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woensdag 24 oktober 2007

Sign of the times

In the post Tempting!! on the Digital Archivist blog, Christian Van de Ven talks about the new flyer of the Archiefschool, the institute for archival education and research in the Netherlands, with its new enticing promo talk. It asks you if "you want to find out how things were in the past? How did your city used to look? What was the first movie on YouTube? The archivist preserves all information that is worth of it, so that everyone may view and use it." You will learn to "adjust your services to the customer. For the municipal government you'll write a research report, for school kids you'll make an exciting game." They are even offering classes on Web 2.0.

How ... well, modern. The days of the stuffy old nerd in a flashers' coat covered in dust are gone. In today's society managing "old paper" is only part of the job. An archivist isn't just a Keeper of Ancient Written Knowledge anymore, but also a knowledge and information manager. In the Belgian Master after Master in Archival Studies the profile of the archivist is described as a guardian of historical and cultural heritage, as well as a key figure in any modern administration as a document manager and consultant in the field of document and records management, taxonomies, work- and documentflow, automisation, etc.

The archival profession has entered the digital age for some time now. In the field of digital archiving a lot of research has already been done (e.g. Monash university's Records Continuum Research Group, the European Union's DLM-Forum, the InterPARES Project, the Dutch Digital Longevity project, the published ISO archiving standards like the OAIS-model, PDF/A and ISO 15489, the Archives of Antwerp's eDAVID project, and many more). Several technical solutions for the problem of the volatile digital record have been researched. Archives are now in the process of working out the feasibility of these solutions. However, until recently I got the feeling that people in general, and a lot of archivists outside of the academic world in particular, weren't ready to enter the digital era yet.[*] Slowly this is changing, but a lot of work still needs to be done to convince everybody that archivists need to move with the times. Not only in the field of preservation and dissemination of records, but also in the way archives (and libraries as well) present themselves to the public. A few librarians (and some archivists) are experimenting with different methods. Early september I went to Informatie 2007, a congress on ICT for information professionals, organized every two years by the VVBAD (the Flemish Organisation of Librarians, Archivists and Documentalists). There were several presentations about (ongoing) research and projects regarding digital repositories, digitalization, social software and the like. This is just an example at the level of a small European country, but the point that I'm making is that there are enough ideas and pioneers in the field willing to make a difference. The main thing now is to convince the rest of the world of what we're doing.

[*] I'm not saying that "traditional" record-keeping should be forgotten. The "old papers" still need to be taken care of. What's more, for the time being, the paperless office doesn't exist yet, so hybrid systems will remain in place.

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