Information Studies


Abstracts 2

Recent Trends in Archival Description: The Finding Aid as Cultural Text.
Dr Heather MacNeil, University of British Columbia

Abstract: In the last two decades, the archival literature on description has been preoccupied with issues related to the development, adoption and implementation of descriptive standards of various kinds. More recently, a body of literature exploring description as an object of inquiry in its own right has begun to emerge. This literature takes as its starting point the socially constructed and mediated nature of archival description. By its lights, finding aids are not simply neutral tools for facilitating intellectual and physical access: they are cultural texts, historically situated in time and place and shaped by particular intentionalities.
One means of exploring finding aids as cultural texts is through a comparison of archival description and textual criticism. Archival description and textual criticism are analogous in the methodologies they employ, the ends they seek, and both share a concern with issues of authenticity. The speaker will lay out the salient features of a comparative analysis and then look more closely at two descriptive texts, an inventory published in the middle of the nineteenth century and a contemporary standard for archival description, to illustrate how these descriptive texts incorporate and express cultural and professional values and to suggest what they reveal about the relationship between archival description and authenticity.

Biographical note: Heather MacNeil is Associate Professor and Chair of Archival Studies in the School of Library, Archival & Information Studies at The University of British Columbia, where she teaches courses on archival research and scholarship, the history of record keeping and arrangement and description. She has published articles on numerous topics, including record trustworthiness and archival description. In her current research, she is exploring the role of archival description as the archivist's apparatus of authenticity".

Revisiting Archive Collections: developing a methodology for capturing and incorporating new and hidden information into archive catalogues.
Leonard Reilly and Jon Newman, consultants to MLA (Museums, Libraries and Archives Council)

Paper abstract:
This session addresses questions raised by professional engagement with user-generated content in the creation of or addition to archival description and finding aids. It offers some suggestions for research methods that have developed from approaches tested in Revisiting Archives Collections, an MLA London project which used community engagement approaches to generate such content. It draws the scope of user-generated content widely: participation can be facilitated, solicited or self-initiated; new data can be presented verbally, on paper or electronically; new data can be information, interpretation, association or observation.

Areas for further investigation are:
1. What are the wider goals;
2. Who are the potential contributors;
3. Which materials should be selected for systematic re-description:
4. What kind of new information is most welcome;
5. What are the most appropriate strategies to generate new data and which is most productive for the resources invested;
6. What are the most appropriate strategies to capture new data and which offers the highest accuracy/authenticity/reliability for resources invested;
7. What levels of criticism to apply to new data;
8. How and where should new data be incorporated and presented in existing description and finding aids;
9. What will the impact be of using current language;
10. What will the impact be on precision and recall;
11. How do we make user supported description persistent and sustainable;
12. How do we publish and distribute new descriptions;
13. How do we market and promote new descriptions;
14. How best to measure the impact of user generated description?

Biographical notes:
Len Reilly has spent his career working in London Borough local history libraries and archives. He currently job shares as the Archive and Library Manager for LB Lambeth. He is a qualified librarian and has recently completed the archives and records management diploma at UCL. His interest in user-generated description has been stimulated by his role, with Jon Newman, as consultant to MLA London for their Revisiting Archives Collections project.

Jon Newman has worked for a range of local authority and institutional archives and is currently Archive and Library Manager, job-share, for the London Borough of Lambeth. He also works as a consultant archive researcher and practitioner including recent work for MLA London on both the Revisiting Collections project for museums in 2005 and current work on the Revisiting Archives Collections project.

Dynamic Descriptions for the 21st Century.
Victoria Peters and Lesley Richmond, University of Glasgow

Paper abstract: This paper will discuss the work at Glasgow University on the Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project, 'Empowering the User: the Development of Flexible Archival Catalogues'. It will argue that practice and theory in the area of archival description in the UK have, in recent years, largely developed independently from each other. Although there are valuable examples of the influence of theory on practice, these are, as yet, isolated. The paper will argue that it is time to pause and take stock of the rapid developments, both technological and theoretical, of the last decade and examine whether our finding aids are as effective as they might be. It will suggest that now is the time to question our whole approach to archival description. It will argue that a new, flexible approach is called for, one where context is separated from content. Such an approach will pave the way for exciting future developments in the presentation and exploitation of archival finding aids.

Biographical notes:
Victoria Peters has worked in a variety of roles at the University of Glasgow since 2001, including most recently as the Research Project Archivist on two Arts and Humanities Research Council funded-research projects, Empowering the User: the Development of Flexible Archival Catalogues and Developing Archival Context Standards for Functions in the Higher Education Sector. Earlier in her career she was an assistant archivist at Lambeth Palace Library, London Metropolitan Archives and the University of Warwick. She is currently chair of the Society of Archivists, Data Standards Group and has published and given papers on Archival Context Standards.

Lesley Richmond is Director of Archive Services, University of Glasgow and Senior Research Fellow in HATII, University of Glasgow, where she has worked since 1987. Prior to that Lesley held a variety of posts in business archives in Scotland and England. She has presented at international archive conferences, including Society of American Archivists Washington 1995, Los Angeles 2003; International Council on Archive Congress Beijing 1996, International Association of Labour Institutions Milan, 1998; 50th Anniversary of Danish National Business Archives, Aarhus 1998; CITRA (International Conference of the Round Table on Archives) Reykjavik 2001. She has acted in senior advisory capacities, including as a Member of Scottish Council on Archives, Chair of Society of Archivists, Scotland and a Member of Scottish Records Advisory Council. Research grants have included awards from the Wellcome Trust for projects into surveying the records of the pharmaceutical industry and the veterinary profession in the UK and Arts and Humanities Research Council awards for projects on developing archival functional description. She has published extensively and is Series Editor of Studies in British Business Archives, Manchester University Press, 1990-2000, Ashgate 2001- (Brewing 1990, Shipbuilding 1992, Chartered Accountants 1994, Banking 2001, Pharmaceutical Industry 2003, Veterinary Profession, 2004).

Users, information technology and standardised description in a non-standardised world
Geoffrey Yeo, UCL Department of Information Studies

Paper abstract: This paper addresses the impact of information technology on the creation and usability of descriptions; the role of descriptive standards; the potential conflict between movements towards standardisation and our growing awareness that the world itself is not standardised; the extent to which our users are, or are not, served by technical and standardised approached to description; and the requirement for a deeper understanding of user needs and behaviour. The main focus of the paper is on the description of archives but the paper also considers some issues of records management and the cross-domain environment. A copy of the speaker's presentation slides is included in this pack.

Biographical note: Geoffrey Yeo is a part-time lecturer in the Department of Information Studies at UCL, where he specialises in archival description and records management. He is the editor of the series of professional texts Principles and Practice in Records Management and Archives, and co-author (with Elizabeth Shepherd) of Managing Records (Facet, 2003). His current research is into the nature of records and archives as unitary and collective entities, and the relationship of records to the actions of individuals and organisations. He has extensive experience as a practitioner, consultant, educator and researcher.

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