Saturday, December 31, 2011

Hellnation: band of the week...

This is what I'm listening to at the moment... thrashcore/powerviolence band Hellnation from Kentucky. And no, he's not using a double-kicker. Happy fucking New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Canterbury Recruiting Union IWW: letters to Maoriland Worker

The following are transcribed letters from the Canterbury Recruiting Union IWW to the Maoriland Worker during 1911. The IWW in Christchurch formed after splitting from the New Zealand Socialist Party in 1910:
The city’s branch of the Socialist Party had no money in their social and general accounts, while the Literature Committee, which operated on a separate fund, had full coffers. Needing money for an upcoming election campaign, a motion was passed to join the three accounts together:
Unfortunately for this scheme the membership of the Literature Committee were anarchist to a man, and had no use for elections… Immediately the meeting concluded the Literature Committee went to work. By the small hours of the following morning they had completed their labours, which consisted of the ordering of over £100 worth of pamphlets and booklets… when they had finished, their finances were in the same state as the rest of the branch.42
Not surprisingly, at the following meeting the resignation of the Literature Committee was called for. The anarchists in question cheerfully left the Party and promptly formed themselves into a branch of the IWW. Some months later a rather large amount of wicker hampers packed with printed material started arriving from overseas—the second result of the Literature Committee’s nocturnal activities.
—Remains to Be Seen, Jared Davidson

They seem to have died out, only to be revived again by a visit from Tom Barker in September 1913, with Ernie Kear (the late-secretary of the Passive Resisters Union) becoming secretary of the CHCH IWW (Local 2) and opening their HQ at 180 Cashel Street. They had large meetings at the Addington Workshops, The Clock Tower, and Cathedral Square, as well as holding joint meetings with the PRU.

In both groups anarchist Syd Kingsford played a prominent part, becoming the literature secretary and distributing anarchist papers supplied to him by Philip Josephs (Wellington). In 1913 he was fined with Barker for obstruction—speaking at an IWW meeting from a soapbox at the Clock Tower.

11 June 1911

I think the time has come to have IWW clubs in the four large centres and any industrial district where there are Industrial Unionists, in order to organise and educate the workers of New Zealand for the NZ branch of the IWW; also to make house to house free distribution of papers and books on Industrial Unionism and to supply matters on Industrial Unionism for the workers. I think the members fee should be 1s per month. It would be a good idea to import the best books on Industrial Unionism from America. I think it would be useless to hustle Political Action for the workers without a strong drilled army of Industrial Workers to back demands.

23 June 1911

Dear Comrade,—In this week’s issue Fellow-worker Sweeny advocates the formation of IWW Clubs in the four centres. I have to inform him that in Christchurch we formed a club nine months ago, and have sinced changed it to a recruiting union of the IWW. We have adopted the preamble and as far as possible the constitution of the IWW of America (V. St. John, secretary), are carrying on a propaganda for Industrial Unionism. We have just decided to supply THE WORKER (MW) with matter on Revolutionary Unionism, and the first installment will be sent along shortly. Workers requiring the latest pamphlets on Industrial Unionism may obtain them from me. I think Fellow-worker Sweeny’s idea is a good one and would be pleased to supply a copy of our preamble and constitution to anyone interested.
—Yours in revolt, SYD. KINGSFORD.
107 Riccarton road, Christchurch.

23 June 1911

Canterbury Recruiting Union—At the monthly business meeting, fellow-worker P.Hickey of THE WORKER was present by invitation. He addresses the meeting re enlisting unions’ support for THE WORKER. At the conclusion of an instructive and interesting discussion, the unions agreed to take 3 dozen WORKER per week. F.W.Shepherd’s resignation of the office of general secretary was accepted with regret, and S.J.Roscoe elected to fill the vacancy. A committee was set up to supply the WORKER with literature on Industrial Unionism.
At a special meeting the business was re-forming ourselves into a recruiting union of the NZFL. The idea being to circulate trade unions in and around Christchurch asking them to receive speakers who would place the case for Industrial Unionism before them. After considerable discussion, the following motion was carried: “That this union take a ballot of the members re joining the NZFL; also that each member be supplied with 3 copies of THE WORKER, so that they are clearly understand the Federation’s position’”.
S.J.ROSCOE, secretary.

21 July 1911

S.J.Roscoe, Secretary-treasurer Canterbury Recruiting Union IWW reports that a ballottaken by the branch re joining the NZFL was carried overwhelmingly in favor of the proposal.

