Archival Education in Chile

By Jennifer J Bunn, on 29 June 2017

A guest post, written by Valentina Rojas Rojo.

“In 2012, the then president of the Consejo para la Transparencia, the Chilean equivalent to the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK, stated that the management of archives and records was the limping leg of the transparency law (1). This year, the current president of that same institution sustained that the archives of the Army contained important information about violations to human rights perpetrated during the dictatorship (1973-1990), that were still unknown due to the legislation that established their closure (2). How can these, as many other problems faced by the archival sector in Chile, be overcome?”

This is the opening paragraph of my dissertation on [the lack of] archival education in Chile, submitted in August 2015 for UCL’s MA in Archives & Records Management. That final question and, I rather say, the whole process of studying the MA and carrying out the research for the dissertation, was the beginning of a path that has started to give its first fruits, to grow and to spread in more directions.

Once I came back to Chile, I started to work on a project for the development of a programme of archival education. After one year of theoretical and practical work (including solving several difficulties derived from the challenge of coordinating two public institutions), in April this year the National Archives of Chile and the Universidad de Chile (the most important public University in the country), launched their eight-month Postgraduate Diploma on Archives, of which I became the Executive Manager (dealing with all practical things in relation to professors, students, resources for the lectures, etc.) and also a lecturer for some sessions.

The programme had more than 70 aIMG_1826pplicants for only 25 places, and I keep receiving e-mails from people asking for a new call for applications. The authorities from the University were happily surprised, while the authorities from the National Archives reinforced their belief in the relevance of developing archival education. As a result, we now have a good chance of continuing to grow and to improve the contents and the quality of the programme (may be transforming it into an MA?) and the National Archives is designating funding for developing another programme, this time for a technical level (3).

In all this process, I have had in mind and been inspired by what I learned at UCL, not only through the lectures and the readings, but also from my classmates and the many practical work experience opportunities included in the programme. In particular, I can tell that I have confirmed how crucial advocacy and project management are in our archival work; how vital it is to gain the confidence of and to communicate with our stakeholders; and mainly, how important it is to have the support of our colleagues, all those who have been involved with the endeavour as lecturers, advisors or simply by spreading the word and validating the project.

Even though the road is still long and we will need more time and effort, we will continue to persevere with energy and determination.


[1] Ferreiro, A. Archivos, la pata coja de la transparencia. La Tercera 2012 October 9; Section Opinión:30 [online]. [Accessed 9 July 2015]. Available from: <http://diario.latercera.com/2012/10/09/01/contenido/opinion/11-120108-9-archivos-la-pata-coja-de-la-transparencia.shtml>

[2] Cooperativa. Ex ministra: En archivos del Ejército aún encontraríamos información que no tenemos. 2015 July 30; Section País [online]. [Accessed 23 August 2015]. Available from: <http://www.cooperativa.cl/noticias/pais/dd-hh/judicial/ex-ministra-en-archivos-del-ejercito-aun-encontrariamos-informacion-que/2015-07-30/123929.html>

[3] The Chilean education system gives two options for continuing studies after school: going to university to gain an academic degree or a professional qualification, or going to a technical institute to gain a technical qualification.

