By Ian G Evans, on 20 August 2021
Recording it Ourselves: A Day Event About DIY Cultures, Information, Archives and Heritage was an online event hosted via Zoom webinar on 20th March 2021. The event was a day long knowledge sharing event about DIY cultures (which we defined as grassroots and political cultures/practices – examples include grassroots spaces; music and zine making; blogging; podcasting; housing co-ops; activism etc) and archives, information and/or heritage.
The event aimed to create a space to build networks, share knowledge and support each other in grassroots heritage work. Presentations were given by projects including Decolonising the Archive, Mother Tongues Collective, Queer Encounters Kings Cross, the Gezi Archive, Archiv der Jugendkulturen and the Refugee Archive at University of East London. The event was attended by over 170 people, and successfully drew a mixture of attendees from activist groups, information sector organisations, research organisations and different community groups. The organising collective were a group of individuals loosely connected via DIY cultures, information work and/or research.
We were granted funding from the Centre for Critical Heritage Studies’ small grants scheme, which allowed us to pay all speakers, hire a live captioner for the event, and pay one of our collective to do event support admin work. Although payment for speakers at academic events is not standard, we believed that community members should be compensated for their time and labour – especially when doing information work outside of professional salaried posts – and encourage other collectives situated between the academy and communities to organise with similar politics.
Our final programme is available via our website here: https://recordingitourselves.wordpress.com/programme/.
A selection of recordings are also available: https://recordingitourselves.wordpress.com/presentation-slides-and-recordings/
As a collective, we hope to continue our work together in some format in 2022, and are exploring developing skills sharing workshops for our next project.
By Ian G Evans, on 24 September 2020
27 years ago, I was a seventeen-year-old international exchange student who stayed in a small town in Saskatchewan, Canada. It was my first ever experience of travelling abroad, as well as living away from home in an overseas country. The life in the community was not easy for an introvert. The only places where I felt relaxed were my host family’s home, the school library and the way to walk back home from school, where I could enjoy a great view of prairies and the sky.
The biggest challenge I faced during my stay was the community’s prejudice against homosexuality. I remember: in 1993 after a church service, an old lady asked me to sign my name on a form, which I understood was a campaign against legal protection on the basis of sexual orientation. I blinked for a few seconds, felt extremely uncomfortable, even scared, but said “No, I can’t.”
For the first time after almost three decades, I am revisiting this memory without being swallowed up by the intense emotions I felt back then. Right now, I am making plans for a series of workshop sessions focusing on diversity and inclusion, and, having a flashback of 1993, I searched online to find out what was happening in the province during the 1990s. A wonderful subject guide on sexual and gender diversity is available, and this webpage, developed and maintained by the University of Saskatchewan archivists and librarians, answered many of my questions. By reading these resources including an annotated chronology, I can finally contextualize my experience within Canada’s LGBTQ history. And I am proud of that timid, socially awkward girl who was yet able to make the right decision.
The sessions I am organizing with the help of Alison Hicks have three main themes:
- A safe place
- Encountering and learning from differences
- Reimagining our learning space
Other sub-themes are storytelling, history, memory and social justice.
My aim is to create an informal space, where students can explore how these topics intersect with our knowledge (not limited to Library and Information Studies), professional practices and personal experiences.
So far, I have chosen the following articles and children’s story for suggested reading, based on my interests in student engagement and wellbeing, oral history, and critical librarianship:
- Andersson, J., Sadgrove, J. and Valentine, G. (2012) ‘Consuming campus: geographies of encounter at a British university’, Social & Cultural Geography, 13(5), pp.501–515. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254359520_Consuming_Campus_Geographies_of_Encounter_at_a_British_University [Accessed: 12 July 2020].
- Cooke, N.A. (2016) ‘Counter-storytelling in the LIS Curriculum”, in: Gorham, U., Greene Taylor, N. and Jaeger, P.T. (eds.), Perspectives on Libraries as Institutions of Human Rights and Social Justice, Advances in Librarianship, 41. Bingly, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 331-348.
- Lobel, A. (1979) ‘Alone’, in: Days with Frog and Toad, New York: HarperCollins, pp. 52-64.
