Work in Progress in the CERN Archive
by Anita Hollier.
Access to CERN Council documents
Records of the CERN Council and its Committees are now more easily available thanks to a digitisation and cataloguing project carried out by the CERN Archive during 2009 and 2010. Over 12,000 official documents, most of them available in both English and French, are available here. Optical character recognition means that the full texts are searchable; in the CERN Document Server, just type the prefix "fulltext:" before your search term, e.g. "fulltext:Austria".
Documents prior to 1 April 2009 are currently still governed by the old access restrictions with 30 year closure periods for all except non-confidential Council records (closed for 5 years). However, new rules approved by Council in March 2009 make more documents publicly available immediately after the Council Sessions.
The CERN Web Archive
The World Wide Web was born at CERN in 1989 - but although historic paper documents from over 50 years ago survive in the CERN Archive, it is by no means certain that it will be possible to consult today's web pages 50 years from now.
The regular back-ups made by the IT Department do not meet this need, and it is not their role to do so. The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine includes an impressive collection of archived CERN web pages from 1996 onwards. However, their coverage is not complete. Once again, this is not their role - they aim for broad coverage of the whole Internet, rather than in-depth coverage of particular organisations.
To try to fill this gap, the CERN Archive has entered into a partnership agreement with the Internet Memory Foundation (formerly the European Archive). Harvesting of CERN's publicly available web pages is now being carried out on a regular basis, and the results are available here (new access interface coming soon).
The 8th European Conference on Digital Archiving
The CERN archivist was a member of the national organising committee for this exciting conference, which took place in Geneva on 28-30 April 2010. The objective of the conference was to discuss the challenges currently facing the archive world due to advances in information and communication technology, and the focus was on practical solutions. Contributions concentrated on four main topics:
- The archival profile: professional competence in the digital age
- What to keep: how to mirror the information society
- E-archiving: reorganization of processes and business models
- Online access: solutions and implications
Presenters came from 29 countries, and the meeting attracted around 700 participants from Europe and beyond (including Asia, Africa and the USA). Young professionals played a key role, from setting out the broad aims of the conference at a preparatory meeting in Bern in 2008, to acting as Flying Reporters and providing constant online reporting of events as they happened. For more information, see the web page of the leading event organiser, the Swiss Federal Archives.
Working for Open Access
Over the last couple of years the whole of CERN's Scientific Information group, including the CERN Archive, has focused more of its resources on "CERN Action on Open Access" (more information available here). As part of a project to complete the Library's collection of CERN Theory department documents, some 2,500 missing documents were retrieved from the Archive, catalogued and scanned, with the result that full texts of around 11,000 TH documents, dating from the earliest days of CERN, are now freely available from the CERN Library catalogue. This work is continuing with other important series of CERN scientific documents.
Lists of divisional reports available on-line
In order to facilitate the rapid retrieval of these documents, lists of divisional (and other) reports are being found, scanned and made available for reference here, along with the location of these items in the Archive as it is discovered. The lists give useful information about the existence of documents, and about changes to divisional numbering systems. It may seem strange that such documents cannot be immediately and easily found in the Archive, but this is due to some fundamental differences between libraries and archives which mean that they are arranged and catalogued very differently.
Some differences between libraries and archives
Archives are documents created or received by a person or organisation in the course of their personal or business affairs, and preserved for their historical value. They include letters, memos, internal reports and many other types of record, held on paper or any other media. They were not originally intended to give information to the public, as published books and articles are, and for this reason can provide honest "behind the scenes" information about what was going on. Of course, this does not mean that every document necessarily tells the truth! Evidence needs to be evaluated, and archival documents can only be understood in their context; it is important to know who wrote them, when, and why, and to read them in conjunction with other related material.
Library books usually include information on author, title and publication date, and this provides as much background information as most people need. Much more contextual information is needed for archival documents; however, they generally have much less, hence the two fundamental principles governing the archival profession: provenance and original order.
- Provenance - Archives are organised according to the person or organisation (company, department, group, etc) that accumulated them. Records of different provenance are not mixed together even though they may relate to the same subject.
- Original order – The natural accumulation of archives as part of the normal conduct of business provides evidence of how that business was carried out. The records reflect the activities and functions (and only those activities and functions) with which the person or organisation that accumulated them was concerned. When they are transferred from the office to the Archive store they are arranged, wherever possible, in the same order that was used by this person or organisation. Preserving the original filing system helps provide some of the necessary context, and makes it easier to understand what was done in the past and why those people acted as they did.
This may help to explain why archives do not necessarily contain boxes of documents neatly arranged in the order that would seem most convenient to any given enquirer today (though possibly not so convenient for the enquirer who will be using them for a different purpose in 100 years time)! Digitisation of archival documents offers the possibility to create more user-friendly virtual arrangements.
