Thanks to the ARA financial support from the International Engagement Bursary, I attended the 5th Conference on Archival Databases promoted by the Brazilian Association of Archivists in Rio de Janeiro on 4th to 6th June 2013.
The event was organized around three main themes, including digitisation, access and memory; with two distinctive spheres of discussion: academic points of view on archival principles, delivered by invited speakers; and current practices, delivered by Brazilian practitioners who responded to a call for papers. Amongst the key speakers were Prof Dr Paul Conway from University of Michigan, Prof Dr Ana Pavani from PUC Rio, Prof Dr Andrew Flinn and Prof Dr Elizabeth Shepherd from UCL, Prof Dr Ana Maria Camargo from USP (BR) and Prof Dr Jose Maria Jardim from UNIRIO (BR).
My primary interest in attending this event was to learn how the Brazilian archival community is dealing with digitisation and the promotion of cultural heritage collections online. I also wanted to have a snap-shot of the Brazilian archival sector, the role of the association within the professional and academic community and expand my network there.
From the practitioners that presented papers I learned that most digitisation projects are isolated initiatives, image creation is outsourced to commercial partners and the approaches to displaying images are similar to the library description approach. It seems that there are financial resources available to institutions at national, state and municipal level but without an integrated system or national strategy to support archival institutions. I have the impression that the Brazilian archival sector is using existing software, mostly library-led systems, but is not engaging with the creation of archival-led software. The Brazilian archival community is however using ICA-Atom, the open-source archival description software, developed and supported by the International Council on Archives.
It was very inspirational to listen and learn about the initiatives that the Brazilian archival community are undertaking in promoting collections to the wider community. Some of them showed how much one can achieve with little resource but a great deal of ‘can do’ attitude. It was very interesting to listening to both Andrew Flinn and Elizabeth Shepherd about their research in community-led archives and the development of the Freedom of Information Act in the UK, and to be able to compare both themes between the Brazilian and the British realities. One of the highlights was learn about successful examples of the use of ICA-Atom in Brazilian institutions. I hope to be able to explore the theory of archival quality and value of surrogates and digitised images, discussed by Prof Dr Paul Conway in my career. Finally, I felt compelled by the friendly and warm archival community engagement with archival ethics, principles and international standards but felt that Brazilian institutions are still operating in non-archival setups, with libraries as a common scenario.
The International Engagement Bursary is available to ARA members only and I would strongly encourage members to apply and attend international conferences to engage with professional themes from an alternative point of view.
Student completing UCL MA Archives and Record Management
Curatorial Team Assistant at V&A Department of Theatre and Performance
Chair of ARA Section for New Professionals 2011-2013