Feline Christmassy?

NRS' Christmas Card - cavorting cats
NRS’s Christmas e-card this year.

This year’s Christmas e-card from National Records of Scotland features one of the more light-hearted items from our Register House Plans series – a ballroom filled with cats enjoying a Christmas party, dancing, gossiping and having fun. We think that this could be the item containing the most cats in the NRS collections!

Christmsa print from our archives showing cats at a dance
Meowy Christmas from the Cats’ Christmas Dance

In creating the Christmas card, we have selected three details out of the huge scene of cavorting cats. But look closely at the whole image – there is a lot of frivolity to enjoy. A band sits in the corner creating the evening’s entertainment beside a grand Christmas tree; beautiful felines stand fanning themselves by the wall, waiting to be asked to dance and gentle-cats catch up on world events. In the centre of the floor couples struggle to dance whilst getting knocked off balance by over-excited kittens racing to the stage, and a harassed waiter carrying hors d’oeuvres is pounced upon by kittens trying to reach his tasty mice snacks. Elsewhere, little kittens play with their Christmas toys whilst young couples flirt behind the secrecy of the foliage. The scene is filled with happy conversation, joy and excitement at the holiday season and we are sure that many humans will also partake in the same festivities this Christmas!

This illustration comes from the workshop of Joseph Swain (29 February 1820 – 25 February 1909), and was published in the second supplement to the ‘Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, Christmas Number’ 6 December 1890.’ Swain was one of the most prolific English wood-engravers of the 19th century. He is best known from his engravings in ‘Punch’ magazine of cartoons by Sir John Tenniel, the English illustrator, graphic humourist and political cartoonist, perhaps best known for his wonderful drawings of the Cheshire Cat, Alice in Wonderland and Lewis Carroll’s other characters.

Born in Oxford, Swain moved to London when he was nine and apprenticed to the eminent engraver Thomas Williams. He set up his own successful business in 1842. Swain’s skill was much admired and he subsequently became the head of the engraving department at ‘Punch’, where he worked until 1900, and also created items for ‘Illustrated London News’, ‘Good Words’ and ‘Cornhill Magazine’. Due to his large success, he employed a number of assistants. This is reflected in the signature at the bottom right of the image ‘SWAIN Sc.’ which stands for ‘sculpsit’ (Swain engraved this). It denotes that the work itself was from his office, rather than being a personal creation.

Despite undertaking work of many types of variety and different artistic style, he did not become associated with any in particular. The largest collections of his original engravings are in the British Museum and in the Hartley Collection, Boston Museum.

National Records of Scotland bought this unusual image as part of a larger lot at auction in August 2011, alongside other items. It is referenced RHP142876.

Aiming for quality: selection, capture, QA and preservation of the NRS Web Archive

This week we dig into the procedures that power the NRS Web Continuity Service. We are a multi-faceted service, dealing with numerous stakeholders and subject areas. With that in mind, we need to ensure our processes are efficient and effective, to help us deliver a high quality web archive.

But what do we mean by ‘high quality web archive’? In web archiving, quality can be related to three elements:

  • Completeness – how much of captured website’s links, text, downloads etc. the crawler has been able to access and capture
  • Behaviour – how much of the navigational functionalities within the captured website snapshot have been preserved, compared to the live site
  • Appearance – how much the design, ‘look and feel’ and user experience of the website has been captured and preserved. We find the quality assurance principles articulated by the NYARC consortium very helpful for this, see https://sites.google.com/site/nyarc3/web-archiving/quality-assurance/introduction

But web archiving is technically complicated. Therefore, ‘quality’ can only feasibly be delivered through refined, consistent processes. Continue reading “Aiming for quality: selection, capture, QA and preservation of the NRS Web Archive”

The NRS Web Archive and the NRS Web Continuity Service

So far in this blog series we have discovered government websites’ value as public records, and explored the world of web archiving. This week we combine these two threads, to introduce the NRS Web Archive and our Web Continuity Service.

The NRS Web Continuity Service went live in February 2017. Delivered as part of NRS’s Digital Preservation Programme, our service allows us to archive selected websites that fall within our statutory and strategic collecting remit, and make all archived snapshots accessible in the NRS Web Archive. After just a few months of operations, we are delighted to say that the service is fully functioning and delivering on what it set out to do. To find out more, keep on reading!

