All posts by Tim Evans

New roles and new faces at the ADS

Some readers will have seen two new job adverts for working at the ADS, and so I thought it would be useful to provide a general overview of these roles and a general update of staffing across the organisation.

Goodbyes and Hello’s

In December we said goodbye to two ADS stalwarts: Donna Page the ADS Administrator, and Ray Moore (Digital Archivist, latterly Archives Manager). Donna and Ray were great friends to all at the ADS, and between them contributed immensely to the organisation. Due to COVID restrictions we had to settle on a virtual farewell party, which included many familiar faces from ADS history who stopped by to wish them both well for the future.

More recently we’ve said hello to Ben Myatt, a Finance Assistant within the Department of Archaeology who performs all our financial services. We’ve also been able to appoint existing member of staff Olivia Foster to the new role of Digital Archives Officer, with a focus on working on all the site-based archives coming from commercial archaeology, but also expanding her skills into more specialised collections. Finally, we’ve appointed a new Digital Archives Assistant, Jamie Geddes, who is fast getting to grips with the fundamental ADS workflows and digital archives.

While this has been happening, we’ve had exciting news. ADS have secured a contract with HS2 to deliver a state-of-the-art digital archives service for all archaeological fieldwork from the scheme. This allows us to increase our staffing capacity to meet the increase in archives and expected user support.

Digital Archives Assistant

This role (abbreviated to DAA) is designed as an entry level position at the ADS for those interested in working in the field of digital archives. The bulk of the role will be focussed on learning how to process archives generated from archaeological fieldwork in the UK, for example https://doi.org/10.5284/1084979. A basic knowledge of archaeology is thus desirable, as the role will deal with the outputs from fieldwork and it’s documentation via metadata. That being said, as an entry level role all aspects of the role starting at “why”, through to “how” will be covered in training and ongoing support. Users from a more broad digital preservation background are also encouraged to apply, but for those new to the concept external training and support is always available.

The most essential aspect of the role is being comfortable working with IT. Everything we do is digital! This includes being comfortable working with a range of software applications, solid understanding of IT best practice (password management etc). The immediate role does not require any coding background, as most routine tasks and web pages are performed by existing tools and templates. However a background or interest in coding, database management or some other technical facet is always a good thing!

Image of Tim Evans answering the phone
Tim Evans (then in post as a digital archivist) dealing with a user enquiry.

User Support Assistant

This is an entirely new role at the ADS focussed exclusively on helping our users. Lots of people use the ADS website for all manner of research, and quite often they have questions! Conversely, a lot of people need to deposit data with us, and if unfamiliar with our workflows and requirements sometimes need someone on hand to point them in the right direction, and in a timely manner. For commercial enquiries, the role will also generate routine costs using an existing application and workflow.

Although there’s a lot to know about the ADS which at first may appear daunting, the role will be supported to ensure the applicant is trained in ‘who we are and what we do’. The role will also be guided on where to escalate an issue to a member of the management or technical team. The essential aspect of this role will be an ability to deal professionally with a wide range of users including commercial clients, academics, and interested members of the public. Some questions we get asked are quite esoteric! So being able to look up information, think independently, but also know where to escalate an issue are very important. As you’ll also be supporting our Collections Development Manager in developing costings and administration, attention to detail and being able to process information in common software tools (e.g. spreadsheets) is required.

Working at the ADS

We’re a relatively small team, but slowly building capacity to deal with an increase in archives deposited with us. Normally we work in beautiful King’s Manor in York, but at the moment most staff are working remotely in compliance with University-wide restrictions. This is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, so expect to work remotely at first but with a (virtual) mentor and wider support to ensure you’re never on your own. When things return to ‘normal’, we run a flexible working policy (with home working) but there is a requirement that all staff have the ability to work at least some of their time from our offices in York.

Aside from the logistics, we’re a fairly relaxed bunch! Most of us are archaeologists in some shape or form (Julian, our Director, still does fieldwork), however others have crossed over from varied career paths including IT. Although obviously very IT-focussed, we like to think we don’t meet the stereotypical image. There’s a good mix of backgrounds, abilities, ages, and interests, and we’re always keen to welcome new members and fresh perspectives. What we all have in common is a passion for what we do, and the ability to work as a close team in a supportive collegiate environment. We also do research, and everyone is encouraged to develop portfolios of work, get involved in ongoing ADS research, and where appropriate co-author papers and presentations. We always support staff development, with various directions your professional role could grow  – from working with archives policy, digital preservation specialisation, metadata and curatorial practice, or application development. From my own experience, I arrived here on a one year contract in 2006, and have since completed a PhD, written articles on all manner of things, and now have oversight of the whole organisation. It is genuinely a great place to work, so if you are reading, and any of this has piqued your interest, please apply!

