ADS In Practice
Presentation at Archives and Reform - Preparing for Tomorrow, Australian Society of Archivists 1997 National Conference, Adelaide, 24- 26 July 1997.
* Introduction * Slide 1 * Slide 2 * Slide 3 * Slide 4 * Slide 5 * Slide 6
* Slide 7 * Slide 8 * Slide 9 * Slide 10 * Slide 11 * Slide 12 *
What Joanne has outlined to you is the foundation that we believe places us on a "sure footing in tomorrow's information world" - the underpinning that provides efficient and effective archival services in whatever project circumstances we find ourselves. Our mission is "to ensure that records are preserved, maintaining their context, content and integrity and are made accessible to the people who need to use them."
What I want to show to you now, is the technology that has been developed by ASAP which allows us to do just that.
The ADS has been developed by archivists in the field and as such reflects the methods that have been developed by ASAP to meet both the needs of our clients and of the archival staff, to ensure the preservation of our corporate, cultural and social memory.
The ADS allows us to work in any number of organisational settings, allows us to use the language of those organisational cultures, and allows us to customize our outputs to the formats that those organisations can readily accept and digest - all using the same methods and the same tools. What we have discovered is a tool that is flexible enough to be used as a processing device, a management aid and a reporting mechanism, using the one set of contextual information, input once, allowing us the freedom to fulfill our mission at the same time as servicing our clients.
Technology has allowed us to by-pass many of the more tedious chores involved in manual archival description. We no longer have to write the same information in 4 different places to make the contextual connections that give meaning, and with meaning, value to our clients. It has allowed us to take on projects of enormously varying scope using the same methods, and fundamentally the same technology. Without the ADS we would not have attempted to take on a project such as the Generation Victoria Records Project. Without the assistance of the technology we could not have achieved the results that have been accomplished over the past 2 years of work.
Firstly some statistics to give you an idea of the scope of the Project:
Processing statistics 260 Accession Entries
over 130 listed Provenance Entries
900 Series Entries
records found in over 20 locations
66,862 Inventory database entries = 2.2 kilometres
Inventory Date Range spanning the years 1883 to 1996
and many thousands of boxes
With one project leader, a handful of archival staff, and a varying team of processors operating throughout the project, we have worked to ensure that the records of an important period in the history of the State of Victoria were dealt with in a responsible manner. In this project, as with all our work, we have strived to achieve a long term solution incorporating both the current needs of the custodians of the records, and the ongoing management requirements of these records. In order to achieve this aim the tool that we work with must have the flexibility to accommodate what we learn and need on the job.
You cannot expect to organise the tasks of a project in a neatly structured way, that is accession the records first, do the provenance history, do the series documentation, then do the inventory processing. In reality you will be expected to do these tasks at the same time. In a real project environment, you must be able to capture all of this information throughout the project. As Joanne mentioned the beauty of using database technology is that information can be captured in the appropriate place and the relationships between the information immediately established, and made available.
In order to capture the context of the records we have always taken ourselves to the records. The processing of records on-site, whether at Accession level to gain a broad level of control quickly, or at Inventory item level enabling a finer degree of control and a high degree of contextual information, is an essential part of the entire process. Whether done by a single archivist or a team of archivists and processors, the information that is gathered must be able to be utilised directly and immediately, to manage both a project throughout its operation, and often to manage the clients throughout the project.
As a management tool the ADS allows the user, in this case the archivist, to manage both the records that are a part of the project, and to manage the process of documenting the records throughout the project. With many ASAP projects, the physical nature of the records, and the environment within which they exist, has meant that they must be transferred or moved either before or during the processing phase of a project. The physical management of records means that they must be tracked through changing environments and locations. The fact that the records have been accessioned on site and the contextual information about series and provenance has begun to be gathered, means that no matter at what stage the project is, ALL of the records are under some degree of control. The physical relocation, the re-housing of records to new containers, even the application of order to what may seem chaos, are all part of the continuum within which the records operate. And all of these phases must be documented in order to ensure that the integrity of the records being handled, is maintained over time and through space.
The ADS gives us the tool to be able to do just that.
As well as physical control of the records the archivist, as user of the ADS , must also have the ability to intellectually manage the records of a project. As Joanne has mentioned, the use of technology has allowed us to work smarter and utilize the information that can be gathered from the working context of the records. By taking advantage of commonly utilized database technology and making the ADS compatible with other database technology, we have been able to take data downloads of systems that have been operated by our clients and use these as the basis for making the records more accessible and meaningful, to both the clients, and to us. Saving keystrokes by using the data from a system that may now be redundant, may never have been fully operational, or may have only been used on parts of the records, saves time in record processing, and therefore saves money. The documentation of this process then becomes part of the total environment which is being reviewed. It has been possible to use this process in a number of projects, and we have been able to glean much about the culture of recordkeeping within an organisation from the way it "formerly 'managed' its records". The use of ADS functionality enables us to build a picture of the records both in the environment in which they were created and used, and the environment into which they are moving.
By structuring the ADS in keeping with archival professional standards and the practices of the leading custodial models, we ensure that the work that we do is translatable, both to systems that our clients may choose to operate, and the systems operated by custodial institutions. Making the ADS complementary with the systems that are commercially available for the management of current records means that we are able to meet the needs of the clients for a complete picture of their records. What the ADS does, as has been shown in our work with some Victorian power industry organisations is to create that link between records created in the past and the method of documenting records that will be created in the future. Our clients manage their current records in a system specifically designed to manage active records. If the documentation of those records is based on the same principles as used to document records in the ADS the continuity of management can be assured. Without these principles for record documentation there will always be the infamous backlog of records.
