Wednesday, 4 October 2017

My year as a Transforming Archives Trainee

It has been a while since I finished my Transforming Archives Trainee with The National Archives at Hull History Centre and I just wanted to reflect and write about my experience.

Francisco (left) with Tom the other Trainee we hosted this year
When I look back, I can’t be more grateful to both the Hull History Centre and The National Archives for this unique opportunity. I’d also like to give special thanks to my managers Simon Wilson and Emma Stagg for their patience and effort to make this an exceptional experience.

The final outcome of my training was a successful job application. I am now working as a Digital Imaging Officer at the London Metropolitan Archives

My traineeship also inspired me to launch a job board for digitisation jobs, which aims to help other trainees and professionals find a job in the sector.
Digital Preservation Guidelines
I had the opportunity to attend the course ‘An Introduction to Digitisation and Digital Preservation’. This was provided by The National Archives and The University of Dundee. The essays I wrote and conversations I had with my tutor Melinda Haunton gave me a clear understanding of the problems that institutions can experience with Digital Preservation.

For example because the concept of digital preservation is quite new, many institutions are still trying to understand what digital preservation strategy is best for them, how to carry out this process and how to raise or allocate funding and resources. There is not a widely accepted consensus, this can lead to poorly thought out execution and a lack of funding necessary to produce useful results.

Completed NDSA Levels self assessment grid 
I also understood the technical challenges of “software obsolescence” and how file formats that we use now may not be usable in 10 or 50 years. For example, most people are familiar with JPEG formats for images now, but in 50 years time, we may have moved onto other file formats.  It could be very hard for future generations to access these file formats. That is why any attempt to preserve documents/files in a digital format must consider this and ensure documents are stored in simple, secure, affordable, open source, popular and easy to access formats.
With assistance from University Archivist, Simon Wilson and fellow trainee, Tom Dealey, we completed a self-assessment exercise using the Levels of Digital Preservation developed by the National Digital Stewardship Alliance, which aims to build awareness of current capacity and inspire organisations to develop their digital preservation activities. (see the full blog on this from March this year).

Digitising the Hotham pedigree roll
I really enjoyed digitising medieval parchment rolls from the 16th century. Our last exhibition '’The Hothams, Governors of Hull & the Civil War'’ required us to capture oversized scrolls that were 3 metres long, this was particularly challenging as our equipment could only capture small sections of the scrolls at a time, we then had to stitch these images together with Photoshop.

I was also involved with many other events relating to Hull City of Culture 2017 including the ‘’Hull Charters’’ exhibition which showed how the people of Hull were granted privileges, rights and responsibilities which now form the bedrock of how we live as citizens today. I assisted in retouching the digital images of some of these charters.

I helped with preparations for ‘’Larkin: New Eyes Each Year’’, an exhibition that explored connections between Larkin’s life and work in Hull. I helped digitise a wide range of materials including photographs, letters and documents from his collection. I enjoyed learning about Larkin’s life and understanding how exhibitions are put together from beginning to the end.

Spanish Civil War items
I believe this traineeship has been about much more than developing my skills. It is about empowering and inspiring people to develop their passion for the Archives and the Heritage world, being in a privileged position to unlock and reinterpret the past whilst understanding how future digital generations will be able to use, access and interact with our heritage records.

I was given so many opportunities to move forward in my professional career. I had a life coach who helped me to focus on my strengths and motivated me to find new ways to develop my confidence. I had the chance to attend a wide range of workshops and conferences around the country and I had hands on experience which honed my skills.

As a result of all this, I gained not only skills and a job at the London Metropolitan Archives, but developed new ideas, I launched a job board for digitisation jobs I am working on a new project related to ai jobs, which aims to empower the new workforce as digitisation, the fourth industrial revolution and AI enter the mainstream.

(now former Transforming Archives trainee)

Monday, 2 October 2017

PASIG 17 conference - a few reflections

I am the recently appointed City of Culture Digital Archivist. This archive will seek to document Hull’s time as City of Culture in order for it to become a key part of the collective memory of the city and to inspire creativity and innovation for years to come. Largely digital in format, it will challenge us to develop new strategies, technologies and workflows for preserving and providing access to archival records. 