As a national archive, NRS collects the archival records of the Scottish Government, Scottish Courts, and the Scottish Parliament. We also collect the records of many public authorities, Public Inquiries in Scotland, and a selection of private organisations: full details here. This collecting remit extends to websites – which is where the Web Continuity Service comes in.

manuscript acts of the scottish parliament

scot parl website
One record creator, two formats, one archive: manuscript Acts of the (Scottish) Parliament, 1542, snapshot of the Scottish Parliament, 2017. Both records are preserved and made available by NRS, documenting two particular points in the history of democracy in Scotland.

As we found out last week, web archiving is technically tough. To manage this, we procured the services of a commercial supplier, Internet Memory Research, to deliver the technical elements of our service. This allows us to focus our in-house efforts on stakeholder engagement, appraisal and selection, quality assurance, and service advocacy. See our Service Model document for more details. We’ll talk more about our processes in our next blog.

Our Web Archive operates on a permissions’ basis, whereby we ask website owners to provide us with information ahead of capture to enhance our collection knowledge and permit us to manage access to archived content appropriately. We only archive content in the public domain, but it’s still important to get owners’ insight on any potential copyright or other sensitivities, as well as talk through the benefits of the service for them e.g. support recordkeeping, assist web teams in managing historic content etc.

This permissions’ process has been effective in helping website owners get to grips with the concept of the web archive. Furthermore, it has helped forge closer links between NRS and parts of our stakeholder organisations with whom we’d perhaps not spoken to before e.g. IT teams, web teams, communications. These new connections may prove invaluable to future discussions on transfer of other born digital records.

We capture selected sites every month, giving us flexibility to schedule crawls in line with owners’ requests and to help capture as much unique content as possible e.g. before or after a significant event, during business/website change etc. Each site is normally captured between one and two times a year, creating a representative record of its existence and development.

Our service also has one special trick up its sleeve: Web Continuity, designed to help combat ‘link rot’ on government sites. ‘Link rot’ refers to instances where online information located on a specific web URL is taken down or moved, meaning that if a user navigates to this link, they are likely to receive a ‘404 page not found message’.

Link rot can have an impact on government transparency and openness – for instance leading to scrutiny on why content was removed – and is still a significant threat to modern jurisdictions. For example, 83% of .pdfs were previously hosted on US Government .gov domains disappeared between 2008 and 2012, and a recent revamp of the US Supreme Court was tailored to combat such an issue.

To help our stakeholders manage this risk, we provide them with a free opportunity to connect their live website with the NRS Web Archive via Web Continuity redirection. With this in place, when a user navigates to a broken link within the owner’s live site, rather than receive a ‘404’ error message, they will be redirected into the web archive and an automatic search for an archived version of the information will be made and served back with associated branding. This will mean that users will see many fewer broken links and help preserve the online chain of official information. One of our service’s key objectives is to support Scottish Government’s dedication to openness, citizen participation and transparency, and we intend to measure its impact over time.

404 error message on The White House website. Changes in government often lead to government webpages going offline. Web Continuity helps to preserve access to government online information in Scotland, even when it’s taken offline. Taken from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_House.gov_404_error_1-20-09.JPG
404 error message on The White House website. Changes in government often lead to government webpages going offline. Web Continuity helps to preserve access to government online information in Scotland, even when it’s taken offline. Taken from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_House.gov_404_error_1-20-09.JPG

 

 

What is web archiving? History, technology, collections

Following on from last week’s introductory blog on web archiving this post takes a broader look at the technical and collecting environment of web archiving, as well as a brief look at its history.

The World Wide Web was pioneered in the late 1980s to help share information more efficiently and effectively. Needless to say this new system proved to be a hit, leading to its global rollout in the early 1990s.  It didn’t take long for observers to ponder that there was probably a lot of content on the Web that would be worth saving for posterity (particularly due to its vulnerability to change), but how?

