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Ruth Marr - Edinburgh Basecamp

Ruth Marr, Digital Preservation Trainee, National Records of Scotland

Five months into the traineeship, and the English and Scottish cohorts were reunited for a second basecamp at National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh. Structured over three days, the schedule offered a wide variety of workshops, talks, and visits.

After being welcomed to the basecamp by Audrey Wilson of SCA, Linda Ramsay, SCA Trustee, and Laura Mitchell, Deputy Keeper of National Records of Scotland, day one kicked off with talks from the heads of several departments within the NRS. Ian Ferguson, Centre Manager for ScotlandsPeople, talked about how archivists play a role in helping people piece together their family histories. Dr Alison Rosie, Registrar at the National Register of Archives for Scotland, talked about the role of the Birth, Marriage, and Death registers and their relationship with archival research. Dr Tristram Clarke, Head of Exhibitions at NRS, talked about the practical considerations involved in organising an exhibition which contained archival material. It was an eye-opening talk, which brought home how much complex planning lies behind an exhibition. Dr Clarke followed his talk with a guided tour of the General Register House building, and we enjoyed the opportunity to get to know this unique building a little better.

Back in the Seminar room, Susannah Waters and Michelle Kaye of the Glasgow School of Art focused on the precautions archivists need to take when digitising collections to avoid breaching copyright legislation; and then in the final talk of the day NRS Strategy and Communications Manager Christina Stokes and Susan Corrigall, Head of Digital Records Unit questioned the extent to which the personal should be brought into the professional in the context of social networks. The talk encouraged a lively debate and it was interesting to see the variety of opinions held by different practitioners.

The morning of day two began with a couple of sessions aimed at developing the skills needed to move in to the field of archives. First, Coaching Consultant Steve Wood led a workshop encouraging the trainees to work with peer groups to identify solutions for professional challenges. Second, three previous trainees presented on how they found work after their traineeships. It was interesting to see what routes they had taken to carve out a career within the sector.

The afternoon sessions were dedicated to archivists based in private archives. Jack Latimer of the ARA Community Archives and Heritage Group talked about the challenges faced by community archives, but also emphasised the huge range of community archives that are active throughout the country. Kiara King of the Ballast Trust provided some insight into the specific challenges faced within the world of business archives.

The last talk of the day was given by Dr Hugh Hagan, Senior Public Records Officer within the Public Records Scotland Act Implementation Team at NRS. His talk focused on the Public Records of Scotland Act and the implications that this legislation has had on public records bodies in Scotland. It was an emotive talk that really encouraged the audience to consider why records are kept, and for whom.

The final day of basecamp started with a tour of Thomas Thomson House. Built by the NRS in 1992, it functions both as a repository and as the home to several NRS departments. We were shown around the building by the head of Conservation Linda Ramsay; a particular highlight was a tour of the conservation department. Trainees got to see some of the current conservation projects, which include court proceedings of 16th century witch trials. It was interesting to get a taster of how conservation work is carried out: in the context of ripped or damaged paper, for example, super-fine Japanese paper is used to jigsaw in the gaps. Another of the functions carried out by the conservation department is attaching the official seal to any laws that are passed in the Scottish Parliament. Legislation is not legally binding until the seal has been attached; which results in some long days in the office during productive periods in parliament!

The focus of the afternoon session was digital archives. Dr William Kilbride, executive director of the Digital Preservation Coalition, talked about getting started in digital preservation. This conversation was built upon by Tim Gollins, head of the NRS Digital Records Programme, who reminded us that the key to digital preservation is taking it one step at a time. Trying to do too much at once is not a recipe for success!

These talks marked the formal close of the basecamp. However, most trainees opted to stay an extra day to attend the workshop hosted by me and my fellow digital trainee, Penny Wright. Based on the popular BBC series Dragon’s Den, trainees were split into groups, and each group was presented with a specific digital preservation scenario. Armed with a toolkit we had provided them with, they were tasked with building a “pitch” for a preservation solution to their scenario. They presented this pitch to resident Dragons Tim Gollins, Bruno Longmore of Government Records, and Paula Biagioni, Archivist at South Lanarkshire. All of the groups made an excellent case for their chosen digital preservation solution, and the format encouraged a lot of lively debate about the digital preservation options available to archivists, and the unique challenges that digital preservation present.

And so ended the second basecamp; another exiting, informative, and exhausting week, which has provided us with a wealth of inspiration and ideas for the remaining months of the traineeship.