There is one other area that should be mentioned while we are discussing the archivist as the user of the ADS, that is, the management of our clients throughout the course of a project. Being able to access the information that is put in to the system as soon as it is there is ESSENTIAL to being able to work for, and with clients efficiently. The use of the ADS allows us to both efficiently carry out the work that is required and to ensure that our clients have access to information about their records throughout the process. This may be accomplished in the following ways:
- minimizing the time spent answering frequently asked queries
- getting immediate results for any query
- being able to produce reports in standard formats that client organisations are familiar with
- using language that they are comfortable with
- being able to produce both what the client asks for AND what they need
- and being able to make assessments about the possible outcomes from the process of record documentation
The ready availability of information about records as soon as it has been entered, ensures that the clients needs are met immediately and with the least amount of grief. Throughout the project the control we have over records will vary. But, from the very first Accession entry in the ADS control is established and grows with the development of Series, Provenance and Inventory processing.
These same methods are applicable no matter the size of the project.
Collections of personal papers are processed by us in the same fashion as large projects, using the same ADS technology. Taking a laptop out to the home of a scientist to accession their personal records incorporates the same collection of contextual and physical information as walking in to a building occupied by a commercial organisation. The records may never be in the custody of ASAP. They may never leave the basement of the organisation. It may be many years before they leave the scientist's study, but researchers can search the ADS's controlling these collections, can read the finding aids produced, and can peruse the web pages, and access these records. The documentation and the use of that information ensures that thereis access to the records now and in to the future.
The point is, that no matter what the records are, no matter what format, no matter where located, the process and the technology allow us to take immediate control, intellectually and physically.
As we have found with large and small projects, there are always more records. The ability of the ADS to incorporate more records into a project that is underway, or indeed, one that you thought was finished, ensures that the links between records and their creators are always readily available to the user. Using ADS technology to quickly control additional records allows both the archivist, as user, to manage the physical growth of a project, and also allows the client, as user, to establish a picture of the overall environment of their information asset.
Within the ADS structure, records can be added to any table at any time without destroying the relationships between the records or the intent associated with series of accession groupings. Within the Generation Victoria Project there were over 20 locations where records were created, housed and used. Record series and related records series were spread across all of these locations and used by any number of different individuals and departments. These records are now held by organisations that may or may not have ongoing relationships with each other. And they remain public records. The role of the ADS in relation to these records is, therefore, not only to enable the custodians of the records to manage and access their information assets, but also to assist in the distribution of information about the records, to ensure their preservation well beyond their requirement for commercial operations.
The ongoing management of the records documented in the ADS is as much an issue for ASAP as it is for the organisation whose custody the records are in. Our commitment to the archival mission means that our commitment to the records does not end with the final project report and the handing over of a copy of the management database.
Whether a project be one where the records remain with the custodian, whether it be a project where the records are transferred to an archival agency for ongoing management and access or whether it be a project that draws together records from a number of different sources, the technology must be responsive to the needs of each situation and aid in the management of that project. The ADS is in constant development to ensure that this is the case.
ADS technology enables the description of records in an efficient and flexible way, freeing up time that can be spent on the intellectual control and analysis of the records -the greatest "value adder" to the records that we handle. There is no better way to impress a client than to be able to produce what they want when they want it - and not just at the end of the project. This is no more obvious than in the immediate links that can be created between Accession, Series and Provenance information. By being able to give a client more than they expected, the credibility of your work is increased enormously.
For the client, the tangible outcomes of using the ADS for management of their records is the variety of access points available. By enabling the user to gain access to the records from any number of avenues the value that they place on the records is increased enormously. By taking unmanaged and inaccessible piles of files and turning them in to a corporate asset, by taking a suitcase of old letters and turning them in to a research resource we are able to aid in the preservation of records. The loans and locations tables within the ADS allow the user to manage and track records, locations, security and use patterns, and aid in the ongoing appraisal of records. By enabling the client to both access and manage records through the same database the ADS provides a valuable resource for the ongoing use of the records by continuously capturing the context within which the records continue to be used. The management of authorisation and disposal ensures even when records have been destroyed, their legacy as information resources are still available to both the client and to the broader community for research.
The fact that the complete records environment is the context within which we operate means that we must be able to document the 'big picture' at the accession level and work through the records in a systematic and managed fashion. Regardless of the quantity of the records to be documented, regardless of the format within they are held, regardless of their location in the continuum of their use, and regardless of whether the owners remain the custodians of the records, the ADS must be able to document the records at each stage of the process. If, as is the reality of the corporate environment in which we all operate, a project is halted or altered before it has reached its programmed completion, the product that is available to the client must enable better control, and a better understanding of the records than was previously available. Contextual links within the ADS must enable the documentation to provide the client with access to an understanding of their records at whatever level the project has reached. If a project consists only of the documentation of the physical nature of the records (ie. accession level documentation) reports must be in a format enabling the client to both access the records more easily, and have a greater understanding of the context of the records.
The use of the ADS has allowed us to take leaps and bounds in managing records and providing archival services. Providing archival services is what we are all about, for after all it is the clients, the users of the records who are the main focus of what we do. Without them there would be no archival mission, no reason for us to do what we do. And it is from the contextual information gathered using the ADS that the real client, the end user, can get the most value from the records through the use of contemporary technology, and a little imagination.