View of the first website, available at http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html
View of the first website, available at http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html

Today, online content is perhaps even more susceptible to change and loss, as a typical webpage has an average ‘lifespan’ of 44 to 75 days. Without action to capture content before it changes, we may end up with large gaps in history as recorded by the Web, which some researchers are already beginning to battle with. If we want to understand how our modern society ticks, we need a way to grab and save as much of this content as possible. To do this, we need web archives.

But what exactly do we mean by ‘web archiving’?

Web archiving can be defined as the process of capturing content that has been made available via the World Wide Web, preserving this content in a web archive, and making this accessible to users.

The most scalable way to do web archiving is with web crawler software. Crawlers are instructed to visit a selected website, or ‘seed’, on a certain date, and to explore this seed via its hyperlinks, copying content as it goes. The copied content is termed a ‘snapshot’. Each snapshot is often quality assured, and then preserved within ISO 28500:2009 WARC (Web ARChive) files. The WARC file constitutes an archival record of the snapshot captured at that point in time, and has the major advantage of enabling archivists to package together multiple related files from a website snapshot and preserve these long-term as individual entities.

To ensure users are aware they are viewing archived content (and not a live site), archived content is clearly identified via a banner and rewritten URL.

View of the Audit Scotland websites, as captured by NRS on 6th June 2017. Note the page banner and rewritten URL to show users they are in the web archive.
View of the Audit Scotland websites, as captured by NRS on 6th June 2017. Note the page banner and rewritten URL to show users they are in the web archive.

The Internet Archive and the National Library of Australia were the first organisations to archive web content in 1996, and the web archiving sector now reaches across the globe.

The Internet Archive, based in a former Christian Science Church, San Francisco. Taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Archive#/media/File:Christian_science_church122908_02.jpg
The Internet Archive, based in a former Christian Science Church, San Francisco. Taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Archive#/media/File:Christian_science_church122908_02.jpg

As well as a core preservation argument, many libraries recognise the merit of archiving websites as part of their drive to record our cultural memory, whilst many archives also recognise official government websites as part and parcel of a nation’s public record.

This collecting pattern is illustrated in the UK:

Web archiving does have its fair share of technical challenges. For instance, dynamically driven content e.g. webpages generated by a user search, Javascript, drop-down menus, and streamed media such as embedded YouTube videos are notoriously challenging to capture with a crawler.

This situation leads many web archives to devote effort to quality assuring content once it has been captured, and assessing whether any remedial actions may be possible. Crawling technology continues to be improved, often as part of international collaborations.

Given these challenges, it’s sobering to recognise that the perfect web archive, full of content that is complete and fully operational, simply does not exist. However, web archives remain pragmatic in the face of this, constantly re-evaluating methods, processes and strategies, never losing sight of their core goal: to preserve a representative, high-fidelity record of the Web.

In our next blog, we will explore how the NRS Web Continuity Service fits into all of this, what web continuity is, and how our work actively supports the Scottish Government’s commitment to openness and accountability.

Voices from our Archives – Ewart Alan Mackintosh (1893 – 1917)

Ewart Alan MackintoshToday marks the centenary of the death on 21 November 1917 of the Scottish soldier poet Lieutenant Ewart Alan Mackintosh MC in the Battle of Cambrai.

His death is listed in ScotlandsPeople, among the Minor Records (a copy of the volume ‘Officers Died in the Great War 1914-1919’, HMSO, 1919).

Mackintosh was attached to the 1/4th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, and was killed in action during the attack by the 51st (Highland) Division at Flesquieres Ridge. This was part of a British assault on the Hindenburg Line east of Arras. Artillery and tanks were co-ordinated in a new way but the initial gains were reclaimed by a German counter-attack.

Alan Mackintosh was born in 1893 in England to Scottish parents and educated in England. His Scottish roots were strong, and shaped his outlook, his poetry and his military career. When he volunteered in 1914 he was rejected as short-sighted, but he persisted and obtained a commission in the Seaforth Highlanders, the regiment which recruited in Easter Ross, where his family had lived.

He trained and served with the 5th Battalion, and was familiarly known as “Tosh”. In 1915 he was posted to the Western Front where, on 16 May 1916, he led a successful trench raid and helped to rescue two of his wounded men. His conspicuous gallantry earned him the Military Cross and three of his men won the Military Medal.