- Rose, S. D. (2013) ‘”It wasn’t a sweet life”: engaging students in Oral History interviewing across race, class, and generations’, in: Barnett, T. and Noriega, C. A. (eds.), Oral History and communities of color. Los Angeles: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press, pp. 76-97. Available at: https://scholar.dickinson.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1184&context=faculty_publications [Accessed: 12 July 2020].
- Smith, N.L.A. (2020) ‘How effective are academic libraries’ attempts at dismantling racism?’, EARLL, 1 September. Available at: https://www.earll.co.uk/post/how-effective-are-academic-libraries-attempts-at-dismantling-racism [Accessed: 12 September 2020].
- Tatum, B.D. (2019) ‘Together and alone?: the challenge of talking about race on campus’, Daedalus, 148(4), pp.79-93. Available at: https://www.amacad.org/sites/default/files/publication/downloads/Daedalus_Tatum_Fall2019.pdf [Accessed: 12 September 2020].
More details on the event will follow soon, and I really look forward to starting conversations with my fellow students!
Open Aspirations (Twitter: @O_Aspirations)
By Ian G Evans, on 14 September 2020
The following article is written by a current LIS student at UCL. Based on work written for the INST0016 Supporting Users module, the article provides an excellent summary of a number of key resources for any LIS student or library worker who is looking to inform themselves on key LIS resources related to race, equality and diversity. The article also touches on the experience of studying as a PoC at a library school. In 2019, BAME/PoC students made up 15% of the LIS student body at UCL. While this is a higher percentage than in the librarian workforce overall (97% White), it is not a statistic of which we are proud. Publishing article such as this one is one of the many steps that we are taking to address the role that we play in shaping workforce diversity, along with other progressive stacking measures, including tackling representation in module, reading list and panel/events, establishing student-led reading groups and working with UCL Libraries to purchase access to titles from the Black Excellence in LIS syllabus. Thank you to Open Aspirations and other students for their work leading and supporting these initiatives.
Alison Hicks, Programme Director, Library and Information Studies.
On embracing the labels of PoC/BAME as a library school student
Back in 2018, when I started to attend the LIS programme at UCL, I would have had to search the Internet to find out what the acronyms PoC (people/person of colour) and BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) stand for. Having lived in several different countries before moving to the UK in 2014, I saw myself as someone seeking to become a world citizen. It was in this somewhat naïve and colour-blind mindset that I shielded myself from internalizing racialized labelling.
This attitude has changed over the past two years. I still remember my first day in one of the LIS modules, where I felt panicked to see I was the only apparently (east) Asian-looking student and there was only one Black student. The emotional labour of standing out in the classroom was overwhelming, but this experience prompted me to look into the low representation of BAME LIS students as well as BAME academic librarians, the sector I aspire to work in.
Out of this exploration, I wrote an essay about the key resources for library school students to engage with the “decolonizing academic libraries” movement — the recent initiatives that tackle the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the overall practice of UK academic libraries. Thank you, Alison Hicks, for suggesting me to share my findings with the DIS community.
Here is a brief summary of the list I compiled…
- Research Reports
Factual sources, specifically the recent official research reports published by UK organizations are essential in understanding the diversity issues within academic libraries and beyond. Among them, particularly useful ones are:
- A study of the UK information workforce (2015)
- BAME staff experiences of academic and research libraries (2019)
- Insider-outsider: the role of race in shaping the experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic students (2019)
- Library Conference Presentations
Before the Covid-19 outbreak, attending day conferences was a popular way of information sharing on the subject of decolonization for librarians.
- Talent Untapped: BAME Academic Librarians’ KnowledgeX at University of East London (2019)
- Decolonising Library Collections and Practices: from Understanding to Impact at Cardiff Metropolitan University (2019)
- Decolonising the Curriculum: the Library’s Role at Goldsmiths, University of London (2020)
Among these three, Cardiff and Goldsmiths organizers made the conference presentation slides available through online databases.
- Library Juice Press Publications
In this time of uncertainty, I have found it quite beneficial to explore the work of the US publisher Litwin Books, especially the publications of their imprint Library Juice Press. A few titles relating to decolonization initiatives are:
- The politics of theory and the practice of critical librarianship
- Topographies of whiteness: mapping whiteness in Library and Information Science
- Where are all the librarians of color?
