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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