1 September 1911

(letter by Kingsford in reply to an article by H.J.Hawkins, General Secretary IWW Clubs of Australia, NSW Executive on 4 August, who claims the CHCH group and those of the Chicago IWW are “frauds”, “bogus”, “fakirs”, “slum proletariats”, “Anarchists”…)


Dear Comrade,—I notice an extract in this week’s WORKER from a letter sent to you by H.J.Hawkins, relating to a “crowd of anarchists” in Christchurch. I do not know if you know the history of the IWW and the incidents that happened at the 4th Convention in 1908, but if you want any vindication of our claim to unofficially representing the IWW in New Zealand I can supply you with all the particulars. I am in possession of information to show you that the IWW (Vincent St.John, General Secretary and treasurer) is the real IWW, and the SLP and its supporters left the organisation in 1908 and started an imitation one with the same name. Just let me know if you are interested, and I will send you full particulars.
—Yours in revolt, SYD KINGSFORD, Literature Secretary, Christchurch IWW Unions. PS—this letter is quite unofficial
(no space to enter into the matter—Ed.)

Red Ruffians Archive

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Interference Archive

An amazing new radical archive/library/cultural space, the Interference Archive, opens this week in Brooklyn New York. Dara Greenwald, Josh MacPhee, Molly Fair, and Kevin Caplicki (as well as all the other people that have helped) have been working all Fall and Winter on the space, and it looks incredible. It's not just an archive—workshops and events will be a regular feature of the space, relating yesterday's struggles to today's context. From their website:

The Interference Archive explores the relationship between cultural production and social movements. This work manifests in public exhibitions, a study center, talks, screenings, publications, workshops, and an on-line presence. The archive consists of many kinds of objects that are created as part of social movements: posters, flyers, publications, photographs, moving images, audio recordings, and other printed matter. Through creative exhibitions and corresponding public programming, we use this cultural ephemera to animate histories of people mobilizing for social transformation.

New Zealand needs a similar space, and is something I've been passionate about for a while. Here's hoping! Congrats to the NYC crew for making such a space available. Here's a few pics, but more can be seen here.

Exploitation or Oppression/Subordination?

I thought I would share 'Exploitation or Oppression/Subordination?', a section from Maria Mies' excellent book Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women and the International Division of Labour, because it was really interesting and makes clear the common (and uncommon) usages of the terms by feminists and class struggle folks. 

"In the feminist discourse words are used to denoate and explain the problem women are suffering from in our societies. The terms 'subordination' and 'oppression' are widely used to specify women's position in a hierarchically structured system and the methods of keeping them down. These concepts are used by women who would call themselves radical feminists as well as by those who come from a Marxist background or call themselves Marxist or socialist feminists. The latter usually do not talk of exploitation when discussing the problems of women because exploitation to them is a concept reserved for economic exploitation of the wage-worker under capitalism. As women's grievances go beyond those of wage-workers and part of the 'private' man-woman relation, which is not seen as an exploitative one, but an oppressive one, the term exploitation is avoided.

In the following discussion I shall, however, use the term expoitation to identify the root cause of the oppressive man-woman relationship. The reasons for this usage are the following:

When Marx specifies the particular capitalist form of exploitation which, according to him, consists in the appropriation of surplus labour by the capitalists, he uses this general term in a specific narrow sense. But 'exploitation'... has a much wider connotation. In the last analysis it means that someone gains something by robbing someone else or is living at the expense of someone else. It is bound up with the emergence of men's dominance over women and the dominance of one class over others, or one people over others.

If we do not talk of exploitation when we talk of the man-woman relationship, our talk about oppression, or subordination hangs somewhere in the air, for why should men be oppressive towards women if they had nothing to gain from it? Oppression or subordination, without reference to exploitation, becomes then a purely cultural or ideological matter, the basis of which cannot be made out, unless one has recourse to the notion of some inborn aggressive or sadistic tendencies in men. But exploitation is a historical - and not a biological or psychological - category which lies at the basis of the man-woman relation. It was historically created by patriarchal tribes and societies. Thus, with Mariarosa Della Costa I speak of exploitation of women in the triple sense: they are exploited (not only economically, but as human beings) by men and they are exploited as housewives by capital. If they are wage-workers they are also exploited as wage-workers. But even this exploitation is determined and aggrevated by the other two forms of exploitation."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Oppression within oppression: a response to “A Question of Privilege”

This is an excellent article from my friend Hana—well worth a read.