LISDIS Conference, 2016

By Charles Inskip, on 22 November 2016

logoWeekend lie-ins are overrated. Last Saturday – the beginning of the UCL Reading Week – I eschewed the warmth of the duvet and instead went along to the annual LISDIS Conference, which this year was conveniently hosted by UCL’s Department of Information Studies.
Though in only its second year of operation, the event was well-attended and offered a varied yet coherent programme of seminars and workshops. Speakers were mainly former students who had completed research in Library and Information Studies fields within the last four years. The diversity of the topics covered demonstrated the myriad concerns and challenges facing LIS professions across all sectors, in addition to wider social, economic and political challenges facing society as a whole.
Information Literacy stood out among current concerns not only through Diana Hackett’s impeccable presentation on the issue in narratives of UK public libraries, but also in several question and answer sessions throughout the day. Diana’s presentation was especially interesting as it addressed the primacy given to digital literacy in intervention strategies and awareness campaigns. Though undoubtedly important in the context of today’s proliferating digital resources, digital literacy must not be assumed to equate to literacy more generally. Neither must the provision of digital infrastructure be assumed to be sufficient ‘education’ in itself.
Several presenters dwelt more on the practicalities of undertaking their research and constructing their argument. Speakers had completed their degrees at various institutions, with a few studying by distance-learning. This meant that delegates gained a more comprehensive picture of professional qualification routes, and how each can ultimately lead to successful completion of sustained, original independent research.
Two guest speakers, Emma Coonan and Claire Sewell, led parallel workshops exploring publishing in LIS journals and researching in the workplace respectively. I chose to attend Emma’s session on LIS publishing, in which she encouraged delegates to consider the future of their research beyond its assessment function. We were encouraged to discuss amongst ourselves what the differences between presenting research at a conference, in a dissertation and in a peer-reviewed journal might be, and how these might influence researchers’ forms of engagement with research communities. Crucially, we discussed as a group the importance of understanding journal articles to be entries into what are established and on-going dialogues. As a consequence, once your research has been published in an academic journal, it begins an existence in scholarship beyond what its author dictates. An unpublished dissertation, though produced in the context of a given scholarly or professional tradition, is more isolated as a piece of research.
Attending LISDIS was an excellent way to understand just how important it is to choose a topic that will sustain your interest throughout the dissertation process. I was somewhat in awe of the directions taken by the speakers, from RDA cataloguing standards to community oral history. The final presentation addressed neoliberalism and activist librarianship, which I found particularly intriguing – not least because I hadn’t heard of the Radical Librarians Collective before. Furtive Googling promptly ensued…
I have known some conferences where, towards the closing sessions, there is a sense of information fatigue and drifting attention. This wasn’t true of Saturday, and it gives further credit both to the quality of the speakers’ deliveries and the efficiency with which the whole event was organised and executed.
And in case I still haven’t done it justice, the sandwiches were free.

This post was written by Catherine Chorley, full time student on the MA LIS programme 2016/17

UCL MA Library and Information Studies Induction Week 2016 – British Library tour

By Charles Inskip, on 11 October 2016

Could there be a better way to wrap up a Library and Information Studies Masters’ induction week than a library visit? None, for sure. And could there be a more exciting place to visit for new students than the British Library? The seven happy few who got the chance to attend such a tour on 29th September would certainly deny it.
This visit was to enable us to (re)discover one of the world landmark libraries. It was also an opportunity to learn more about a specific type of library, i.e. a national library with reference collections for research, and meet a LIS professional working there. Finally, it was a very good way to chat with other people on the programme and carry on getting to know one another!
We were warmly welcomed by our guide who began talking us through the many outstanding features of the library, often sharing with us his professional insight. After an introduction to the legal deposit and a somewhat unexpected big stamp collection, we made a necessary pause in the registration area, which we were urged to come back to after the tour. We were then taken behind the scenes where we were shown the ingenious conveyor belt that transports items around the building. We made our way to the top floor where we admired the glass tower housing George III’s book collection and the oldest of the two biggest books in the world. We came back to the ground floor just in time to watch in wonder a member of staff enter the highly restricted glass tower and reveal to us the secret to book retrieval in it. Our visit came to an inspiring end in front of the Sir John Ritblat Treasures which we were then left to admire at our hearts’ content.

Written by Claire Audelan, f/t MA Library and Information Studies student 2016/17

ICA Congress 2016 in Seoul, South Korea

By Jennifer J Bunn, on 4 October 2016

In April this year, I was delighted to find out I had been selected as one of eight bursary holders from across the globe to work on behalf of the ICA (International Council on Archives) New Professionals Programme http://www.ica.org/en/our-professional-programme/new-professionals and to attend the ICA Congress in September held in Seoul, South Korea. The Congress consists of workshops, governance meetings and presentations from academics and practitioners working in archives, records management and conservation.

In the months leading up to the Congress the New Professionals worked on a joint project to survey the global new professionals to find out their backgrounds and needs concerning employment and professional development, alongside their knowledge and expectations of professional bodies both nationally and globally. The initial results from our survey were then presented by us at the Congress and recommendations made to the ICA to improve engagement with new professionals and to help encourage new professionals to get involved in the ICA.

New Professional Bursary holders

All 8 New Professional Bursary holders at the ICA Congress 2016 Opening Ceremony.

