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The Assynt Community Digital Archive started life in 2009 as a sub-project of a larger project run by the Assynt Community Association. Over the years, the Community Association has morphed into a different body with different priorities, and the Archive became a less easy fit. For several years now, no archival work has been possible on the system, but it was possible to maintain an instance of the archive to ensure the data remained safe.

A while ago, the Assynt Crofters' Trust (ACT). a key local land owner, with an amazing history of driving change not just in Assynt, but in the entire Scottish land ownership debate, has been pondering additional services to the community. Although the ACT is not a community body as such, but "has enabled the ordinary people who live and work on the land to have some control over their own economic future", it is aware of its place in the wider community of Assynt as well as the crofters who constitute the Trust. So when the ACT articulated a desire to maintain some form of Archive, at the very time that the Assynt Archive was seeking a new home, it was just a matter of sorting out the formalities and ensuring that the newly revamped Archive would meet the Trust's requirements.

With a small grant from the Coigach and Assynt Living Landscape partnership, a new network and workstations more suitable for the new environment within the Assynt Crofters' Trust office was set up. The work was brought in under budget and well within expected timescales.

Crucially, and in keeping with the "Prime Directive" of community archives, no data was lost in all the uncertainty and change, and the system is readily recognisable as the same it was under the old auspices.

The volunteer archivists who worked on the are looking forward to a time when the current health emergency allows for a new programme of work on the Archive. The work to publicise the new location of the Archive and its future is already under way.

On a financial and technical point, this web site, in 2015, noted the rise of the little Raspberry Pi singe board computer, and pondered what place this enabling little device had for community archives. Several revisions of the Raspberry Pi have been released since then, and it is worth noting that the entire new network, server and workstations has been built using Raspberry Pis. As a result, the full hardware costs of this installation have a mere 15% of the hardware costs of the original Archive network in 2009. This is a real-life example of how appropriate use of this technology, as the 2013 article suggested, smashes a barrier to entry for community digital archives.

The Scottish Council on Archives, in conjunction with National Records of Scotland, presented a one day seminar on "Caring for Community Archives" at General register House in Edinburgh on Friday 22nd March 2019.

The day started with short introductions from John Pelan, the Director of Scottish Council on Archives, followed Paul Lowe, the Keeper of National Records of Scotland. One was aware, sitting in the room that was once the Keeper's office, with the portraits by Raeburn of the first Keeper as well as others of Edinbirgh's past nobility, of the significance of these positions. Somewhat trivially, a line from the Michael York film, Zeppelin, set in World War I, sprang to mind: "Destroy a nation's archives and you destroy her soul."

This was followed by a practical session by Peter Dickson, a man whose technical capability and understanding of his role was clear from his desire to share his knowledge. This session was mostly about how to handle and store physical artefacts, mostly paper, and the associated issues around environmental controls. One of the beauties of concentrating on a digital archive is that the specialised needs of physical artefacts are usually only needed briefly, but it was still a useful session.

We were also taken on a short tour of General Register House. This Robert Adam-designed building is now thought to be the oldest purpose-built national archive building still used for its original purpose. Details are on this wikipedia page.

A circle in a square - design detail of the building

After lunch, Dr Alison Rosie, the Head of the National register of Archives of Scotland provided a series of tips for community archives, based on her experience and knowledge. This was followed by Craig Geddes, the Council Records Manager from East Renfrewshire Council, on hos role and how local authority archives can work with community groups.

John Simmons then discussed a frequently misunderstood issue with regard to archives, the role of the GDPR and other privacy directives in relation to community archiving. The most significant takeaway from this talk was that, far from being a constraint to archiving, the GDPR specifically enables archiving to take place.

This was followed by two digitisation and digital sessions, one by Robin Urquhart on things to consider when setting up a project, and one by Tim Gollins, the Head of the Digital Records Unit at National Records of Scotland, talking about the safety and sustainability of digital community archives.

For me personally, the event was of interest to validate or reflect on the work of the last 8 years, as well as an opportunity to meet some practitioners associated with archives and records at a national scale. My Scottish Cultural Studies degree inter-disciplinary project and Honours dissertation looked at the issues between local expressions of heritage against such national cultural activity to see whether the scale of such activities, which on the face of it look the same, do in fact have much in common. So it was of great interest for me to understand a little more of the way the presenters of the seminar worked.

The entire event was skilfully and efficiently managed by Audrey Wilson, the Community Engagement Officer of the Scottish Council on Archives, and was a worth while way to spend a day for anyone with an interest in community archives. Thanks to Audrey and all the speakers.

As in many rural communities, place names in Assynt mean a lot more than merely words on maps.  They indicate what is and was important to everyday life, and very often give a glimpse of how much more the land was used in times gone by.  Alastair Moffat notes in one of his books that the landscape, in the form of place names, doesn't forget, and when we start tapping into this source of history, we can see what he means.  For example, we have many names of Norse origin in Assynt, although no clear physical evidence of Norse settlement has yet been found, and, intriguingly, we have names that are an amalgam of Norse and Gaelic.

