[p.41]

TOWARDS VIRTUAL ACCESS TO ARCHIVES

Charles J. Farrugia[*]

[p.42] Conducting historical research is a time-consuming task which requires patience, skill and love for the quest of knowledge. It is not uncommon for researchers to spend days on end in reading rooms trying to put together a jigsaw of data. Positive results can be hampered due to deficiencies in the systems providing research facilities. When it comes to archives, it is often the case that gaps in documents, shortage of resources in the form of staff or funds, or inadequate opening hours or service delivery, make the life of the researcher more difficult.   The twenty-first century has brought with it new methods of service delivery. A number of archives are relying on technology to reach out to their audiences and deliver catalogues and images of documents at the press of a button. Can this be the solution towards better archives/patron interaction? Is the concept of virtual interactivity or access also applicable to historical research?

This paper lists a number of projects which have been built around this concept that can be used by Maltese and foreign researchers interested in the history of Malta and its environs. It invites the local research community to tap into these sources and also to interact with the archives community in order to create a much-desired communication between the reader and the archivist.   Understanding each others’ needs is the cornerstone of better archival services in a context of diminishing resources, increased reliance on information technology, and a globalised economy.

[p.42] Maltese Archives

Archives provide the bedrock for our understanding of the past. They show us, and future generations, how we came to be what we are as a nation, a community, or an individual. They are a hidden national asset and constitute the very essence of our heritage. Malta is rich in archival holdings, with Maltese notaries practising their profession and thus creating archival records way back into the fifteenth century. Archives in Malta are administered under different authorities and governing bodies, depending on whether they are public, ecclesiastical, or private.

The state of Maltese archives was put under scrutiny on a number of occasions. One of these instances was by none less than Sir Hilary Jenkinson (1882-1961). He distinguished himself as an archivist, palaeographer and influential thinker in the archives field. His famous Manual of Archive Administration (1922) has remained an authoritative work for practicing archivists even to the current day. Just after the end of the Second World War, he was sent to Italy to assess the state of archives there.[1] He was also commissioned to visit Malta and compile a similar report on the state of Maltese archives. He arrived in Malta on 6 May 1944, visited a number of public archives, and left us a report which was later discussed but, unfortunately, its recommendations were not implemented.[2]

Jenkinson’s report discusses Maltese archives under two broad categories: (a) governmental, semi-public and private; (b) ecclesiastic. Apart from the detailed analyses about the main archival collections, Jenkinson made a series of recommendations to safeguard the future of Maltese archives.[3] One of his recommendations was for a general study about the types of documents, their whereabouts, and under whose authority these records are managed. Jenkinson, as early as 1944, was hinting at the need for a central register through which one can develop and enhance both preservation and access to local archival holdings.

However, Jenkinson was only focusing on the main public archives and the situation has now developed into a more complex array of archival collections over the years. In today’s terminology, when we refer to public archives – that is, those records created, maintained or received by institutions performing a public function – we mainly refer to the National Archives, Notarial Archives, Public Registry, National Library (Archives Section), Department of Information and other entities holding records in special formats such as the Public Broadcasting Services.

There is also an extensive and highly important sector of ecclesiastical archives. These are repositories administered either by the Diocese of Malta, or by the Cathedral of Mdina, or by any other religious order. The main archives are those [p.43] of the Archiepiscopal Archives at Floriana, the Cathedral Archives at Mdina, and those belonging to religious orders. One cannot overlook the importance of parish archives in this group of record creators.

Under the term ‘private archives’, we group together all those institutions whose functions are private, or whose shareholding in their administration is private. Among the local private institutions holding archives of national significance one finds the Strickland Foundation, the Social Action Movement, Commercial Banks, Political Parties, the Chamber of Commerce and the Times of Malta. Considering the diversity of the sector, which is much greater than Jenkinson had the opportunity to experience in 1944, one can appreciate better how valid was the idea to compile a central registry of information about Maltese archives.

A more formal proposal to compile a central information point about the whereabouts of Maltese archives was made by Dr Ann Williams during the conference ‘Maltese History: What future’ organised by the Department of History of the University of Malta in 1971. During the fifth session of this conference, Dr Williams presented a supplementary paper entitled ‘A National Register of Archives’.[4] She argued that archive material in Malta is scattered in various libraries, public buildings and private and ecclesiastical collections. She advocated that a valuable beginning would be the recording of the whereabouts of such documents and its level of accessibility. She also suggested that, until a public repository for archives is established, the national register be hosted at the Royal Malta Library, or the University Library. Dr Williams also placed information about the law and practice relating to the National Register of Archives in the United Kingdom for consultation in the Department of History of the Royal University of Malta.

