Revista Archivoz

Cases on research support in academic libraries

The book Cases on research support in academic libraries aims to gather and present various experiences in the management of research support services. It covers 13 academic libraries in four continents, representing examples from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Hungary, Lithuania, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Portugal, Singapore, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The book is fundamentally practical in nature, presenting case studies that reflect management strategies, conceptions of scientific communication, and the management of human and material resources. Cases on research support in academic libraries is intended precisely to highlight the diversity in the running of services, thereby focusing attention on its implications in terms of management. Underlying the editors’ intention is an interest in highlighting the need to advance towards a certain systematization and, perhaps, homogenization of these services, within the framework and respect for the richness of each organizational culture.

Each chapter has also sought to convey the importance of research support services and their contribution to the achievement of the objectives of each university. As shown in the cases presented, the value of these services translates into results that must be measured.

Each of the 13 chapters of the book offers a point of view, circumstances, a story, objectives. Any library seeking inspiration from this book will find common features with their institution in each chapter, diverse ideas to explore and that stand out for their scope and diversity:

  • C.1. The University of Groningen Library (Netherlands), with a strong commitment to open access and open science, presents its services related to open data management.
  • C.2. The University College London Library (United Kingdom) with its long history of support for the advancement of science, has assumed the leadership of the university in all areas of open science.
  • C.3. The Library of Kaunas University of Technology (Lithuania) is moving towards greater collaboration with all stakeholders in open science by taking on services related to open access and, increasingly, open data.
  • C.4. The library of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (Spain) offers a wide range of research support services with a strong component of personalisation and commitment to technology and online services
  • C.5. The Library of Corvinus University of Budapest (Hungary) offers a service of special importance for internationalisation. The Writing Center supports the efforts of its researchers to communicate sound research results and is the only one of its kind in the country.
  • C.6. The University of Porto Libraries (Portugal) offer a wide range of centralised and proximity services to support research at various stages with a focus on establishing close relationships with researchers.
  • C.7. The Library/Learning Centre of the Pablo Olavide University of Seville (Spain) acts in support of research by strengthening user training and reference services in a context marked by research policies at national level.
  • C.8. The Law Library of the Federal University of Paraná (Brazil) offers, in a pioneering way in the country, specific support to researchers through courses, bibliographic research and accompaniment in the use of various tools.
  • C.9. In the decentralised library system of the University of Toronto (Canada), the InfoExpress service takes advantage of the proximity to researchers to build trust and establish channels for new research support services.
  • C.10. The National University of Singapore Libraries act through the flagship Researcher Unbound service, which aims to improve the skills and knowledge of researchers at the beginning of their careers, especially using training activities.
  • C.11. The Peking University Library (China) has established the Collaborative Service Center, with which it provides services to researchers in a wide range of activities specifically oriented towards the objectives of the university.
  • C.12. The Griffith University Library (Australia) adapts its research support services in a context of reformulation, guided by the needs of the institution and currently focused on data, metrics and open science services.
  • C.13. The Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington Library (New Zealand) shows the importance of involving library staff in research support services through specialised profiles and the continuous evolution and improvement of these services.

This book has been conceived from a distinctly international approach that can be seen through the diversity of authors and institutions, the variety of backgrounds of the reviewers and the editorial board. It is addressed to librarians, teachers, researchers, students and administrators.

“Data archives have been around for some time, but they are more relevant nowadays than ever”. Interview with the Social Sciences Data Archive project

The inter-institutional project SODA (Social Sciences Data Archive) aims to develop a prototype for a data archive as Belgian representative in the Consortium of European Social Science Data Archives (CESSDA) and beyond.

To learn more about SODA, Archivoz’s Llarina González spoke with researchers from the project:

Benjamin Peuch, researcher on information science, manages Dataverse and studies the needs of researchers, archivists and historians for the correct custody and description of digital objects.
Freya De Schamphelaere, legal researcher, examines the role of the data archive in the Belgian context and the impact of the Directive on copyright and open data.
Jean-Paul Sanderson and Laura Van den Borre, demographers, are the link between SODA and social scientists.

