28 August 2019 - first day ARA Conference 2019
Summary of Dr Alexandra Eveleigh’s keynote - Opening proceedings for this year’s Conference and setting the tone for Recordkeeper 3.0
Dr Eveleigh focused on the need not only to change what we do but to change how we think, to embrace the destabilising reality of the modern work environment.
Using the example of frameworks – how we love to create structures that have us and what we do at the centre of them – Dr Eveleigh showed how this perpetuates the assimilation of existing norms, cultures and behaviours. While they can feel safe, they can lead us to seeing things like digital and social media as ‘ephemeral’ or marginal, when in fact they are the emerging mainstream.
Drawing on examples such as the ARA CPD framework and code of ethics, adding that these were improvements on their predecessors, she added that such frameworks appear to rely more on the past than anticipating and shaping the future. We need to think more about stakeholders as ‘co-owners’ not as groups on the periphery.
Dr Eveleigh took us through the Recordkeeper 1.0 and 2.0 worlds – we need to understand where we have come from in order to understand where we might all be heading (equally, she added, we must be clear that ‘what got you here – as an individual - won’t get you there’). Recordkeeper 1.0 was all about ‘the primary duty of custody’, with records accessible only to a small, select community and decisions over retention driven by narrow criteria. Recordkeeper 2.0 (echoing Web 2.0) was all about being open to re-interpretation, embracing digital and addressing access and openness.
Recordkeeper 3.0, by contrast, should be a complete re-think of what we do and how we do it. The search for diversity in its broadest sense might be the answer: not just our representativeness of wider society but embracing diverse areas of knowledge (business, technology, etc.), decentralisation and innovative practice. We should look at a new version of the ‘3 Rs’:
Review: ie, why are we doing what we are doing? Can/should we do it differently? (In other words, focus on ‘why we do things’ not ‘what we do’ or ‘what we are’.) This does not mean ditching everything.
Reflect: ie, thinking time, look for - and be open to – other views. How can we make the change happen?
Reset: ie, challenge assumptions and then ‘do the doing’, make the change happen. Drawing on examples of the economic diversity of Leeds and how it has managed (by virtue of this) to weather many socio-economic storms in the past and emerge in stronger shape, Dr Eveleigh showed how (likewise) we can re-purpose and re-erect redundant frameworks for new and productive uses if we are capable of recognising the need for change and are willing to take it on. Just relying on redundant frameworks just makes you more redundant.
Finally, Dr Eveleigh looked at ‘our careers’ – ie how the linear model of recordkeeping careers had been completely overturned in the course of the last twenty years or so. Fixed-term contracts, sideways moves, abrupt changes of direction to undertake more study or gain new experiences. This could appear scarier to some, but to her opened up new opportunities and insights. She herself had drawn an improvised diagram of what her career looked like and encouraged others to do the same!
29 August 2019 - second day
ARA Conference 2019 - summary of Dr Ros Lynch's keynote - Opening the second day of Conference – with a day theme of ‘our workplaces’
Dr Ros Lynch of the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) took us expertly on a tour of the challenges facing those who regulate and ‘police’ the intellectual property (IP) world in a time of rapid technological change. At the outset, she stressed that the main task of copyright oversight remained trying to balance the rights of IP holders with user access.
Dr Lynch first took Conference through a brief history of copyright and trademarks to give context to the current debates and the pace of change. Drawing on the Gartner ‘Hope Cycles’ model, she explained that technology practitioners traditionally had to ride waves of inflated expectations and troughs of depression before it became clear how a new process could be deployed widely and productively. The advent of 3D printing, Blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) – among others and also yet-to-come technologies – should be seen in this light. They generate new opportunities and problems.
One example of a positive use of AI was the deployment of optical character recognition by Roma Tre University to decipher the Vatican Secret Archive. Also, the possibility that it could be deployed to speed up the process of trade-marking. An example of a problem was the thorny question of whether AI, eg an algorithm, can claim copyright or can a machine be a joint author? Also, can the use of AI also infringe on rights? And what about the ethics of all this and the possibility that AI could access personal data? Blockchain - lists of records (blocks) that are linked using cryptography – adds another level of complexity.
Dr Lynch pointed to a possible WIPO role in looking at cross-border (ie international standards) in some of these matters and a June conference of experts that the UK IPO had convened to explore how to approach such challenges. On the immediate horizon, there was the new EU Digital Single Market copyright directive, likely to come into force in June 2020. The overarching driver of the DSM was guaranteeing a fair share for rights holders in the digital age, for example from material appearing on the internet. It remained unclear what the level of UK engagement with the DSM would be – much would depend on the terms on which the UK left the EU in October 2019.