This is a response to an article called “A Question of Privilege” that was posted on the newly formed national libcomaotearoa list, which you can find here. I am disturbed by many of the ideas conveyed in this article, because they clearly represent a trend in anarchist class struggle that disregards an analysis of power as it pertains to relationships within the working class. I have been reluctant to respond to the arguments in “A Question of Privilege”, because it feels like going back-to-basics. Surely most anarchists understand that an analysis of power must have a prominent place in the way we organise toward revolution. Yet hostility to analyses of power that are not purely class-based (i.e. feminist and decolonial theories) appears to be brewing in libertarian class struggle circles, which is really worrying to me. While I do not see class struggle as the only site of resistance, it is certainly essential if we are to create social movements that will really change things. And while I do not want to squeeze all other theories against oppression into a (still narrow) class struggle framework, I do want class struggle movements to be a place where those of us marginalised within the working class (by gender, race and/or whatever else) can shape theory, strategy and practice. For this to happen, conversations about feminism, decolonisation and other struggles against oppression must be in dialogue with class struggle discourse. In this response I focus on how many of the ideas conveyed in “A Question of Privilege” devalue the role of feminist theory in shaping anarchist class struggle. (Note: I use the word ‘power’ interchangeably with ‘privilege’: I like ‘power’ better because it feels less fixed).

“A Question of Privilege” represents the view that an analysis of power has no relevance to class struggle. At its most basic level, an analysis of power requires the understanding that some people have access to more power than others in this society, and that those with more can benefit from the oppression of those with less. Therefore, it is up to those oppressed or exploited and their allies to get organised and overthrow the hierarchy, be it that created by capitalism, patriarchy, colonisation or anything else. To struggle together even when we are affected by divergent oppressions, we need to be able to give up power-over: a ruling class person would have to give up their access to the means of production in order to struggle alongside workers. Not all power-over is as simple as that, but being an ally is about giving up power-over to the extent that it is possible. I cannot give up my white skin, and the fact that this makes me less likely to be arrested for the same crime as other Māori who are brown. Yet being prepared to investigate how this place of relative power and how it informs my viewpoint is fundamental to me being able to stand in solidarity with other Māori in the struggle against colonialism and racism. To me, this analysis of power is fundamental to anarchist praxis.

However, in “A Question of Privilege” Anonymous argues that the ruling class is the only group that can be said to be privileged, claiming that we cannot give up power (such as masculine privilege) when it is tied up with capitalism. I agree that most oppression (i.e. patriarchal oppression) is inextricable with capital, and that approaches to power that do not recognise this are unable to help build a movement against capitalism. However, does that mean that we should not try to understand the historical and present-day struggles of people oppressed by patriarchy? By never indicating that feminism or any other analysis of oppression has a place in informing the way we organise against capital, Anonymous disregards the relevance of these discourses to the struggles of working class people. I disagree vehemently with the notion that an analysis of power has no place in understanding relationships within the working class, indeed, oppression and privilege clearly impact on our capacity to organise together. For me, the willingness to interrogate my position of powerin relation to others, or their power in relation to is an essential part of forming solidarity with folks who are also exploited by class. For that reason and many others, feminism and other discourses that further the interests of those marginalised by any oppressive structure should have an important place in informing class struggle praxis.

For me, the most noticeable thing about “A Question of Privilege” is that it uses language that minimises the impact of patriarchy, white supremacy and other systems of oppression that are not purely about class. For instance, Anonymous asserts that: “‘privileges’ granted by the ruling order to people in certain social categories among the exploited actually amount to nothing more than a lessening of the intensity of exploitation and oppression experienced by these people relative to others”. It is a pity the writers felt the need to belittle the experience of oppression within oppression, for the point that there is commonality across the working class in terms of how we are exploited would have stood perfectly well on its own. Unless of course, Anonymous intends to minimise the experiences of those of us marginalised within the working class, and thereby infer that we should practice class struggle without reference to any other form of oppression. Anonymous also dismisses the critical response to marginalisation, characterising the understanding that some people within the working class have more privilege than others as “useless from an anarchist and revolutionary perspective”. Here, the word ‘useless’ implies a non-negotiable disregard for an analysis of power other than that between ruling and working class. But if there is no place for other analyses of power, then where is the place of feminism, of decolonisation, or any other discourse that furthers the interests of people oppressed in multiple ways?

