Personal Digital Archiving Conference – Interconnectedness

This is my presentation developed for the 2017 Personal Digital Archiving Conference at Stanford University.

I had to shorten it for the conference, but have now recorded it in full. I also adapted it to fit with an online presentation. It is a PREZI so please click using the forward arrow to listen to me explain each screen.

The key ideas in my research is how personal memory systems (such as those that exist in how we manage stuff on computers, tablets, mobile phones and in online spaces such as social media) help to form collective memory (this term can include various conceptualisations of ‘collective’ but in this research it is primarily focused on what we might call traditional memory institutions).

In looking to explore the formation of memory systems from personal to collective I examine how value is constructed and contextualised by individuals who create and share digital content. By understanding value at the creator level it can provide deeper and richer insight into whose memory is being captured and preserved.

As a final note on terminology, I do not use the terms personal digital archiving, nor personal information management. I prefer to use the term recordkeeping and memory-making. These latter two terms encompass various aspects of what it means to create and manage information for various purposes, including to remember. I see information management is a form of memory management and control. Recordkeeping provides a way to construct the systems to manage and control. And recordkeeping is not necessarily about producing or managing authentic, reliable records or evidence in the sense of what is usually done by governments and organisations. We all do recordkeeping in some form or another using various tools and processes to do so, some more effective than others. Archiving activities or processes are just another kind of recordkeeping process, regardless of who does them. Recordkeeping is a process where recorded information is managed according to its value. The value could mean retention for an instant or forever (although the latter is highly unlikely in practice, but rather is an intention). Value is assigned or identified at various times. This is what this research was looking to find out more about.

Ngrams of Information Lifecycle

Researching the information lifecycle

Had a little play with Ngrams again today for a paper I am writing. I have several issues with the limitations of Ngrams (books from western traditions, written in English, only those scanned, only those scanned full text are useful, context and association issues with language). But it is fun.

I was looking to see when lifecycle (or life cycle) appears first in relation to information, records and archives. Interestingly enough, archive[s] lifecycle does not appear in the literature. This made me realise something that I had been pondering in my head quite a bit over the years. The lifecycle model is actually not about archives at all. This is therefore both freeing (archives as new things aka. Schellenberg), and a bit odd at the same time. Aren’t records in archives about contexts and relationships? The relationships and contexts are not just about the records themselves either, but about their various roles during which time they were in the life cycle before getting to the archive. They do not get a new life, but provide evidence of the sum of their old one, as well as have new parts to play. I do wonder to what extent this thinking about archives as being something ‘other’ plays a role in how they are conceived of in the US tradition. And by conceived I mean created, studied, used and so on. More pondering needed.


As Schellenberg, often associated with the life cycle model, did not actually use that term (he used life span) I wondered if this turned up anything interesting in Ngrams using the same prefixes above. Answer = no.

However, record life span did achieve a result.

Upon reviewing the books for this result however it shows up the use of the term record (as in achievement) life span, mostly related to biology and population studies (where the use of the term life cycle is also derived).

One last fun Ngram on records management, information management and information governance. Revealing yes?

 

 

I also note that in my research into this there has been a LOT of plagiarising from the 1998 Philip C. Bantin paper (quoted in the SAA Glossary). So many others have copied word for word what is written about life cycle without attribution. But also, Bantin says: “Schellenberg and others…” without any reference. Who are the others?????

Multiple Stories of Cultural Heritage: A Conceptual Model

Conceptual Model Making…to Testing

Last year I published a model called the Mediated Recordkeeping Model, a systems and activity-based theoretical model that explores and attempts to explain the formation of cultural heritage via narrative, identity, memory, technological and evidential systems. I created this ‘thing’ and for a while I have not really know what to do with it. I know how it came to be, but what now?

The first thing I did to explore what this model can do was to re-engage with a YouTube video I often use in presentations. This video, the first featured below, can be found in the Australian National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA). I wrote about it in a 2009 paper and often start presentations off with showing what the NFSA catalogue description of this video documents (and what it does not). I mention this description in that 2009 paper and there is an image of the entry, but also search for it yourself in the NFSA collection catalogue. The purpose of highlighting the NFSA catalogue entry is to show how metadata does not explain much, if anything, and can actually be quite judgemental and incorrect.

My first test of the Mediated Recordkeeping Model was to go back to this video and to identify what description might look like if I was to use the model labels. So, I put the model labels into a table format and added metadata to each. What I realised when I was doing this process is that I was crafting a story. Then I realised I was creating more than one story.

