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Community Archives and Heritage Group annual conference. A report by Christopher Scales

Ian GEvans17 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.

Integrity Checking on a Budget | Recipient Report – Helena Clarkson and Taylor Harwood

Ian GEvans27 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.

Deans’ Strategic Fund Report by Yiding Xing, Star

Ian GEvans21 June 2019

(Participant’s badge)

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!

(Heuriger” s’Pfiff)

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

Ian GEvans17 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.

Nenna Orie Chuku, DIS Dean’s Strategic Fund Awardee

Ian GEvans17 June 2019

My application to the DIS Dean’s Strategic Fund 2018/19 was for support to attend two events. The first was the Anticipating Black Futures symposium on Friday 31 May held at the University of Birmingham. The second was a two-day conference, Digital Diasporas, organised by the University of London and held at the University of Westminster on Thursday 6 and Friday 7 June.

The Anticipating Black Futures aimed to consider and explore the futures of Black people in Britain. As the interdisciplinary symposium sought to respond to the current lived experiences of Black people in Britain, the day was a great chance to hear from a range of researchers and practitioners exploring Black studies. The symposium was also an opportunity to gain advice and tips from Black PhD students and early career researchers on their experiences navigating academia. As a Digital Humanities postgraduate who is exploring information systems designs, data visualisations and constructs of space and place within the African diaspora, Florence Okoye’s (AfroFutures_UK,) “Re configuring Community Led Smart City Design Through the Black Quantum Futurist Framework”, Julian Thompson’s (Rooted By Design) “Designing Equitable Futures for UK Black Communities”, were really insightful and interesting entries into conceptualising decolonised design and ways of thinking about current practices in constructing space and built environments. As my research produces and uses oral histories, I found Aleema Gray (University of Warwick) presentation on “Bun Babylon: An Oral History of the Rastafari movement in Britain 1936-2018” a stimulating critique and approach to insider researcher methodologies, in particular the ‘I & I Approach’, which established a research framework and encopasses an on-going feedback cycle.

The Digital Diaspora conference aimed to explore the relationships between digital technologies and diasporic communities. As I have been exploring information systems and data used in humanitarian projects, Mirca Madianou (Goldsmiths) keynote titled “Technocolonialism: Digital Humanitarianism as Extraction” provided a wider perspective and critique of digital humanitarian and technocolonialism. From reading a number of articles and critiques on Black studies in Digital Humanities, the chance to attend Roopika Risam (Salem State University) public keynote titled “Mobilizing New Digital Worlds: The Stakes of Postcolonial Digital Humanities” was a brilliant opportunity to hear about the practicalities and barriers in conducting Digital Humanities scholarship with a decolonised, postcolonial or/and feminist lens in academia. From the numerous panels on offer at the conference, Iris Lim’s (SOAS, University of London) “Digital Ethnography vs. User Experience Research: Comparing approaches to studying ‘users’ in the digital government of immigration” provided an interesting insightful methodological reflection and entry to the differences and similarities found within digital ethnography and user design in the area of e-governance in immigration. The closing plenary panel on Mapping Migration consisted of three presentations that explored data visualisations (Dana Diminescu, Télécom ParisTech/DiasporasLab, with “e-Diasporas Atlas: Exploration and Cartography of Diasporas in Digital Networks”), ethical implications of collection personal data (Funda Ustek-Spilda, London School of Economics, with “Ethics of Refugee Statistics and Social Imaginaries of Migration”), and the problems with apps used in humanitarian initiatives (Tobias Blanke, King’s College London, with “Migration, data, humanitarian apps and platform economies”).

Many thanks for award!

Nenna Orie Chuku

Digital Humanities postgraduate student

Dean’s Strategic Fund Report by Abigail Chapman

Ian GEvans7 June 2019

Thanks to this year’s Dean’s Strategic Fund, I was able to attend the West Dean College short course on Preventing Pests by Integrated Pest Management (IPM), held in the British Library Centre for Conservation on 6 June, 2019. Over the course of the day, entomologist David Pinniger introduced us to the key points of IPM strategy: Identification, Trapping, and Environment.

Identification – We learned about the harbourage and feeding habits of pests common in the museum and heritage sectors, including death watch, furniture, spider, and biscuit beetles; carpet beetle larvae or woolly bear larvae; webbing clothes and case-bearing clothes moths; and booklice and silverfish. We briefly covered their life cycles, as well as common signs of infestation, and saw many, many colourful photographs of the kinds of damage pests can do. This was certainly not a course for those with weak stomachs—a highlight of the day was viewing Mr Pinniger’s specimens of common pests through a magnifier!