Because oppression is inextricable from capitalism, Anonymous draws the conclusion that we should not try to ameliorate it, but rather seek to overthrow capital. I agree that freedom from patriarchy cannot be realised so long as there is capitalism, and I have certainly experienced anarchist settings where people act as if it were, even if they theoretically admit that it is not. Here, the struggle against sexism is often figured as the effort to purge it from our lives and ourselves, rather than a constant challenge to power-over and the will to power. However, just because we cannot get rid of sexism without overthrowing capitalism, does that mean that we should not challenge the exercise of power-over? For instance, I think it is appropriate to exclude known violent abusers from anarchist organisations. I also think that it is important to acknowledge that this is only a line in the sand. Many of us go home to families, have friends, or work with people for whom violence is the norm and yet we are not prepared to cut ties. This contradiction is simply a reality of living under patriarchy and trying to struggle against it at the same time. For me, the political imperative to purge sexism has been crazy-making and isolating. Yet an acceptance of sexist behavior would be to comply with the subordination of women or anyone else on the receiving end of it. To me, this conundrum represents a tension that we need to negotiate constantly, rather than an either/or situation.

Anonymous draws attention to the way the ruling class uses oppression within the working class to divide us, but fails to acknowledge the room we do have to limit our use of power. Anonymous contends that privilege is conferred by the ruling class as a means to focus our antagonism on each other rather than them: “[privileges] are intended to convince these people that they have more in common with their exploiters than with those not granted the same “privileges” and to convince the others that their real enemy is not the ruling class, but rather those granted a less intense level of exploitation”. I agree that the Ruling Class does indeed benefit from our dividedness, and that bourgeois ideology encourages the oppressed to identify with the ruling class rather than each other. However, Anonymous neglects the fact that those with relative power can extract material gains at the expense of those with less. Indeed, I strongly disagree with Anonymous’s argument that relative privilege is a “phantom”, i.e. has no material basis, and their inference that letting go of power-over has no place in class struggle. Anonymous contends that the fact women are more likely to experience sexual harassment amounts to an easing of the conditions of exploitation for men. Writing as though sexual harassment were created by the ruling class to divide us, Anonymous fails to acknowledge the agency of the working class men who sexually harass women, and the complicity of those who support them. If sexism is challenged and those challenged refuse to engage, it is they, not the challengers who are ‘dividing the working class’.

If the writers of “A Question of Privilege” are trying to say that certain discourses around privilege do not further class struggle, I can agree with that. Indeed, I feel it is crucial to maintain a critical culture that constantly re-evaluates how we approach oppression. From what I have seen, anarchist praxis that insists on perfect ideological understanding as a prerequisite to collective organisation does not often extend beyond friendship groups. While I lived in Wellington (2004-2007) much of our focus as anarchist-feminists went into dealing with sexism within that anarchist scene. This is no mean feat, and I think an significant growth in consciousness around sexism occurred within that scene through the efforts and persistence of feminists and pro-feminists. However, there was also an collective unwillingness to work with anyone (of whatever gender) who did not already have a certain type of consciousness about oppression, or was not quick to learn. From that unwillingness flowed a praxis that was somewhat severed from the material conditions of our lives. We attended and organised protests, formed the radical wing of reformist campaigns and occasionally ‘fucked shit up’. Yet none of these political strategies required us to go out of our comfort zones and work with others with similar material interests, but did not necessarily share our ideology. This approach to politics culminated in a insular and unfocused anarchist scene that could not help build a diverse movement against capital or patriarchy. However, I do not blame a militant stance on sexist oppression for this, but rather ideological puritanism coupled with the notion that the world can be changed by a small group of committed individuals fucking shit up.

If we are to create theory that addresses the reality of working class women, we need an analysis of power and a dedication to critical exchange. Sexism in all its forms (internalised, implicit, or openly acted out), attacks women’s power and therefore has a direct impact on our ability to organise politically or have a voice in how theory is developed. On an email list where the emphasis is on intellectual exchange, an analysis of power can help ensure that marginalised voices are heard and theory that addresses our concerns can be created. A willingness to dialogue about feminism and class struggle requires first of all an acknowledgement that what feminists have to offer is important. This does not necessitate that anyone secede to whatever feminists think, but rather a dedication to constructive conversation. This works best when we can interrogate our positions of power or bias whilst still valuing our own critical perspective (paradoxical, I know!). Passivity and guilt are common responses to being asked to evaluate ones use of power, yet they are not helpful. Rather than deciding from an informed perspective what sexist practices they will relinquish, guilt ridden men often revert to ‘good little boy’ mode, and sullenly do whatever feminists tell them to do. Yet men giving up responsibility for themselves does not constitute feminist practice. Personally, I would prefer to talk with mature people who can limit their use of power without having to negate themselves.

