Archives Unlocked was launched by the National Archives yesterday, 29th March. This is a compact, but important document: “IN SHORT: ARCHIVES MATTER. Our collections need to be used to be useful.” This is not a new philosophy, but it has new implications, driven by three changes in the context of archives which have become more apparent over the last decade or so, and the last months. The technological and social context is characterised by the concern for digital and accessibility in the UK Digital Strategy section on heritage. This is joined by a concern for confidence in information in an era of false news, and the removal of old obfuscations and lies through examination of archival material.
“TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE Digital technology has fundamentally changed what it means to be an archive. Archivists can help the IT and knowledge management communities by bringing professional archival practice to this digital world”,
“USER EXPECTATIONS Society is changing, opening up new uses for data and records, and posing new questions about what is collected now and in the future, in both paper-based documents and digital formats”.
The third change is “CONFIDENCE IN DATA AND INFORMATION People need to have confidence in the integrity of institutions. Organisations need to be open and transparent, and high profile enquiries into the history and culture of public, corporate and charitable bodies have highlighted the evedential value of records.”
The Vision document changed significantly in response to the changes we experienced particularly through the second half of 2016: the importance of access, particularly digital access and access to born-digital information highlighted when the importance of this data for confidence in institutions became clearer: it is not enough for the data to be preserved, or for it to be reliably transmitted, but also for it to be open and transparent.
This context leads to three high-level visions, for Trust, Enrichment and Openness, with case studies and think pieces for those who would like to delve further, and action plans for those who are involved with delivering the vision, in whatever capacity.
How Free UK Genealogy helps to achieve that vision (using the language of Archives Unlocked).
People and institutions trust in the quality of our type-what-you-see transcriptions as an authentic representation of archived records, supported by our openness about the limitations of a transcription, and the need for researchers to verify information.
- Democracy and society are strengthened by enabling free, comprehensive, remote scrutiny of the archival record, holding institutions and individuals to account.
- Users have confidence in the integrity and authenticity of our transcriptions, and in the charity and its volunteers who support their research.
- We embrace the opportunities of technological change, ensuring confidence in both born-digital and transcribed records.
Our work enhances and enriches our society intellectually, economically and culturally.
- Our culture of knowledge and learning and our commitment to open data expands through new ways to discover and use archive material.
- Open data means value in businesses(1) can grow through the use of archive material to support change, innovation and efficiency.
- People’s lives are enhanced through their engagement with archive collections.
Free UK Genealogy cultivate an open approach to knowledge, makes archive records accessible to all.
- We aim to deliver an excellent user experience, enabling people to find, access and interpret archive records
- The rich diversity of society is increasingly reflected in our archives’ collections, users and workers (including volunteers).
- We are networked globally to maintain excellent practice and open new possibilities for institutions and users.
In some of these areas, we have almost 20 years’ experience as an institution, and huge experience as individuals. In others, we have just started on our paths towards truth, enrichment and openness. The work plan will help us in that, and we in turn can help others in the wider archive world.
The plan focuses on three themes:
DIGITAL CAPACITY. Develop the digital capacity of the archives sector, to preserve digital records, and increase discoverability of the paper and digital archive.
RESILIENCE. Build the sectors resilience to ensure more archives can meet and sustain the Archive Service Accreditation standard, open the sector to new skills and a more diverse workforce, increase income generation capacities, and support innovative service models.
IMPACT. Demonstrate the impact of archives by developing and expanding audiences, piloting approaches to using data and evidence, and influencing thinking in the IT, commercial and knowledge sectors.
The plan will be delivered over the next three years, each a separate phase:
PHASE 1 – BUILDING THE PLATFORM. Scope and design the infrastructure that will give archives the capacity, knowledge and development tools for delivering the three themes of the action plan.
PHASE 2 – DEVELOPING CAPACITY. Design and test new models of delivering world-class archive services, working with partners on research and guidance in order to enable the development of new archive practice.
PHASE 3 – SHAPING THE FUTURE. Enable services to influence new delivery streams in emerging technologies, policies and strategies, within and beyond the archives sector.
(1) One change between the consultation version of Archives Unlocked and the published version which we argued for was a fundamental shift from seeing ‘commercial’ relationships in terms of behind-paywall datasets: a wider vision of the contribution of archives to economic sustainability (as opposed to the contribution of business to the budgets of archives) is both more representative of the wider archive community, and fit much better with a vision for archives that has truth, enrichment and openness as its aims. This is not to say that there is no role in this world for commercial partners who limit access: if they are providing enrichment that cannot be made by the archive or not-for-profit partners, they still have an important role, and will still be contributing to economic sustainability.
Quotations and adaptations from Archives Unlocked are © Crown copyright 2017.
This publication is licensed under the terms of the Open Government