Society of Archivists Conference

On September 2, 2009, in Projects, Research, Software Reviews, by Chris Prom

I’m at the Society of Archivists Conference (UK), in Bristol England this week.  It is quite a bit more intimate than SAA, I’d say the attendance is around 200 altogether, which has made it quite easy to meet people involved in e-records and digital preservation projects.  There is a good conference blog that is up and running.

My initial impression is that there is quite a bit of interaction between the digital preservation/IT and the archival community in the UK, including some really useful interaction between practitioners and developers.  Malcolm Todd from The National Archives and Clive Billenness, Programme Manager for PLANETS project both provided quite detailed descriptions of specific ways that archivists can take advantage of recently developed tools and can contribute to the software development process.  I was also really impressed by the talks by Viv Cothey from the Gloucestershire Archives, Steve Bailey from JISC, and Rachel Hardiman from Northumbria University  (more on those later).

I’ll post my detailed notes later, but for now I’ll simply note that I impressed by  several of the presentations.  Not to provide too much prominence to this one, but the PLANETS work that Clive Billenness described in his talk on Tuesday holds a lot of potential.  In the past, I’ve seen a lot of people nod their heads knowingly when other people mention it, as if they understand the very important work that the Europeans are doing.  But I have to confess I knew a lot less about it than I should when I dropped the name into my research proposal, and I wonder how much of their work is really know in the US–I didn’t find any mentions of it when searching Kate T’s blog so maybe someone more plugged in than me can let me know. For example, did anyone talk about it at SAA?

Anyway PLANETS, which has received a nice kiss from the EU in the form of 15 million euros of funding since the project inception and which has the backing of major corporate sponsors, is in the process of launching a testbed where a repository (or any government agency or person), can process sets of electronic stuff through a variety of tools, then compare the results to decide which tools might be most effective for the repository’s local situation.  It sounds like a really practical idea, so I’m all in favor.

The first tool they have released is PLATO, which is a preservation/decision support tool. I need to check it out a lot more closely, but I think you can run digital objects through it to make basic decisions as to the best approach to follow for the particular group of records you need to preserve.  I’ll be giving it a try once I am back in Dundee and away from and this overpriced Marriott wireless.

Over the next several months, many other tools will be released by PLANETS.  I think it may save me a lot of time and hassle installing software, since the testbed will allow you to actually use tools with records and compare results using standardized criteria (I really need to look into this).  The approach the EU took with PLANETS really is very different than that which LC took with NDIIPP, and it is great that PLANETS is reaching out to the archival community at conferences like this.  When I talked to Clive about it after the session, he invited me to their training session in Sofia, Bulgaria in mid-September and seemed genuinely interested to get input from me and other practitioners.  I’m not sure I can make that since I have another commitment about that time, but it would definitely be worth attending one of their training sessions coming up in the near future.

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