Whereas the refusal to acknowledge power differences is complicit in the privileging of some peoples interests over another, a willingness to challenge power-over is a call to empower all. The ideas purveyed in “A Question of Privilege” are disturbing because they disregard the importance of feminism and other struggles against power-over by dismissing an analysis of power. Yet an analysis of power is essential to non-hierarchical class struggle because it provides us with understanding and strategies that enable us to stand in solidarity, not in the sense of having entirely eliminated oppression, but rather in a dialectical sense of ongoing confrontation, engagement, and hopefully synthesis. For this to happen, there needs to be a dialogue between feminist and class struggle discourses, and attention paid to the areas where they consciously cross over, from theorists like Mariarosa Dalla Costa, to us everyday people who happen to be passionate about both.
Hana Plant

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Encapsulation: A Digital Preservation Technique

Another MIS paper, this time on a digital preservation technique known as encapsulation.

With the rapid development of both digital software and hardware comes the increasing problem of obsolescence: preserved digital data that will no longer be able to be read by future digital systems (and therefore future users). To resolve this problem a number of digital preservation strategies have been proposed, developed, and implemented—the two main strategies being migration and emulation. As Boudrez notes, “much ink has flown about the advantages and disadvantages of both strategies, but in essence, migration and emulation do not exclude each other” (2005, p.2). Practice has found that, indeed, use of the two strategies complement each other.

However there is a third element that can intertwine with migration and emulation, and is often a core feature of both—encapsulation. Although not a digital preservation strategy on its own, encapsulation works in conjunction with other strategies, and therefore, plays a significant part in digital preservation. This paper will define and describe encapsulation, discuss the context in which encapsulation operates and point to digital curation initiatives that implement it, and identify encapsulation’s advantages and disadvantages.

Encapsulation is a technique that “requires metadata to be bundled with, or embedded into, the digital object. The metadata allows the record to be intellectually understood and technologically accessed in the future” (National Archives of Australia, 2004, p.59). This technique aims to counter obsolete file formats by encapsulating or grouping “details of how to interpret the digital bits in the object” through the use of “physical or logical structures called ‘containers’ or ‘wrappers’ to provide a relationship between all information components, such as the digital object and other supporting information” (National Library of Australia, 2001).

On its own, encapsulation cannot preserve digital records: “encapsulation is not a method that prescribes how digital documents will be reconstructed on the screen in future or how accessibility is preserved” (Boudrez, p.4). What it does is ensure metadata about the object’s original relationships is packaged with it, to aid both preservation strategies such as migration or emulation, and future user interpretations (provenance, context etc.). Such metadata is important because “the various components of an electronic record do not form a physical entity, but are stored at separate locations (in a database, a file system or a combination of both) and as different digital objects” (Boudrez, p.4). Encapsulation is one way to track such relationships, convey important information—in the form of Archive Information Packages (AIP) in Open Archival Information System (OAIS) terminology (Lavoie, 2004)—and retain authenticity.

Digital signatures, or pointers to outside storage areas of information, are examples of how information is embedded or ‘bundled’ into the digital object via a ‘wrapper’. Analog instructions that are physically connected to the storage medium are also common. Yet there is no universal encapsulation methodology in use, meaning various repositories have developed their own approaches depending on need and ingest strategies. The jury is also out on what electronic metadata standards should inform the encapsulation process.

There have been attempts to resolve this, namely projects like the Universal Preservation Format (UPF) and the Digital Rosetta Stone (DRS). Encapsulation in practice provides further examples, highlighted by its implementation at the National Archives of Australia, the Public Records Office of Victoria, and the City Archives of Antwerp. A commonality of these examples is the use of OAIS standards to inform what kind of information needs to be embedded, and the use of eXtensible Markup Language (XML) schemas to create the required metadata.

Encapsulation in theory 
In the late 1990s a number of encapsulation models were formulated. The Universal Preservation Format (UPF), was developed in 1997 as a “data file mechanism that utilizes a container or wrapper structure. Its framework incorporates metadata that identifies its contents within a registry of standard data types and serves as the source code for mapping or translating binary composition into accessible or useable forms” (Shepard & MacCarn, year, p.2). Designed to be “independent of the computer applications used to create content, and independent of the operating system from which these applications originated and independent of the physical media upon which that content is stored”, the UPF model was an early recommended practice, arguing that “the Wrapper would be capable of describing and defining the content and its structure” (Shepard & MacCarn, p.2).