The LJP publications help us to 1) gain comparative understanding of the history, research and practice of critical librarianship in the UK and the US; 2) learn to see library activism as an ongoing historical process and continuing efforts; and 3) develop strategies to face up to the challenge of tackling racism and advancing inclusion in the new social context, which is emerging from the current pandemic and anti-racism movement.
I hope these resources are useful for the DIS community. By exploring them, we are most importantly invited to reflect on our own experiences. Self-reflection, which I have learnt from writing my essay, is one of the keys to raising awareness, building empathy and becoming more open to having conversations on racial inclusivity.
Open Aspirations (Twitter: @O_Aspirations)
By Ian G Evans, on 4 March 2020
Academic Book Week is a celebration of academic books, and the impact they have on our society and our world. The week aims to draw attention to the ‘diversity, variety and influence’ of academic books, increasing awareness of the academic book as ‘a vehicle for ground-breaking ideas.’ Run by The Booksellers Association, the week aims to spark debate across various stakeholders, and to provide a space for those who ‘read, write, publish, sell, or work with academic books’ to share their views.
This year, Academic Book Week is running from 9-13 March, and will involve a range of events, panels, and promotions. This year’s theme is ‘Academic Books and the Environment,’ and the Booksellers Association have released a diverse list of ‘recommended reads’ that tackle the climate emergency.
If academic books are important to you, then shout about it! Here are some ideas for how you can get involved:
- Attend an Academic Book Week event. Our own Caroline Wintersgill is hosting a discussion with Lewis Dartnell, author of Origins, on the 9th of March at Waterstones Gower Street. Post about any events you do attend on social media.
- Read a book (or books!) on the ‘recommended reads’ list. Does it change your perspective or inspire you to take action in some way?
- Reflect on your own experiences with academic books. When was the last time you bought an academic book? Did you buy it from a conventional bookshop, an academic specialist, a second-hand bookseller, or maybe from Amazon? Was it an e-book, or in print? Maybe you rely on the library to provide access to academic books for you? What could publishers could do to encourage students to purchase academic books – what new models might entice you?
- Think about the academic book that has most impacted you, or influenced your viewpoint in some way – recommend it to a friend!
By Ian G Evans, on 14 February 2020
UCL Comparative Literature’s Panel Event: Publishing Against the Paradigm invited guest speakers Alison Devers, founder of The Second Shelf, Gary Budden, founder of Influx Press, Brekhna Aftab from Pluto Press, and Nicola Beauman, founder of Persephone Books, to reflect on their experiences in independent publishing and bookselling.
Large conglomerates like Amazon and Penguin Random House represent the vast majority of the market for print books. In this environment, how do small independent publishers and bookshops survive? Well, it’s hard, say the panellists of Tuesday’s discussion, but independents are thinking of new and increasingly creative ways to find their market and ensure long-term sustainability. Brekhna Aftab emphasised the importance of direct sales to readers, bypassing other links in the supply chain like Amazon. Pluto Press has re-launched the Left Book Club, originally founded in 1936 by Victor Gollancz, a subscription service which entitles members to either six or twelve of the ‘best radical and progressive’ political books a year. Left Book Club books are designed to be instantly recognisable, with standardised yellow and black covers and typography. Independent bookshops and publishers, the panellists agreed, must find their niche in order to survive. Social media is helping: publishers can communicate directly with their readers, build loyalty, and form a virtual community across potentially disparate geographies.
Alison Devers noted that Big 5 publishers focus disproportionately on ‘general bestsellers,’ to which they devote almost all of their marketing and PR spend. It is the role of indies, she felt, to answer to this by publishing and publicising books that don’t fit a ‘general audience’ – a term that she noted almost always means ‘white’. The controversy surrounding Macmillan’s publication of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins was a topic of much discussion. Despite having no issue with writing about cultures other than your own, Devers felt that the marketing spend on American Dirt was outrageous, given that there are several other books that discuss similar themes, written by Latinx authors. The money was devoted to Cummins’ book, she felt, because it was more in line with the ‘general audience’ that publishers so often target.