Attending the conference allowed me to hear an address from President Park Guen-hye and a reading prepared by the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, alongside numerous keynote speakers including Barbara Reed and Eric Ketelaar. I was able to attend a variety of presentations and learn a great deal about the current state of progress within archives globally. It left me with numerous ideas about the challenges we are facing and what can be done to combat some of the ever pressing issues we all share – from issues relating to digital preservation, the application of new technologies, and the management of Big Data, to thought provoking ideas on how to collaborate with libraries, museums and communities. The conference also gave me the chance to network with professionals from all over the world.

The New Professionals were each assigned a mentor for the conference, and I was paired with a very enthusiastic and inspiring archivist. My mentor invited me to audit the Branch Presidents meeting on the first day. Whilst initially this seemed a daunting prospect I was thankful that I had attended as it gave me a great insight into how the branches were governed and awareness of the concerns facing each global region.

New Professionals speaking at the Closing Ceremony

New Professionals speaking at the Closing Ceremony.

The Congress was thought-provoking and inspiring. It enabled me to see the archives and records management profession as a truly global one, in which we share the shame challenges and can work together to share knowledge and expertise.

Following the Congress, the New Professionals will continue to work on the New Professional Online Network to deliver content. We all also volunteered to help out within the wider ICA, which is always on the look-out for editors, article writers, and translators. Working as part of the New Professionals Programme was a rewarding experience. I was able to learn new skills (using collaborative online documents and new software), practice other skills I was less confident in (presenting in the New Professional session and at the Closing Ceremony!), and make (what I hope will be) lasting friendships.

For those interesting in learning more about the ICA New Professionals Programme or who would like to contribute to content, please do get in touch via Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ICA-New-Professionals-Nouveaux-professionnels-1594390744107857/ or Twitter https://twitter.com/icarchiv_np and subscribe to our newsletter https://www.facebook.com/ICA-New-Professionals-Nouveaux-professionnels-1594390744107857/app/100265896690345/. The next ICA Conference will be held in Mexico City and I encourage all new professionals to apply!

Written by,

Nicola Wood
Archives Assistant, Queen Mary University of London
MA Archives and Records Management, University College London

CILIP conference

By Ian G Evans, on 3 August 2016

Lauren Smith at CILIP 2016(By Camila Garces-Bovett).

This July, I was fortunate enough to attend the CILIP 2016 Conference in Brighton, thanks to CILIP’s Community, Diversity and Equality Group, who awarded me a bursary. It was my first ever conference and I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I was well and truly blown away.

Tuesday morning’s keynote speaker was Scott Bonner, who became director of Ferguson Library in Missouri five weeks before the killing of Mike Brown. Scott took us through the timeline of events, the accompanying crisis and how the library and community dealt with what happened. He gave us plenty of food for thought concerning the role of libraries and how to ensure the ethics of librarianship underpins all our decisions. It was a very moving and inspirational opening.

Over the rest of the day, I heard a further eight speakers in the Everyday Innovation and Using Technology strands. My particular highlights included:

  • Amy Hearn and Tiffany Haigh (Kirklees Library Authority) explaining how to combine stories and walks to engage with children who are struggling with reading
  • John Vincent rallying the audience with his talk, ‘Libraries really do change lives!’
  • Feeling horrified at the myriad ways that patrons’ data can be used and abused without their (or our) knowledge at Alison Macrina’s talk about her work as director of the Library Freedom Project
  • Learning about the power of GIFs and using social media to bring the world to your library with Adam Koszary
  • The day ended with fish and chips, dodgem rides and dancing to Beyoncé at the Party on the Pier – a nice antidote to some of the boring librarian stereotypes still doing the rounds.

Wednesday opened with Sir Nigel Shadbolt’s keynote, ‘The opportunities and challenges of open data’. A thought-provoking talk, it shed light on everything from the Human Genome Project to the number of bus-stops in the UK. Following that, I attended the ‘Tools to help you build you career’ talk in the gorgeous King William IV Room at the Brighton Pavilion. It was based around using the new version of the online PKSB, and helped allay some of my nervousness about how to best use it for chartership when the time comes. Then it was Laura Venning of the Reading Agency, explaining how their forthcoming toolkit can be used to advocate for your library’s role in promoting everything from personal health and wellbeing to cultural and economic benefits to society.