Another model put forward was the Digital Rosetta Stone (DRS) project, which took inspiration from the Egyptian Rosetta Stone—a tablet that enabled ancient hieroglyphics to be interpreted in modern times. DRS describes “three processes that are necessary for maintaining long-term access to digital documents in their native formats—knowledge preservation, data recovery, and document reconstruction” (Heminger & Robertson, 1998, p.1). This includes capturing metadata and other information to ensure that “we don’t lose our ability to read our own history” (Heminger & Robertson, p.9).

Encapsulation in practice 
The National Archives of Australia is one institution that uses encapsulation in conjunction with migration and emulation strategies. This process is described in Digital Recordkeeping: Guidelines For Creating, Managing and Preserving Digital Records (2004). Upon receiving data from the producer,

digital records are converted or ‘normalised’ using archival data formats. The archival data formats use XML standard schemas. XML provides a standard syntax to identify parts of a document (known as elements), and a standard way (known as a schema) to describe the rules for how those elements can be linked together in a document. Metadata is encapsulated within the preserved data object, and the whole package is stored in a digital repository. A special viewing tool makes the packages accessible using a form of emulation (p. 63).

Forms of migration, encapsulation via XML schemas, and emulation combine to ensure that digital records are preserved, meet accountability and legislative requirements, and the needs of the community (p. 14).

An early practitioner of encapsulation was the Public Records Office of Victoria (PROV), whose Victorian Electronic Records Strategy (VERS) developed the VERS Long Term Format. This “consists of an object (known as a VERS Encapsulated Object or VEO)” represented in XML and “signed using digital signature technology to ensure authenticity” (PROV, 2000). The XML encoding enables the contents to be inspected in the future by simple text editing software. Encapsulated metadata following the Recordkeeping Metadata Standard for Commonwealth Agencies Version 2.0 and specified in the VERS Metadata Scheme:

  • structures the information contained within the VEO.
  • documents the standards and specifications used in producing the VEO.
  • contains a digital signature and sufficient information to verify the signature.
  • describes the record or folder and its relationship with other records or folders in the recordkeeping system.
  • contains information used to document the history of the record or folder.
  • supports the management of the record or folder (PROV, 2003).

Similarly, the City Archives of Antwerp uses metadata and XML to encapsulate digital objects—drawing on OAIS frameworks that captures AIP’s and encapsulates all information into one container. This is carried out before ingest by the creator and/or archivist, and involves:

  • migration of the original formats to suitable archiving formats 
  • encapsulation of the original and migrated bitstreams in XML 
  • registration and encapsulation of the essential technical and archival descriptive metadata 
  • generation of a checksum to check the bit integrity 
  • checking the quality of the XML-AIP's (Boudrez, p.13).

Encapsulation: advantages and disadvantages 
Besides the obvious advantage of preventing obsolescence, encapsulation ensures content and contextual information is stored together, minimising the risk of losing valuable information. Metadata stored in the object itself (instead of an external location), that can be easily transferred and migrated with the object means information integrity, provenance, and authenticity are more likely to be preserved. It also means the digital objects are “self-descriptive and autonomous: they identify and document themselves” (Boudrez, p.5). Encapsulation can also aid emulation (as the software needed to be emulated becomes more complex over time), and makes migration of digital objects easier.

The disadvantage of encapsulation is that it relies heavily on standards to maintain readability, which as Dave Bearman points out, “naively imagines standards lasting forever. No computer technical standards have yet shown any likelihood of lasting forever—indeed most have become completely obsolete within a couple of software generations” (1999). It is also not great for binary file formats because “there is usually too little space and an expansion of the fields could cause interchangeability and readability problems. The addition of metadata to binary files also requires a separate module or software tool for each format, because usually such a functionality is not supported by current computer programs” (Boudrez, p.5). In the case of VERS, this means the producer is restricted to providing specified formats—Text, PDF-A, PDF, TIFF, JPEG, JPEG-2000, and MPEG-4 (PROV, 2003)—adding another possible barrier to digital preservation. The VERS model was investigated and finally dismissed as a possible strategy for Archives New Zealand.

Encapsulation is a common—but not universal—digital preservation technique that, although not a strategy on its own, informs and complements other preservation projects. Metadata plays an important role: indeed, encapsulation relies on various degrees of embedded metadata in order to be successful. This has the advantage of bringing all the relevant information about the digital object with it into the future, but because standards are not always ‘set in stone’, this very reliance on standards could also be to its long-term detriment. Nonetheless, the core element of encapsulation—preserving important contextual and functional information for future use—is an important one that should inform all other digital preservation strategies.