To assist with this, from 11th-13th September I attended the yearly meeting of the Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group (PASIG), hosted by the Bodleian Libraries & Digital Preservation at Oxford and Cambridge (DPOC) at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. PASIG is dedicated to advancing the practice of digital preservation and archiving.

Over the course of three days we were treated to more than 50 talks, panel sessions and vendor demos – so of course I won’t be summarising every single one! But there were certainly a few sessions that struck a particular chord with me that I’d like to talk about.

Oxford Museum of Natural History
Eduardo del Valle of the University of the Balearic Islands gave a talk about catastrophic data loss which served as a cautionary tale. Having lost 248GB of digitised files during a data migration, which amounted to three months scanning work on fragile, rare, unique books his university has now implemented Libsafe. This means that all NDSA levels of preservation are reached, providing the expectation that such a loss should not occur again.  He warned against taking assurances from IT services at face value and that it’s not worth taking risks with data as anything that can go wrong will go wrong! This talk underlined the usefulness of such standards as the NDSA levels of preservation and how they can provide a framework that protects valuable information.

Patricia Sleeman of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) gave what was, in my (and I think many others’) opinion, the standout talk of the conference. Opening her talk with a compelling video of the poet and activist Emi Mahmoud performing her poem “Head over Heels”, Patricia went on to speak with power and urgency about the crucial work of the UNHCR. When compared to the need to provide nutrition and shelter to displaced people it can seem hard to justify spending money on recordkeeping and archives, but as Patricia explained, the protection of culture and information is vital to the protection of a sense of humanity. Not only can the availability of authoritative and verifiable information assist in the battle against dangerous fake news, the preservation of cultural identities that oppressors have sought to destroy can help rebuild people, their lives and their memories. It was a sobering reminder that what we do is about more than bytes and boxes on shelves and that to loosely quote Patricia, “we have a right to be forgotten but we also have the right to be remembered”.

Whilst the conference covered a hugely diverse array of subjects, from storage trends to advocacy to certification and beyond, four overarching themes emerged to me:
  1. That in order to progress we must accept a degree of uncertainty. There is no way we can know the exact outcomes of new digital preservation activities before we try them – we mustn’t let that stop us though, as we can only learn by doing.
  2. Collaboration is key. Sharing insights and findings, successes and failures with the digital preservation community benefits us all immeasurably.
  3. It’s time to stop thinking about digital preservation and start doing digital preservation.
  4. We should be receptive to new ways of doing things. The archives profession has been comfortable with the ways of Hilary Jenkinson for nigh on 100 years – perhaps now is the time to be truly disruptive and start embracing new technologies such as machine reading and artificial intelligence.
It was great to learn so much about what is being achieved in the field of digital preservation internationally and to make contacts that I can hopefully collaborate with as we make progress with the City of Culture digital archives.

Laura Giles
City of Culture Digital Archivist

Thursday, 28 September 2017

National Poetry Day

The 28th September marks National Poetry Day in the UK. To celebrate National Poetry Day 2017, we have decided to shine a light on the, perhaps, lesser known poets, whose works are now part of the archival collections at the Hull History Centre. Many of you may know that we hold significant collections relating to Philip Larkin, Stevie Smith, Archive Markham, and Douglas Dunn. But did you also know, that in the University Archives, we have collections relating to poetry publishers, such as Peterloo Poets (ref. U DPP), who helped up-and-coming poets get published?

Peterloo Poets was established by Harry Chambers, a life-long poetry enthusiast and founder of the poetry journal Phoenix, in the mid-1970s. In 1976, Chambers took the huge step of leaving his salaried job and moving with his family to Cornwall where he ran the press initially from their home in Treovis near Liskeard with funding provided by the Arts Council and support from his wife Lynn, who became a full-time administrator for Peterloo Poets in 1980.