(Archivoz) How does SODA operate in Belgium’s complex institutional landscape?

Since 1970, Belgium has been going through an institutional evolution from a unitary entity to a federal State with three regions and three linguistic (non-corresponding) communities. The competences of the State were redistributed between those six entities. In this context, the State Archives remained part of the federal administration and became a scientific research institution.

SODA therefore combines two approaches: a centralised perspective with a data archive representing Belgium as a whole amid CESSDA; and a decentralised perspective with the data archive of the State Archives catering to both researchers and affiliated institutions at the federal level and to those at the levels of communities and universities, though universities and communities are developing their own institutional repositories.

SODA would thus only be one actor, although an international one as the CESSDA representative, in a network of Belgian repositories. Cooperation between different Belgian actors will be key to make research data findable for researchers from all backgrounds.

(Archivoz) What is the role of the State Archives of Belgium in SODA?

SODA originated in the world of social sciences at the Dutch-speaking Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the French-speaking Université Catholique de Louvain. The State Archives were brought in for their expertise in archival science and eventually became the coordinating institution, with two full-time researchers tasked with creating the deliverables of the project.

The State Archives investigate issues such as possible business models and legal entities of the future data archive, metadata and data quality requirements, transfer agreements with depositors, and so on. Universities link SODA to the research community by surveying the needs and documenting the practices of researchers.

(Archivoz) Can you clarify the concept of ‘data archive’?

Data archives have been around for some time but they are more relevant nowadays than ever. Essentially, data archives are like traditional archive institutions but dedicated to the preservation of research data and to make them available for reuse. Much of scientific research is performed thanks to public funding, therefore the ensuing data belong to the public and must be open for reuse. The nature of research data, the archival precautions they require, and the particular needs of scientists make it necessary to build specific archive facilities: data archives.

(Archivoz) We would like to know more about SODA’s relationship with scientists.

Scientists are our key users: both our main data providers and the prime potential data reusers. Their needs in terms of research data management, both for the phase of data archiving (ingest in OAIS terms) and data reuse (access), must be regularly surveyed and accounted.

But in the future, we will investigate whether other types of users might be interested in accessing social science research data. Could journalists, teachers, genealogists find it interesting to integrate such datasets in their corpuses? This entails a proactive policy to foster new user communities.

(Archivoz) Tell us about standards and formats in SODA.

At first sight, the amount of formats and standards in such a context can be daunting! Data-wise, it’s not so bad because most files produced by researchers either already exist in open formats or can be converted using the data ingest and dissemination software Dataverse.

But in terms of metadata, things get slightly more complicated. Most CESSDA members follow the international standard for documenting datasets in social sciences, the Data Documentation Initiative (DDI). DDI encourages the recording of a wide range of information about datasets, including:

  • administrative metadata: dataset producers, principal investigators, sponsoring organization(s), repository responsible for providing access, etc.
  • technical and descriptive metadata specific to the social sciences: methods of data collection, cleaning and control operations, aggregation and analysis, kind(s) of data, the universe of the study, variables, etc.

Incorporating traditional archivists into the project highlighted the lack of historical metadata, which are meant to describe in detail the context of production of datasets with information such as biographies of researchers, descriptions of research centres, contextualisation, etc. These are more long term-focussed metadata compared with DDI, which addresses the immediate needs of social scientists seeking reusable data. Historical metadata will help researchers 10, 20, even 50 or 100 years from now to understand how and why datasets were produced. Such metadata will likely have to be recorded by historians and social scientists with an interest in the history of science.

(Archivoz) What are your thoughts on the new movements for opening research data in all scientific areas?

As Ron Dekker noted in Lisbon in May 2017, private pharmaceutical companies share their data in a sort of “pre-competitive stage” because they know they will all greatly benefit from doing so even though they are commercial rivals. Is the same tendency spreading to all scientific fields? Hopefully, this rather denotes a new spirit of sharing.