Bearman, D. (1999). Reality and Chimeras in the Preservation of Electronic Records. Accessed 22 November 2011 from

Boudrez, Filip. (2005). Digital containers for shipment into the future. Accessed 23 November from

Heminger, A.R., and S.B. Robertson. (1998). Digital Rosetta Stone: A Conceptual Model for Maintaining Long-term Access to Digital Documents. Accessed 22 November 2011 from proceedings/DELOS6/rosetta.pdf

Lavoie, B. F. (2004). The Open Archival Information System Reference Model: Introductory Guide. Accessed 20 November 2011 from

National Archives of Australia. (2004). Digital Recordkeeping: Guidelines For Creating, Managing and Preserving Digital Record. Accessed 23 November 2011 from

National Library of Australia. (2001). Encapsulation. Accessed 22 November 2011 from

Public Records Office of Victoria. (2000). Standard for the Management of Electronic Records PROS 99/007 (Version 1). Accessed 21 November 2011 from

Public Records Office of Victoria. (2003). Management of Electronic Records PROS 99/007 (Version 2). Accessed 23 November 2011 from

Shepard, T., and MacCarn, D. (1997). The Universal Preservation Format A Recommended Practice for Archiving Media and Electronic Records. Accessed 23 November 2011 from

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tapuhi and Archway: A Review of Two Online Finding Aids

My paper for INFO534 (Masters of Information Studies) on two New Zealand Finding Aids.

The purpose of archival description is to identify and explain the context and content of archival material in order to promote its accessibility (International Council on Archives, 2000, p.7). Repositories do this through online finding aids: tools that guide the user by establishing intellectual and physical control of the collection. They attempt to illustrate core archival principles such as provenance (keeping records from the same source together and separate from records from different sources), and original order (keeping or describing records in the order they were last used) to enable an understanding of an item’s context—why and how the records were created.

Finding aids vary in structure and functionality depending on:
  • Visual design
  • Arrangement and description, or system architecture (classic hierarchy or series systems)
  • Metadata (standards, data content, and data values)

Using ‘censorship’ as a keyword search, this report considers the usability of two online findings aids—Tapuhi (Alexander Turnbull Library) and Archway (Archives New Zealand)—highlighting their visual design, system architecture, and use of metadata. It will also make recommendations for the improvement of usability.

Tapuhi is the online finding aid of unpublished collections at the Alexander Turnbull Library (part of the National Library of New Zealand), whose role is “to collect, preserve and make accessible words, pictures and sounds that tell us about the history and cultures of the people of New Zealand and the Pacific” (ALT, 2011). Tapuhi covers manuscripts and archives, cartoons, posters, ephemera, and photography. However it will soon be replaced by ‘Beta’—a finding aid that combines all of the National Library’s materials into one database.

Tapuhi is far from flattering visually, with next-to-no aesthetic design, boring typography and stark white background. But its lack of flair is balanced by the ease of navigation and ‘findability’ such simplicity provides. A basic homepage with the option of searching particular collections successfully invites use, and there are many hyperlinks that explain the process. Within the finding aid hyperlinks are clearly differentiated and metadata is simple to view, eliminating the possibility of confusion or becoming ‘lost’ in the fonds. This simplicity fits the library’s role, ensuring almost anyone could use the finding aid without being visually offended.

There are a number of search methods within the user’s chosen collection, providing a variety of entry points (broad search, record title, date, name, iwi, for example). However these entry points are fairly hierarchical compared to a series system and consists of a classically structured database which models the types of relationships found in inventories, all focused on keyword searching. Rather than making archival principles of arrangement and description explicit, the system operates on a Google-like subject search methodology (arguably assuming that users prefer such systems or do not have knowledge of archival principles).

A broad search using the keyword ‘censorship’ resulted in many hits at the group and item level. Once a record is selected, the results can be explored through hyperlinks that lead to the series it belongs to, and further records by the creator (including the entire fonds). In this way the user can navigate quite easily, and get a feel for evidential relationships, provenance, and original order through Tapuhi’s extensive provision of metadata.

Initial results use minimal metadata, showing title, date range, reference number and issue status. But once selected there is a good deal of metadata at the fond, series, and item level. Data content and values at the fonds level is comprehensive and includes:

  • Title and date range
  • Reference number
  • Use information (restrictions, collection and issue status)
  • Physical description, linear metres and quantity (folders and volumes)
  • Context (arrangement and acquisition information, provenance, record types, general notes)
  • Series and child records
  • Subject keywords

Much of the data content is hyperlinked—enabling navigation to other records at various levels—and is quite specific, making metadata easy to interpret. At the item level 11 fields use similar as the fonds level values, less the subject keywords and full series links. However, there is no indication of what standard is used—something a number of libraries now make explicit (Wikipedia, 2011)—and it is unknown whether the metadata is reliable.