Stories:

  1. The sum of the analysis/description is my interpretation of the video and its role as cultural heritage.
  2. As I built up the metadata and for each element described a different story was being told with multiple potential endings/contexts that were not described.
  3. The relationships between each element as they were documented and mapped was not just linear or entries on a table, but were part of a movement or mapping that could be done on the model. The process of this mapping is as important as the mapping itself.
  4. I was creating the potential of multiple stories. By documenting my own story or interpretation of the model I was also providing a process for others to create their stories. These stories might be built the same way, or in different ways. Stories could be critical, ancestral, visionary, contemporary, individual, collective, antagonistic, conflicting, incommensurable as well as many other kinds of stories.
  5. That in seeing one story, there can exist a way to see many more, as well as what is absent.

This led me to consider some things:

  • Is it possible to see absence only when something else is present?
  • How can multiple stories be told? And are there different ways to interact with stories? Can the process of the storytelling be represented in different ways?
  • How can people, including archivists, use this model to help tell these multiple stories?

I have been dabbling with visual presentations of theoretical models for a while now which led me to do some Google Sketchup work a few years ago, see video below, as well as influenced my redesign of the classic continuum model shape as shown in the Mediated Recordkeeping Model (and contrasted with the image shown on the Wikipedia page of the Records Continuum Model). I was also given the opportunity to develop and exhibit a visualisation of data and this led me to think more about how the Mediated Recordkeeping Model might look like visualised.

The result is the sun ray or flower representation of the video description I laid out in the table. For the exhibition I recorded myself talking about the model, what it shows and how I created it. I have now uploaded this to YouTube. I showed some people at the recent AERI held at Kent State and their feedback got me intrigued about how to use this model and visualisation such as this in a practical or operational way.

  • What does this way of modelling (the sun ray) bring to archival description?
  • Does the sun ray and the Mediated Recordkeeping Model include or address what is important about archival description?
  • Can the sun ray move in 3 dimensions? How would it move?
  • And what would it look like if I was able to add additional stories?

I am preparing to write a paper on conceptual model making and the use of theoretical models for critical archiving.

I delivered a paper recently on What it means to teach ethics to students: exploring the complexity of representation and equity in records, recordkeeping and archives. I also referred to the Mediated Recordkeeping Model in this presentation and plan to include something of the lessons I outlined into the paper.

Lessons from the presentation:

  • How we, as educators, can help to teach our new archivists what the power of technology means and what it means to act?
  • How technology affords reaction rather than action and how individuals can be made aware of the difference?
  • How ethical standards and statements of principles sit with an increasing awareness of activism not just in our profession, but globally, and the continued tension with the position of an impartial view?
  • Is it ethical to document or manage any records without consent or allowing them to have an active, collaborative role in the processes including decisions about access, rights and description over time?

So, finally, in thinking about modelling, theoretical and conceptual frameworks and operationalising them in various contexts, its seems there are many things to consider. Some of these issues are already being explored in the archival discipline including what is being represented and how, what is missing or in conflict, and how the processing of recordkeeping (including use of the model) influence and impact on representation. Another issue I think equally important is how it is possible to evaluate and build on the theoretical models. It is great to operationalise them or show how they can impact on practice, but what does this also mean for the theory?

Reviewing archives program and curriculum

I am currently reviewing with colleagues the archives program and curriculum and I am reminded of how archives support researchers. Archives are often considered to be filled with historical documents and records and they are, but they those documents and records are more than their place in spacetime as history. Researchers do not always want to use archives for ‘history.’  There is also the idea that there is informational value in archival materials that provides inherent value etc. The informational value also comes from the recordkeeping systems themselves in the multiple contexts the records were created and managed, including the archive itself. I wonder these these possibilities are catered for?

Related to the multiple uses of archives, including their systems, I wonder then what we need to teach our graduate students. I have been to a few Digital Humanities events and can see that people want to use digital information now and be able to access it, link to it, scrape it, combine it, mash it, map it, make music from it and so on. Stepping back from the idea of whether or not archival systems support these multiple uses, what knowledge does a graduate student need to acquire to be able to think about and respond to the different ways that archives can be used? What does it mean to ‘add value’ to an archive?

Archivists might not participate in hack-a-thons, but they need to know what they are and how people use information and data in these contexts. They might need to know how systems support or do not support the use of data in this way. So what literacy do we need to be teaching? Related to my own work, is it OK just to teach the workflow of digital preservation or should we be challenging the nature of preservation? How does this get balanced in a field of practice that needs to engage with theory (but is known for rejecting theory as being non-relevant or too complicated). How can we achieve innovation as a practice if the theory is not being explored in practice? Another thing that I think about in relation to teaching or providing a way to explore innovation is how they we can support students who go out into the workplace and have to do the basics? But then in 5, 10, 15 years time their theoretical experiences in grad school help them think about and develop innovation?