Brekhna Aftab added that publishers will continue to prioritise white authors when the industry itself continues to be made up of an overwhelmingly white workforce. She noted the danger that diversity within the industry becomes a passing fad, and felt that structural changes are needed to address the issue long-term. Publishing continues to be a low-pay industry: salaries are often omitted from job advertisements, and many publishers offer internships without pay. To secure these internships in the first place, applicants must navigate informal networks, and the industry continues to be overwhelmingly London-centric. These issues have become deeply embedded, but should be confronted to ensure that publishers are producing books that are truly reflective of their readers’ lived experiences.
So what can readers do to affect positive change in the publishing industry? Buy indie, says Alison Devers. This seems like a simple solution, but the fact remains that people buy with Amazon because it is cheaper; it can afford to make a loss on books, while small indie bookshops simply can’t. New forms of direct sale such as subscription schemes might offer a solution, though; the Left Book Club for example offers a starting price of £4.99 a month. In a fiercely competitive and uncertain economic environment, independent publishers and booksellers are struggling to remain viable. Wherever possible, the panellists encouraged, readers should buy indie. We should consider the impact that the books we buy have on our society because, as Nicola Beauman reminds us, publishing is always political.
By Ian G Evans, on 10 February 2020
This week, the UCL Publishers’ Prize team was delighted to host a Book Drive in collaboration with CILIP and Youth Libraries Group!
This year coincides with the centenary for the Department of Information Studies, a very exciting event for UCL! UCL’s Department of Information Studies began the first school of Librarianship, so it is only fitting that the theme for this year’s Publishers’ Prize is libraries.
In celebration of our theme, we decided to give back to libraries around the country by encouraging donations of children’s and young adult books from UCL students and staff, and they certainly delivered!
We received books of every genre, suitable for a wide range of ages. The books were all in fantastic condition and lovingly chosen by our generous donators. We ended on a high note with our ‘Tea for Books’ event, where we gave away a hot cup of tea or coffee in exchange for donations. We also had a cheeky bit of Swiss chocolate, kindly donated by Fabienne Schwizer!
Thank you very much to everyone who brought in donations. They are going to a very worthwhile cause and are much appreciated! Also, thank you also to the Publishers’ Prize marketing team, Anna and Karina, for putting together the event and promoting it so well!
Be sure to keep an eye out for the 2020 Publishers’ Prize, an anthology written and published by students!
Find us online!
By Ian G Evans, on 17 July 2019
As the result of support from the Dean’s Strategic Fund at UCL I was able to attend the Community Archives and Heritage Group annual conference, which this year was taking place in Scotland for the first time, in Glasgow.
The day featured presentations about various projects centred on archives and community, often detailing the way that mainstream archives or funders had partnered with community groups and people-led initiatives to preserve stories from a diverse range of people. The focus of the conference was on projects relating to migration. The day included projects such as ‘Colourful Heritage’, centred on interviewing the first settlers of the Glasgow Asian community to create a unique video archive, and the largest of its kind in the U.K. Other projects showcased focused on creating awareness and tangible archives relating to Jewish communities in Scotland, the British Ukrainian community, Armenian heritage in North West England, and the Scottish LGBT+ community. It was fascinating to learn about the range of exciting projects taking place across the U.K. and the variety of contexts in which they were being supported, through the hard work of many individuals both community-based and in the archive and museums sectors.
While the day showed that funders are keen to invest in stories of diversity, it was clear that for some the funding didn’t necessarily come easily or regularly, and that these projects were as much a labour of love for the individuals involved as a ‘funded’ process. One speaker notably told of feeling unable to ask for certain administrative costs in the budget when apply for a HLF grant, and taking on too much of the burden personally despite being advised they could likely bid for more money. This perhaps illustrates one of the key issues with this kind of one-off funding – that due its nature as short-term and project-based, community members may feel that the funding is a blessing or a great favour, and therefore attempt to personally work overtime to match the supposed ‘favour’. The duty here is very much with funding bodies and the archive sector to explicitly encourage applicants to apply for a full range of roles in funding bids to enable them to deliver their projects without pushing community members beyond their personal limits. The archive and heritage funding sector should be providing the funding and framework so that community members are providing their expertise and passion, but not being expected to give more than they are able.
All in all it was clear that the relationship between community project and funders or supportive archive bodies was mutually beneficial and fruitful in expected and unexpected ways, at least for the duration of the projects. The work shown was also clearly filling a much needed gap in the heritage sector, recording the memories of members of communities and migration experiences often for the first time creating unique new records.
