Exploring synergies in archival policies
The Historical Archives of the European Union (HAEU) at the EUI, along with CIVICA partners Bocconi, CEU, Sciences Po, SNSPA and LSE, recently carried out a survey for CIVICA Research on those institutions’ archives services. The exercise aimed to identify complementarities in collections, and explore ways to enhance collaboration on specific archival projects.
A survey of archiving institutions in CIVICA
CIVICA partners have shared a first report exploring synergies in archival policies across the consortium. The document was prepared following a survey conducted and analysed by the Historical Archives of the European Union (HAEU) at the European University Institute (EUI). Bocconi University, Central European University (CEU), Sciences Po, National University of Political Studies and Public Administration (SNSPA) and The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) also participated, insomuch as they are all archives-hosting institutions.
The exercise was undertaken within the framework of the CIVICA Research alliance’s Work Package Three on developing shared research and innovation ecosystems across the consortium. The HAEU surveyed the partners with open-ended questions to gather information on the organisational and legal settings of their archival services and to describe the workflows for archival processing and services in each place.
For Anna Towlson, Archives and Special Collections Manager at LSE Library, "this report paves the way for us to collaborate further on some of the practical challenges we currently face as archivists in higher education institutions, in particular how we capture and preserve born-digital records so they are available for the researchers of the future to use."
Developing outward-looking and user-focused synergies
The working group, led by the Historical Archives of the European Union at the EUI, found important differences across the six archives in terms of organisational and legal settings and archival processing. Nevertheless, many possibilities for collaboration emerged, especially with regard to how archives can improve user services and open up their holdings to broader publics.
As stated in the report, “the findings of this study should help to develop new innovative services for our public and private partners and the scientific community. It can contribute to the creation of support for students in their research training or professional development, while also providing ideas to make archival resources available to civil society.”
The group came up with numerous ideas, ranging from increasing awareness of archival holdings and developments through the CIVICA website and newsletters, to developing common strategies to integrate and promote university archives in the curricula of their hosting academic communities.
Finally, another recommendation where collaboration seems fruitful is in developing policy on the archiving of research data produced by the respective institutions’ academic members and research staff.
Catching up with digitisation and artificial intelligence
Nowadays, prioritising digitisation, both for long-term preservation and to facilitate access, is on the agenda of all of the CIVICA archives.
As Bocconi Archives Coordinator Tiziana Dassi explains, "we believe it's fundamental to preserve cultural heritage giving access to the digital format of documents and developing new techniques that will emphasize the importance of archival collections for research."
The archival team at SciencesPo, where a new electronic system will be launched later this year, also emphasises the importance and advantages of digital systems, which ‘overcome geographic and socio-cultural barriers’ in the sharing of culture and knowledge through archives.
Digital-born records are another pressing issue for archives to manage, as they constitute a massive influx of archival material to be inventoried and made available. Here, artificial intelligence techniques seem promising, and the group recommends structured collaboration on developments in this area.
The partners have agreed on the mutual benefits to be gained from a regular exchange of knowledge and best practices on digitisation strategies, and suggest a programme of online workshops or short exchange visits and/or secondments to facilitate teaching and learning among colleagues.
Taking stock and looking forward
Voichița Dragomir, archivist from SNSPA, commented on the utility of the CIVICA working group on archives synergies. “It has been remarkable […] in terms of fruitful communication, openness, and professionalism,” she stated, and “an opportunity to access state-of-the-art knowledge and best practices.”
Norbert Timar, the archives intern who carried out the analysis for the HAEU, was also pleased with the result of this preliminary stage. “The survey and report shed light on new perspectives in collaborations between university archives, which have so far been relatively scarce”.
“Within the framework of the university consortium,” he says, “there is great promise for developing collaborative common services that will be of benefit to researchers.”
CIVICA Research brings together researchers from eight leading European universities in the social sciences to contribute knowledge and solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. The project aims to strengthen the research & innovation pillar of the European University alliance CIVICA. CIVICA Research is co-funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. To stay up to date with CIVICA Research developments and opportunities, subscribe to the newsletter.
Written by Jacqueline Gordon (EUI)
Pictured: Left to right: Blinken OSA, Universita Bocconi, HAEU, LSE, Sciences Po, and SNSPA. Photo credits: Daniel Vegel (OSA)/ © Bocconi University/© European University Institute/ ©2009 LSE/Nigel Stead, all rights reserved/ © Caroline Maufroid / Sciences Po/ © Școala Naţională de Studii Politice și Administrative (SNSPA).