Open Polytechnic student to use scholarship to help community archives

Posted on 25 March 2015


Elizabeth Charlton, who completed her Diploma in Records and Information Management with the Open Polytechnic last year, has been awarded the Ian McLean Wards Scholarship and says she hopes to use the opportunity to make a lasting impact in the community archives sector.

In 2013, the Ian McLean Wards Memorial Trust established an annual scholarship to assist researchers and practitioners in the librarianship, archives and records management fields.  The scholarship enables the recipient to undertake research for a specific project advancing knowledge or improving practice relating to the recording, care, or conservation, of historical research materials.

A former teacher and administrator, Elizabeth says she hopes her research will address a significant gap in preservation skills within the community archives sector by creating materials specifically focused on the care of digital records.

“This research draws on the principles of records management and keeping the integrity of digital documents that are transferred. While bigger organisations have more resources, IT staff and equipment to transfer electronic data (for example floppy disks) without compromising the integrity of the data, smaller community archives don’t,” Elizabeth explains.

“I want to research how to transfer something, without changing it so that it keeps its integrity. Digital records aren’t like paper ones, which you can put away in a box in an environmentally controlled room; you need to keep an eye on it once you’ve got it. You need to have a benchmark and to check regularly against the benchmark to make sure everything is still ok.”

Elizabeth hopes to create a 'toolbox' which will provide local archives, and other repositories providing community heritage services, with practical guidelines for the conservation and administration of such records, which in turn will lead to better access for researchers.

In developing the resource Elizabeth will travel to the United States at the end of May and will be based at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. She is planning on doing on-site visits at Emory University and the Smithsonian Institution.   

“I believe that this can solve a direct problem and a solution that can be shared with the wider archival community. Just because the data is on old technology, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth checking. If you can’t check the data, you can’t say if the material is worthy of preservation or not. But even when checking you don’t want to do anything that can change it,” she explains, adding that she is excited about the research challenge.

“Considering I have only just finished my diploma, it is a lot of trust in me. I look at my proposal and think wow! There are so many aspects to consider with digital preservation, if I feel overwhelmed, I think back to my Open Polytechnic learning material, take a deep breath and break it down into a manageable next step,” says Elizabeth. 

Chairperson of the Ian McLean Wards Memorial Trust, Dr Brad Patterson says that he knows of no research in the community archives sector that is similar to Elizabeth’s proposal.

“The entry is of a high standard.  What was particularly attractive about Elizabeth’s proposal is that it addresses an urgent need, and her project promised to produce something in a relatively short time frame.”

The scholarship honours the outstanding contributions to New Zealand's documentary heritage of Ian McLean Wards (1920-2003), Chief Government Historian between 1968 and 1983, a life member of ARANZ and the Friends of the Turnbull Library, and a stalwart of many other cultural and artistic organisations.

Open Polytechnic Lecturer for Information and Library Studies, Sarah Welland was awarded the Scholarship in 2013.

Sarah’s research addressed the gap in New Zealand’s archival knowledge by reviewing and comparing viewpoints of those who manage community memory at the grass-roots level, and those who have a more theoretical perspective of community archives. 

“We have been delighted that in the two years, the scholarship has been used to forward think in the community archives sector, an area that was probably neglected previously,” said Dr Patterson.