Over the years, a number of events and meetings of interest groups have been arranged about place names. We have a retired Ordnance Survey surveyor in the area, who led one event.  And individuals with an interest in place names have compiled lists, especially of place names that appear on no map, but were once commonly used in the area.  Almost every nook and cranny in the landscape has, it seems, been named.  But we have already forgotten most of these names, and therefore their significance.

At a  recent place names of Assynt event arranged by Assynt Leisure and Learning, we noted that it would be good to bring our knowledge together in a common place.  It was possible to prototype such a system quite quickly using the Omeka archiving software, together with appropriate geo-location plugins.

The site is a work-in-progress, and it will be interesting to see how it is likely to be used, who is likely to contribute information, and why.  You can have a browse yourself at http://www.tinslave.co.uk/AAA

 

The Wildflower Europe project has recently produced a e-publication (http://wildflowereurope.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Community-historic-archives.pdf ) based on the research and practical experiences in setting up a community history digital archive in a small rural community in Scotland, and on ethnobotanical pilot work in botanical rich areas of South East Europe. Wildflower Europe's  aims were to share experiences and to promote the feasibility of developing small scale archives at community level. In addition they were investigating the use of archiving as part of multi-disciplinary efforts to celebrate and protect increasingly rare wild plant landscapes as part of the Wildflower Europe Project (www.wildflowereurope.org).

Stevan Lockhart of Tinslave Consultancy was the lead author of the e-publication.  For further information, please contact Stevan.

A wiki is a brilliant idea, created by Ward Cunningham when he released his WikiWikiWeb, a system that allowed groups of people to create and edit documents and notes easily and with minimal training.  To create links, it uses the concept of Wikiwords, and exampe being this - WikiWord - with capitalisation in mid-word.  This tells the  system to create a new page.  Similarly, adding bold, italics, headers, tables and other attributes is easily done with simple mark-up.  The result was a web of information that is easy to use, and so powerful that one of the Internet's most popular sites is based on the same principles - Wikipedia. There are interesting cultural connotations to the term wiki, the name originating from an Hawaiian expression meaning "quick". As Cunningham himself noted, "the beauty of Wiki is in the freedom, simplicity, and power it offers." (Source:- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WikiWikiWeb and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiki)

Quite soon people began to realise how useful wiki could be to personal information management.  Computers have traditionally been good at managing structured information, but coping with our brain dumps is a more difficult challenge.  There have been some wonderful attempts to develop software to manage this lack of structure, the best one, in my view, being the short-lived Lotus Agenda. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus_Agenda)  Wikis work well, but can be accused of needing to learn quite a lot before the wiki becomes useful.

Zim wiki (http://zim-wiki.org)  resolves many of the issues with web-based wikis regarding having to learn the mark-up language, and is an easy-to-use personal information management tool.  It does not have artificial intelligence capabilities such as (and this worked with Lotus Agenda) typing "Meeting with Susan next Wednesday at 9" resulting in a diary entry for the correct day, an addition to a database entry on "Susan" and so on.  But it does allow you to add a structure to random ideas, add pictures or other media objects, and keep these notes in a simple way, without the use of complex databases.  Zim stores all its information in simple text files, leaving your data always accessible, being easy to back up, and not imposing any limitations.

This is part of the zim wiki I used during my degree:-

Example Zim wiki showing image incorporated in a note
Example Zim wiki showing image incorporated in a note

I have also used a useful journalling capability.  Clicking on a "Today" button in the built-in calendar results in a new page with today's date, and an automatically structured calendar index entry.  The power in this lies in the ability to insert images resulting in a straight forward but very usable journalling system.

It's even possible to have multiple Zim notebooks on the go at the same time.  I separate out my general notes from my journal entries, and during my degree, my UHI notes were in a separate notebook too.

Zim has a plugin architecture which extend its native capability while staying within the principles which make the program so useful.  Mathematicians will enjoy the ability to insert equations, whole musicians can insert music notation using the Lilypond program. Spell checking is done with a plugin, as is version control, if you want it.

When it comes to making use of the notes, the first question is about searching.  Zim is good at this. But it is also possible to export a set of notes as HTML (web) files, which can be uploaded to a web server for wider access. The Zim home page notes that it itself is written using Zim, a delightful bit of recursion. But Zim also has an additional trick up its sleeve. Let's say you're at a conference, and you either want a wider group to access some notes. Zim has a built-in web server, which you can start (it doesn't run automatically - that would not be secure) and allow others to access your Zim notes.

Zim has been under development under the management of its creator, Jaap G Karssenberg, for some years, and is currently at version 0.60. Do not be concerned that it is not yet at version 1.0, as it has been fully usable for quite a few years. Zim is published under the General Public Licence, GPL2, so the source will always be available.   For those using Linux, if you use Debian or Ubuntu, Zim can be installed from the software repositories directly (apt-get install zim). Other Linux users may download the source, which is written in  easily installable python, and run the setup.py script. Windows users can download an installable executable from the link on the downloads page on the zim-wiki.org site.

And one great thing in favour of an information tool like Zim is that it stays within your own control.  You can be sure that no-one will index, search, hand over to a third party, or otherwise abuse your information, which is the default assumption if you place your information with a "cloud" internet-based service.  Keep your information under your own control in these days when trust in third parties must, by their own admission, be so low.