2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge

This year I will be partaking in the Australian Women Writers Challenge which ‘was set up to help overcome gender bias in the reviewing of books by Australian women’. Throughout 2017 I will be reading and reviewing at least 6 books which are authored by female Australians and are related to the following subject matters:

  • Archiving/Recordkeeping;
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, and;
  • Memory/Identity.

Currently I am brainstorming potential books to review and welcome all suggestions. If anyone wants to read along and join the conversation, my reviews will be shared through this blog.

Book ideas:


2016: The Pact that Proves the Value of New Professionals

Being a new archival professional is terrifying. You are scared of stepping on toes, of being viewed as competition, of making a fool of yourself. Often this means that we hesitate to step out of our comfort zones.

Unless of course, you make a pact with a colleague…

Annelie’s experience


When I entered the profession in 2013, it took welcoming and encouraging colleagues to convince me to submit my first conference abstract, publish my first blog post and attend my first professional association meeting.

Once I did these things however, I realised that not only was I welcome to do so, the established professionals asked me how they could get more new professionals to get involved. In every archival association meeting I’ve attended, the question has been asked “Where are our new professionals and how can we better engage with them?”

It became clear that we new professionals have two things which are sought after in every level of our associations and workplaces:icaairport

  1. We have enthusiasm, and more importantly;
  2. We have time.

On the heels of this realisation, my colleague Nicola Laurent and myself made a pact at the beginning of 2016 to put our hands up for every opportunity which came our way, no matter how under-qualified we felt.

Without this conscious commitment to stick our necks out, I don’t think that we could have achieved half of the things we did in 2016.

I started the year as a research assistant and ended it as a project manager, a reviews editor, the coordinator of the Information Technologies Indigenous Communities Symposium, the recipient of an international bursary and the author of a minor thesis and journal article.

2016 was a wild ride, and whilst it sucked on a global scale, it won’t be easily surpassed on a personal/professional level. I encourage any new professionals out there to make the same pact. Chuck your hand up, even if the only thing you feel you can offer is your time. You have no idea how welcome your contribution is and what doors it will open along the way.


Nicola’s experience


When Annelie suggested this pact, I thought ‘how many opportunities could come my way?’ By the end of the year friends were training me how to say no, because I literally did not have the time to do more. If you had told me a year ago everything I have since achieved, I would have laughed and said I don’t think you’ve got the right person.

My year started with a mentoring opportunity to meet David Fricker, Director-General of National Archives of Australia and President of the International Council on Archives (ICA), through the Australian Society of Archivists (ASA). I was nervous, but I had made the pact so I went for it. I asked colleagues (and Google) the types of questions people should ask of a mentor, I flew to Canberra with my notes, and I came home with the message to ‘change the world’ and with so much inspiration for the year ahead.


Much the same as Annelie, I started the year having done a lot less – I was a Project Archivist, the Communications Officer for the ASA Victorian Branch and I had just submitted a conference abstract after a lot of encouragement and help. I ended the year, as a higher paid Project Archivist, a Councillor for the ASA, Secretary of the VIC branch, a recipient of ICA’s New Professional bursary (and therefore a member of the ICA’s New Professional Programme) and helping to organise patriarchive.com. I now have 4 conference presentations (including two at an international congress), a poster presentation at a conference and multiple talks for my work under my belt. I’m also now on YouTube thanks to one of my conference presentations and on the ICA’s homepage promoting the bursary for 2017 and I have an incredible network of new and experienced professionals who help, encourage, mentor and support each other so we all achieve our best.

I had so many amazing moments in 2016, I learnt and continue to learn so much, I met some incredible people, made great friends, and I’m sure that the whirlwind of amazing is definitely going to continue. But don’t think it will all be easy, sometimes you will wonder why you said yes or what you have signed up for, or if you can really manage it, but in the end it will all work out. Looking forward, I’ve already applied for an international conference for 2017, and I’m in the process of finishing my first conference paper and journal article and I will soon be launching a blog on advocacy and outreach (two things that I have found at every turn on my journey so far).