From a legal perspective “open data” is not just an invitation anymore. Since the publication of the European directive 2019/1024 on open data and public sector information (the third of the PSI directives) it has become law: publicly-funded research data must be open for reuse by default through an institutional repository in accordance with the “as open as possible, as closed as necessary” rule of thumb and the FAIR principles. It will be very interesting to see in the coming years how this directive can open up more publicly-funded research data, how researchers and data archives will adapt to it, and if it can contribute to new developments toward open science and linked research data.

(Archivoz) What are the main problems you have faced?

We seek to offer tools that fit the needs of our users by customizing the Dataverse software to simplify the deposit procedure and ease the search process for reusable data. This involves reconciling the needs of several stakeholders. We are currently gathering beta-testers among Belgian social science researchers (our key users) to this end.

SODA is part of a European consortium so we must also work for researchers abroad. For example, this entails translating the title and description of our datasets in English. We must also allow the CESSDA Data Catalogue (CDC) to harvest our metadata through an Open Archive Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH) and comply with the CESSDA Core Metadata Model, a list of conceptual metadata elements to which CESSDA service providers must map their own metadata so that the metadata harvesting can take place.

Legally speaking the main problem is the unclarity of certain obligations, leading to uncertainty among researchers, who will prefer to “play it safe” and not open up their research data. We are wrapping up our research on legal open data obligations and writing the standard licenses and guidelines that will ensure researchers are aware of the implications — but also and especially the advantages — of making their data “as open as possible.”

(Archivoz) What importance do you consider that research data and projects such as SODA have in the lives of citizens?

It might seem that data archives are only remotely relevant to citizens’ interests since it is such a niche infrastructure with such complex technical needs and purposes. But just like traditional archives, data archives play an essential part in a modern society; the archives of science are vital for scientific and social progress.

Reevaluation and reproducibility are fundamental to the credibility of science. However, they can occur only if documents and data from studies are preserved. For example, the Stanford Experiment, long presented as incontrovertible proof of the evil and corruptibility of humans, was recently reevaluated (1) (2) and its soundness was heavily reconsidered against modern standards for rigorous and ethical scientific experimentation.

Data archives will take on increasingly larger and more complex databases Click To Tweet
(Archivoz) If you had to highlight an element of the project, what would it be?

Legally there are several challenging yet interesting issues, for example how the Belgian Archival Act affects a data archive. According to the Archival Act, archived files can only be accessible after 30 years. Yet this is not what a data archive tends to do. Here the principle is: all data must be open unless there is a good reason (copyright, personal data, other). SODA will work through private deposit agreements for archiving and opening up the data.

(Archivoz) How do you imagine the future of data archives in social sciences in a few years?

Data archives will take on increasingly larger and more complex databases. Such a challenge can be tackled by reinforcing the network of data archives — of which CESSDA is a sterling example — and by sharing experience and know-how. We also think that social science data will become a booming business (if it is not already, all things considered). An extra challenge in this respect will be to keep the focus of our efforts on science and not so much on financial gain.

“Not being an archivist, nor an academic, however I learned how important it was to preserve those memories.” Interview with Juan delGado, director and funder of Qisetna (part two)

The interview is organised in two parts. The first explores the origins of the project and what it covers. The second considers the future of Qisetna and some archival questions.

(Archivoz) What language barriers does the project face?

(Juan) When we started, our core team agreed that Qisetna would commit to promoting the cultural heritage of Syrians, which included publishing the stories in English and Arabic. As many of the collaborators were ordinary Syrians, the stories were written and told in dialect, and we decided to respect that. Our team of translators, who are spread all over the world, were aware of this, and our editors acknowledge the local accents of the authors. We make a great effort to respect the integrity of the voice, balancing the style and the standard Arabic used. Our aim is to make visible the diversity of accents and dialects across Syria, which we believe should be preserved and documented for Syrians themselves.

(Archivoz) How does this project work in terms of its structure? What do the volunteers do? If somebody would like to volunteer, how can they become involved?

(Juan) Our initiative operates with a horizontal structure, meaning we make decisions as a team. As a creative producer my role is to propose new activities to the editorial team. Our volunteers are a mix of professionals and students, both Syrian and a wide range of other nationalities. We actively encourage Syrians to participate in ways that benefit them, such as meeting other Syrians, or learning skills in creative writing, marketing, social media, etc. Our volunteers contribute to the project as editors and translators; and recently some volunteers have started to produce digital content for our social media.