Trapping—Regardless of the type of trap used, the importance of placing traps strategically and checking them frequently—a minimum of every three months—was highlighted. However, we covered a variety of traps, as well as treatments to be used once an infestation was discovered. These included treatment through exposure to both high and low temperatures, to carbon dioxide, and to nitrogen anoxia.

Environment—The importance of good housekeeping was repeatedly emphasised, particularly keeping areas free from dirt and debris, including frequently overlooked spaces such as vents, chimneys, and other voids in the fabric of the building. As pests often thrive on a certain level of moisture, maintaining relative humidity at appropriate levels was also deemed essential.

In the second half of the day, Karen Bradford, a preventative conservator, talked about her experience implementing an IPM Policy at the British Library since 2015. She reviewed her strategy for reducing the number of pest traps throughout the premises to accommodate staff reductions, while maintaining the quality of data gathered. We learned about the concept of Risk Zones, identifying areas historically affected by pests and implementing practical strategies to reduce the risks to the collection and building. Ms Bradford also kindly provided us with her IPM Policy, a very useful tool and template for developing such policies for our own organisations.

Of equal interest were the perspectives of the eighteen attendees, whose backgrounds included conservation, heritage, and library and museum collections management. Hearing of their encounters with pests was a valuable addition to the day.

My greatest takeaway from the course was that integrated pest management is not a single course of action by an individual, but rather a continuous behaviour to be encouraged throughout an organisation.

Abigail Chapman

Dean Strategic Fund 2017-18 | Recipient Report – Nenna Orie Chuku

Ian GEvans29 January 2019

My application to the UCL DIS Strategic Fund 2017-18 was due to my research interests in oral history, community archives and migration studies, and my aspiration to work in digital humanities projects documenting the lives and histories of the African diaspora. With the success of my funding application, I was able to take two external oral history related training workshops delivered by the Oral History Society. The first training, ‘Introduction to Oral History’ (held in June 2018), provided a general overview and practical tips in conducting and documenting oral history. The second training session, ‘Lives in Focus: Recording: oral history interviews on video’ (held October 2018), equipped me with an understanding and skills to conduct oral histories and interviews on camera.

After the training, I felt more confident to develop a small project exploring the history of the current Sierra Leonean commmunity in London. Working with Hannah Isalem (DIS PhD candidate), and with encouragement from Dr Andrew Flinn, Hannah and I submitted an application to the UCL Beacon Bursary in 2018. This application requested funds to deliver a public engagement, co-production and reflective project on the techniques in community archiving, and an opportunity to record personal accounts of Sierra Leoneans who have made London their home. This application was successful and as a result we are currently delivering the ‘Creating and Finding Voices: the role of oral histories and community-led archives in the African diaspora’ project.

The ‘Creating and Finding Voices’ project has two primary aims:

(1) to increase the awareness and uses of oral histories in historical research and studies, and

(2) increase the number of personal accounts based on the contemporary history of Sierra Leone and its diaspora.

Further information on the project will be available from UCL Culture. You can also follow the project’s activities by following Salone Abroad on Twitter and Instagram.

Following on from this project, the next stage is to widen the project’s remit to include working with Sierra Leonean communities outside of London, so to document the accounts of Sierra Leoneans living there.

Many thanks for the support!

Nenna Orie Chuku

2nd year Digital Humanities postgraduate student

January 2019

Entry to the University of London Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize 2018 by Lucy Vinten Mattich

Ian GEvans24 January 2019

This blog post is about my entry to the University of London Anthony Davies Book Collecting Prize 2018, and about my experiences having won the prize.  Hopefully it might inspire others to  think about their books in a different way, and to enter the prize themselves.

As part of my MA in Archives and Records Management, I took Anne Welsh’s course in Historical Bibliography — the only ARM student who did, the other students were all from LIS.  It was a great course, and because of it I received an email from Anne advertising the Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize run by the Senate House Library.  I decided to submit an entry of books which I had been accumulating over many years.  These books were loosely based round the theme of Household and Domestic management, and ranged in date from the mid eighteenth century to the mid twentieth.

The details about the Prize were a little sketchy, but the deadline for the entry was fast approaching, so I listed 12 books from my shelves and wrote a short essay and submitted them to the Library.  I was very pleased to hear a couple of weeks later that I had been shortlisted and that I was invited to make a presentation to the judging panel.  I was assured that the judging would not be an intimidating experience. Despite this, when I arrived rather nervously at the Senate House on the appointed day, clutching a box containing some of my books, I was ushered into the Durning Lawrence Library, a beautiful and imposing room. Ranged along one side of a long wooden table were five august judges.