So believe in yourself, smile, and I hope that from this blog post you can see that you have value as a new professional within the archival profession and that you are wanted. Without the encouragement of Annelie and our pact, I know that I wouldn’t have gone for half the opportunities and done half the things I have, despite my supportive workplace. So if you need someone to give you the confidence to say yes, and to get involved, or throw your hat in the ring then find us on twitter and I’m sure we can help 🙂


Where to start:

  1. Get in touch with your professional association, whether it’s local (Australian Society of Archivists) or international (International Council on Archives)
    • Remember that it’s not about what the association can offer you, it’s about what you can do for the association which also benefits yourself, ie. volunteer to write content for their social media accounts – This will help you to meet other professionals and develop an employable skill, whilst being of benefit to your association.
  2. Check out call for papers for conferences
    • Submitting abstracts to conferences is an invaluable step toward developing your networks and career.
    • If you need help, here is a tip sheet that Nicola, Annelie and Mike Jones developed for anyone wanting to submit for the 2017 Australian Society of Archivists conference.
    • If you can’t afford to go to a conference, get in touch with the conference organisers and ask whether you can attend the conference for free in exchange for volunteering as a helper.
  3. Get writing
    • Do you have blogs in your region that are dedicated to archives? Why not write a guest blog post? Write something for your professional association’s newsletter. I know that the ICA New Professionals welcome submissions to their newsletters.
    • If you would like to do a research project one day, have a look at Annelie’s post about conducting archival research.
  4. Apply for bursaries
    • Apply for bursaries such as the ICA New Professional bursary (hurry as applications are closing soon).
  5. Keep an eye out
    • Sign up for the newsletters and listservs of professional associations in order to keep abreast of upcoming opportunities. Once you know where to look, and start developing your networks, you will find that there is no limit to the opportunities open to you.

Innovative Archivists as Drivers of Change


Innovative archivists know three things:

  1. Archival systems are infrastructure
  2. Archival infrastructure is man-made
  3. That which is man-made can be man-unmade

The word ‘infrastructure’ generally brings to mind roads and bridges, but our economic systems and very society is based upon intricate, interrelated sets of infrastructure. A unique feature of infrastructure is that it supports our society and our ways of living, but is taken for granted and largely goes unnoticed. Unless that is, something goes wrong. 


Road Infrastructure

For example, consider the roads we drive on every day and facilitates our transportation; invariably mostly we notice them is when there are faults on the road. As they don’t pull our attention, little thought is given to maintaining roads until potholes jolt us into action.

As archival systems (encompassing recordkeeping technologies, standards and behaviours) facilitate and support activities within a community or organization, they are another example of infrastructure. Like our roads, archival systems go largely unnoticed unless something is wrong, leading to the refrain that audits and disasters are an archivists’ best friend.

The nature of archival systems as infrastructure contributes to the lack of awareness of the importance and complexity of archival systems and of the archival profession. Regrettably, infrastructure also appears to be ‘set’ and unchangeable.

The innovative archivist recognises that archival infrastructure is man-made, and anything that is man-made can be man-unmade.


NASA Infrastructure, 1949

When the innovative archivist is told that something is impossible, their mind amends it to ‘there’s a limitation in the existing system’ with the recognition that the existing system could be changed. Just as a system can be changed, so too can systemic recordkeeping behaviours.


During the 2016 ASA conference, Laura Miller argued that we should look at how service initiatives have enabled change in the past. Miller used the Reduce Reuse Recycle campaign to demonstrate how attitudes to rubbish were changed through a systemic, long-term campaign.

The innovative archivist recognises that recordkeeping behaviours are waiting to be changed.

As Miller argued, archivists need to stop feeling overwhelmed by the wave of technological and societal change and instead become the drivers of that change.

Debunking Archival Research Myths

For most archivists, research continues to be shrouded in mystery. Unfortunately this contributes to the growing gap between practitioners and researchers in our profession.

This blog post sets out to debunk a couple of myths that are stopping people from doing research.

Myth 1: I don’t have the authority to do research.

FALSE. Everyone is an expert in something. The first trick is to identify what you know.

Example: I have only worked in the profession for three years. So last year, a couple of us organised a panel discussion at the ASA Conference about what it was like to be a new professional in the Australian archival sector.

Myth 2: Everything’s already been done.

FALSE. The more you read, and the more conferences you go to, the better you get at identifying the gaps. The second trick is reading as widely as possible. Join your professional association and gain access to their journals, you will soon be overwhelmed by how much has not yet been rigorously considered. Journal articles will help you out here by identifying their own limitations.

Example: “The impact of the WW1 centenary on the public’s exposure to archival material was out of scope”. Remember: Another article’s limitation is your opportunity.

