Andrea Walker

Andrea Walker

Last updated on 4 October 2021

Andrea Walker is an Archivist at University at Cape Town Library. She attended the ASA 2021 Archives Amplified Conference with support from the Career Development Fund, which is funded by DPC Supporters.

I recently received a Career Development Fund grant from the DPC to attend the 2021 Australian Society of Archivists' conference, which ended up being entirely virtual. Given the global situation I wasn't planning to make the trip to Australia, but was glad the conference offered virtual options and am still catching up on all the sessions I missed—while I understand the need for parallel sessions, I always, always, every time, without exceptions, miss interesting talks scheduled at the same time as other interesting talks!

This year's theme was Archives Amplified: Connect, Challenge, Reimagine. The connecting was difficult, given the virtual nature of things, but I was certainly challenged and did plenty of reimagining (encouraged by UCTLibraries' executive director Ujala Satgoor, who has told us to 'dream big' in the wake of the devastating fire of 18 April 2021). I didn't know the DPC gave out these sorts of grants before this opportunity was brought to my attention and I leapt at the chance because, especially in the aftermath of the fire, so many of the sessions seemed particularly relevant—systems, processes, indigenous knowledge, audiovisual archiving, preservation, pest management, and so much more.

It's hard to pick out just one or two things to focus on, even when looking through the lens of digital preservation, but I'll try my best to limit myself to just a couple of highlights. From the first day's sessions there are two that I think are particularly pertinent for digital preservation. The panel on Privacy in a Collected World was a particularly interesting session because it brought together information specialists and privacy practitioners. There's a tendency to want to keep everything, and the idea is that with everything digital and in the cloud we can. But should we? Given the information that the SmartEverything around us is collecting and the harvesting and analytics the corporations and governments are doing, how much privacy do we have, and how much do people actually want? While I myself may secretly believe that 'archivist' and 'hoarder' are basically synonyms, this serves as a reminder that we need to consider what we choose to preserve, and what the value of preserving it is, very carefully. If everything is important, nothing is, and by the same logic, if we're keeping everything, why are we keeping anything?

The second session I want to highlight from Day One is more practical. Adrian Cunningham presented on Records in Context (RiC), the International Council on Archives' conceptual model for describing archival holdings in the digital environment. There's no point preserving something if we can never find it again. Our ability to find the perfect resource hinges on how well the resource is described. ISAD-G, RiC's predecessor is great for traditional, physical archiving, but the digital nature of current and future archives both flattens hierarchies and allows for increased linking between resources within and across collections. RiC is very new, so it'll be a while before archival software is built to use it, but I'm excited to see how the ability to contextualise resources with multi-entity, relational, linked open data will change the way we archive and research.

The next session I want to highlight also happened on Day One. Karuna Bhoday spoke about how the National Archives of Australia (NAA) has been implementing—and integrating—their digital preservation software. This was a session of particular interest to me, as we are (still) in the process of implementing our own preservation software at UCTL. I'm not sure how long the recordings will remain accessible, but I'm definitely going to take another look at this one when I've caught up on everything else. Because they're a government archive, the NAA collects very specific things. As a research archive, we collect material in a very different way to them. This means that the integration part of their process is less important for us—they are embedding digital archiving into governmental workflows in order to automate the process as much as possible. This ensures nothing falls through the cracks, as well as making it simpler for the staff. That wouldn't work for us, obviously, but the way they approached the implementation—an incremental transition occurring in the open through successive iterations enables them to keep the staff onboard, no matter how peripherally involved they may be. They're also using different software to us. We have no plans to change ours, but that they were unable to find an 'out-of-the-box' system to fit their needs and still had to create some in-house software makes me wonder if there will ever be a single system that actually does everything we need it to.

Actual Day Two highlights included even more emphasis on just why appraisal is such an important part of the archival process, in both government archives and in web archiving. The Day Two session I found most inspiring, however, was Julanne Neal's presentation on Q-Album. Her major point was that the massive potential of digitisation and digital preservation is our ability to democratise access—no longer do you need funding to visit a particular place, you can get there with a device and an internet connection. Granted, those two things are not universally available either, but they're certainly far more available than the ability to travel long distances and find accommodation for however long your research takes. And with Q-Album, they're enabling all the tiny little museums and heritage centres across Queensland to showcase their collections to the world in a way that they simply wouldn't be able to do by themselves. This is the democratisation of access in multiple directions.

I could go on (and on and on) about all the interesting things I saw and heard, both related to and aside from the topic of digital preservation. I'm going to restrain myself, and pick a small number of things I found particularly important:

  • Politics, politics, politics, it's politics all the way down.
  • There is never an out-of-the-box solution, you always need to mix-and-match and write your own.
  • 'We are the archive now' (Mark Burdon in the Privacy Panel)
  • How do we preserve resources that are intended to change with time?
  • Who decides what's in the public interest? Who decides what has enduring value?
  • Shift work should be against the Geneva Convention as it is clearly a heinous form of torture.

Scroll to top