Quickly, however, they put me at my ease and I talked to them about my books.  I didn’t have a slick presentation, I just talked about my favourite things about my books, what it is that makes me love them.  Many of the things I like about my books are not the sort of things that most book collectors like, particularly signs of use such as grease-spatters or smoke-stains, or annotations made by previous users.  Some of my books are not published works but are handwritten account books, including one of my favourites which was written by Mrs Eliza Blackmore, housekeeper, for the year starting 16 July 1767.  Most of them were written by women, and were aimed at women, and I like the social insights they afford us into women’s lives over the last 250 years.

The judging panel asked a lot of questions, especially about my collection parameters, and buying strategies, which I answered as best I could, although it did bring home to me that I didn’t really have much of a strategy, I just buy books I like which are not too expensive.

The interview passed very quickly, and I left having enjoyed myself but convinced that I would not have won because of my very non-theoretically based approach to collecting books.  I was delighted to receive an email a couple of weeks later telling me that I had co-won the prize, together with Musa Igrek from Goldsmiths College.

For the prize, as well as money (£300) I was given the opportunity to put on an exhibition in the Senate House Library, which was on display in October and November 2018, and Musa and I had a display case each.  I enjoyed the experience of picking which books to include, writing the labels and liaising with the curators about making the stands for the books to display them.  The publicity was a little slow to come out, but finally it did.

Another part of the prize was to choose an addition to the Senate House library within the scope of my collection.  Together with Dr Karen Attar, Rare Books Librarian at the Senate House Library, I decided on a manuscript book, because I am an archivist, and my collection includes manuscripts, and Karen found an 1802 Account Book from a London based household, which was purchased for the Library.

I was asked to give a seminar as part of an Institute of English Studies Seminar Series, and also to take part in a Panel Discussion run by the University of London Society of Bibliophiles.  I found the experience of both of these very enjoyable, and it was especially good to hear my co-winner, Musa, talking about his collection, and to meet finalist from the Cambridge University Rose Book Collecting Prize, Julie Blake.  Her exhibition at the Cambridge University Library runs until 2 February.

The best benefit of the Prize has been the way it has caused me to re-think my collection.  Indeed, to think of my books as a collection at all instead of just the result of a slightly random book-buying habit.  I have thought carefully about the parameters of the collection and about the areas I might expand it in the future, (mainly 20th century ephemera, but also more manuscript books, both of which are strangely affordable) and have also dipped my toe into buying from booksellers catalogues rather than just from actual physical bookshops.  Furthermore I have met some fascinating people and learned a lot about books.

If you are a member of the University of London and have books, think about whether a selection of them may actually be a collection.  Like me, you may be book collector without knowing it.  The details of the 2019 Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize will be announced soon — consider entering!

Qatar Doha Visit by Lara Salha

Ian GEvans16 October 2018

As part of my dissertation for my MA in Archives and Records management, I decided to research and write my thesis on language in the archive profession with a specific focus on Arabic. My aims were to highlight the ways in which language, a system of signs, impacts how we perceive ourselves as archivists, how we ‘dress’ ourselves with these signs, and how in turn this may mean others perceive us too.

Upon discovering the UCL branch in Doha, Qatar, with a department related to archive studies, I took the chance to apply to the Dean’s Fund in hopes of potentially covering my travel expenses and this leap of faith definitely worked in my favour! I was able to travel to Doha and meet various professionals in a variety of settings.

 

 

 

 

 

My first stop was at the Qatar National Library (QNL), which has recently opened a heritage section. Various professionals have been working towards setting up an archive that will hopefully set a precedent for a high standard of archiving in the country. The library itself is magnificent, utterly brand new, and the tools and equipment being used for the growing archive is of excellent quality. The current exhibition of Qatar’s history is definitely an amazing site to see – especially the records and documents relating to pearl hunting, one of main forms of income of the Qatari economy in the first half of the twentieth century (See: left, a thesaurus of the different types of pearls). My visit to QNL meant I was able to meet all those on the archive team and see how their roles fit into the expansion of the archive and its progress. This trip to the QNL helped me understand the struggles that the institution is still facing and how the team at QNL are working hard to overcome them.