Archiving Day of Archaeology (2011-2017)

This case study describes the background and behind the scenes work that has gone into archiving the Day of Archaeology Project. The final digital archive for Day of Archaeology is now live on the ADS.

Photograph of Siddhi Laxmi Temple in Bhaktapur
Siddhi Laxmi Temple in Bhaktapur. Digital Archaeology Foundation (2016): A day saving the temples of Nepal with Digital Archaeologyhttps://doi.org/10.5284/1080729

The Day of Archaeology (DoA) project aimed to provide a window into the daily lives of archaeologists. The project asked people working, studying or volunteering in the archaeological world to participate in a “Day of Archaeology” each year by recording whatever their actual activity was on a specific day,sharing it through text, images or video on the Day of Archaeology blog. By choosing a single day, readers could experience a real cross-section of archaeological work, whether exotic or mundane, that reflected the reality of the profession.

Continue reading Archiving Day of Archaeology (2011-2017)

The future for England’s Rock Art

Several users have been in touch concerned over the future of England’s Rock Art website. Suffice to say that users should rest easy that no data is being lost, and public access to data is being retained.

Here’s the important background as to why this is happening:

England’s Rock Art website was originally launched in Summer 2008, as the culmination of a Historic England (then English Heritage project) to catalogue carvings in the Northumberland region. Since then it has been added to, principally with records from the Beckensall archive that were previously stored with Newcastle University. The website itself is actually a fairly complex application, with an underlying spatial database and Java framework that allows the user to interrogate the database.

Since its launch, the ADS have continued to perform a wide range of updates, patches and migrations on the application to ensure it’s longevity. These have involved major rebuilds in 2011, 2015, and 2018. Despite this additional work, undertaken with no additional funding, some features have begun to creak and latterly break (such as the map interface). More recently, the framework as a whole has become outdated, being deemed at risk for the last 18 months, and is now at a point where a major rebuild/application migration is required. This is not only to retain functionality, but also for security.

We take security very seriously here, and as such and in consultation with our IT services have agreed that the application is now at its end of life, and sadly needs to be replaced. We don’t take such decisions lightly. We’re aware from access stats that Rock Art has on average 30 unique visits every month and has a core interest group that needs to access the data, so we’re currently taking steps to make sure the data in the Rock Art database is maintained and made publicly accessible in perpetuity.

What’s happening?

The data itself (i.e. the text and images used in the database) is being turned into a standard ADS public archive. This means the individual records (CSV) images (JPG/TIF) and VRML will be available to access download. This includes all the later additions such as the Beckensall archive.

This means, for example, that all the information on the page for an ERA record such as this one, will still be there, just not in the website format and perhaps not as aesthetically pleasing.

We’re hoping to have this done as soon as possible, and when ready the ERA URL will resolve to the new archive.

Further ahead, there are some advantages to bringing the ERA data into a standard archive. The metadata can be incorporated within our Collections Management System (CMS) and Object Management System (OMS), the latter of which is forming the basis of our plans to centralise and implement cross-searching of Objects (i.e. files), and also to benefit from technical developments for external sharing such as IIIF. Overall, the data will be better curated, access widened by bringing it ‘in-house’.

In addition, we have plans to devote staff time to build on the raw data to develop the archive into an ADS Special Collection which replicates the database and map-based experiences we know a lot of our users enjoy for example Roman Amphora or Roman Rural Settlement of Britain). This is being done as a staff training exercise, so timescale for completion is less certain but I would hope we have an Advanced interface ready in 2021.

We hope all our users will understand that this work is being undertaken as a practical response to a tricky problem that impacts all public ICT applications at some point. In this case, and because the resource was already held by ADS we’re happy the data are secure and will be made publicly accessible as soon as possible, and that where we can (and remember the ADS has no core funding) we will continue to enhance access to the data so that the legacy of the original project is continued.

Archaeology on Furlow: attitudes and expectations to online resources

Image of Mark Zuckerberg in a room full of people using Augmented Reality (AR) glasses
“‘ #Cyberspace . A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts…’ #Neuromancer , #WilliamGibson” by cyborglenin is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This week my colleague (Teagan Zoldoske) flagged up the following report:

Wiseman, R., and Ronn, P. (2020). Archaeology on Furlough: Accessing Archaeological Information Online: A Survey of Volunteers’ Experiences. https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.54876

For those unfamiliar with the initiative, Archaeology on Furlough provides professional archaeologists in the UK with access to volunteer projects that can be done from home. This excellent report summarises the expectations and realities of using online resources for specific research needs. The ADS is cited frequently within, and I’m glad to see the overall positive response (see figures 2 + 3). The heavy use of the ADS Library, particularly unpublished reports, over Spring and early Summer 2020 is now partially explained!