The final speaker at the conference was Lauren Smith, whose closing keynote was in some ways the counterpart to Scott Bonner’s opening speech. Both covered the ethics of librarianship, but Smith focused on the current situation for public libraries in the UK. She used the talk to challenge us to ask ourselves how we can help our communities; to be impartial without being apolitical, and to unpick the systems we are part of when they perpetuate social injustice. Although it was just as inspiring as the opening keynote, it was also something of a bittersweet – if necessary – way to end the conference.

All in all, I’ve come away with armfuls of leaflets, a stack of notes to follow-up when my dissertation is done and dusted, a head buzzing with ideas, a list of new people to connect with, and a taste for beetroot salad (the catering was phenomenally delicious). But perhaps most importantly, I have a new conviction in my chosen career, and a strengthened resolve to fight for the future of libraries.

Wallpaper in the King William IV room Wallpaper in the King William IV room


By Jennifer J Bunn, on 24 May 2016

UCL Student Abigail Wharne with Alison North, Sunny Seregen and Katherine O'Keefe.

UCL Student Abigail Wharne with Alison North, Sunny Seregen and Katherine O’Keefe.

UCL DIS students are celebrating success in two prestigious competitions this year. Nicola Wood (Archives and Records Management) has been awarded a New Professionals Bursary by the International Council on Archives (ICA) to allow her to attend the 2016 ICA Congress in Seoul later this year and Abigail Wharne (also Archives and Records Management) has won the IRMS (Information and Records Management Society) Alison North New Professionals’ Award for her essay entitled ‘Big Decisions: Appraising Pupil Files in a Complex Climate’. Abigail’s work focused on the appraisal of pupil files in the light of data protection legislation, the IICSA’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (the Goddard Inquiry) and the impact of the case R (C) and Northumberland County Council, with The Information Commissioner as an interested party, and will be published soon in the IRMS Bulletin. Nicola entered a strong application to win recognition by ICA as a promising new entrant to the profession, willing and able to contribute the views of new professionals to the international ARM community. Many congratulations to them both and to Sunny Seregen (a UCL alumna) and Katherine O’Keefe who were runners up in the IRMS Alison North Award.


Professional Registration: Reflecting on the PSKB and the path to Chartership

By Charles Inskip, on 17 March 2016

This week (Monday March Feb 14th 2016) we had a visit from CILIP Development Officer, Matthew Wheeler, who spoke to us about chartership. This report was written by MA LIS student Becky Scott:

Matthew Wheeler, CILIP

Matthew Wheeler, CILIP

Studying for a Masters in Library and Information Studies is just the beginning of professional lifelong learning. The next step for many graduates will be professional registration at the Chartership level. According to CILIP Development Officer Matthew Wheeler, professional qualifications are linked to higher pay, so we all have a vested interest. But the benefits do not stop there. Networking with a mentor can help candidates explore the wider professional context and return with good practice to improve their own service.

The process requires the transfer of the skills and knowledge we have developed at UCL into the workplace. For those of us currently employed in the profession, we have started this already. For example, in the Autumn term I studied Advanced Information Literacy. Since January I have been implementing a scheme of guided inquiry in our school library based on my self-directed learning. The next step is to write a case study reflecting on the process and evaluate how effective the intervention has been. This process of learning, implementing and evaluating is at the centre of the professional registration. The assessors are looking for reflective practice.

Five tips I took from the talk:

  1. Revisit the PSKB now. Evaluate your skills and knowledge using the spreadsheet in five areas that you would like to develop.
  2. Find a mentor in a different sector to your own. When you contact them, use the personal touch. Tell them why you would like them as your mentor. Include your CV in the email.
  3. Reflect on each learning opportunity you have. Record your thoughts. Record any changes you make as a result.
  4. When constructing your portfolio, ask yourself: Why is this relevant? What did I learn from this? Where has it taken the organisation?
  5. Learning opportunities are more than formal CPD. The assessors are looking for a range of evidence – Twitter, blog post, webinar, a conversation with a peer – to show you are a twenty-first century professional

Author: Becky Scott, 17 Mar 2016

Matthew’s slides (PDF) can be downloaded here: Matthew Wheeler chartership slides, UCL 14th March 2016

There’s more to life than Google

By Charles Inskip, on 29 February 2016

Last week (Monday Feb 22nd 2016) we had a visit from expert searcher Phil Bradley, who spoke to us about search, where we are, and where we’re going. This report was written by MA LIS student Cathy Goodin:

Phil Bradley talking about search at UCL

Phil Bradley talking about search at UCL

Phil Bradley has a mission: to make everyone, especially librarians, see that using Google alone is like trying to answer every question by opening up Encyclopaedia Britannica.

