2. Preserve as much of the CONTEXT as is realistically possible
given time and budgets.
However, real life is never simple.
Recursive structures in TEXT and CONTEXT
Disclaimer: What I am presenting here is my understanding of what
archivist should be doing and how they should understand their
work and does not necessarily reflect a uniform professional view.
As you can imagine archivists a widely diverse bunch, coming from
many different backgrounds and despite the role of archivist being
documented right back to ancient Egypt where there were twin gods
(Thoth and Seshat) whose job it was to Inventory the divine wealth
- it is still regarded as being a young and emerging profession.
What do archivists try to do with TEXT?
They try to describe it - summarise it in some way - make an inventory
- make a list - why? - so that people can get close to finding
what they want in the text without having to go through all the
BUT, what is it that they describe - the problem with variables
- why is it different from library cataloguing - why is it different
from Museum cataloguing?
WHAT archivists, particularly ASAP, have been working on is developing
a recursive set of data elements that can be used to describe records
(TEXT) at any level. And in fact this turns out to be rather simple
- if you think differently about what you are trying to do.
What is ASAP trying to do with CONTEXT?
This is where it gets tricky! Basically we try to document CONTEXT,
that is we can be little more creative - this is where the archivist
plays a most important role in capturing the discourse.
Some assumptions/basic conditions:
Much of the CONTEXT is actually embedded in records, some in the
form of words on paper (a sign-off on a letter or even an address)
but much is also contained in the way records related to one another,
and this is often captured by their propinquity.
However, much of the CONTEXT lies in the physical, functional,
organisational and bureaucratic structures that surround the creation
and use of the records.
From hard experience, much of this second level of information
is held in peoples' heads as they perform their daily tasks and
is transitory and seldom consitiously recorded.
We are still experimenting with ways of documenting CONTEXT (a
task that gains in importance when we come to deal with electronic
records) but we are working on the assumption that the data elements
needed to do this are recursive [explain] and can be used to document a variety of perspectives that could be used to understand CONTEXT in any particular environment.
[DRAW up the Hazelwood example - mention that the CSL Bioplasma
example is to complicated to even begin showing it on the board.]
Traditionally, archivists have taken a bureaucentric view of CONTEXT
(what is usually called Provenance) but this is not necessarily
the best or the only way to understand the records.
Many of these notions that I have begun to explore exist as concepts
and pictures in my mind but do not translate easily into words
- however, we have been able to develop computer database tools
that begin to allow us to work in this variable environment -
(and the answer of course is that we simplify the data structures
rather than make them unduly complicated or comprehensive).
Some astonishing discourses
From experience people find it much easier to relate to and understand
concepts when they are translated into real examples, so I am
going to spend a little time talking about what we found and what
we have done at our two biggest projects to date.
Hazelwood Power Station (c. 1960-2010?)
- Why did they, after all this time, suddenly decide they needed
- What had they done in the past?
- What did we find?
- How did we describe the TEXT?
- How are we going about documenting the CONTEXT?
- How much can we achieve?
CSL Bioplasma (c. 1987-2020?)
- Why did they need to get started on their archives so early?
- A state-of-the-art facility that pushed the technological and
- Describe in summary the structure of the PROJECT work environment.
- How did we go about describing the TEXT? Series identification
- top-down approach etc.
- How are we going about documenting the CONTEXT? - Staff resistance
to contributing to the process in a few cases - engineers with
a very poor understanding of how they fit into the larger picture
- engineers hiding their inability to perform the job to expectations
- failure of management to understand the work environment they
created (part of being at the cutting edge).
So whither the Pied Piper?
I will take very archivo-centric view and propose that the archivist
has the tools to deal with the RATS and that the computer professionals
have the super gee-whiz, bells and whistles technology that can
almost turn back the clock (at about ten times the price) but do
not have the conceptual grasp of what they are dealing with when
it comes to archival information management.
[Scanning - video-disk, techno-fix - SECV (Generation Victoria
- Production Technology - example)]
The Pied Piper - a recursive story.