Not much happened in the direction advocated by Dr Williams. Local and foreign researchers still have several demands that cannot be satisfied due to lack of adequate finding aids. The set-up of local archives is complex, fragmented, and scattered across the islands. One takes the impression that each and every archive is a world on its own rather than one of the rings in a chain of inter-related data. This state of affairs does not reflect the actual nature of archival records. Archival research relies a lot on the interdependence of data that can be traced across a broad spectrum or repositories.

The National Archives

One of the reasons hampering the compilation of a national register of archives was the lack of a national archive institution, a development which, compared to [p.44] other European countries, has come about relatively late. It was only in 1990 that Malta got its National Archives legislation.[5] The decade which followed saw the focus of the new institution on the setting-up of the physical infrastructure of its repositories, and the collecting of circa 15 kilometres of records from the various government buildings. It soon became evident that, if the National Archives was to fulfil its remit and not simply act as a super-registry or warehouse facility, a much more detailed, current, and modern legal framework was to be put into place. This prompted the National Archives of Malta to lobby with the local authorities to implement a wide-ranging reform that was to give the archives the necessary legal, administrative and financial tools to fulfill its mission. This movement was supported by the Friends of the National Archives and has led to substantial achievements. It made it possible to have a new archives act just after fifteen years after the enactment of the first archives act.[6]

The 2005 archives legislation reformed both the administrative structure of the National Archives and the professional basis of the same institution.[7] It segregated the National Archives from the libraries sector, a proposal that had been made even by Jenkinson way back in 1944. Following this reform, the National Archives now functions as a government agency with its own legal persona and annual budget. The professional archival aspect of the reform included the creation of the office of the National Archivist, with responsibility for overseeing not only the National Archives but the whole archive sector. The law goes into detail about the structure of records management in public entities and departments and also provides for collaborative structures in the form of a National Archives Forum. The Forum is to discuss bi-annually the state of archives report. These structures augur well for an impetus in a sector that has suffered so much from years of neglect. This has come at a time when the world out there is tackling the challenges of the IT revolution, challenges that we also need to face if we are to remain relevant.  

The advent of automation and the development of standards  

One of the effects of the IT revolution on the archival profession was the realisation of the need for standards. The original reluctance by archivists to develop their own standards gradually gave way. The idea of adopting standards devised by librarians and adopting them to archival needs often proved problematic. The arrival of automation has created a renewed interest in standards.

[p.45] One of the first standards issued for archivists was the Manual for Archival Description by Michael Cook.[8] It was extremely helpful in that it tried successfully to map out the various standards existent by then, and also highlights similarities and differences in order to pave the way for further standardization. The increasing need of standardization led the International Council on Archives (ICA) to set up a committee on standards in 1990, leading to the first ISAD(G) publication in 1994.[9] One cannot attribute the development of these standards simply to the advent of automation.

Yet it is most certain that automation has provided an incentive to the archival community to standardise its descriptive systems in order to facilitate future automation. Apart from standards, automation also made archivists realise that they can communicate with their audiences in new and innovative ways. The traditional printing of calendars, which took time to structure and see the light of the day, gave way to a more imminent and pro-active approach. Putting catalogues online was the order of the day during the last two decades. This availability of catalogues soon created a demand for more. Researchers started demanding not only catalogues, but the actual image of the document they are after. This meant that the archivist had to redefine his/her role in society.

A new perspective for archivists

The whole changing scenario implied a new role for the archival profession. It placed before the archivist the challenge to change the very essence of his/her existence. On this issue, Lekaukau Masisi wrote that:

‘archivists have traditionally focussed on providing information on things that happened a long time before, but if they are to compete, or even to survive alongside other information providers, they have to change and become active information seekers, as well as information providers.’[10]  

In a paper on the topic presented during the 1998 Stockholm CITRA Conference, John McDonald compared the situation to a train that is leaving the station while archives are still at the platform. Yet, he was optimistic enough to grant that it is still not too late if they would like to jump on board.[11] However, several years later, it is worrying that several archivists still consider the issue of making best use of electronic media as alien to their profession. This is very true [p.46] in the Maltese situation whereby not one single archive is providing on-line item level descriptions of its holdings.