I have heard stories about how students in our field and more broadly in LIS do not realize what kind of skills they have learned until well into their career and well after grad school. How can we make the grad school experience balance the need to explore theory and innovation, as well as meet expectations for practice (from the student and the employer). The situation in the US is different than in Australia as well, but has many similarities.

Something to ponder.

Paper review – Self-determination and archival autonomy: advocating activism

Evans, J., McKemmish, S., Daniels, E., & McCarthy, G. (2015). Self-determination and archival autonomy: advocating activism. Archival Science, 15(4), 337–368. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10502-015-9244-6
This paper is a really important part of the growing discourse and awareness of the active role archivists in the profession and in academia can take. It illuminates the particular situation in Australia, as well as references examples around the world. The authors make it clear what needs changing – access, discovery, rights, appraisal, description and disclosure. Some of these are key archival terms that all archivists are aware of. But the key aspect of this paper that shines brightest to me is the continuum perspective. The authors state that they have taken a continuum point of view and they talk about recordkeeping, co-creators, multiple provenance, but the key to what they mean by continuum is in the use of the concept  – the system.
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There are several ways this is mentioned in the paper and one of the first is the goal of addressing identity, memory and accountability needs that also includes redress, recovery, emotional, medical and psychological health, financial security and right to legal restitution of individuals and communities. This statement might make you think about context and yes, these are contexts, but these ideas are really about understanding the systems that underpin why and how records are created and how they become archives. Archivists often talk about ‘contexts’ and how context provides information about how records are created and managed before they get to the archive. Legal, organizational and social contexts. But these are not just impacting on the record, but are part of the record
A systemic view of archives acknowledges that records are not just things but are part of systems of many things – linked to activities, interaction, people and mandates. Recordkeeping is a term that embodies this notion of a system of records – not just the things themselves, but why they are created and how, as well as how actions related to the record (or records at various aggregations) impacts on what role the record might play. This is why the term archival systems is important and the notion of systemic issues is a vital position within the archival activism discourse, but also within a wider archival discourse.
 
From a social perspective, referencing Giddens (as the continuum models do), the notion of systems refers to the interconnectedness of things and processes, but also to how these enact and influence the evolution of the systems. How the system works is not just what the system does, but how it is adapted through various mechanisms, particularly power. This is why the concept of archival autonomy, which is raised in the paper, is so important. It is not just about understanding or advocating for rights in records such as access or privacy, but to change the system so rights are inherent in how records are conceived of within the system.
I have been working recently in articulating the core principles or theory that is continuum theory, or perhaps information continuum theory, as developed by the Australians. Yes, it references various other theories, including structuration theory, but what about information continuum theory is theory? One of my first suggestions is that information continuum theory posits that records exist within a system of interconnected networks. These networks act as contexts to help position the record within spacetime. The networks can be micro and detailed, such as an individual making a decision about deleting an email because it is spam, to macro and expansive, such as how archives build collections because they have a mandate to preserve memory. The macro point of view is inclusive of the micro – they are always connected in some way. Context can include technology, law, community, social norms, culture and so on. Incidentally, this is my fractal explanation of multiple complex realities existing in different planes. I have written about it in my PhD and am thinking about writing a paper on it.
 
The system and the network documents multiple complex realities. The archival autonomy concept in the system (or the fractal) means that at any point in the network an individual has a role to play and a voice to be heard. The paper refers to individuals and communities and although I understand the concept of a community having an identity and memory, I believe that only the individual can articulate that community identity through remembering and action. Shared memory only exists within individuals. Ultimately, what this is about is power and the individual right to power within a complex system.
 
So, two important things can be drawn from these ideas. Firstly, if information continuum theory therefore also posits that if there are multiple complex realities then there are also multiple ways to comprehend recorded information, including those that are yet to be discovered, or those that are hidden, as well as those that appear to be incommensurate. Secondly, if records exist within a system then the concept of the archive as being a stage or past a threshold does not make as much sense. Although, the threshold idea can be seen within the context of the fractal view and within an understanding of movement of power – part of the contexts or network. This is why the idea of archival autonomy is important because it recognises that the systems that support the archive need to include the idea that an individual is part of the network of contexts and are as valuable to design and decision making as the societal mandates for preservation of memory, or legal obligations etc. How the concept of archival autonomy plays out within the system is something that this paper explores. The case studies presented demonstrate very clearly what it means for an individual to be part of the system.
 
Two final thoughts:
  1. Can the concept of archival autonomy be considered within a cultural heritage framework, such as in my own work with understanding social media as cultural heritage?
  2. From this perspective, is all archival research activist? The paper mentions two archival research projects that are about particular communities in Australia that have strong advocacy identities. Is the topic what makes them activist? The research goals? Engagement with critical theory? Engagement with action research methods? Identification of change?