On 16 May 2013 the Charles Clark Project with the support of the Irish Research Council and the School of English, UCC, hosted The Limits of the Archive: Classification, Management, Digitization, a workshop designed not only to get people thinking about Clark (and the limits of the project) but about archives in general and the challenges and possibilities of working with archives and increasing open-access in the digital age.
The opening session was delivered by (us!) Carrie and Mary and (imaginatively) entitled “Introduction to the Charles Clark Archive”. We took the audience through Clark’s practices of collecting, correspondence and the culture of travel and exchange between London and Essex. Our respondent, Professor Claire Connolly, noted the conceptual issues relating to types of cultural practice that crop up with respect to Clark’s voracious book-collecting, and the potential for new research into the literary marketplace. Discussion centered on the possibilities of engaging a wider public with the digitization of archives like Clark’s. This was followed by a fascinating session by Cronan O’Doibhlin (Head of Special Collections, Boole Library, UCC), who emphasized the importance of community archives, and highlighted the important distinction between librarians and archivists. Cronan drew on his own wide experience working with various archives, including those of the Catholic Diocese of Armagh. Carrie and Mary acted as respondents, raising issues such as the dispersal of archives and how we might deal with non-standard archival material.
We were delighted to next welcome Dr John Keating, Interim Director of An Foras Feasa, NUI Maynooth, who gave an extremely engaging lecture on shifting the archive to a tool that will facilitate the desired scholarship and argued that, while metadata is of course necessary, it requires a subtle approach. He identified that the problem is with existing structures for metadata rather than metadata itself. He also noted limiting issues, such as storage, with some existing projects. The discussion that followed John’s paper was led by Dr Orla Murphy of UCC, who mentioned ‘born-digital’ theses and different ways of interacting with information within a digital archive.
After a delicious lunch (!) Adrian O’Riordan of Computer Science, UCC, discussed issues of interoperability of digital libraries. Using a variety of detailed examples, Adrian concluded that (supporting the consensus) that a digital library should not be a digital version of a traditional library! He also spoke about some of the problems and challenges associated with “Big Data” …
Our second visiting speaker, Dr Justin Tonra, who is an IRC Fellow at the Moore Institute, NUIG, spoke about the fascinating Transcribe Bentham project and crowd-sourcing. He gave a brief history of the project before addressing issues like quality control and project management. James O’Sullivan of DAH, UCC (who has a report on the workshop on his personal page!) responded to the final two talks, raising matters like scaleability, constraints imposed by institutional boundaries, & issues surrounding funding for crowd- and group-sourcing.
The day was rounded off with an excellent and lively discussion, expertly led by Dr Mike Cosgrave, in which comments focused on the strong sense of place that emerged from the day and from Clark’s world, in particular. Participants agreed on the immense potential of an archive which would showcase the material held in Essex and the importance of contextualising such an archive by the use of mapping tools to present a portrait of where Clark lived and worked. Population, and Clark’s interest in it (we think that he was preparing for a major epic poem in his commonplace book), as well as his concern with waste, excess and information management, were topics that also emerged. An archive could focus on many things: the exchange of letters and books with his bookseller; his printing; his book collecting; his research into population; his sense of place; and his interest in information and excess/waste. Where to go from now? As one Tweeter said: this is not the end, but the beginning …
We’d like to thank everyone who attended and participated in this workshop. In particular we thank our speakers and respondents, especially Justin Tonra and John Keating, who travelled to join us in UCC. Huge thanks to our Tweeters on the day: @americasstudies Donna Alexander (Hispanic Studies/English, UCC) and @pauldoshea Paul O’Shea (DAH/English, UCC), and to Paul for his Storify of the day, which you can read here.