Archivists as role players in the information society

The new demands on archival services asks for a new perspective of the archivist as a role player in an information network rather than as the custodian of noncurrent records. This is emphasised in another resolution agreed to during the same round table conference in 1998 stating that;

‘In the new electronic environment, no single player can address the issue alone. Archivists, information technology specialists, administrators and other specialists should foster partnerships to bring together the expertise and tools required to meet the challenges and opportunities presented by electronic government.’[12]

A number of archivists have published extensively, emphasizing the importance to be given to users of our online services on the same basis as the attention attached to those who physically visit reading rooms. One should strive hard to provide new services to what Amanda Hill calls ‘the invisible researcher’.[13] This is one of the concepts which are driving the policy of the National Archives of Malta to embark on the setting up of the National Register of Archives as a main portal to lead researchers to the collections. This should serve as the first step towards reaching out to a wider audience which goes beyond the on-site visitors to our repositories.

The National Register of Archives

In this rapidly changing scenario, the National Archives of Malta is striving hard to make best use of technology in order to reach out to its patrons. The development of a National Register of Archives is not only the fulfilment of a much desired dream to have an effective tool for research, but also a requirement of the National Archives Act 2005. The National Archives is to establish and maintain a register to be known as the National Register of Archives.[14] The same legislation stipulates that the National Register of Archives shall contain particulars, in such form as the National Archivist considers appropriate, of

(i) archives open for public inspection and location of holdings;
(ii) records of national significance in private archives, after the necessary [p.47] permission has been granted by the owner of the records; and
(iii) any other details or information which will benefit the promotion of the archives and the provision.

The initial assessment of how this function can be fulfilled indicated that, basically, the success of such a measure would be conditioned by two factors: the practicality of the method used for data collation and management and the sense of collaboration we are able to generate amongst all stakeholders. For this reason, it was decided to combine this effort with the launching of the much awaited website of the archives. The delay in launching the final product was mainly the result of several changes that took place in government thinking about its ICT strategy, in particular e-government. The first website the National Archives had was built in line with the thinking of the time – that of presenting encyclopaedic-type information to the patrons.[15] The present site is more geared towards interactivity and tries to create a platform for exchange of information and services.[16]

The National Register of Archives now forms part of the e-government services of the new archives portal. The brainstorming that went into this particular service led us to identify the following fields worth of inclusion at this stage:

1. Name of repository
2. Owning entity
3. Address
4. Person in charge
5. Contacts : Tel: Fax: E-mail: web-site:
6. Opening hours
7. Access requirements
8. Description of holdings (to include list of fonds names; codes; dates; and any descriptions or attachments of documents in pdf. format)
9. Extent of holdings
10. Photo of repository or important document

Individual archives (whether public or private) will be able to participate, filling in the data themselves following the granting of an access password by the National Archives. The data will then be vetted and, once approved or revised, be made available to the public. The possibility to attach files to the various fonds and entries will provide archives with a golden opportunity to start putting their finding aids online. We are aware of the limitations. The file formats that can be [p.48] accessed still have to be decided as this is a technical issue that will be decided upon at the testing and standards-verification phase. We have analyzed other projects which are on a much larger dimension and very well-funded.[17] Even in these projects certain technical issues remained unresolved. One such issue is version control.[18]

The system will allow for searches to be carried out in any of the fields of the data included. Even here, we are making an effort to get the best results from the systems we have. However, we are aware that all our efforts are severely constrained as none of the participating archives have a back-end equipped with the right technology for archival cataloguing.

Digitising holdings

Once the archives sector has the infrastructure in place to provide the description of the different archival repositories at high level, one needs to focus also on the process of digitization in these archives. Digitization is the cornerstone for providing virtual access to archival records. It is acknowledged as an effective means by which access to knowledge can be enhanced. It is also endorsed in the Draft National Cultural Policy published recently by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport in 2010. The Policy states that ‘…adequate infrastructure and conservation measures shall be undertaken within the framework of specific strategies to facilitate storage, cataloging, and physical and digital access to these resources, while international networking shall be enhanced and further encouraged.’[19]

In the past, some Maltese archives relied on microfilming as an effective way to preserve and give access to holdings. Several items were already microfilmed in the early 1990s by the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library of Minnesota. Tests and analysis on the feasibility of having digitization from microfilms were conducted by two Italian firms, Global Microfilm Digital S.R.L. and Datadisc.it. The end results showed that images of high quality were possible in the case of microfilms that were preserved in adequate atmospheric conditions.[20] The same cannot be said to parts of collections from the Cathedral Museum, where the low quality of chemicals used at the production stage, coupled with the inadequate storage conditions in which they were kept, led to early symptoms of vinegar syndrome and the eventual disintegration of the films.