(Archivoz) Could you explore the future of the project?

(Juan) Qisetna is anchored in the reality of what is happening in Syria and how Syrians are adjusting to the huge demands of the circumstances they are living under. The power structures are establishing a new status quo in the country. We are continuing to contact individuals in the hope of sharing our concern for the preservation of memories that are otherwise in danger of fading away. We are also connecting with the Syrian diaspora across Europe and beyond, as well as talking to universities and the Centre for Migration Studies in Turkey to assist with translation. Turkey is an important place for us as there are many Syrians living and settling there and we want to increase public awareness. Many Turkish people do not come into contact with Syrians and when they do, they often display xenophobia and racism. There is a massive language barrier because a majority of Turkish people don’t speak Arabic, which means they cannot engage with Syrians. We are planning to translate the project into Turkish, to make the stories accessible to Turkish readers both on our website and social media, thereby promoting social integration. We honestly believe this can help tackle the increasing hostility against newcomers. Our aim is to engage Turkish citizens in the translation and encourage dialogue across communities.

We also have plans to develop our social media presence. For example, we are planning to create a YouTube channel which will feature interviews with Syrian artists living in the diaspora. We hope that the In Focus platform can promote Syrian artists who want to share their experiences, vision, and artistic practices.

Secondly, we are growing our archive in order to preserve Syrian cultural heritage and this allows us to develop new content. We pride ourselves on being different from other archives because we work with current stories and contemporary oral history. We are what you would call a living breathing archive which is constantly developing.

(Archivoz) We are an archivist journal. We know that you are not an archivist project but your project appreciates the importance of preserving oral history of Syria. Could you explore this aspect?

(Juan) Oral stories are told by living individuals about their own past, or the past of other people. Because those who provide the information are generally older members of the family, both their lives and their memories are at risk of being lost to time. Of particular value are the stories, anecdotes and family traditions, songs, and especially information associated with pictures, documents, and other records. We also understand the importance of connecting stories across generations and want to disseminate content using platforms that are used by young people. We recently started a campaign, Syrian Diaries, in which we asked Syrians to share a photo of an object that is precious to them and a short story attached. Qisetna is actively exploring new ways not only to preserve but also to share and disseminate the stories that land on our desks. Podcasting is a new way to engage with global audiences and we are producing digital content to connect Syrians across borders with contemporary artists through our new project In Focus.

(Archivoz) In 2017 you won an award form ARA (Archive and Records Association UK and Ireland). Was that gratifying? Could you tell us a little bit about what the award consists of?

(Juan) The Community Archives and Heritage Group (CAHG) is a national organisation which aims to support and promote community archives in the UK. Its Community Archive Award celebrates the contribution of community archives within the archive sector and aims to promote and share good practice. Qisetna (Talking Syria) was the overall winner in 2017, and also won the ‘Most Innovative’ category in this year’s awards. In reaching their decision, the judges commented:

Qisetna (Talking Syria) is an extra-ordinary example of an archive both preserving the voices of displaced and fractured communities for the future and acting as an engine of community resilience in the present. This is an archive at its best: raw emotion, portraying real life and its impact on individuals and families, community leadership and involvement, a focus on tomorrow – the younger generation – and an excellent website for outreach and advocacy. This archive will become an outstanding research tool for the future. But it is also – evidently – succeeding in its principal short-term goal of community building. We also commend Qisetna’s website and encourage everyone to take a look. The use of large apps gives a wonderful simplicity and clarity. From the first click, we all felt compelled to keep reading.

(Archivoz) Since the award, has the ARA been in contact with the project? Do you have any archivist volunteers? 

(Juan) We are currently seeking an archivist and this is one of our priorities for 2019. As a small team we have so far always been preoccupied with sourcing stories, editing, translating, and mentoring the contributors.

(Archivoz) Do you have any archive systems or an inventory for your project?