You may know Phil from Cilip Update, where his sunny by-line photo appears beside the “Internet Q&A” column every month. Phil spoke to us in Foster Court on Monday 22nd February and turned out to be a lot less sunny when he got on to the subject of Google.

Because Google is taking advantage of us.

Google knows we all turn to it automatically, so over the years it has gradually reduced its search functionality (what happened to Advanced Search?) knowing that a poorer list of results will make us more likely to click on a piece of advertising instead.

Which makes money for Google.

And making money is the no.1 aim of all search engines. I thought they were in it to help us find information on the internet, but I was wrong.

Phil’s advice? Don’t slavishly use Google for everything. There are a hundred different search engines out there – in fact there are 400,000 of them depending on how you define “search engine” – so get under the hood of a few and learn what they are capable of.

Use Duckduckgo when you want to preserve your privacy. Use Yandex for Boolean, proximity and synonym search functionality. Try Newslookup.com or NewsNow for news, and Zanran for data and statistics. Try a multi search engine such as Trovando for comprehensive results, and SimilarSites to take one good website and find others like it.

You can find a whole collection of search engines on Phil’s website.

Phil also talked about the future of up-to-date information: social media. YouTube, twitter, Facebook, reddit and the like generate so much content every minute that big search engines can’t keep up. Use something like Social Searcher or SocialMention to find out what has happened in the last few minutes. Or follow what your network are talking about with a collation service like Flipboard or News.me.

We are in a transition time. Internet search is changing. People don’t want to look at a website to see what a company or organisation is saying – they want to hear from individuals who are experts in a particular field.

Phil encourages us to find our own experts, and then to become experts – to post as knowledgeable people using whatever the social media platform of the moment might be, until we ourselves are the go-to sources of information for others.


Author: Cathy Goodin, 29 Feb 2016


Phil Bradley’s slides can be downloaded here

Induction Week library tour reports.

By Charles Inskip, on 21 October 2015

During Induction Week the new students visited the London Library, the British Library and Lambeth Palace Library. Here are their reports on their visits.

London Library – Sarah Denman

During induction week, some of the LIS students had the opportunity to visit the London Library. Thought to be the largest independent lending library in the world, it was founded in 1841 in two temporary rooms in Pall Mall by Thomas Carlyle, who was tired of going to the British Museum to consult reference-only books. The library was established to always be a lending library. Notably it pre-dates the Public Libraries Act and it has always been a subscription library. It has never received public money and the membership fees fund 80% of the library with the remaining 20% fundraised.

Helen O’Neill, Archive, Heritage and Development Librarian, delivered a short presentation to us before giving a tour of the library. Sir Charles Hagberg Wright, who was the librarian between 1893 and 1940, was responsible for the first printed catalogue and devised the subject arrangement; one that the House of Commons adopted until they replaced it with Dewey in the 1980s. The library did not remain unscathed by the Second World War. Although staff members slept in the basement to try and look after the books, 5 floors were hit. This resulted in 16,500 books being damaged. Some of these with shrapnel still embedded are in the collection today.

The library has always been welcome to all, regardless of gender, and there was no separate reading room for women. Indeed, women started being employed during the First World War. It has attracted membership from intellectuals of the nation including Winston Churchill, T.S. Eliot, Siegfried Sassoon, Virginia Woolf, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, and Charles Darwin who had books posted out to him, a service that has remained.

As we were shown around the library, we admired the state of the art Victorian engineering. The shelves were specially commissioned for weight-bearing and it is one continuous bookshelf from the bottom floor to the top floor. An architectural survey found that if all of the books were taken off the shelves then the building would rise. And if one suffers from vertigo then the grilled floors may be unsettling.

There are one million books and these are predominately arts and humanities but also history of science with 50 languages represented. They typically don’t stock “popular” titles with the emphasis on erudition so there is a span of historical knowledge. All books are hardcover for durability as the collection is never weeded. When the library was founded, the Times was the newspaper of note. There are archives of the Times until 1995 and we looked at one particular edition during the world war period. We concluded the visit by looking at the smallest authorised version of the Bible accompanied by a tiny magnifying glass, a King James Bible and a beautiful, white pigskin binding of Kelmscott Chaucer. It was wonderful to explore the London Library and it is very much a library to delight.