[p.49]

Fig. 1: The HMML sponsored laboratory managed by the National Archives at the Banca Giuratale in Mdina

Fig. 2: The head office of the National Archives at Santo Spirito in Rabat

Fig. 3: Part of the portrait gallery open to the public at the National Archives in Mdina

[p.50] With this technical background in mind, some years back the National Archives started small microfilming projects. Funding came from sponsors and individuals who appreciate the value of Malta’s archival heritage. The Friends of the National Archives played an important role in all this, through the co-ordination of the sponsorship schemes, which schemes could not be easily managed under public service regulations.[21] We also took the opportunity of other parallel initiatives to sponsor the works. One of these was the Navigation du Savoir Project.[22] Under this project, the National Archives managed to digitize the first decades of the Consolato del Mare, starting in 1697. Aware of the ever-changing techniques in this area, the National Archives focused on the training of its staff and managed to send abroad for training most of its personnel under the Leonardo da Vinci Programme, Mobility Project for the years 2005-07. The learning outcome of the participants who travelled to Bulgaria, Hungary, and Sicily to work on digitization projects was compiled in a booklet which the National Archives published in 2007.[23]

An archive of considerable importance for the study of Maltese toponomy and legal rights is the Notarial Archives. With the oldest documents going back to the 1460s, this archive provides the reading public with notarial deeds, wills, property transfers, loans, power of attorney etc. The cultural value of these holdings started being appreciated when a poem dating to the second half of the fifteenth century, known as the Cantilena written by Pietro Caxaro, was discovered on one of the end pages. The volumes form part of the 1530s notarial deeds of Notary Don Brandano Caxaro. A process of digitisation was initiated on the same lines as that held at the National Archives. The Hill Museum and Manuscript Library is steering this project following a public pronouncement by Parliamentary Secretary Dr Jason Azzopardi, responsible for the Notarial Archives.[24]

Several religious orders, that are still active in Malta, own extensive archival holdings of great historical and cultural value. The Augustinians, Dominicans, Franciscan Conventuals, Franciscan Minors, Capuchins, Jesuits and the various monasteries preserve their records, some of which date back to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. However, accessibility is hampered and the reading public cannot appreciate the cultural value of such holdings. It is hoped that, through the national drive to digitise cultural heritage, these records are captured within a centralised system of access. Some experiments were carried out in the past as was the digitisation of a volume from the Franciscans Conventual archives of Rabat. A Giuliana Antica dated 1638 was digitised and it is hoped that the 21 22 23 24 Charles J. Farrugia 51 authorities will appreciate the advantages of this joint national effort to create digital content and hence providing it to the international academic community.

Another active participant in the drive to digitise Malta’s cultural heritage is the University of Malta archives section that carried out a pilot project and digitized the private papers of Malta’s national poet, Dun Karm. The cd also includes an audio recording of the poet himself reading three of his poems. What remains to be done is to create further synergies and collaboration in order to share the learning experience, infrastructure and expertise. This process will eventually enhance the quality of the work and the speed by which this process can be rolled out in other archives and cultural institutions. What follows infra is a succinct overview of the main projects of archival digitization in progress locally or internationally but with local interest, and which can be valuable in paving the way for expertise sharing and also access to millions of records by researchers.

a. Hill Museum and Manuscript Library

Thirty-four years after the Malta Study Centre of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library began microfilming the archives of the Cathedral Museum, the archives sector in Malta welcomed back this highly-esteemed institution on another extensive project.[25] The agreement with the National Archives, signed on 23 October 2007, provided for the digitization of the Acta Originalia of the Magna Curia Castellania, a secular tribunal set up by the Grand Master and headed by a knight known as the Castellano. It is a collection of 1,411 volumes, the oldest dating back to 1545. Between 2007 and 2010, the digitization studio of the Legal Documentation Section at the Banca Giuratale in Mdina captured 362,123 digital images, comprising 376 volumes.[26] The agreement does not allow the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library to upload all the images, and thus a sample of a number of images from each volume is being uploaded on the institution’s website. The long-term vision is to have the whole lot uploaded either on the National Archives website or through some other joint collaboration initiative.

