The National Archives implement the ResearchSpace Platform to provide a dynamic and contextualising system

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The National Archives

DATE

November 8, 2021

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The National Archives (TNA) has implemented a new institutional digital system in its Collection Care department using ResearchSpace, a system that captures the knowledge and processes of cultural heritage and humanities professionals and using the CIDOC CRM (Conceptual Reference Model). This new system records both conservation practice and research with provenance and historical context. It provides experts with a flexible and expandable information system that dynamically grows as processes change. 

The  National Archives’ Collection Care Department, a centre of excellence in the field of archive conservation, guards and ensures access to the UK national archives through preservation and display, innovative sector-leading treatment and research, environmental management, and increasingly through collaboration and the exchange of information and context. 

ResearchSpace, a semantic and contextually driven system, developed at the British Museum with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will help the Collection Care Department support these activities and develop internal skills. It creates the means to answer questions about conservation practice, research and priorities and link conservation to wider issues of social and historical significance and inclusiveness.

This implementation reflects the TNA’s progressive approach to conservation practice and research and represents a step change in the way that computer systems are used as more than essential finding aids and reference systems. ResearchSpace is an open source knowledge system that can help represent and integrate knowledge from different disciplines, communities and perspectives, and remove fragmentation from information and knowledge processes. As such it will support TNA Collection Care in addressing new challenges and information needs, and represent innovative and socially aware thinking.

The system is supported by Kartography, a Community Interest Company that specialises in data contextualisation (historical and social significance and relevance), the equality of representation in data, and the development of the ResearchSpace system. It develops collaborative systems drawing from wider and diverse sources of knowledge.          

The National Archives has documented the conservation treatment of its collection for over 170 years, but traditionally that data has been difficult to access and to share. ResearchSpace offers unique ways to change that: it allows us to share our thinking and decision making and will provide a deeper understanding of our collection and in particular its materiality. It will enable us to make links, where we didn’t see any, and to inform our thinking to the benefit of our collection.

Juergen Vervoorst

Head of Collection Care at the TNA
In the last 20 years, the Collection Care Department has redefined the role and competencies of today’s practicing conservator from a bench based treatment focused work focus to a framework around the practitioner researcher. With this new understanding our teams in Collection Care undertake research lead practice next to traditional aims of providing care and access to our collection items. The implementation of the ResearchSpace knowledge system is a representation and manifestation of our work as practitioner researchers: it allows for the first time in our history the documentation, development and dissemination of the full extent of our work in the Collection Care Department. As the Centre of Excellence and leader in archive conservation, we are supporting the further development of this open source system and its tools for wider use and application in the Heritage Sector.

Sonja Schwoll

Head of Conservation and Treatment Development at the TNA

The implementation of the knowledge system in TNA is setting the standard in conservation documentation at a national and global level for two reasons: a) TNA, through the adoption of Linked Data, is willing to commit to sharing documentation records for the benefit of the conservation profession and the broader research and b) the technical implementation of the system through ResearchSpace is proof that flexible conservation documentation systems are practical and deployable. Alongside survey forms with fixed structures, it is now possible to customise documentation for specific objects using structured data without compromising uniformity of search. This implementation follows on from the Linked Conservation Data project, a key influencing initiative in the development of principles and guidelines, and for which the TNA was a pivotal partner.

Athanasios Velios

Reader in Documentation, Ligatus, University of the Arts London

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