While in Glasgow I also had the opportunity to explore the Mitchell Library, home to the city archives and a wide arrange of other services. Recommended for the obvious but also for the seriously impressive array of 1970s carpets, worth a visit!
All in all it was an excellent day, and a great opportunity to learn about the exciting range of community-led and centred projects taking place around the country, as well as connect with my Scottish colleagues.
By Ian G Evans, on 27 June 2019
The two of us applied for the UCL DIS Dean’s Strategic Fund 2018-2019 so we could purchase materials for our projects in our optional module Digital Curation, part of our MA in Archives and Records Management. The funds enabled us to purchase Raspberry Pis (very basic computers used for coding projects) along with their associated equipment, so we could implement and experiment with Fixityberry, an existing open source software specifically designed to assist low-resourced archives with fixity scans and fixity checking.
Digital curation and preservation are broad, all-encompassing, and at time daunting subjects for budding archivists. For students like us, without computer science backgrounds, this module was an opportunity to challenge ourselves and to embrace new digital tools. As students with a greater familiarity with the analogue world – both from arts and humanities backgrounds, and limited digital archiving experience – we believe it is important for us to learn, explore, and understand some of the issues and trials that digital archivists face today.
Digital curation involves the management, preservation and adding of value to digital assets throughout their life-cycle. This module aimed to fully engage us with this process, through a mixture of teaching, independent study, and practical exercises.
Thanks to the support of the Dean’s Strategic Fund, we have been able to carry out our chosen digital curation projects based on our research and our interest in the practical aspects of digital curation that the module covered. By purchasing our own Raspberry Pis, we were able to gain experience beyond our assigned reading in a supportive classroom environment, and we will be able to use both that knowledge and the Pis in future projects throughout our careers.
Fixity checking is just one facet of digital preservation, involving integrity management. It consists of the monitoring of bits within digital files in order to check if they remain unchanged or ‘fixed’ over time— not unlike hiring a security guard to make rounds of a physical archive, checking to ensure boxes and materials remain untampered with. Integrity checking, then, is important within the holistic process of digital preservation and in the safe-guarding of our digital assets and information. Pause for a moment to think about all the digital information you have, at home and at work, and you’ll begin to appreciate the importance of keeping it from degrading or being altered. Fixity scans provide reports of the integrity of a digital file, and warn an archivist if degradation has occurred.
Archives can purchase fixity checking software for their digital collections, but what about community archives and other projects on a shoestring budget? Fixityberry was something we read about in class, which was presented as a way for low-resourced archives to meet the standards for digital preservation. We tried it ourselves, to test its viability. With help, we got the software to work, learned as we went, and evaluated the practical application of the software.
Our experiment with the Fixityberry software and foray into the field of digital archiving culminated in two blogs, one of which you can read here. This was where we charted our trials, tribulations and small successes along the way.
The support from this project was vital to us; it allowed us to test and explore the important skills necessary in the development of digital archiving skills, and build our confidence. Setting aside our own personal goals, it also brought into sharp focus the difficulties that archives with low financial and expert resources face, and in turn, the challenges of meeting current preservation standards. It is important for archivists to explore and understand the necessity of devising long term storage solutions, and monitoring that storage when working with digital material.
This experience has brought us greater clarity about the need for a strong digital archiving community and well-documented open source software, as well as the importance of embracing cross-disciplinary relationships (which in our case were a couple of friendly IT gurus).
The funding enabled us to engage with the ever-changing and fast paced world of digital curation and preservation, and expand our understanding of why it is essential for new professionals to work with born-digital content. As emerging professionals, we now have a strong grasp on the importance of working with digitised and born-digital content, which, thanks to this project, has inspired us to advocate for digital literacy within the archives sector, and to bring this knowledge to our chosen careers.
We would like to thank the Dean’s Strategic Funding bid and our tutor Jenny Bunn for their support whilst undertaking our projects.
By Ian G Evans, on 21 June 2019
Great thanks to this year’s Dean’s Strategic fund, I was able to attend the Music Encoding Conference (MEC) in University of Vienna from 29th of May to 1st of June. It is a critical annual gathering for the Music Encoding Initiative community, and I got the chance to meet all kinds of researchers at this cross-disciplinary venue, ranging from musicologists, librarians, technologists and programmers and so on, learning and joining the discussion of new advances and possibilities in the colliding fields’ researches.