b. Genealogical Society of Utah

The first agreement with the Genealogical Society of Utah was signed in 2002 during the conference ‘Converging Frontiers: Regional Cooperation in the Archives Sector’ organised by the National Archives.[27] It provides for the digitisation of the passport applications and also the shipping registers starting in [p.52] the beginning of the nineteenth century. This is an extensive project which has produced thousands of images.[28] Once ready, it will provide the off-site researcher with access to the movements of people from Malta at the press of a button.

c. ARISTHOT

Malta’s European Union membership meant greater opportunities for the archives sector to tap for funds from specific projects. One of these successful experiences was the participation in Aristhot, a project under the Interreg IIIB community measure steered by the Centre for Book Conservation of Arles in France.

The Internum-Aristhot project aimed to promote, via common themes and information technologies, documentary heritage (books, manuscripts, archives, graphic and photographic documents, audiovisual recordings, etc.) while exploring the issue of developing a common ground for the reproduction rights of documents. In particular, the Aristhot phase of the project focused on sciences in the Mediterranean. The thematic approach of the project made us look out for collections which can fit under this heading. The collaboration of Mgr. Dun ?wann Azzopardi, on behalf of the Wignacourt Museum of Rabat, has resulted in the digitization of old pharmacy recettori. To this we added some inventories from the Legal Documentation Section in Mdina together with the weather records of the ?urdan Lighthouse in Gozo from our Gozo branch.[29]

Lately, the whole project has been migrated to the e-corpus platform. e-corpus is a collective digital library that catalogues and disseminates numerous documents: manuscripts, archives, books, journals, prints, audio recordings, video, etc. Till the present day, it brings together 48147 notices, 513390 documents from 160 organizations.[30]

d. The World Digital Library

The World Digital Library is another initiative steered by UNESCO aiming at creating an agglomeration of data from the various archival, library and museum collections worldwide. It is a pity that the network for collaboration in this project is not strong enough yet. In fact, there are still very few items related to Malta at the moment.[31]

[p.53]

e. EUROPEANA

EUROPEANA has received much wider publicity and government support in several European countries. That explains why it is a much more visible and publicized initiative.[32] The portal developed by the European Union links the researcher to 6 million digital items ranging from paintings, drawings, maps, photos and pictures of museum objects to sounds, music and spoken word from cylinders, tapes, discs and radio broadcasts. It also provides access to films and newsreels. The source material comes from a vast array of repositories including museums and galleries, archives, libraries and audio-visual collections. The main challenge for our country to participate in this project is the variance in metadata standards used in the various originating offices in Malta. Images submitted to Europeana by the National Archives could not be loaded simply because the Europeana metadata standard is different from that used locally. This hiccup with interoperability to standards is also a big issue in the archives sector. It was specifically for this reason that the APEnet project was developed.

f. Archives Portal Europe

APEnet (Archives Portal Europe) is a Best Practice Network project supported by the European Commission in the eContentplus programme.[33] Its objective is to build an internet gateway for documents and archives in Europe. Fourteen European National Archives in close co-operation with the EUROPEANA initiative will create a common access point to European archival descriptions and digital collections. The National Archives of Malta is one of the lead partners of this project. It is not a project which will focus on the actual digitisation projects, but on the backbone of interoperability. Thus, it will study the various cataloguing methods and standards and create the necessary plug-ins in order to arrive at the concept of seamless flow of research from one national archives’ catalogue to another.[34]

g. National Archives of Malta website

The new website launched by the National Archives in November 2009 provides a number of e-government services to the public.[35] One can use the government payment gateway and order images on-line. Of particular interest are snippets from the films donated to the archives by Stan Fraser. The site is also providing access to hundreds of photographs which have been digitised and catalogued.

[p.54]

h. Archivio Storico Multimediale del Mediterraneo

The Archivio Storico Multimediale del Mediterraneo was launched in Syracuse on 31 July 2009.[36] The project of the Mediterranean Archives Portal is coordinated by the Archivio di Stato of Catania. On its launch date, it already included 350,000 high resolution images and 62,000 indexes from Italian archives. The site has innovative features and a specialist tool box to help patrons in their research. The portal is very strong when it comes to interoperability, visual commodity through the lens function, and conversion of currencies from countries and different epochs of time. It is a golden opportunity for archives in the Mediterranean region to come together and showcase their culture and history through this portal. The lead partners are seeing in Malta an excellent point of collaboration. It was also for this reason that the guest speakers during the launching event included the National Archivist of Malta together with that of Spain.[37]

The National Memory Project

In 2004, the National Archives launched the National Memory Project (NMP). It aims to collect, preserve, and provide to the general public Malta’s photographic and audio-visual archives. It tries to bring together all stakeholders who are responsible or involved in the upkeep of audio-visual archival sources in Malta. The vision is also that we embrace and actively collaborate with similar initiatives spearheaded by institutions from abroad.