Lambeth Palace Library – Emma Carter

I was thrilled to be able to break up induction week with a fun trip and, as I am particularly interested in special collections, I jumped at the chance to visit Lambeth Palace Library. The Archbishop was, unfortunately, absent. However, I feel privileged to have been one of the first to see the newly refurbished great hall (completed just the week before) whose shelf-lined walls ordinarily make up a large part of the library. It was especially magical to see it in full organisational swing to accommodate an event that evening.

The daily struggles of staff at Lambeth Palace are far-removed from our modern, technology driven woes. It was fascinating to learn the conservation and preservation difficulties of housing a collection within the beautiful, but fragile and decaying confines of the ancient Palace itself. Dr Naomi Percival beautifully described the books as having a destructive relationship with their home whereby the age, decay and draughtiness of the building is damaging the books, and the sheer weight of the books is damaging the building. It seems perverse to protest a lack of physical space when each stack is 2m apart, but any more shelving would be an impossible load to bear for the aged towers. Furthermore, it is like stepping back in time to hear the impossibility of providing a reader with their very popular collection of church architectural plans just because it is raining outside! These idiosyncrasies contribute their fair share of charm to the tradition of continuing to hold materials within the aging institutions from which they originated, but it is equally exciting to hear of plans afoot to more adequately protect them. To the delight of staff, the architectural plans will relocate closer to the reading room and discussions are beginning for the possibility of building a new, modern, temperature controlled annex.

We learnt a good deal about the collections held at the library. It specialises in Archbishop’s archives and the broad ranging term ‘History of the Church of England,’ but we were also fascinated to hear of the Sion College bequest of 1996. We were grateful to be shown some spectacular examples of the collection, such as 1534 edition of Plato’s writings in Greek, owned and doodled upon by Sir Thomas Smith who drew in the margins anything from a crown to a mini sketch of the city Sparta to help him follow the text. The online cataloguing of this collection is ongoing, with more and more items of interest appearing every day. Lucille told of her recent discovery of a volume signed by Ben Jonson, long forgotten and uncatalogued – what an exciting environment in which to work!

We would like to thank everyone at Lambeth Palace Library for an excellent tour, and a source of true inspiration in the hope of one day working for such a magnificent institution.


British Library – Hannah Boroudjou

On Thursday 1st October LIS students rounded off a busy induction week with some field trips to various Libraries around London.

I went to the British Library, the National Library of the United Kingdom and one of the largest in the world. we started our tour with a general introduction from our tour guide who took us through the history of the library. Originally it was housed in the Reading Room of the British Museum but was then moved to its current site in St Pancras in 1998. The new site cost £500 million to build and hosts over 170 million items on multiple formats and in many different languages, in fact according to our tour guide it holds more German language books than the National Library of Germany!

From there we went behind the scenes to a staff only area where our guide demonstrated how books are sent between the different floors and the five subterranean levels. We then went to visit the Business and IP Centre, a specialist Business Library where people who want to set up their own business can receive expert advice and guidance, they even host a little wall of fame for their success stories and a skill swap wall where enterprising business people can meet up and form partnerships.

Next was the ‘Old Royal Library’ or the King George III Library which is housed behind glass in a temperature controlled showcase nestled in the heart of the building and stretching up through every floor. There were some lovely old books in here that Historical Bibliography students would like to get their hands on but we were disappointed to find out that access is staff only.

For the final part of our tour we went to a viewing gallery over one of the reading rooms which gave us a great view of all the people down below studying hard. Our tour guide rounded off the talk with a list of the various luminaries and celebrities who’ve graced the stacks over the years including Johnny Depp, who sadly wasn’t around for our tour.

Overall it was a great visit to a fascinating place with a very knowledgeable tour guide. A really fun way to start the year, before all the hard work begins!

‘The Wild Wild West of Records Management’! An Award Winner’s Conference Experience

By Vanessa L Platt, on 8 June 2015

irms‘Welcome to the Wild Wild West of Wales’ was the theme of the opening evening of the Information and Records Management Society (IRMS) Conference 2015, held from 17th – 19th May.

