreed with her. However, I do find with my current profession of recordkeeping and archives that, within reason, I am happy to do extra work such as volunteering to run external programs or events for the profession, and writing articles to share my experiences to help other newbies.

Happiness is the topic of this month’s Glam Blog Club, with the question asking, ‘What makes you happy? Your job? Visiting your favourite library? Getting lost in an exhibition?’ I say YES to all three! In particular, I’m super-happy with my job. More broadly, I’m super-happy with my profession. In the same way that another Glam Blog Clubber this month makes no apologies for loving being a librarian, I’m ecstatic to be working in the recordkeeping profession.

Last November I attended an event at Monash University which included a talk by Adrian Cunningham who recently retired from a distinguished career in archives. Cunningham spoke about his profession as a ‘vocation’ and that really resonated with me: ‘Archiving is a vocation, it gets under your skin and once you’ve got the bug you never lose it.’

Don’t get me wrong, I have some criticisms about my profession and how the industry operates in Australia. Particularly around the scarcity of services and opportunities available specifically for new entrants to the profession. Though I do my best to be part of the solution by creating opportunities for students and new professionals.

In my career, after studying a range of humanities disciplines and gaining experience in public-sector governance and administration, I finally landed my dream role of Senior Records Analyst. It wasn’t until I started working in recordkeeping and archives as my core discipline that I felt like I had a profession, a career path, and a community to engage with. Maybe there are professional associations and industry networks in other areas I have work experience in, but I did not come across them in the way that I have in the GLAMR industry.

I could talk all day about what I like about my job and my profession. If I were to focus on one thing, it is that the industry has many opportunities for practitioners and academics to engage with each other. To collaborate and talk with each other. To attend the same events and read the same articles. This means a lot to me as I enjoy studying, I enjoy doing research, and I want a good evidence base to inform my professional practice.

In my experience, recordkeeping and archival industry events such as the Australian Society of Archivists (ASA) annual conference attracts a good mix of practitioners and academics as speakers and attendees. This is important to ensure that research informs practice and vice versa.

I have had the privilege of being exposed to research in practice through a project at work involving a mix of academics and practitioners. That led to a number of opportunities to attend conferences as a speaker within and outside Australia as part of a team including practitioners and academics.

I’m proud of the teamwork and practitioner/academic collaboration that went into the 2017 ASA conference panel I was included in, about bridging the gap between educational theory and on the ground practice (link to video recording of the 90 minute session).

Last year I was included in the delivery of a workshop in Mexico at the International Council on Archives annual conference. I learnt so much from academics Gillian Oliver and Fiorella Foscarini about research which can inform my professional practice. To my humble shock, I got feedback that my reflections on my professional practice added value to the workshop too.

Mexico 2017 - Fiorella Loriente Oliver

Me in Mexico last November 2017 after assisting in the delivery of a workshop about Information Culture. L-R: Fiorella Foscarini, Lydia Loriente, Gillian Oliver

I value the opportunity to be employed as a practitioner who can get things done, while having (internal and external) opportunities for ongoing exposure and access to academic discussions and emerging research.

Some weekends I get carried away doing professional reading and writing or doing homework for my studies in information and knowledge management. Other weekends I completely switch off and walk away, and focus on other interests. But I’m always happy to return after a break. Rubin had made a career change from lawyer to writer, as writing was her passion. She found with her new career that she was, as she explains it, ‘as eager for Monday mornings as I was for Friday afternoons.’ As much as I love my weekends, I really do look forward to Monday mornings as it’s my official start each week back into my vocation. And that makes me happy.

Loriente in Brisbane 20170909

Me in Brisbane September 2017 after co-presenting a workshop at RIMPA inForum

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