(Juan) We don’t have any. With all our content, we rely entirely on our bilingual archive, and disseminate it through our social media. At present we are talking to several academic institutions which we feel could help with building an inventory for Qisetna, becoming a repository for future researchers.

(Archivoz) Are you aware of the issues and problems of digital preservation? Do you ever consider that?

(Juan) It would be unfortunate if one day the web disappeared! For the past seven years we have been producing data and digital content that is available on the web. Although we produce a monthly backup of our archive and are learning how to effectively preserve and make our content accessible, we have had to learn more about how to secure the content from technological failures or errors.

(Archivoz) Many thanks for your time and the opportunity to explore this amazing project.

<< back to part I of the interview

Further information:

Twitter: @qisetna


“I realised the tremendous relevance of making visible the experiences of people” Interview with Juan delGado, director and funder of Qisetna (part one)

Today, we have an atypical interview, not with an archivist or anyone related to our sector, but with Juan delGado, a director and founder of a project called Qisetna. Here he explores Qisetna, an online platform aiming to preserve the cultural identity of Syrians living in the diaspora.

The interview is organised in two parts. The first explores the origins of the project and what it covers. The second considers the future of Qisetna and some archival questions.

Archivoz’s Noemi spoke with Juan to learn about the project and explore how it relates to our sector.

(Archivoz) How did this project come about? Can you tell us about its beginnings?

(Juan) In 2011 I was invited by Artschool Palestine in Nablus to develop a project in collaboration with students of Media at An-Najah National University. I spent six weeks researching and learning about how young Palestinians were living. Despite the extremely oppressive conditions of their lives, these young students laughed in a way that I later understood was a form of resistance: “they are colonising our land and they also want to occupy our minds; but laughing is the best way to keep anger away….’  There, I produced my first project in the Middle East entitled, ‘Fluctuations on Time’, in which I started to collect oral stories from young people, their grandparents, and neighbours based in Nablus.

At that time, I realised the tremendous relevance of making visible the experiences of people who until then seemed detached from me and yet, through listening to their stories, had become closer. It was September 2011, and young Syrians had started peacefully demonstrating for change. I learned also that Syria had experienced the worst drought in the country’s modern history. Hundreds of thousands of farming families were reduced to poverty, causing a mass migration of rural people to urban shantytowns, and the civil uprising turned from a predominantly peaceful protest movement into a militarized rebellion. I started to contact Syrians through social media to try to understand the situation on the ground. My motivation was not political; after my experience in the West Bank, I was increasingly interested in learning about these communities that I knew so little about.

(Archivoz) Could you tell us what Qisetna is and what the aims of the project are?

(Juan) In 2013, I initiated this project called ​Qisetna (Talking Syria)​, which in Arabic means “our story”. Qisetna is an online platform aiming to preserve the cultural identity of Syrians living in the diaspora. At the time, the massive influx of images coming through mainstream media showed the destruction of cities and bombing of civilians by all sides. Syrians witnessed the transformation of their country into a hellish battlefield, while the rest of the world seemed paralysed and failed to stop the massacre. In the middle of this tragedy, we decided to approach Syrians themselves with a determination to listen. Using social media and based on the trust we had already built through our friends and contributors, in late 2014 our network spread into areas that were physically impossible to access.

We organised a creative writing workshop with a group of children based in Yarmouk, a former refugee camp inside Damascus. This project was a collaboration with Bassam Dawood, a Syrian actor and Hakawati (storyteller) who was living in exile in Berlin, and Jafra, an organisation based in Yarmouk. Using Skype, Bassam connected to the place where the children were and during a six-week period he encouraged them to write a story. It was an extremely challenging project as we first had to establish trust, but the children participated and engaged with writing their stories. This proved for us that social media could be used in a meaningful way to connect with individuals and communities that were impossible to reach physically.

Encouraged by the response from our workshop in Yarmouk, we contacted a young man from Darayya, a city outside Damascus. We had learned that a group of young people had been rescuing books from under the rubble and had built a library of hundreds of books. He apologised for not being able to speak as he had just found out that his father had been killed the previous day. This and other experiences of the young people we were trying to reach, pushed us to moments of tremendous despair, forcing us to reflect on our goals and the consequences of working in such stressful circumstances.