As well as reflecting the new Welsh location of the Conference for 2015, at the rather spectacular Celtic Manor Resort – a change of scene from the Conference’s usual residence at the Hilton Metropole Brighton – this (rather tongue-in-cheek) theme of the opening night resonated with the broader purpose of the Conference: to explore the reality that information professionals are working at the frontiers of cutting-edge new advances of understanding around the uses of information, records and data. The emphasis was on dialogue, learning and discovery around what this means for our sector, our society, our world – even human progress at large.

I was lucky enough to attend the full conference courtesy of the Society, being this year’s recipient of the Alison North Award for New Professionals. The prize – full conference attendance and the opportunity for mentoring time with RM author, consultant and award sponsor Alison North – is awarded annually for the best essay submitted by someone in the first 3 years of their career in the sector, based on a reflection on their information and records management experience.

Before I began my Archives and Records Management MA with UCL, I spent some time working in public sector records management, in a large professional team with an advanced electronic document and records management system (EDRMS) in place. This RM programme, like countless others, makes heavy use of a network of 250+ non-professional office staff, trained to assist their colleagues with information management matters and to administer their local area of the EDRMS. This arrangement struck me as less than ideal, especially as this additional role was not voluntary, not salaried, and on top of an employee’s daily work (as is invariably the case elsewhere), and my entry to the Award was a critique of this element of so many business-as-usual RM programmes. I feel that there are better ways of encouraging end-user buy-in and take-up that keeps records management systems as a help, rather than a hindrance, for all users.

Award presentation with Alison North, Award Sponsor (left) and Meic Pierce Owen, IRMS Chair (right).

Alison North (far left) and IRMS Chair Meic Pierce Owen (far right).

Consistent with the intrepid theme of that first evening, and indeed of the entire event, this conference was a new experience for me. Such an opportunity to meet, network and engage with experienced professional colleagues is truly irreplaceable, and I learnt a great deal not only about the enormous value (in every sense of the word, including fiscal) that can be ascribed to the information we create, receive, manage and use, and to our professional endeavour, but also of the huge potential that there is in this sector for interdisciplinary, cross-profession collaboration, dialogue and learning: I heard talks by experts in digital preservation, information architecture, system, software and storage developers, international business, asset management and information compliance, as well as from the Deputy Director of the US Department of Navy’s division for records management – a speaker who generated a lot of audience interest.

The official theme of the conference was ‘Information: the new currency’, and this bold statement elicited strong responses in disagreement as well as in agreement – as I am sure it was intended to. In the breakout sessions I attended, there were memorable arguments both for and against, from both practical and theoretical perspectives. Jon Garde from RSD (an international Information Governance solutions developer) proposed information as actual currency, something to which we ascribe value as a medium of exchange, with a fluctuating market value in business, using ideas from Infonomics (Information + Economics). He closed by suggesting that the Information Managers of the future will be the ‘Information Accountants’ of businesses.


IRMS Conference 2015

At the opposite end of the spectrum of information value, Alan Bell from Information Compliance at Dundee University posited that information today is so ubiquitous, it is not a currency at all, but rather a commodity. He drew on the thinking of UCL’s own Geoffrey Yeo in exploring the nature of recorded information, as well as managing to weave Elvis and Fifty Shades of Grey (or was it Records Management…?) into his talk.

I took away from these contrasting viewpoints that ‘information’ today remains malleable and context-bound in nature and value, as well as in form, and that this malleability poses questions as well as opportunities for all of us. Does information decrease in value to us because there is more of it, or does it rather increase in value? For me, it is the very volatility information’s value today that presents us with the greatest opportunities in human history, as well as, arguably, the greatest risks.

The IRMS Conference 2015 was altogether a superb experience, and will remain a landmark in my career. My thanks must go to the fantastic IRMS Exec, who made me so welcome and the event so memorable. I also thank the Archives and Records Management programme staff here, who brought the award to my attention and whose excellent guidance and teaching over the last year has encouraged me to see that a new professional such as myself can – and should – share my thoughts with the wider profession. Everyone has something to offer, perhaps now more than ever. It is a challenging but certainly exciting time to be an Information and Records Management professional.

I should also say that the Wild West-themed opening evening did not disappoint: a rooftop garden barbeque was accompanied by highly appropriate entertainment – I will always bear in mind that a Bucking Bronco acts as an excellent ice-breaker!