Tapuhi is simple and easy to navigate, but at the expense of multi-directional searching. Its hierarchical and linear system suits a user with basic archival knowledge, items can be located easily, and its metadata gives enough detail to get a sense of arrangement and description. However access to the archive itself is non-existent: there are no links showing how to access or order the found record.

Thankfully, ‘Beta’ is better—it is well designed visually and has a ‘send an enquiry’ link on each page, allowing greater access to the actual archive. Side columns list various entry points and types of metadata, and a quick search suggests it is an improvement on Tapuhi.


Archway, the finding aid of Archives New Zealand, is different to Tapuhi in many ways. As New Zealand’s national archive, “many different people and organisations, including family historians, academics, legal researchers, professional historians and genealogists use the materials held at Archives New Zealand” (Archives New Zealand, 2011). Archway takes this diversity of users into account through a number of methods.

The visual aesthetic of Archway is subdued but thoughtful, simple enough to encourage use but not as stark as Tapuhi. Colour schemes play an important role to signify hyperlinks or retrievable information (gold), access (green, orange or red), and customised options (green). Because Archway can be used in a variety of ways, this design helps ground the user’s experience in what could be a very confusing process. A graph of the various levels of description and at what level the user is on is provided on every page. Key informational links such as ‘Searching In Archway’ are clearly labelled and easy to find.

3.2. SYSTEM 
ArchitectureArchway, too, begins with a keyword search. But the options for different entries to records are many, with advanced searches allowing the user to make use of Archway’s series system approach. There are seven levels (or types of descriptions) in Archway that enable full use of the archival principles of provenance and original order. A user can search at the records, series, organisational, functional, or agency level (and more), gaining important contextual information through its architecture and the administrative histories it provides. This process is very well described in the help sections, ensuring users of any level can make use of the finding aid.

How results are viewed can also be customised—as well as deciding on what level to enter, the user can order their results by date range, record title, department, access and location. Once customised, clicking a particular record on censorship then shows two tabs: ‘record information’ gives information on description, accession, and controlling agency—each hyperlinked to further information—and ‘ordering information’ gives reference numbers, access information and the option of ordering the record then and there.

Archway uses metadata in different ways to Tapuhi. While title, date range, reference numbers, record type, accession and agency are provided on most records, they are not listed in a simple format. Apart from the title and date range, there is no metadata around the subject or content of a particular record. Instead, metadata content leads to more content through hyperlinks, especially at the series level, where broader context such as administrative histories and provenance is provided. In this way the metadata is more complex than Tapuhi and could effect ‘findability’, but the time needed to locate information drives home archival principles of arrangement and description—providing a wealth of contextual knowledge only implied in Tapuhi.

The data in Archway also serves another function—continued archival practice based on the continuum model. To do this Archway implements the Australian Series System and its related standards of metadata. This information, and information on the reliability of the content, is readily accessible to the user; for example, Archway points out that “the quality and completeness of this information does vary, and work is underway to bring it up to a consistent standard” (Archway, 2008).

Archway is a complex and complete finding aid well suited to that of a National Archive. It balances the needs of a novice user with the competent researcher, and aids current archival practice for its host organization. Its series system fits archival arrangement and description, offering various points of entry and contextual information for the user.

Archway could be improved through the use of video and Web 2.0 technology. Video is a growing Internet tool with many organizations benefiting from its inclusion into their websites. It would allow the user to get a handle on Archway’s series approach and core archival principles, and provide richer search results. Web 2.0 would also allow users to see the comments and research trails of past users, and the use of tags could increase metadata and aid searching by subject.

The finding aids of two New Zealand repositories illustrate how differences in visual design, system architecture, and the use of metadata, produce a different experience for the user. While Tapuhi is simple and easy to use, it is restricted to classical arrangement and description and, despite ‘findability’, it is still hard to access the physical record. Archway, on the other hand, uses a series system that, despite the possibility of creating confusion, allows a wide range of users to partake in broad and context-rich searches. It is aware of its arrangement and description systems and the use of metadata standards, and suits the scope of a National archive. However both could still be improved, to the benefit of all users.

International Council on Archives. (2000). ISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description, Second Edition, Ottawa.

Alexander Turnbull Library. (2011). About Us. Accessed 25 October 2011 from


Metadata. (2011, September 20). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 25 October 2011 from

Archives New Zealand. (2011). About Us. Accessed 28 October 2011 from

Archway. (2008). About Archway. Accessed 28 October from