Myth 3: I don’t write well enough.

FALSE. The more you read and the more you write, the more you get the hang of the jargon. Journal articles are written in dense, academic language because the writers want to convey complex ideas in fewer words. Every writer approaches things differently; compare the dense, academic style of the Canadian academic Terry Cook with the more conversational style of practitioner Cassie Findlay. The more you write, the more you will develop your own style. Start your own blog or contribute to others’ (e.g. the Recordkeeping Roundtable.

Myth 4: I don’t know how.

Ok, this one is possibly true. However it’s one of the easiest obstacles to overcome! In order to get your research published you need to prove two things: that the research was rigorous and that you are contributing to existing knowledge.

You demonstrate these two things by completing the following process:

  1. Identifying the gap in existing knowledge through a literature review
  2. Articulating your research question, adapting the literature review accordingly
  3. Designing your methodology to best suit your research question
  4. Collecting your data
  5. Analysing your data
  6. Comparing your findings with existing knowledge
  7. Identifing what new knowledge has been gained
  8. Writing it up

I would recommend getting your hands on this book as it guides you through the steps listed above.


Of course there are little tips and tricks that I’ve only learnt by asking experienced researchers. The best advice I can give is just to talk with as many people as possible. Collaboration opportunities are likely to come your way if people know you are interested.


‘Let me tell you’: Designing personal digital archives for children in out-of-home care

This post is a re blog of the post I wrote for the Find & Connect Web Resource Blog on 27/06/2016.

This blog post introduces the Master’s Thesis of Annelie de Villiers, who recently completed her Masters in Archival systems at Monash University.

Personal recordkeeping refers to the processes of creating, capturing, organising and pluralising records of a personal nature, whether by the individuals themselves or by others. This means that the records that are created about a child in out-of-home care (OOHC) actually forms part of that child’s personal recordkeeping.

So why do Care Leavers have so much trouble accessing their records? Why are the records often incomplete, incorrect and upsetting?

In the past, the Australian Care sector has created records as part of everyday business processes – for example, about Care decisions and children’s medical reports. Because these records were created without the understanding that the child might one day see them, the records can be confronting and upsetting. Care Leavers sometimes report feeling re-traumatised after accessing their records. They had hoped for something that would be personally meaningful and help them to make sense of their past and the records did not deliver.

If the Care sector recognised that their records were evidence of a child’s life and therefore formed part of that child’s personal recordkeeping the nature of their records would be very different. Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that the Australian Care system is continuing to create business-centric records, meaning that alternative measures of supporting the children’s personal and collective identity need to be explored.

My Life Story Book Front Cover

One example of an alternative personal recordkeeping practice is life story work. Life story work has been applied more broadly across the Australian Care sector in recent years. I was prompted to do my research when I found the NSW Department of Family & Community Services’ My Life Story book – the Aboriginal version (download) .

Life story work involves the child or young adult engaging in narrative therapy with an adult in order to help make sense of their experiences.

As young people are more interested in engaging with life story work if it is in a digital format I first wanted set out to design a digital life story resource for children and young people in OOHC. Because there are more Indigenous Australian and Torres Strait Islander children removed from home now than ever before, this project also aimed to identify the personal recordkeeping requirements of Indigenous children.

I quickly realised that even if such a resource was built, there is currently no underlying infrastructure or governance framework to support it. As a result, the research looked instead at how personal digital archives can be developed for children and young people in OOHC. After conducting a number of interviews, the project resulted in a set of design requirements for such a system.

Here are some of the requirements identified:

  • The system would need to be secure.
  • The repository would need to hold authoritative records (e.g. birth certificates) in an ‘administrative’ collection which is accessible by the child, carer and social worker(s).
  • The repository would need to hold records of a personal nature which is accessible only by the child.
  • The system needs to be interoperable.

At the ‘back end’, such a resource would be composed of two platforms; the first being the actual personal digital archive repository, the second being an interactive platform where the child or young person engages with their records – or creates new ones – in a meaningful way. While no system should ever replace face-to-face engagement, the use of such a system would acknowledge the right of a child or young person to their personal records.

For those who are interested in seeing the full set of requirements – the thesis ‘Let me tell you’: Designing personal digital archives for children in out-of-home care is currently undergoing review before being made available through Monash University’s Faculty of IT.


