One of the interesting topics that came up for me at the recent Congrés d’Arxivística de Catalunya was the distinction between records and representations in archival work. It was most clearly expressed by Greg Rolan who said that in his recent work on Participatory Information Governance (Evans, McKemmish, & Rolan, 2018) the notion of the record of an event is displaced by a representation of that event.

This renaming does a few interesting things for archival theory and practice. Most importantly it allows for multiple perspectives of an event to coexist, and for them to contradict, support or supplement what would have otherwise been a singular narrative. This is particularly important in situations where there is a power imbalance between the documenter and the documented, such as the case they explore: documentation of out-of-home care in Australia where long-term living arrangements are made for young people who “cannot live in their family home because of concerns regarding physical, sexual and emotional abuse or neglect.”

Allowing for multiple representations of an event then allows for a plurality of stakeholders to become part of, and participate in, the information system. Record centric models tend to privledge organizational accounts of events, where what is “the record” and what is a point of contention, or even political struggle.

Using this approach, a record may represent many activities and any activity may bere presented by many records. Such conceptualisation is less concerned with the nature of records as physical artefacts, than with facilitating the expression of human activity and involvement. Furthermore, this approach also allows for other types of documentality such as personal memory and performance (Rolan, 2017).

This is doubly interesting to me because it folds in with my own research interest with the archicture of the web, and how it is used as a systemm of documentation, or dare I say “archive” (Summers & Salo, 2013). The idea of a Represention was introduced into web architecture to resolve some of the tension around the role of Documents in the web (Fielding, 2000), and their behavior over time, and with respect to the preferences of clients (web browsers). A web server makes Representations of Resources available, and dependeing on who you are, how you ask, and when you ask, you may receive a different Representation of that Resource. The Document is a convenient illusion…not a material object.

In the same way that Fielding’s notion of Representational State Transfer (REST) decenters the web from being a system for document transfer, Rolan et al. are asking us to consider archives as less about collections of records, and more as processual systems where events, their representations, and their stakeholders exist in time and in relation to each other. I just got a brief look into this “meta-model for recordkeeping metadata” at the conference, but see that he develops the idea in Rolan (2017) which I will be taking a closer look at.

References

Evans, J., McKemmish, S., & Rolan, G. (2018). Participatory information governance: Transforming recordkeeping for childhood out-of-home care. Records Management Journal, 29(1/2).

Fielding, R. (2000). Architectural styles and the design of network-based software architectures (PhD thesis). University of California, Irvine. Retrieved from https://www.ics.uci.edu/~fielding/pubs/dissertation/top.htm

Rolan, G. (2017). Towards interoperable recordkeeping systems: A meta-model for recordkeeping metadata. Records Management Journal, 27(2), 125–148.

Summers, E., & Salo, D. (2013). Linking things on the web: A pragmatic examination of linked data for libraries, archives and museums (No. arXiv:1302.4591). arXiv. Retrieved from https://arxiv.org/abs/1302.4591