Line chart of Access Statistics from the ADS Library
Export of Access statistics from the ADS Library (as of 31 October 2020) showing 103,464 downloads of articles and monographs, and 55,091 downloads of unpublished reports.
Continue reading Archaeology on Furlow: attitudes and expectations to online resources

Linking the virtuous circles: Citation and Tracking Re-use.

Network Analysis in Social, Business and Political Research | Macquarie  University | ACSPRI Courses | ACSPRI

The ADS has (for nearly 25 years!) been providing free access to resources deposited with us. We put them online in open/accessible formats, people use them, and people cite them. We know people use them because we have data on page views and downloads. Some things are used a great deal; often high profile research resources that always gain alot of mentions in literature and social media. Others have more of a cult following, but are still used sporadically.

All these access statistics always make a good basic demonstration of impact; we can pass them onto project funders and stakeholders to demonstrate quantitative success. However the follow-up questions normally enquire as to “who” is using this data, and for what purposes. The ADS have many ambitions in regards to its (meta)data, but facilitating and demonstrating this re-use is a high priority. Over the last year I’ve had a chance to think more about what we could and should be doing, and how it can help us, our users, and depositors make more of the situation…

Continue reading Linking the virtuous circles: Citation and Tracking Re-use.

Changes to the ADS Library

The scholar, Periander in his library with printed text. Reproduction after a woodcut, 1488-89. Credit: Wellcome Collection
CC BY.

Since a Beta release back in March 2017 we’ve received a great deal of feedback on the ADS Library application. We know it’s used intensively, with over 120,000 downloads in 2019, but as with any IT application there are places it can be improved!

For the uninitiated, the ADS Library was the outcome of a Historic England funded project to ensure the longevity of the British and Irish Archaeological Bibliography (BIAB). BIAB had traditionally been maintained by the CBA, with records added into the database by hand from extant sources (see Heyworth 1992). As this approach became less sustainable in the digital age, it was also deemed advisable to combine this dataset with the growing number of digital unpublished reports and journals and monographs held by the ADS, the former mainly derived through material uploaded to the OASIS system. This was also an opportunity for the ADS to align its records with BIAB, and to have a single interface to cross-search all written works it held (traditionally, files from unpublished and published works sat in different databases). Having a unified database, with access to free copies of published and unpublished reports has also been in line with Historic England’s HIAS Principle 4: ‘Investigative research data or knowledge should be readily uploaded, validated and accessed online’.

Continue reading Changes to the ADS Library

IWD2020

The strength of the ADS has always been the people who work here. As a team, we accomplish a lot. Out of the existing cohort of 13 staff, eight are female. Individually, and as a group, these women bring an array of knowledge, skills, and commitment without which we would be diminished. To coincide with International Women’s Day 2020, and in mind of its mission “To celebrate digital advancement and champion the women forging innovation through technology“, it is an opportune moment to celebrate our female staff. Even those who think they know the ADS, should read on to discover the vast array of expertise at hand (listed in alphabetical order)…

Continue reading IWD2020

OASIS and Archives


Saint Lawrence, by Bartolomeo Cesi [CC0]. Image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saint_Lawrence_MET_2000.495.jpg

Over the last few weeks (ether side of Christmas) As part of the HERALD project we’ve been making some progress on the part of the new OASIS which records the archive. As an archival body ourselves we’re keen – along with everyone else I’ve spoken to – that the new system improves on:

  • Recording what has been found/produced for archive
  • Allowing an archival body to produce in-form guidance on what it expects from a deposition
  • Making the archival body aware of events happening within their area/remit
  • Allowing the archival body and data producer to correspond at an early stage
  • Recording the deposition stage
  • Reflecting the differences in archive workflows in England + Scotland.
  • Signposting between physical and digital archives
Continue reading OASIS and Archives

in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate

Blade Runner 1982, by Bill Lile Image shared under a  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence

As it’s World Digital Preservation Day I thought I’d finished the following blog about our work with managing the digital objects within our collection. Like most of my blogs (including the much awaited sequel to Space is the Place) these often languish for a while awaiting a final burst of input. To celebrate WDPD 2018, here we go….

Continue reading in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate

Space is the Place (part I)

server-racks-clouds_blue_circuit” by Kin Lane. CC BY-SA 2.0

This is the first part of a  (much delayed) series of blogs investigating the storage requirements of the ADS. This began way back in late 2016/early 2017 as we began to think about refreshing our off-site storage, and I asked myself the  very simple question of “how much space do we need?”. As I write it’s evolving into a much wider study of historic trends in data deposition, and the effects of our current procedure + strategy on the size of our digital holdings. Aware that blogs are supposed to be accessible, I thought I’d break into smaller and more digestible chunks of commentary, and alot of time spent at Dusseldorf airport recently for ArchAIDE has meant I’ve been able to finish this piece. Continue reading Space is the Place (part I)