(Archivoz) What is the process leading up to publication?

(Juan) Reaching out to people has been my role since the beginning. I’ve always believed in the power of storytelling. I grew up in a Spanish family whose members carried the trauma of a civil war. Like many who survived the war, my grandparents could not talk directly about what had happened, and it was only later that I came to understand how many people were living with the trauma of those days. Many turned to drink or violence as a coping mechanism to deal with something that they did not know how to address.

Being neither an archivist, nor an academic, I nevertheless learned early on how important it is to preserve memories. This is one of the main reasons I started Qisetna (Talking Syria) in 2013. In collaboration with two young Syrians, including a journalist, we decided to rescue the tradition of the Hakawati, which refers to a poet, actor, comedian, and historian rolled into one: someone who tells stories. Its root is ‘haka’, to tell a story, or ‘hikayah’, a fable or story, and ‘wati’ implies expertise in a popular street-art.

We wanted to draw out the Hakawati from inside every Syrian, and create a safe space for Syrians to tell their stories. We wanted them to re-claim their voices, which in many cases have been taken from them by the war.

From the very beginning, we wanted to publish in both Arabic and English. This required a tremendous effort to translate and edit the stories in both languages. However the most challenging part was to source the stories and access potential writers, most of whom are ordinary Syrians, students, farmers, some with no formal education. For this we used social media and word of mouth to first build trust, explaining that our project had no political agenda. We noticed that many people had become suspicious of other Syrians and felt utterly frustrated that their tragedy, their individual stories, were not fully acknowledged by the media.

So the process of reaching out to people required us to pay attention to their specific background. This required that we understand not only our own purpose in asking them to share, but also that we pay attention to the dramatic situation many were living under. Our requests of “would you write a story?” were met with surprise and disbelief. However, we gently initiated this conversation which allowed many to re-establish themselves in their own context; they told me “my country is under war, all rubble…and you, coming to ask me to write a story, to tell you a story…. has made me realise how detached I have become from my own being… I see now that I have been living in survival mode for all these past years since the war started.” This initial conversation is the first opportunity to start building trust by carefully listening and giving time for the person to come to terms with their feelings. Once the person agrees to write or tell the story, we assist by reading the draft and asking questions that will shape the story. Some stories have taken more than two months to materialise.

>> proceed to part II of the interview

Further information:

Twitter: @qisetna


“Freedom of access can be hindered in many ways, and as librarians we should be working to break down these barriers to access in every possible way”: Interview with Laurie Bridges, Instruction and Outreach Librarian at Oregon State University’s Valley Library

Laurie Bridges is an Instruction and Outreach Librarian at Oregon State University’s Valley Library, where she acts as liaison to International Programs and Liberal Arts. She speaks with us about freedom of access to information and its relation to freedom of expression, and shares some ideas on overcoming language barriers and bias in academic research and publishing.

(Archivoz) You have written a great deal about overcoming language barriers as it relates to access to and participation in the academic research process. How did you become interested in that topic?

I’m going to be honest, I’m not quite sure. I know that people view it as strange, considering that I myself am monolingual. I grew up in a military family and most of my friendships growing up were cross-cultural. Many of my friends had parents who were immigrants and I was always curious to learn how their parents learned English (I recall one of my friends telling me that his dad learned English from comic books). So, the seed for this interest started early, just out of a child’s curiosity. I didn’t have the opportunity to study a second language until the tenth grade, when I was 16. I really struggled in French and quit after two years. Because of this, my admiration for language learners increased ten-fold. Skip ahead to librarianship, and in my current position I am the liaison to international programs at Oregon State University. I work routinely with international students who have not been admitted to the university, but are on track for admittance once they reach a higher level of fluency in English. In addition to the already high cost of attending a university in the United States, these students are paying extra fees to learn the language. Of course, it makes life easier for me, with everyone learning and speaking English, but I am concerned about the burden it places on non-native speakers and language learners. I have an unfair advantage.

