Archival Anglican Church Digitisation
| | Vivienne Pearson

From the Domesday Book to early Queensland records: Historian, Michael Rogers’ looks to the future through digitisation.

Michael Rogers’ career as an archivist has come full circle. “Architectural plans I catalogued while volunteering in 1995 for Anglican Church Southern Queensland (ACSQ) are currently being scanned as part of a large-scale digitisation project that I initiated in my role as the Diocesan Archivist,” explains Rogers.

Rogers’ volunteer role was his first foray into archiving after discovering a love of research and appreciation of the role of archival management during a Bachelor of Arts at University of New England and, subsequently, a Graduate Diploma of Information Management at UNSW.

In between, Rogers’ career has seen him hold key archival roles within Queensland – with both the Brisbane City Council and Queensland State Archives – and in the United Kingdom.

Archiving across history

It was while working for the National Archives of the United Kingdom that Rogers gained a true understanding of the immense timeframes that archivists deal with.

“I had access to the Domesday Book, which was published in 1086,” he says of the three-volume document commissioned by William The Conqueror in his quest to create an inventory of the wealth of England.”

Back in Queensland, Rogers’ work has far more recent dates but his work within the ACSQ means he’s responsible for some of the oldest records of colonised Queensland. “We have baptism and marriage registers dating back to 1843,” he says. “That’s not old compared with the Canterbury Cathedral but are some of the oldest records in Queensland.”

His work is also respectful of Australia’s Indigenous history. “Certain parishes, such as Gainsborough and Maryborough, were active in terms of baptising and registering marriages of First Nations people,” he says.

The current digitisation project

As well as over 5000 of the architectural plans dating from the 1840s that Rogers catalogued as a beginning archivist, the diocese’s digitisation project involves over 130 boxes of Archbishops papers, property registers dating between 1870 and 1960, and decades worth of microfilm records.

The project was prompted partly for the purposes of preservation and, perhaps even more importantly, for equality of access. “I have a small reading room but people in parishes have to travel a long way as we cover an area stretching from Bundaberg to Coolangatta and inland to Quilpie and Windorah,” says Rogers.

Digitisation has been happening for Archbishop records, property registers, and those architectural plans that Rogers recalls from his volunteer work. Some of these are valuable in terms of their history and general interest while others are business-critical to the continuing operation of the church.

Decisions, decisions

“It’s a balancing act,” says Rogers of the need for any organisation to decide which archival records to digitise. “Everything is important but you need to be realistic in prioritising the various importance of records.”

Rogers advised the ACSQ’s Records Committee as they developed a series of decision-making criteria. His advice was based on leading experts in the field, including the Queensland State Archives and Records NSW.

The criteria for use when assigning priority are:

      • Permanent or enduring value
      • Demand and usage
      • Potential interest to internal and external parties
      • Risk of deterioration and/or inability to access or use because of age, size, format and/or current condition
      • Subject content of vital importance to the continued operation of the organisation, particularly in the event of a disaster, such as:
          • High-level governance and decision-making
          • Design and construction of major assets
          • Purchase, disposal or redevelopment of property
          • Bequests and Trusts
      • Out of print published material for which copyright is held
      • Institutional data regarding facilities.

Rogers notes that these criteria are not a hierarchical list. “They’re pretty much all equal,” he says. “Though if one record meets multiple criteria, that pushes it up the priority list.”

Ultimately, ASCQ recognises that not all existing physical records can, or will, be digitised, either now or into the future. The development of criteria and a digitisation plan then allows for important records to be preserved to ensure enhanced discoverability. It also means that focus can be placed on ensuring the digitisation work is undertaken with high standards for scanning, storage, and retrieval.

Archiving for the present and the future

Once archives are digitised, the potential for interact with them in a proactive way is increased. “Instead of asking them to come to the archies or send copies, I can simply send them a link and they can see the documents instantly on an iPad or laptop all the way in Bundaberg or Roma.”

Some of these needs arise from longer-term projects like parishes compiling histories but other, more urgent needs are ones that Rogers would like to be able to assist with. “If someone rings and says ‘We’ve got a contractor here doing repairs on the church at Roma’, I’d like to be able to say ‘Here’s the link’ and the contractor will be able to see all the plans.”

In these ways, archives and archivists work not only to allow us a preserved window into the past. They have the present – and the future – strongly in sight. “With the right information to hand, the best decisions can be made and the best practices can be enacted,” he says. “I’m always looking to improve and enhance the service I provide.”

While Rogers is leading the digitisation project, he couldn’t have done it alone. “I simply do not have the time and resources,” he says. “So, the partnership with Avantix has allowed surety and consistency for the project.”

If you are also looking from the past to the future, find out more about Avantix’s digitisation capabilities.