Survey for Volunteers in Australian Archives

You can all stop holding your breath, as we are now launching the survey which was proposed at the 2015 ASA conference! *collective intake of breath*

We can’t wait for you to pass it on to your volunteers in order to gain a better insight into their collective experiences and motivations, knowing that this knowledge would help to improve your volunteer program.

Volunteers within the Australian archival/records sector are invited to complete the following survey:

take the survey

Please note: Volunteers are not asked to identify which institution they volunteer for, and their involvement and responses will be kept private and anonymous.

More details

This study will address the following research questions:

1. Who are our volunteers?
2. What motivates our volunteers?
3. What type of experiences/support does the Australian archival community offer?

An understanding of the above will assist in improving the experience of volunteers within the archives, resulting in the creation of archival advocates within – and improved relationships with – the communities we serve.

The results of this study will be presented at the 2016 ASA Conference, and we plan for it to help to inform the development of a best practice resource for the Australian Society of Archivists. Additionally, we hope to publish this study in the future.

About us

Annelie de Villiers and Nicola Laurent are Research Archivists at the University of Melbourne’s eScholarship Research Centre. Christopher Stueven is a Records Officer at the University of Melbourne.

Please feel free to submit any queries about the research or the best practice resource to Annelie at annelie.de@unimelb.edu.au

Our thanks in advance!

Annelie, Chris and Nicola


Social Media and Collaboration Opportunities in the Archival Sector


Network by Simon Cockell

I previously published a post on the importance of using social media to bridge the gap between practitioners and researchers within the archival sector. Given the response I decided to do a little follow-up with a few social media tips and upcoming collaboration opportunities.

Social media presents us with the opportunity to collaborate with one another, in accessible language which not only increases the reach and impact of your ideas, but also fosters collaborative opportunities. Aligning our professions’ research activities with industry requirements would be to the benefit of us all.

It is essential to engage with social media in a strategic and conscious manner. In order to derive the full potential of engaging with social media I have compiled a short list of the most important things to consider when engaging with social media:

What are you hoping to communicate?

Decide what type of information you would like to communicate to your audience. Are you hoping to explore complex concepts or are you wanting to share information about upcoming events? Remember that one of the most crucial parts of communicating your ideas/innovations are convincing the reader why they should care.

Who are you hoping to communicate to?

Are you hoping to communicate to academics, practitioners or the community with which you work? This determines the language and the approach you take. Don’t shy away from complex concepts when communicating to the lay-person, just ensure that you make your content accessible and interesting. The golden rule: Don’t ever talk down to your audience.

Choose your medium/platform

Different platforms cater toward different content and types of communication. In my opinion, Twitter and Blogging is most widely engaged with amongst Australian archivists.


Twitter is most effective as a means of communicating ideas, sharing resources and highlighting upcoming events. The downside of Twitter is that it limits you to 140 characters, which is fine when communicating facts, however in the humanities we are often trying to convey ideas.


Blogging allows you to explore ideas more thoroughly and is also free through services such as WordPress. Blogging does take a fair bit of commitment as the best blogs are added to on a semi-regular basis. However, if you are like me and enjoy writing, the content will add up quite organically.

Remember: Don’t just ‘shout into the void’. Social media enables conversation and collaboration to take place. Take advantage of this capability and join the conversation. A forum is no good if no one actually takes hold of the opportunities it presents.

Don’t be afraid of having a considered opinion. This is how you stimulate discussion! The #fundTROVE letter which was written by Cate O’Neill, Nicola Laurent and myself got an overwhelming response because it was topical and also took a stance on an important issue.

Upcoming opportunities for cross-engagement between archival researchers and practitioners:

  • Leisa Gibbons has put out a call for interview participants for her web-archiving research project. She is asking for any researchers or practitioners with an interest in social media web archiving.
  • On the 10th of March, Library and Information Science Research will be hosting a virtual panel discussion in order to consider the roles of researcher-practitioners in Australia. All are welcome to join.
  • Become a member of the Australian Society of Archivists’ Archives Live website. This service is free to the community and offers opportunities to engage on forums and follow blogs.
  • Start reading and engaging with blogs; New Cardigan has a great list of Australian GLAM blogs.

If you have not already done so, consider starting your own Twitter account! You will become aware of the overwhelming amount of opportunities for collaboration between archival researchers and practitioners.