Although the idea of this project found the support of several personalities and entities that militate in favour of this sector, it was and is still hindered by lack of resources. There is no specific financial allocation for this initiative and so one had to rely on the present infrastructure of the National Archives, rope in volunteers, and ask for sponsorship for the various phases of the project. Notwithstanding the lack of finance, what has been achieved so far is encouraging.

The first phase of the project, which was inaugurated by the then President of Malta His Excellency Professor Guido de Marco on 22 March 2004, was the National Portrait Archive. It brings together portraits from archival records, portraits by prominent Maltese photographers and portraits donated by individuals, groups or organizations. A series of photographs of particular interest are the passport applications photos which total around 100,000. Emigration dominated Malta’s socio-economic history throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century. The images captured with passport applications, commencing in 1915, provide ethnographic and historical detail of great value. All applications have been [p.55] microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah and plans are in the pipeline to provide access to the images via the web in the near future.

The second phase of the NMP is the digitisation, cataloguing and intellectual control of thousands of historical photos. A public request was made for individuals and organisations to donate photographic material of historical value to the National Archives. In cases where private individuals wanted to keep the originals, scans were made and the bibliographical details recorded. Cataloguing fields prescribed by the International Standard for Archival Description and other standards for the cataloguing of photographs were used. The first results of this phase became available to the public with the launching of the National Archives website in November 2009.[38]

 

Photographic holdings donated by private individuals and organisations (including the National Portrait Archive)

 

Digital content from public archives

 

Audio-visual holdings from government departments and entities

 

National Memory Project
Central Repository

 

Links with other projects such as Europeana, APEnet, e-Corpus, and the Archivio Storico Multimediale

 

Audio-visual content collected through oral culture initiatives (support of stakeholders such as the U3E)

Fig 4: The high level strategy of the National Memory Project

[p.56] The third and final phase of the National Memory Project is the setting-up of the Film and Sound Archive. Thousands of films in 16 mm or 35 mm are deposited in repositories ill-fitted for such a purpose. The best available technology has to be identified to convert the images on durable and readable formats. Cataloguing has to be done in line with modern practices. This is no easy task as the costs involved are considerable. However, a small state such as Malta cannot afford to lose the audio-visual heritage it has generated throughout the last century. It represents its transition from a fortress colony to an Independent Republic. The images in question record Malta’s salient socio-political events, the building of tourism as Malta’s main economic base, and depict the way the Maltese lifestyle developed and changed to its present state.

Till now the National Archives has managed to convince the Department of Information to build up a secure storage facility for its films which had been badly stored at a store house in Sa Maison.[39] The first films which have been digitised were viewable during the Notte Bianca event at Valletta in October 2009. It has also held discussions with the Public Broadcasting Services about their sound and film archives, and has also initiated collaboration with the Broadcasting Authority about its audio-visual holdings.

The project is not limited to material that is only available locally. Any film footage or sound recordings which can be identified and which are relevant to Malta’s history are potential items of interest to the NMP. In this effort, the National Archives has teamed up with Ms Veronica Galea who has already acquired for the archives highly-valuable film footage shot by Second World War veteran Stan Fraser.[40] The footage was cleaned, transferred to a digital format, and snippets of it are already available for public viewing on the National Archives website.[41]

When it comes to sound archives, an interesting agreement has been signed between the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport and Mr Andrew Alamango. The project, which is being co-ordinated by the National Archives through Mr Alamango, aims to research, collect, and transfer from analogue to digital 78 rpm records released in Malta in the early years of the inter-war period. These shellac records – released on major labels of the day, including ODEON, PATHE and HMV – feature an array of folk and popular music from Malta by some of the better-known popular musicians of the day. This is also part of our archival heritage and we plan to be in a position to offer such material even to our virtual researchers.