Unfortunately, I missed the pre-conference workshop on 28th of June and first half-day’s presentations due to personal health issue, but luckily, I made it to the rest two days and had a great time there. I listened to presentations and participated in poster session discussion covering various topics. At first, I was bit afraid to ask questions given that I was the only master student and my knowledge base might not be sufficient, but it turned out that everyone in the community is inclusive and kind, especially after few glasses of wine J
(Paper session presentation)
I feel so grateful that I could join this conference because my current dissertation topic is about Music Information Retrieval, focusing on Machine Learning. And Music Encoding is a critical component for music information retrieval. I had the chance to connect with the researchers who share similar interests, and also, they gave me invaluable insights about what could be achieved in this field through their presentations as well as one to one discussion during social hours. I found several presentations particularly interesting like Harmony building based on Voice leading, improved performance based on score through neural networks, database building for symbolic music files etc. I talked to the corresponding first authors K. Giannos, D. Jeong, and Y. Ju, and they were really patient and expressive in terms of sharing their research insights, and after sharing my dissertation research focus, they gave me their contacts for future conversations, which was awesome.
(Poster session presentation)
I found that the DH courses were highly correlated and helped a lot in terms of understanding the presentations, especially for the MusicXML/MEI encoding, Ontology building and machine learning.
And unexpectedly, I was asked for Q&A translation help, given that I am bilingual in Chinese and English for, Prof. Li Xiaonuo, who was presenting A Visualization Analysis of the Composition, Performance and Hearing. Later on, she kindly introduced me to more researchers in the field and invited me to join their discussions. Through participating in their discussion, even though as a translator, I learnt from both sides and many professors thanked me for my contributions, though to me the translation was a very small and voluntary piece of effort, I can still feel the kindness and positiveness in this field.
One high light for me in this conference is that I noticed the music diversity is uprising. Though the music notation and classical music is undoubtful western dominant, there is independent researcher from India who is doing digital encoding and notion analysis, as well as Chinese and Korean researchers focusing on contemporary Asian Music. Forgive me if I get too sensitive, but as a Chinese myself, hearing home music and listening to the presentation about it in Vienna, is not the experience that I could have every day. But I guess that’s the beauty of the music related conference, where all kinds of researchers, regardless of culture backgrounds, can all enjoy and discuss the possibilities and meanings of different kinds of music.
At last, we had conference dinner by invitation of City of Vienna to the “Heuriger” s’Pfiff. It has a quiet garden sitting on the hill, and the buffet food was more delicious than I had expected!
All in all, I am so grateful that I could have the chance to explore further in this research field, and connected with researchers sharing similar interests. Hopefully this will not be my last conference attending and thanks again for the Dean’s Strategic fund.
Oiling the Archives: A report from the 10th Annual Conference of the European Oil and Gas Archives Network by Kolya Abramsky
By Ian G Evans, on 17 June 2019
Castel Gandolfo, Italy: May 23rd-24th 2019
I have just attended the 10th Annual Conference of the European Oil and Gas Archives Network (EOGAN), in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, May 23rd-24th 2019. Hosted in the corporate archive of the Italian oil company, ENI, the conference’s theme was “Energy and audio-visual heritage: sources, research and visual culture”.
Since 2018, I have sat on EOGAN’s Special Advisory Board, assisting with bringing new institutions into the network. Before coming to UCL to study archives and records management, I worked for many years on a range of social, political and economic aspects relating to the global energy sector. Working with EOGAN allows me to draw on this past experience, but in an archival context. I was supported to attend the conference with a UCL Dean’s Strategic Grant, for which I am grateful.
EOGAN is a European network of professional archives, cultural institutions and companies related to oil and gas, with the purpose of promoting the retention and use of relevant archives and the sharing of skills and experience.
The participants in EOGAN represent oil and gas companies, state agencies, universities, museums and archival institutions – all with a special interest in our oil and gas history. This mixture of records creators, curators, archivists and researchers is the very essence of EOGAN.