The archives of Wolfgang Pauli
2005 saw the return to CERN of six boxes of historic reprints - more than 30 years after they went missing! The 146 items had been part of the personal collection of the Nobel prize-winning physicist Wolfgang Pauli. After his death in 1958 Pauli's widow bequeathed his scientific legacy to CERN, and part of the collection was stored in Salle Pauli. In those days the room was always left open so that Pauli's library could be freely consulted; but then 170 preprints by Born, Bohr, Heisenberg and others - some with dedications to Pauli from the author - disappeared in 1972. In 2002 the items were found to have been offered for sale at Christie's, New York. On learning their true provenance the vendor withdrew them from the sale, and following several months of negotiation they were returned to CERN. (See also the CERN Bulletin, 30 May 2005).
The Archive Committee held its final meeting in April 2004, and its functions are now carried out by the Archive sub-committee, which is a working group of the Scientific Information Policy Board (SIPB). The Chairman of this group is Gabriele Veneziano. Other members are currently: Anita Hollier (Archivist), Bernd Pollermann (leader of the former Long-term Electronic Archiving working group) and Dietrich Schinzel (leader of the Photo Captions project). GV and AH will represent the sub-Committee and report when required to the SIPB. Minutes of SIPB meetings are available on-line from 1995.
The process of appointing new Divisional Records Officers is still ongoing, and the DRO Web pages will be updated as soon as this process is complete.
The CERN Library and Archive are cooperating on a joint project to improve full-text access to CERN Scientific Committee documents. They are also working to provide better links between CERN reports catalogued in the Library and Archive databases.
Full-text is being provided for the archival collection of press releases; this will be available from the Archive catalogue and from the Press Office Web pages.
For those interested to know more about the changes to the CERN archive finding aids (outlined in Work in Progress September 2001, below), more detail is now available in an article published in 'Business Archives - Principles and Practice' No. 89 May 2005. It is also available as CERN-OPEN-2005-017.
A number of changes have been happening behind the scenes in the CERN Archive, and some of them now appear in the newly designed Web pages. The aim of these changes is to improve access to the CERN Archive. Please be patient with the ongoing work. If you are interested to know more about what we are doing, please read on.
- The main finding aid for the CERN Archive is the on-line catalogue CDS Search. Work is continuing to catalogue the entire Archive on CDS Search as time and resources permit. However this will be a long job, and while collections remain completely uncatalogued they are, effectively, unusable. For this reason we have prepared a rough shelf list of all the holdings, and created provisional brief descriptions in CDS Search of all the otherwise uncatalogued collections. These give a bare minimum of information, but at least allow basic searching.
- We have also prepared a more detailed list of the main series of CERN scientific documents in the Archive. This is not available on CDS Search, but will enable archive staff to find more quickly documents that are requested by a CERN reference number. So if you are looking for a CERN scientific document and cannot find it in the Library, try asking the Archive.
- As well as the records in CDS Search, we have also begun to produce collection-level descriptions of the CERN Archive which conform to the International Standard for Archival Description (ISAD(G)). Full versions of these will be available from our Web pages, with shorter versions also included in CDS Search. Adoption of common standards by all Archives will eventually make them more easily accessible and understandable to potential users world-wide.
- In order to further assist users we have produced the CERN Archive guide, which gives a brief description of all the collections in the CERN Archive. The list is arranged in sections corresponding to the broad functions carried out at CERN. Where available, each section provides links to the item-level descriptions in CDS Search and to a collection-level description (conforming to ISAD(G)). An alphabetical list of the collections allows an alternative means of access to the same information.
Why arrange the collection guide by functional categories?
Archives of original historical records are not like libraries. In libraries information is logically arranged by subject, author and publication. By contrast, the two main principles of archive management are respect for the original order of collections, and respect for their provenance. This means that collections which enter the Archive at different times from different sources are generally stored and catalogued separately, even if they deal with the same subject.
Archival records are documents that were created in the course of normal activities. They provide information about, and evidence for, these activities; but the context in which they were created must be understood before their content can be interpreted. This is why one of the most important pieces of information in cataloguing archival records is their provenance.
Provenance information may include, for example, the name of the division in which the record was created. However, all organisations evolve and change over time, so these divisional hierarchies will not remain constant. This can be inconvenient, for example if an user is interested in the work of the IT division throughout the history of CERN, but does not know that this division used to be called DD, and, after that CN. Furthermore, some collections in the Archive comprise the papers of important scientists at CERN, and so have been catalogued by their name rather than the name of a division. But the user may not know where in the Organization these people worked, and so may not realise the relevance of their records.
For these reasons we have attempted to arrange the list of collections according to a functional analysis of CERN's activities. Although organisations may reorganise frequently during their lives, they generally continue to carry out the same broad functions. So, by this classification, collections dealing with broadly similar subjects should be grouped together in the list regardless of when or where they were created.
It is not always clear to which function certain collections should be assigned. Have we got the arrangement right? Your feedback is welcome.