[p.57] The scenario we are working in is much more advanced than that reviewed by Jenkinson in 1944. We have much more resources, but we have also much bigger demands and challenges. We are competing with a bombardment of information sources, and the territory we work in has expanded to the whole world. Thus, new means of archives management and communication are necessary. It is most encouraging that Malta’s institutions responsible for the archives sector are embracing new methods of communication with their patrons. A recent development was the use of web tools such as Facebook for posting communications, and Flickr for visual images.[42] This is an indication that the local archival community is ready to keep up with the advancement of technology and the new methods of effective communication.

Conclusion

International developments are putting pressure on the archival community to act and establish policies and best practices for the archival care of digital media and electronic records. A lot of work has been carried out about certain aspects of the whole process, including the important issue of metadata. The same can be said about the very controversial issue of appraisal of electronic records. However, several issues are still hazy and need the right professional people to come forward, take the lead, and act. This should be the new character of present day archivists: initiative and innovation should be the catchwords of a profession which has a challenging future rather than a dwindling role.

Catching the train with regards to the digitisation of Maltese archival records and the management of electronic records is not an easy task. It was only lately that new structures were set up to manage effectively such heritage. The enactment of the Cultural Heritage Act, the setting-up of the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, and Heritage Malta (as the agency responsible for the management of Malta’s heritage) brought with them major changes. The archives sector passed through a similar reform in 2005. With the legal structures in place, and an evergrowing awareness amongst the general public, the prospects of a quality leap forward are very good.

Malta’s accession to the European Union has facilitated the participation of locals in expertise fora. It has also made it possible to tap for funds aimed at developing specialised projects and areas for which local funding was never identified. In an ever-growing globalised economy, Malta needs to promote its cultural heritage in the most attractive and widely accessible manner. It is hoped that collaboration with projects such as Europeana, APEnet, the Archivio [p.58] Storico Multimediale del Mediterraneo and other initiatives, make it possible to share expertise, make best use of human resources, and facilitate the paths to be followed in order to avoid duplication of efforts and create centres of information that can be easily accessible throughout Europe and world-wide.

The creation of a National Register of Archives will not remedy all the pitfalls the local archives sector has. However, it will be the first step in making best use of technology to enhance collaboration between all stakeholders. The initiative to set up the National Register of Archives is a small yet important step in setting the basis for future collaboration between the various stake-holders in the archives sector. The same can be said about the National Memory Project. The driving force is to create collaboration between stake-holders and create a one stop shop for access to the archival heritage. This dream can become a reality if we embrace the advantages that digital technology provides us with, and work together towards facilitating virtual access to archives.


[*]Charles J. Farrugia, a Commonwealth scholar, holds BA (Hons) and Master’s degrees in History from the University of Malta, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Records Management from the University of Northumbria in Newcastle, and a Master’s degree in Archives and Records Management from University College, London, UK. He promoted the first archives courses in Malta and took the initiative for the establishment of degree and diploma courses in archives and records management at the University of Malta where he is the main lecturer.  He participated in a number of international conferences where he also delivered papers. Mr Farrugia is a member of the Society of Archivists of the UK and a founding member of the Friends of the National Archives of Malta and of the Maltese National Committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM - Malta). In 2005, he was appointed Malta’s first National Archivist and he represents Malta on a number of EU Committees and Experts Groups. Together with a number of papers on Maltese History and two researched local history books about his native Imqabba in 1995 and 1998, Charles published L-Arkivji ta’ Malta in 2006 and edited Guardians of Memory in 2008.

[1] National Archives of Malta (NAM), GMR1458, Report on the working of the Royal Malta Library for the period 1939-46, 1946.

[2] NAM, CSG1/1400/1944.

[3] The full recommendations are reproduced in C. Farrugia, L-Arkivji ta’ Malta, Malta 2006, 33.

[4] A. Williams, ‘A national register of archives’, in A. Williams and R. Vella Bonavita (eds.), Maltese History: What Future?, Malta 1974, 136.

[5] National Archives Act, Malta, IV, 1990.

[6] This achievement was highly praised by the President of the International Council on Archives, Mr Ian Wilson, during his speech to delegates attending a courtesy visit to the Speaker of the House of Representatives on 21 November 2010. Delegates were in Malta to attend the 41st International Conference of the Round Table on Archives.

[7] National Archives Act, Malta, V, 2005. Chapter 477 of the Laws of Malta. Available on-line at: http://docs.justice.gov.mt/lom/Legislation/English/Leg/VOL_15/Chapt477.pdf.

[8] M. Cook, Manual of Archival Description, London 1986.

[9] International Council on Archives, General International Standard Archival Description, Paris 2000.