(Archivoz) You yourself are no stranger to cross-cultural, cross-linguistic academic cooperation (if I’m not mistaken, you are on sabbatical in Spain as we speak). In what ways has this changed your approach to the information sciences?

I co-developed a short-term study abroad for-credit class with another librarian at my university, Kelly McElroy. Our class is titled, “Information and Global Social Justice” and is open to all students. I’ve taken students to Barcelona twice (2016 and 2018) and I like to meet people when I travel, so I started connecting with librarians immediately. In addition, I am involved with IFLA as a member of the Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression Advisory Committee. Because of my international connections and involvement, I have adjusted my presentations and articles to address a global audience. It’s one of the best aspects of librarianship—we are all over the world, so we can learn from one another and become better librarians for our communities as a result.

(Archivoz) How is access to information related to global social justice, and how does language play into that?

Information does not flow equally around the world. English has become the lingua franca, especially in science. If a scientist or medical doctor does not speak English, how can they learn about the latest breakthroughs, or speak with their peers at international conferences? We have the great advantage of living in the United States and learning English as our native language. How can scientists here ensure that their research can be read by other scientists who do not read or write in English? I don’t have the answer; it’s a question I’m asking and I wish more people were asking, as well.

(Archivoz) In your mind, what is the connection between freedom of access and freedom of expression?

Freedom of access is the ability to read and learn about whatever it is you want to read and learn about. For example, Wikipedia is blocked in China and Turkey—they cannot access information that the rest of the world can. Another example is the high cost of medical journals: if I do not have the money or access through a library subscription, then I cannot read the journals. What if I have some rare disease and I want to read everything ever written about it? For me, as a librarian in the United States, I know that through hard work and my connections I can probably get everything there is—in English. But what if the key to resolving my health issue lies in a Chinese journal? I do not have access. What if I am a single mother who works two jobs in a rural part of the United States that lacks a library and high-speed internet? Freedom of access can be hindered in many ways, and as librarians we should be working to break down these barriers to access in every way possible. Freedom of expression is the freedom to say and write whatever I want. If I am an author smuggling my book out of North Korea, my freedom is limited. If I am a rapper in Spain who is put in jail because I rapped about the government, my freedom is limited. As an undergraduate student at the University of Nebraska I was very involved in Amnesty International. It was the early 1990s and we spent most of our time writing letters to countries who had imprisoned people, without trial, for many reasons including speaking against the government. This is where my interest in these topics began.

(Archivoz) If a student in your Information and Global Social Justice class were to learn only one thing from the class, what would you want it to be?

That we are all interconnected; we are members of a global society. The issues facing us in the United States are worldwide: poverty, language justice, healthcare inequity, immigration/migration. What we read in the news about other countries and people is not always the whole truth.

(Archivoz) I have seen and heard a lot recently about English as a gatekeeper language in academic publication, especially in terms of scientific research. You mentioned that you benefit from that as a native English speaker. How does this gatekeeper status relate to freedom of access and expression?

I think a first step is to raise awareness about the issue. I don’t think most editors or reviewers are aware that they are language gatekeeping, because it’s a privilege that is invisible to them.

(Archivoz) Archivoz publishes articles in several languages. Do you have any advice for us (and other similar efforts) as we seek to reach and include both readers and writers from a variety of linguistic backgrounds?

In the United States, it is not common to offer abstracts or articles in languages other than English. I have been exploring ways to do this, including talking to publishers. For example, I am currently working on an edited book idea with several colleagues, and we’re trying to decide how we might best offer the book in more than one language. Should we publish the entire book in translation? Allow for crowd-sourced translations? Have people submit translations after the book is published? We’re not sure yet, but we are looking for ideas.

“With Map Warper we can turn pixels into real geographic information”: Interview with Asa Letourneau, at Public Record Office Victoria

Asa Letourneau is an Online Engagement Officer at Public Record Office Victoria (PROV)—the State Government Archives of Victoria, Australia. He specialises in creatively using technology to encourage user engagement and promote archival collections. Recently, Asa led a project to implement a new map geo-referencing application service called the PROV Map Warper.

Archivoz’s Evanthia Samaras spoke with Asa to learn about the Map Warper service and PROV’s cartographic collections.

