Opening Archives

We’ve been working on archival systems and technologies for over 10 years, and have worked with a wide range of institutions across the country – smaller groups that are trying to do everything with volunteers, through to larger government archives with budgets to match their needs.  Along the way there have been a lot of challenges for us, but we’ve realised after doing this for a fair amount of time, we’ve got a few insights into what it means to deliver an open archive – not just in terms of open data, but also in terms of open source.

We have had a lot of learning to do as a bunch of technologists working in a specialised area like archives.  We’ve invested a lot of time in training our teams in how to “do” archives – from behind the scenes tours of archives that just give you so much context for everything you see on a screen, to attending professional development events.  And of course – our team themselves consist of people who not only deliver technology solutions – but also that have worked as archivists and collections managers themselves.  This means that we have developed a lot of the subject matter expertise that is absolutely necessary to delivering a good solution (I’m particularly grateful for having some wonderful people who have helped me – clients and colleagues – and my ongoing membership of the Australian Society of Archivists as well).

The Queensland State Archive holds over 67 linear kilometres of records


Open source technologies are a wonderful opportunity for archives -both in terms of costs, and in terms of transparency and accountability –  and it’s something that over 20 years we have built Gaia Resources upon.  This has included originally using open source spatial software like QGIS (which we still deliver training courses in to this day) right through to delivering archival management systems based on software like AtoM, Archivematica and ArchivesSpace.  Unfortunately we do still find ourselves busting myths around open source, and explaining how we support it with enterprise level agreements and the like, but thankfully that’s becoming more and more rare these days.

Open technologies, like open source software, can deliver really excellent outcomes for archives and other collecting institutions.  These technologies can provide transparency in many ways, and we also strive to do that in our project delivery; down to giving our clients a lot of visibility into the “under the hood” ways in which these things work.  It is challenging, but across our work with so many organisations, this has helped us to develop a strong relationship based on trust and openness that has really helped us to deliver across some challenging situations.  So you can see that this open-ness is right through our projects, from the tech stack up right to how we manage our relationships with our clients, and that’s an important thing for me personally.  While we say that we support open software and open data, it’s the “open” bit that’s the most important.

Our work with the Queensland State Archives, using open source software continues to this day

It’s fitting that this year’s Australian Society of Archivists conference is themed “opening the archive” and we’ll hopefully be presenting some of our experiences and ideas in Christchurch in October.  We are also just working on some other archive related initiatives around openness and technologies, and we’ll talk more about these in the coming months leading up to the conference.

In the meantime, if you want to know more, then feel free to drop me a line or start a conversation with us on LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram!


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