 

 

 

 

 

My second visit was to the UCL branch of Doha and I was able to meet the head of the archives course, Dr Sumayya Ahmed, and discuss not only my own dissertation ideas but also the ways in which the region of the Middle East is coming to grips with archives and the various archive legacies that have existed in the region prior to the contemporary ‘version’ of the role of archivist. Dr Ahmed kindly advised me to visit a nearby mosque that was utterly breathtaking and definitely worth taking time out to walk around and experience myself, even in 45 degree weather! (See: left)

 

 

 

 

 

 

My third visit happened entirely by chance due to the friends I already knew in Doha and their connections with others – I was able to have my own personal tour of the Al Jazeera media network! Not only was I put in touch with the longstanding head archivist there, but I was also able to spend an entire morning with the news media archivist and was given the chance to see their bespoke Collection Management System that is accessible and used across the globe for all other Al Jazeera archivists working in the News department. In addition to this, I was also able to visit their onsite storage and see how a news channel works in tandem with archive material on an almost hourly basis. While not necessarily related to my dissertation, this trip meant I was able to see how much an archive is valued from a corporate and business continuity perspective, and utilised at a much faster rate and in a much more busy environment. It was an invaluable experience and I’m extremely grateful I was given the opportunity to walk around and see an archive support an entire organisation in order for it to function.

My trip to Doha, Qatar was an incredible and eye-opening experience. I’m eternally grateful that the fund was able to help support this goal of mine and I am extremely glad I took the opportunity to apply. Thanks to this visit I was able to reposition my perspective on the archives in the region of the Middle East, shift my academic lens that may have otherwise have been quite limited, and was able to meet a whole spectrum of people related to the archive profession.

By Simon Cloudsley, MA student on the LIS programme

Ian GEvans18 June 2018

In the next few days I will be travelling to Athens with fellow LIS student Justine Humphrey to volunteer with the ECHO Refugee Library. As Justine has eloquently written in a previous post, this wonderful mobile library project aims to ‘nurture a space of learning and creativity, a place to cultivate the mind – that one part of us that can never be held captive.’

Like Justine, my involvement in this project came about in an equally serendipitous way. In April last year, just before a volunteering trip to Thessaloniki for the charity Help Refugees, I was thinking about the need that refugees in Greece must have for books as a vital way of stimulating their minds and escaping their difficult circumstances. The next day I came across a blogpost by a volunteer who had worked with ECHO and luckily, on my final day in Greece, I was able to meet with Esther and Laura, the inspirational co-founders of the library, who had run the project full-time for several months. I went away determined to do what I could to support them in their work. In August I embarked on a 5-day fundraising walk from the Bodleian Library to the British Library, and in November was privileged to ‘host’ the mobile library outside the Bodleian as well as attend a talk by Esther and Laura at the Refugee Studies Centre in Oxford as part of their advocacy trip around the UK.

In the meantime I had started the MA in Library and Information Studies at UCL and met a like-minded individual in Justine, so it was only natural that we organised a volunteering trip ourselves to work with the project on the ground. I am grateful for the solidarity and support shown by our department in the generous funding that has been given. My desire to help with the ongoing refugee crisis, finding the ECHO Refugee Library, and starting my librarianship qualification, have all combined to steer me in the direction of studying the vital role that libraries can and do perform for society, marginalised groups, and for those who find themselves in crisis situations. Like Justine, I hope my experiences and studies will provide a foundation for a dissertation within this area.

Why a library for refugees? I am reminded by what Simon Schama said in the final episode of the BBC series Civilisations, that refugees are the “shipwrecked of civilisation”, who are “cast adrift on an infinite ocean of terror and despair.” I returned to this thought due to the recent story of the rescue ship Aquarius, laden with migrants but sailing aimlessly at sea when no country would open its ports. This perfectly captures the refugee’s state of wandering and waiting: sometimes they cannot even find dry land, let alone a permanent new home. Having read much literature over the past year and having talked to people on the ground, it has struck me that there is minimal provision given to help refugees, as a friend of mine succinctly put it, ‘build a life beyond mere survival.’ Basic humanitarian needs of shelter, food, water, and medical care, are the priority of the major aid operators—and quite rightly so, even though these are sometimes woefully inadequate themselves. But beyond this, essential services that help motivate, educate, entertain, and maintain a healthy mind, are often only found where grassroots volunteers have seen a need and independently acted—like Esther and Laura. And the longer refugees are forced to wait, the more vital these become. Boredom, anxiety, depression and, tragically, suicide are on the rise.  The recent insightful book Lost Connections by Johann Hari talks about the need to be connected to various things to maintain your mental health. I have realised that refugees are disconnected from so much: home, family, friends, work, and a secure and meanignful future.

Access to a library is not, of course, a panacea. But the service that the ECHO Refugee Library provides is one important way in which a refugee can reconnect to reading, education, interests, and community, and to mentally start to build a future even if the physical reality of that future is still a long way off.

 

Simon Cloudesley, Library Assistant

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

Please show solidarity with us and the ECHO Refugee Library by going to:

https://chuffed.org/project/echorefugeelibrary