[10] L. Lekaukau, ‘Serving the administrator: The archivist in the new millennium’, Archivuum, XLV, Paris 2000, 121.

[11] J. McDonald, ‘Current records, access and the international archival community’, CITRA XXXIII, Paris 1998, 130.

[12] Habibah Zon Yahaya and Mahfuzah Yusuf, Défis technologiques et questions de preservation, CITRA XXXIII, Paris 1998, 73.

[13] A. Hill, ‘Serving the invisible researcher: meeting the needs of online users’, in Journal of the Society of Archivists, vol. 25, 2, 2004, 147.

[14] Act V, 2005, Malta, Article 4 (1) b.

[15] The site was at www.libraries-archives.gov.mt.

[16] The site is at www.nationalarchives.gov.mt.

[17] One project which was analysed is the AIM25 Project. The Archives in London and the M25 area portal provides a web-accessible database containing some thousands of high-level descriptions of more than 100 higher education and other institutions.

[18] R. Cosgrave, ‘The AIM25 Project’, in Journal of the Society of Archivists, 24, 2, 2003, 172.

[19] Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Draft Cultural Policy for Malta, Malta 2010, p. 73.

[20] The recommended conditions in line with the BS5454:2000 are almost impossible to apply in Malta (even after making adjustments due to the geographical variations) without controlled environmental chambers for the storage of microfilms.

[21] M. Farrugia, ‘The Friends of the National Archives: help us preserve our archival heritage!’, in The National Archives Newsletter, 2003, 5, 12.

[22] S. Mercieca, ‘The Navigation du Savoir Project’, in The National Archives Newsletter, 2004, 6, 13.

[23] J. Bezzina (ed), Preserving Digital Archival Contents, Malta 2007.

[24] The Malta Independent, 4 March 2010. http://www.independent.com.mt/news.asp?newsitemid=102494. Accessed on 30 April 2010.

[25] More information about the work of the HMML in Malta can be found in T. Vann, ‘The Malta Study Center 1995-2007’, and J. Azzopardi, ‘A Microfilming Project by the Benedictines of Minnesota for Malta’, in C. Farrugia (ed.), Guardians of Memory: essays in remembrance of Hella Jean Bartolo Winston, Malta 2008.

[26] T. Vann, ‘Preservation Then and Now’, in Melitensia, Spring 2010, 3.

[27] C. J. Farrugia, ‘Promoting Family History: a joint project sponsored by the Genealogical Society of Utah’, in The National Archives Newsletter, 2002, 4, 12.

[28] The number of images generated from this project during the last three years were: 2007 – 225,621; 2008 - 152,795; 2009 – 903,643.

[29] http://www.aristhot.eu/index.php?lang=9&em_cat=60&target=main.

[30] http://www.e-corpus.org.

[31] http://www.wdl.org/en/search/gallery?ql=eng&s=malta. A search carried out on 1 May 2010 in the general search for the term Malta gave only 17 entries.

[32] http://www.europeana.eu/portal.

[33] www.apenet.eu.

[34] C.J. Farrugia, ‘The Benefits of Networking: the APEnet case study’, presented at the Society of Archivists Conference in Bristol, 2 September 2009. Presentation at http://www.archives.org.uk/thesociety/ specialinterestgroups/specialistrepositoriesgroup/srgconferenceslot2009.html. Accessed on 2 May 2010.

[35] www.nationalarchives.gov.mt.

[36] www.archividelmediterraneo.org.

[37] The Editor, ‘Malta participates in the Mediterranean Archives Portal’, The Malta Independent. http:// www.independent.com.mt/news.asp?newsitemid=92605. Accessed on 2 May 2010. During the ceremony, National Archivist Charles J. Farrugia presented the paper ‘Celebrating Voyages of Discovery’.

[38] https://secure2.gov.mt/nationalarchives/nationalmemoryproject.aspx?page_info_id=8.

[39] Editor, ‘Safeguarding our Film Archives’, in The National Archives Newsletter, 2007, 9, 3.

[40] Editor, ‘Stanley Fraser’s donation’, in The National Archives Newsletter, 2007, 10, 8.

[41] https://secure2.gov.mt/nationalarchives/imagegallery.aspx?page_info_id=12&category=9.

[42] National Archives Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Rabat-Malta/The-National- Archives-of-Malta/113051358723786?ref=ts. National Archives Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ national_archives_malta/sets/72157623101425939. Accessed on 18 April 2010.