Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The challenge of adding new records

Five new institutions were being recruited as part of the project to ensure clean data and a 'level playing field' to test the value of Linked Data. These include the National Maritime Museum, Zoological Society and British Postal Museum. The fragility of archive institutions in the current economic climate has been highlighted by news of the reorganisation of Hammersmith and Fulham Archives Service - an OMP partner -following local authority budget cuts. It is still hoped that their records can be included at a later stage, not least because it will enhance their public profile via internet searching, and thereby encourage more active use of collections by researchers, but in the meantime the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, have been recruited as a substitute.

The project also highlights the challenge of adding value to archive services through Linked Data or similar projects in the midst of reorganisation and the roll-out of other projects - the National Maritime Museum Archives, for example, are entering a period of public closure prior to the opening of new reading rooms and other public areas as part of a major investment. New catalogues and an archives/library management system are also being installed and tested in 2011. Participation in OMP appealed to the NMM, providing an opportunity to add rich Linked Data to new audiences as part of a larger, more public, initiative. It also represents a challenge, not least for NMM staff who are being asked to prioritise the records that we are seeking to include in the project (a mix of items that are heavily used by the public, for which they receive many written enquiries or which are underused and for which they hope to improve access), and prepare the EAD in a flavour that can readily be imported into AIM25.

I have visited the Zoo, the British Postal Museum and Wandsworth Heritage Services to examine their systems and records. The latter two use CALM, with which AIM25 is familiar, but the Zoo uses a library system - EOSi - requiring import of records in MARC21. A recurring theme of the OMP and other projects is that for new archive IT projects to be rolled out successfully the active support of busy institutional IT services is often indispensable - to set up export tools, develop database tools and amend websites. This places a brake on project delivery times as understandably bespoke work on archive databases might come a long way down an IT services priority list. It also reflects that need for archivists to understand what databases can do and how data can easily be shared - not least in order to communicate effectively with IT helpdesks and keep senior management on board. This is knowledge that is usually acquired through hands-on experience and trial and error, which in turn highlights the value of the many informal support networks among archivists who turn to each other for advice and guidance on how to make data work harder.

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