However, he was forced to leave behind the mortally-wounded Private David Sutherland and soon poured his grief into one of his best-known poems, “In Memoriam”, modelled on a Gaelic lament. Sutherland’s will can be found among Sutherland’s will, and those of over 2,000 Seaforth Highlanders, 1914-1918, can be found among the Soldiers’ Wills in ScotlandsPeople.

Seaforth Highlanders casualtiesIn late July 1916 Mackintosh was injured and evacuated from the Somme battlefield, and spent months recovering before being posted to a training unit at Cambridge, where he fell in love with a nurse, Sylvia Marsh.

Nevertheless he chafed at being separated from his regiment and in September 1917 his wish to be posted to France was granted, although he went to a different battalion – the 1/4th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders.

Alan Mackintosh’s reputation as a war poet has been overshadowed by his better-known English and Welsh comrades. His first volume, ‘A Highland Regiment’ (1917), and the posthumous ‘War, the Liberator’ (1918), have gained some recognition. The final couplet from his poem “A Creed”, which is inscribed on the Scottish American War Memorial in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh, will be more familiar than his name:

If it be life that waits I shall live for ever unconquered,

If death I shall die at last, strong in my pride and free.

Ewart Alan Mackintosh american memorial
The Scottish American Memorial, West Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh

 

Surfing the Web…Archive!

Binoculars
Web archives can be a ‘looking glass’ into government (image from https://pixabay.com/en/looking-glass-binoculars-magnifying-653449/ )

Welcome to our blog! Over the course of few weeks, we will take Open Book readers on a tour of NRS’s new Web Continuity Service. Web archiving and Web Continuity represent an exciting new era for archiving at NRS, providing a digital tool that directly supports our mission to,

“collect, preserve and produce information about Scotland’s people and history, and make it available to inform present and future generations.”

Stay tuned for bite-sized articles on how this new service operates, and how it will contribute to the development of Scotland’s national archive collection and support the Scottish Government’s transparency agenda.

Websites as archival public records and the ‘looking glass’ into government

Nowadays, when a member of the public wants to understand something about government, the first source they will likely check is an official government website (probably found via Google).

In this multi-channel era, government websites have a critical role to disseminate official, trusted information, so that the government remains accountable and transparent to the citizen.

Government websites contain evidence of the democratic process, provide context and content on official decision making and spending, and function as the dynamic interface between the state and the citizen.

As a result, government websites form an integral part of the public record. National archives, who capture, preserve and make available public records, are therefore taking steps to capture a representative record of this modern aspect of government. To do so, national archives are creating web archives. Web archives have been around for some time. Nevertheless, the process of web archiving is technically challenging: more on that in our next blog post.

If done well, web archiving has the potential to dramatically alter the way we record, preserve, and analyse the activities of our government and wider society.

Selecting and capturing government websites, evidencing how these change over time, and making the output of this archiving process clear, reusable and interoperable, can create a powerful ‘looking glass’ into modern official business. It can also do this in a scalable and consistent manner.

Furthermore, emerging research is indicating that web archives may form the single most important contextual record for understanding society in the last twenty years, and will continue to do so. Here’s some examples to ponder:

Screenshot of the Edinburgh Tram Enquiry website as shown on our web archive, with banners and URL aking it clear it is an archived site.
The Edinburgh Tram Enquiry website as shown on our web archive – with banners and URL making it clear it is an archived site. http://webarchive.nrscotland.gov.uk/20170401010904/http://www.edinburghtraminquiry.org/

 
Observant readers will quickly notice some unusual features about these archived pages; they all have arresting headers to show the user the page is archived and when this occurred, and some of the original dynamic functionality such as search, unfortunately  may not work.

What is key though is that these archives have attempted to capture information from these websites as completely and accurately as possible.

In the next blog, we will explore the core technology behind web archiving, its technical challenges, and how archives (and NRS) are responding to this new era of collecting.

An Archival Anniversary

Dr Murray with Bruno and Tim
Dr Athol Murray (Centre) with Bruno Longmore & Tim Ellis

At National Records of Scotland, we’re fortunate to have many experienced and long-serving members of staff but none can equal the record set by Dr Athol Murray. 