U DPP/1/1/35 Advertising leaflet for Peterloo Poets’ Poetry Competition: Poems About Paintings

Harry Chambers was a very active publishing director and was involved in all aspects and stages of the publishing process, including typography and design. Manuscripts were commissioned and solicited by Peterloo Poets but over 1000 unsolicited manuscripts were also received each year and Chambers had exclusive control over selecting volumes for publication. He also edited and contributed features to the annual Peterloo house journal, Poetry Matters (1983-92) and produced special editions celebrating the works of Charles Causley and Philip Larkin.

During its 37 years, Peterloo Poets published the work of 131 different poets and 240 different volumes of poetry. Peterloo Poets also organised an Annual International Poetry Competition, annual Poetry for Schools events and workshops and an International Poetry Festival. For the last 12 years, the organisation operated from the refurbished Old Chapel in Calstock.

Harry Chambers retired as Publishing Director of Peterloo in 2009, but continued to take an active interest in the world of poetry, while health allowed, when he moved to York. His achievements were recognised in 2010 with an MBE for Services to Poetry. Harry Chambers died in York on 14 September 2012.

U DPP/1/1/35 Photo of Harry Chambers receiving a sponsorship cheque for the Peterloo Poets Open Poetry Competition 1993

The Peterloo Poets collection (U DPP) predominantly contains copies of poetry books published by Peterloo Poets and poetry files, each relating to a specific poet and/or one of their works. Published matter in the collection also includes items from the Phoenix Pamphlet Poets Press, copies of the Phoenix Quarterly Series and Poetry Matters, the Peterloo Poets magazine. Poets represented in the published works of Peterloo Poets include U.A. Fanthorpe, who was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 2003, William Scammell, Elizabeth Bartlett, Ann Drysdale, Dana Gioia and many others.

There is also a large amount of correspondence with various poets within the collection as well as an extensive amount of reviews, articles and press cuttings relating to Peterloo Poets and poets connected with Peterloo Poets. Further items of interest, include minutes of Peterloo Poets AGMs, examples of artwork for books being published, original photographs of various poets and plans of the Old Chapel at Calstock, from which Peterloo Poets operated.

Poetry still remains a beloved art form, allowing people the freedom to express their voice in verse, and the acquisition of collections relating to modern English literature is a key part of the Hull University Archives’ collecting policy. Indeed, poetry is an important part of our society’s culture and deserves to be preserved for the enjoyment of generations to come. 

Verity Minniti, Archives Assistant (HUA)

Monday, 25 September 2017

Freedom: Doodles & Drawings - Art in the Archives at Hull History Centre

Archives...what does that word mean to you? Does it conjure up visions of boring dusty documents and illegible text? Think again!

With the Turner Prize launch just around the corner, we've gone arty with the theme of this fortnight's City of Culture blog at Hull History Centre...

Following on from the 'Cabinet of Curiosities' exhibition at Hull's Maritime Museum, here at Hull History Centre we have created a new exhibition, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. 
It will challenge your view of archives by showcasing some of the wonderful doodles and drawings to be found within our collections. Through beautiful sketches, watercolour paintings, drawings and doodles you will discover that archives are not all about text. Illustration has long been used as a wonderful way to exercise freedom of expression, and you will see how images can add as much to our understanding of the past as the written word.

Cairns Foster shop [C TDR]

The items within the exhibition span the 14th through to the 21st centuries and include artwork created by volunteers and staff who have taken inspiration from collections at the History Centre. Come along and see art in all its many guises, from medieval doodles through to modern day sketches. There will be interactive elements to help demystify the work carried out at the History Centre where staff work to manage and preserve the City's documentary heritage.

Illuminated letter from Bench Book 1 [C BRG/1]

Hidden amongst the exhibits is our oldest illustrated inhabitant, Ranulph the rabbit. At almost 600 years old he can’t move very fast so you have a good chance of spotting him! 

'Doodles and Drawings' opens at Hull History Centre on the 10th October 2017 and runs through to 6th January 2018. There will be events and activities running alongside the exhibition so don't forget to check the History Centre's website for further details.

Carol Tanner, 
Access and Collections Manager (Hull City Archives)