In the wider context of Brexit, Dr Lynch pointed delegates towards guidance and technical notes that the IPO has produced (and was continuing to produce). In terms of contingency planning, the IPO was gearing up for the possibility of having to import huge amounts of data on day one, for example on trademarks. The office was also developing policy for including IP protections in future trade agreements. She added that a new AI Office – set up jointly by the UK Culture and Business departments – was looking specifically at ethics and policy in the AI space.
30 August 2019 - final day
ARA Conference 2019 – summary of J. Willgoose Esq’s keynote - Opening the third and final day of Conference – with a day theme of ‘our profession’
Using a powerful combination of images, music and narrative, J. Willgoose Esq. set out the evolution of the band Public Service Broadcasting and some of the key moments, barriers, creative and other processes that had informed the band’s musical evolution and relationship with records.
For the audience, this was not only an exposure to the dynamism of the creative process, but very much an insight, too, into the perspective of a creative ‘user’ of archives and records. J Willgoose, Esq. stressed the power and impact of people saying ‘yes’ to requests for support/access, especially during the early years of his music career, when he and the band were less well known.
The first phase – if it can be described as such – of the band’s musical interface with records was using audio from public information films to help create structure around the music (for example the ‘Three Things’ health ministry film about controlling germs in the 1940s.). He had first seen and accessed this short film on the UK National Archives website from material transferred by the British Film Institute (BFI).
The second phase was adapting/using archival film to stimulate and increase audience engagement with the live music, to add ‘personality’ and context. The third phase – which led to the ground-breaking album Inform - Educate – Entertain – used BFI material (of UK, US and wider origin) in a more integrated fashion, though there was deliberately no central theme running though the album. The breakthrough moment for this album was the positive response the band received from making a phone call to the BFI seeking advice/help.
It was with The Race for Space album that the band began to develop a single theme around which to incorporate a variety of archival material and use the ‘power of the archive to drive the narrative’. This involved some of the detailed research of primary sources, the archives of the NASA Apollo programme. Given the huge amount of material available, the band benefitted hugely from the cataloguing work (for example, the flight journal of Apollo 8) undertaken by David Woods and Frank O’Brien.
Wanting also to add a Soviet dimension to the album – and some creative/dramatic tension – J. Willgoose, Esq. reconnected with the BFI (given the difficulty in accessing primary Soviet archival material and the culture of secrecy that still surrounds much of it). BFI had a ‘Soviet List’ of propaganda films from the 1960s on its stocks, so the band was able to deploy some of that successfully into the mix.
The most recent fifth phase (leaving aside the recent White Star Liner EP, a short-term project), led to the ground-breaking album Every Valley, centred on the coalfields of south Wales and the impact of closures since the 1980s. For this album, the archival research process – like a ‘net widening out’ - became much more detailed, including listening to oral history recordings in the South Wales Miners’ Library in Swansea; the band even carried out ‘primary’ interviews of people connected to the mining community. The band decided to write and record in Ebbw Vale, at the Leeders Vale Studios, seeking to maximise creative inspiration from the local setting, and again drew on BFI archival films developed by the former UK National Coal Board (some of which had a disturbing irony and complacency to viewers seeing them now).
One outcome of the renewed relationship with the BFI was that the band was able to contribute financially to the digitisation of some of the original film and sound material in the BFI collection that it used in the album. The lesson for the audience was the potential for collaboration to develop in two ways, to the benefits of both partners. The album also saw the integration of Idris Davies’s writing and collaborative support from James Dean Bradfield of Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers, as well as important material inspired by the ecollection at the National Coal Mining Museum in Wakefield (very close to our Leeds Conference venue).
In response to audience questions, J. Willgoose, Esq. encouraged records professionals to think flexibly and understand the power of ‘yes’ to even the most ‘weird-sounding’ ideas and approaches. This became especially important when it came to copyright – most smaller organisations (even to BFI size) had proven to be very flexible, without which the creative process could have been stymied. The same was not true of larger (unnamed) private sector media entities, who demanded unrealistic licensing fees to access their archival material. Also, again, the vital importance of excellent cataloguing – enabling people who ‘know the kind of thing they want to find’ to get there quickly and efficiently. As the creative process was not always linear – the music and records often ‘hover around each other’ – a willingness to engage and be patient is equally important.
On how repositories might reach out more to creative communities, J. Willgoose, Esq. recommended inviting a range of artists – visual, literary, music, film, etc. to explore the repositories and seek inspiration. But to think differently: perhaps not the usual network of ‘established’ people, but those who think alternatively – and might be thought of as ‘alternative’. Having a local root or connection could be important, but not always. In terms of the band’s next album, he was understandably tight-lipped (!) but promised something musically different from work to date – a new challenge and a new exploration.