(Archivoz) Can you please describe what the PROV Map Warper is, and what map rectification is?

(Asa Letourneau) With Map Warper we can turn pixels into real geographic information by layering our historic maps and plans onto a web mapping tool. This process, called rectification, allows us to visualise how places have evolved over time. Very simply, the user places markers or ‘ground control points’ on the historic map and on corresponding points in the exact same location in a real-world, online map. The open source Map Warper software then assigns latitude and longitude values to those points as well as the x/y position of the pixels in the map image corresponding to those points. The result is an overlay of the historic map image on top of the contemporary world in the correct location.

Screen grab of the PROV Map Warper tool

Rectification using the PROV Map Warper

(Archivoz) Why did you develop the tool? What benefits does it provide to PROV and users?

(AL) The goal was to make it as easy as possible for our users to find maps and parish plans in our collection. One of the major barriers to finding historic maps and plans is that they use historic names no longer known or used in Victoria. Most of our users aren’t historians or archivists. However, if you create metadata that associates the historic name with its contemporary location name—or even better its latitude and longitude co-ordinates—researchers will be able to search for these historic records by using the modern location names they are more familiar with. Plus, now with the Map Warper tool, they can also scroll across a modern-day map to find relevant historical maps and plans in the PROV collection. Importantly, this project also benefits PROV as it is feeding geospatial data back into our systems to enrich our records.

(Archivoz) How did you go about developing the Map Warper platform at PROV? What was the process you undertook?

(AL) The process was tackled in two stages. The first stage involved a team of volunteers compiling geospatial metadata for thousands of parish plans including the key data, contemporary equivalent location names for historic parish names and latitude/longitude co-ordinates for contemporary locations. The second stage involved liaising with Tim Waters, a freelance geospatial developer based in the UK. I worked with Tim to build a PROV version of his own Map Warper site (he also built one for the New York Public Library some years ago). Once the PROV site was built and tested, content was imported and crowd sourcing of rectification began.

(Archivoz) Can you please provide some more information about the specific software used to develop the PROV Map Warper? Can other archives use it too?

(AL) Tim Waters’ open source Map Warper software rectifies and overlays historic maps on a base map of the contemporary world. The base map used is not Google Maps but instead Open Street Map that is non-proprietary and built by a community much like Wikipedia. Libraries and other institutions have used it, including the New York Public Library, National Library of Australia, Harvard, Stanford Universities, Leiden Archives (in The Netherlands), The Department of Education and the National Environment Protection Authority (US Federal Government), and Wikimedia Commons.

(Archivoz) How has the PROV Map Warper been received so far?

(AL) The service was launched on 12 June 2019 via a blog post on the PROV website. As of late July, 2,726 maps have been rectified and 206 user accounts have been created to do this, which is a fantastic result so far.

(Archivoz) What are your future plans for the PROV Map Warper?

(AL) In the future we hope to link historic maps and plans in our archive catalogue straight through to their overlay view in the PROV Map Warper and vice versa. To do this we will replace the current Map Warper unique identifiers for each Map with the PROV unique ‘Record Item’ identifiers (found within the landing page URL for the record in the catalogue). While we are offering thousands of parish plans as our initial content for rectification, we have already drawn up a list of possible future cartographic series. These include the Historic Plans Collection, the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works plans and aerial photographs from a number of record series (once the photographs have been digitised). Given that Map Warper comes with an API, it would be useful to explore to what degree it could be used to manage imports and exports of content programmatically. For example, we could provide access to developers and other GLAM institutions. All of this has yet to be determined but these options illustrate the potential and contributions that PROV Map Warper could make in the future.

(Archivoz) Finally, where should people go for more information about Map Warper?

(AL) People can go to the PROV website and read the ‘How to find parish plans’ blog. This blog features a video about how to use Map Warper and information about how to sign up to help us rectify maps and plans in our collection.

Banner image credit: ‘Ballarat East -12 Township Plan, Imperial measure 5031’ in VPRS 16171 Regional Land Office Parish and Township Plans Digitised Reference Set, Public Record Office Victoria.