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Wiki Warriors: a virtual tool to make our Collection items more accessible

In the course of my work, I come across a great deal of interesting, curious or downright bizarre material that I would love to share with everyone. Some items are easily identifiable in our catalogue whilst others remain invisible despite our best efforts.  It is a problem that applies especially to material embedded within a much larger record or series.

Take for example, the plan of the Rex Theatre in Charlton which accompanied a recent posting.  This plan is the equivalent of one page in a file of approximately 100 pages.  The file in turn is one of six files found within a box which is part of a consignment of a series (in this case the P1 consignment of Victorian Public Record Series 7882) consisting of 2,565 boxes held within our Collection which currently comprise around 93 shelf kilometres of records.  The complete citation for the record is VPRS 7882/P1, Public Building Files, unit 1017, file # 8655.

We have a catalogue that identifies what’s in the Collection so records can be found, however I cannot use it to document the existence of the Rex Theatre plan in a way that would enable it to be found by researchers, ordered and ultimately retrieved.

Why is this? To over-simplify matters somewhat, archivists the world over are trained to document records within the context in which these were originally created.  In my view this is common sense. If I was to image the plan, publish it and write a caption stating it is an image of a plan of the Rex Theatre located at PROV and nothing else, will anyone be able to find it in our catalogue?  I suspect not because the record identified in the catalogue is not the plan but rather the file of which it is a part of. If you put it another way, the plan cannot be listed by itself because it cannot be retrieved.  What can be retrieved is either the file containing the plan or the box containing the file and so it is these items that should be listed.

It would also be inappropriate to attach an image of the Rex Theatre plan to the catalogue listing for the record.  This would misrepresent the true record held in the Collection which, after all, is a file.  But should I (or do I want to) digitise the entire file when, in this instance, all I want to do is share just the plan? The challenge therefore is to share specific discoveries like this in a way that also enables, should researchers choose to do so, access whilst ensuring that its context is explained.

This is why the development of the PROV wiki is such a meaningful development. A feature of the PROV website over the last few years, I think its use might be about to dramatically increase.  Thanks to the efforts of a number of PROV staff, notably Asa Letourneau – get well soon, mate! – and Lisa Fletcher, a tool has been developed (and continues to be developed as we increasingly use it) which enables anyone to create a page in the PROV wiki to display an image and, most importantly, link it to the entry in the PROV catalogue.  The tool can also be used to create a transcription of the imaged record.  The term “Wiki Warrior” has been coined to describe the converts to the cause.

I was recently trained in using the tool and have created the following sample using the Rex theatre.  Click here to view the page.

For me, this tool is a godsend.  It greatly expands my capacity to wax on about the Collection by providing a means for displaying images, especially of hidden records, in a central location.  It enables me to immediately refer researchers who come across the image by whatever means to its location within the PROV catalogue without compromising it. Anyone interested in knowing more about the record is able to use the link into the catalogue to enable them to find an exact reference, read more about the relevant series or order the true record.

Moreover, each page created can be tagged any number of ways allowing for images to come up in a wiki search under any number of headings.  By using tags, I can group the images together in any number of themes. The plan for the Rex Theatre has thus been tagged by reference to “Rex Theatre”, “Public Building files”, “VPRS 7882” and “Charlton”.

It has greatly expanded my notions with what I can do with the Collection and I’ll attempt to create some visualisations of this during the remainder of the year.  In the short term, illustrations of records accompanying future Collection Management blog postings will, when appropriate, be added to the PROV wiki in this manner.

If you would like to become a PROV Wiki Warrior, the next workshop is to be held during the “Shake Your Family Tree Day” at the Victorian Archives Centre on 31 March.  Other sessions will follow and you can find these on our Events Calendar.

Charlie Farrugia, Senior Collections Advisor (and Wiki Warrior)

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