Dr Murray started working at what was then the Scottish Record Office in November 1953, at the age of 23. He still works with us now, albeit one day a week and on a voluntary basis. Today marks an amazing 64 years of continuous service, a feat that’s unlikely to be repeated and which we believe may be the longest association with archives in the United Kingdom.  

To recognise Dr Murray’s service, we have named our new meeting space at West Register House the Athol Murray Suite, in his honour.  On Tuesday at West Register House, where he still works, Dr Murray cut a ribbon in front of current and retired colleagues to officially open the new meeting space.  

Dr Murray was Keeper of the Records of Scotland between 1985-90. His career was notable for his scholarship and his dedication to the office of Keeper. He oversaw significant changes which laid the foundation for many key future developments, including improvements to local archive services and the construction of Thomas Thomson House.

He retired in December 1990 after 37 years of service but this did not mark an end to his work with the archives. He works tirelessly as a volunteer cataloguer on the records of the Scottish Exchequer, a subject on which he is an acknowledged expert. 

Dr Athol Murray with former keepers
Dr Murray (right) pictured in 2001 with two former Keepers of the Records of Scotland and one former Lord Clerk Register (see below)

 

Dr Murray with retired members of staff
Dr Murray with former colleagues, now retired (see below)

Dr Murray’s research has made a key contribution to furthering the wider study of Scottish history, and he estimates that he will require no more than a further thirty years to complete his current project!

Now in what he called his “anecdotage”, Dr Murray shared some fond memories of working at West Register House and other buildings.  He said that since retirement, he had enjoyed coming back to the same welcoming atmosphere to work as a volunteer.  He also remarked that it was an honour to join the ranks of former keepers who had buildings and facilities named for them, including Thomas Thomson and William Robertson, while still being alive!

Tim Ellis, Keeper of the Records of Scotland, and Chief Executive of NRS said:

“Dr Murray’s decades of work, and his dedication to the records of Scotland and the organisation which is now NRS, are unrivalled.

“On behalf of everyone at NRS, I congratulate him on this anniversary and thank him for his long and dedicated service.”

In 2013, Dr Murray was interviewed for Broadsheet, the magazine of the Scottish Council on Archives, about his life and work.  You can find the interview here.

Pictured, from L to R:
(Middle image) George MacKenzie (Keeper 2001-2012); The Earl of Wemyss & March KT (Lord Clerk Register); Patrick Cadell (Keeper 1991-2001) and Dr Murray (Keeper 1985-1990).
(Bottom image) Andrew Broom, former Deputy Keeper; Dr Hazel Horn, former Head of Catalouging and Secretary of the NRAS; George Barbour, former Head of Modern Records & Plans Officer; Dr Murray and Dr Frances Shaw, former Head of Government Records.

Voices From Our Archives – John Maclean (1879-1923)

November 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917. The revolution shocked the great powers of the day and inspired supporters around the world, including in Scotland. Their stories, like those of millions of people from Scotland’s past, can be found within the NRS archives.

John Maclean (1879-1923) was a schoolteacher in Glasgow and a prominent socialist, part of what became known as the ‘Red Clydeside’ movement. He was notable for his outspoken opposition to the First World War, advocating a combination of strikes and political action as the only way to halt the war and protect workers’ rights. Continue reading “Voices From Our Archives – John Maclean (1879-1923)”

Digital Preservation for Local Authorities

For many archivists embarking on a Digital Preservation programme, the biggest challenge is knowing where to start. NRS has been helping local authority archivists to overcome this initial hurdle with two new tools to help archivists get started with digital preservation.

Last summer, two Heritage Lottery-funded Skills for the Future trainees, seconded on year-long placements, joined our the Digital Records Unit to help local authority archivists get started with digital preservation. A year later, they have developed two tools which will enable archivists to take their first steps in digital preservation. These are the ‘Digital Preservation Guidance for Local Authorities’ and the ‘Capacity Planning Tool – Counting The Bits’.

