Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Genealogy notes 22-26 Oct 2011 collecting archives & genealogists

So much for my last entry wishing for a quiet week this week. I've barely been able to keep up with emails let alone anything else. I was meant to have the weekend alone and Saturday was very much a genealogy day where I tidied up bits and pieces of filing, did some scanning, checked out some sites, caught up with print magazines and so on. I had hoped that Sunday would be similar but as it was cold and wet, the camping trip had been a bit of a fizzer and my 'me' time came to an abrupt end late Sunday morning.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned it here, but we've bought the caravan and of course that means a bigger, stronger vehicle to tow it so we put my beloved little green 'beemer' for sale online. I secretly never expected it to sell as nobody likes fern green. Two days later my car was gone to a lady very much like myself who simply loved the colour. The 'beemer' was my 50th birthday present to myself some years ago and I can still remember my son saying 'where did I get the money' and the look on his face when I said I was spending his inheritance. It was definitely a Kodak moment. Anyway this week has been spent looking at cars, test driving and after a few they all look the same to me which is probably why I pick my cars by colour. The search goes on!

The one think I did have to do yesterday is visit the University of Melbourne Archives (UMA) for a professional development seminar with the staff over a very delicious lunch. They sat there eating and I talked (but I made certain I didn't miss out by putting a chicken and avocado wrap on my plate just in case they were ravenous). Basically I was there to talk about what genealogists want when they are searching and how they might want to access it and how the UMA might be able to make genealogists more aware of what they have. So after confessing that I had been using them as an example in my talks and books over the last two years, we had a wide ranging discussion which also called on my previous work experience in various archives. (NB the reason I use them as an example is because they have an online catalogue, digitised images online (also through Picture Australia), various subject guides including a summary guide).

Collecting archives like UMA are very different from government archives where all the records are the records of the government. Issues such as ownership, custody, copyright, privacy, access are more complex with private records and especially with older material that may have been brought in without consideration of these issues. Digitising, indexing and volunteers were all discussed and that age old question of how much time to allot to reference queries was also on the table. I found myself slipping back into government speak by saying it was a 'question of priorities, resources, goals, objectives and so on' and at one point I almost asked to see their strategic plan. This morning I am wondering if researchers should look at an archives' strategic plan - are researchers the focus or at least one of the major focuses or are they further down the priority list?

The other key area was how to make the archives more visible and known and this is where I got on my social media treadmill and advocated following Twitter and participating in things like #followanarchive and #askanarchivist day. I raved on about blogging too and how archives can highlight parts of their collection and how more and more genealogists are writing and reading blogs and reading online e-newsletters. I also suggested photos on Flickr or even podcasts in YouTube giving State Records NSW as an example of an archive actively using social media to keep researchers informed. Podcasts, webinars, wikis and by the time I mentioned nings I felt I was losing them, so I pointed out that it was possible to just focus on a few rather than all of the available media.

UMA have already agreed to give a talk at the Genealogical Society of Victoria's lunchtime seminars next year and they do have a newsletter The UMA Bulletin (print and online) so it's very much a question of raising the profile and then the invitations to speak will flood in!

I suspect after I left the conversations continued and it will be interesting to see how they progress in future months (are they reading this now?). Should I become a researcher and go looking for my 'wharfie' grandfather in their waterside workers trade union records. The Australian Trade Union Archives (ATUA) website is also worth a look for any unionists in the family. You may not get direct information on the person,  but if they were active in a union you may be able to put some context around their working lives.

From my perspective I found the session stimulating and left a bit nostalgic for working in a collecting archive. I was always amazed at some of the collections held in the John Oxley Library, in the State Library of Queensland, the first place I ever worked in the archives/library field. Still, I have my own collecting archive of family history material and probably more scanning than I want to think about, so enough reminiscing and back to work on my own records!

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