EOGAN is a charity registered in Norway. It seeks to:
- Raise awareness about the importance of oil and gas archives for the cultural heritage as well as the further developments of the energy industry
- Promote public awareness about the significance of records on oil and gas
- Contribute actively to the preservation of a wide range of oil and gas archives from both the public and private sectors
- Encourage that records from subsidiary companies abroad are preserved, where appropriate, in the country where the activities take place
- Establish procedures to secure the deposition of records in case of mergers and acquisitions
- Develop archival methods and strategies for the oil and gas sector: appraisal, descriptive standards, preservation of electronic records, web portals
- Promote research and other uses of oil and gas records by liaising with universities, cultural institutions, think tanks, and independent researchers “
The conference brought together some 40 participants, from Denmark, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, UK and USA. This included individuals from national archives, corporate archives, university archives, university research departments, museums, artistic foundations and individual researchers. Participants from the UK were mainly from Scotland, owing to the importance of North Sea Oil, and also the recently established Nucleus archive of the British nuclear industry in Wick.
Presentations included a range of topics: a presentation of EOGAN’s history, by founding individuals from Norway, Italy and Scotland; old film footage from the international work of oil companies such as ENI or Total in the Persian Gulf in the 1950s-1960s (including by famous directors, such as Bernardo Bertolucci); internal training videos from Norwegian oil archives; approaches to General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Norway, and by the European Archives Group; a presentation of Archives Portal Europe and its relevance for EOGAN; usages of oral history by energy historians; archival cartoon films about the history of Italy’s electricity sector; a visit to ENI archive’s strong rooms, and exhibition of a sample of their historic photographic material.
Three areas in particular interested me.
I was struck by the close relation between archivists and historians that EOGAN is deliberately building, based on the central premise that the oil and gas archives (and by extension, EOGAN as a network) serve historians of oil and gas. Historians are seen not just as one category of users amongst many, but as a (if not the) key category. The link between archivists and historians remains a vital link that needs defending, to understand the links between past, present and future, as a basis for understanding causality and making deliberate choices and interventions.
Secondly, major differences were visible between the countries represented in terms of the priority given to energy archives in these countries and their presence in EOGAN. The largest number of participants came from Italy and Norway. The Norwegian delegation included several from the National Archives of Norway, oil companies, and a national oil museum. From Italy there were participants from foundations tied to former municipally owned (now privatized) electric power companies, universities and audio-visual foundations. It was impressive to see the level of cultural importance that energy has in terms of its strong national presence in heritage and other record keeping institutions, and seemingly, the level of economic resources available, as compared to the UK.
A third fascinating area was the question of nuclear energy. Although EOGAN is a network primarily of oil and gas archives, it also touches on the energy sector more broadly. Keeping the current and historic records of a nuclear industry presents difficult and unique challenges that are specific to the sector, due to the close and interdependent relation between the civilian and military nuclear industries, security concerns, and, above all, the time-scales involved. Nuclear waste needs to be thought about on a scale of literally hundreds, thousands and even tens of thousands of years. Even an historical record that is several decades old is actually still a current record, and will be relevant for safety purposes for several hundred years to come.
For instance, listing the contents of a nuclear waste dump from the 1970s may be of enormous relevance in 2070 or even 2170, and failure to know the exact contents of the dump and the reasons why it was filled as it was (due to poor record keeping in the 1970s and subsequently), will have enormous safety implications for (potentially) the whole country, and even much of Europe. This shows the importance of questions about readability, interpretability and contextual information in the long-term. As the participant from Nucleus pointed out, 300 years ago, the English language itself was very different from contemporary English, and Latin was still widely used. What language will people in the geographical space which is now called the UK be speaking, reading and writing 300 years from now? Or, on a different note, how might one archive records from the site of a nuclear accident, given that the records themselves may actually be radioactive? Most people who are trained to handle records are not trained to handle radioactive material, and most who are trained to handle radioactive materials are not trained to handle records. Very few professionals are trained in both. An unusual conundrum indeed.
This raises important, or even life and death, theoretical, and above all, practical questions about the relation between archiving historical records and contemporary records management. It also raises immediate questions about the actual, and not just rhetorical, time-scale involved when we refer to “permanent preservation”.
Given the significance of energy and its related infrastructures for the world economy, it is perhaps not surprising that archiving the sector raises some interesting and unique questions that few other industries ever have to face.