The Digital Preservation Guidance for Local Authorities is written guidance tailored for local authority archivists and other staff who will be responsible for digital preservation. This may include records managers, information managers and IT staff. The guidance is written in simple, non-technical language so that the audience can be as wide as possible. The aim is to give anyone working directly or indirectly with digital preservation a clear idea of what it means and what is involved, to facilitate the start of the process.

The Capacity Planning Tool helps local authority archivists to calculate what their digital storage needs are. It does this by helping them to estimate how many digital records currently sit within their organisation, and helping them to estimate what percentage of records they need to preserve in the long term. Although this might sound like a simple task, it can be surprisingly difficult for archivists to make these calculations on their own. It is not uncommon for archivists to have no relationship with the digital records being created within their organisation. Even finding out where digital records are kept can be a challenge!

The Tool works by asking archivists complete a simple series of questions about records currently held within the organisation. It allows the archivist to identify and prioritise the departments that are most important to them. It also provides guidance about how to go about sourcing the necessary information. Once this information has been input, the tool makes some calculations based on factors such as estimated percentage of total records to be captured in the digital strategy; number of records that sit on the live system; and number of records that will be created to sit within the repository. These calculations equip users with tangible figures that can be used to initiate a conversation about resourcing needs. The results are shown as easy to use graphs and tables, which archivists can use to demonstrate their capacity requirements in an easy to understand format.

Like many projects that appear complex at the outset, the key to a successful digital preservation strategy is to break down the process into its constituent parts. Together the Capacity Planning Tool and the Guidance act as a foundation upon which a successful strategy can be built.

You can find the tools at the bottom of this page: https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/record-keeping/public-records-scotland-act-2011/resources.

Conservation for the Nation

Conservation close-up

“The fundamental role of the conservator-restorer is the preservation of cultural heritage for the benefit of present and future generations…”*

I remember very vividly John L. Sharpe, a rare book historian and conservator, teaching a class at my conservation course in Italy and describing conservation as a triangle with History, Science and Craft at each vertex.  14 years on, I believe that definition was absolutely spot on.  Conservation is a wonderful profession which combines very diverse skills.  It requires manual dexterity and an insightful knowledge of material science, backed up by a sound historical background.

At National Records of Scotland, conservation is taken care of by Conservation Services Branch.  We are a team of eight Conservators from different backgrounds and with a wide range of skills and expertise.  We look after the physical wellbeing of the records and we make sure that practice is applied in their care.

We work with the whole range of archive materials, including flat paper and parchment documents, bound volumes, wax seals, maps and plans, photographic material, modern material and modern media.

Conservator Andy McFarlane
An NRS conservator, thrilled by a successful treatment!

 

And what do we do for you?

We treat records when they are in bad condition.  We stabilise them to prevent them deteriorating further or we carry out more extensive treatments to restore their usability.  We also do a variety of other things.  Many, really!

We assess and prepare records for digital imaging, and we take care of a series of preservation activities like triaging new accessions and re-packaging.  We monitor the environment in our store rooms and we carry out surveys.  We also prepare records for exhibitions and we install and courier them when they’re on loan.  We advise our colleagues and the general public on the correct handling of cultural heritage, and offer advice on preservation and conservation to the Scottish Archives and to privately owned archives.

This specialist work by Conservators helps to preserve the national Scottish collection, which in turn makes it available to the public.

Recent projects we have worked on include preparation for the Famous Scots from the Past Exhibition – you can read about the four subjects of the exhibition here; here, here and here.  We also oversaw set-up of a new environmental monitoring system across our stores, the conservation of a Court book in very poor condition that led us to some interesting discoveries and the monitoring of vibration and dust in General Register House during the recent St. James redevelopment project.

Our studio is always very busy, and who can say what we’ll be up to, by the time this blog post is published!

Conservator Peter Dickson
Conservator Peter Dickson, going the extra mile to care for the national collection!

 

If you ever need to enlist the services of a conservator, or if you’d like to speak to a particular one, we recommend searching the Conservation Register.

And if you fancy finding out about conservation and preservation in more detail, then you should have a look at the *ECCO guidelines for a more in-depth description of what the role involves.

Gloria Conti ACR

Conservator

National Records of Scotland