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Using mobile devices in archives

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  • As laptops, tablets, smart phones and e-readers increase in popularity, more and more people are bringing such ‘mobile devices’ with them when they visit archives. As a result, visitors behaviors are beginning to change. For example, a visitor who may have, in the past, printed out pages from an archives website to bring with them on their visit, may now bookmark pages on the website and bring the device itself with them.

    In response to this, we have been looking at ways to make our services more compatible with mobile devices. We appreciate that many of our online users do not visit us in person, or only do so rarely. However, many visit other archives or similar organisations. We’d be interested to find out from you:

    • Which (if any) mobile devices you own, which of these you bring with you when visiting archives and how you use them at archives

    • Which (if any) pieces of software or apps you use to help you with your research when visiting archives or doing your research

    • What your expectations are with regards to using your mobile devices when you visit archives and what changes we could make to help with this

    Get involved in the conversation here.

  • Profile picture of Suzanne Matson Suzanne Matson 2 years, 1 month ago:

    Depending upon what is permitted by a particular archive, I use my smart phone set at no flash for photos of relevant pages. I usually carry my laptop as well. I’ve usually bookmarked the documents of interest in advance. Since I live in the United States and am currently researching Lt. Governor Alexander Spotswood (1676-1742) of Great Britain and the then Virginia colony, I’ve encountered some difficulty accessing records from afar.

  • Profile picture of Donald Dickson Donald Dickson 2 years, 1 month ago:

    Which (if any) mobile devices you own? = iPad, compact digital camera
    which of these you bring with you when visiting archives? = both
    and how you use them at archives? = compact digital camera to photo documents, iPad for note taking and internet access, wiFi or 3/4G access to cloud resources such as DropBox and Box

    • Which (if any) pieces of software or apps you use to help you with your research when visiting archives or doing your research? Other than WP for note taking, DropBox etc none yet – thinking about locating suitable compatible database app – havenot tried any of the family history apps yet.

    • What your expectations are with regards to using your mobile devices when you visit archives? =
    (1) Permission to use them (2) WiFi access if possible (3) Access to power socket for battery charging (4) Users should use ear/head phones and have ringers turned off on smart phones & notification alerts on iPad or Android tablets

    and what changes we could make to help with this? = Visible notice that Users should use ear/head phones and have ringers turned off on smart phones & notification alerts on iPad or Android tablets

  • Profile picture of Patricia Godfrey Patricia Godfrey 2 years, 1 month ago:

    I have a sony e-reader and digital camera which I usually use with flash off in buildings. The camera on my phone does not seem to want to work at times but has in the past and my husband has phone and laptop which we use also.I have not visited the archive due to distance but would bring my mobile devices if I would vist to record my searches. I would expect instructuions about flash, ringing and permission to be available before I entered.

  • Profile picture of Doreen Doreen 2 years, 1 month ago:

    When I visit my local archives in Northumberland they do not allow photographs to be taken of documents, they will supply photocopies if it is possible but a charge is made for this and they are stamped to show that they have come from the archives. I once wanted a copy of a part of a map to show the location of a farm but it was going to cost about £20 so I just decided to make a note of nearby places and landmarks so that I could pinpoint it on an Ordnance Survey map at home.
    So how do the copyright laws relate to the National Archives if you are allowing people to take photographs of documents, when local archives do not allow this?
    I have an iPad and would love to be able to take photos of archive documents.

  • Profile picture of Donald Dickson Donald Dickson 2 years, 1 month ago:

    Doreen wrote “So how do the copyright laws relate to the National Archives if you are allowing people to take photographs of documents, when local archives do not allow this?”
    If I can put forward this view – Copyright law is quite complicated and is a tad beyond this forum to explain all the pitfalls – however I don’t see this as a copyright restriction but I do suspect that the photo restriction is a local one deployed by the Archivist. Whilst not unique your experience is not replicated in many other Archives. – Many archives charge a fee for taking photographs – some charge very high fees. Berkshire’s County Record Office is one of these and when challenged the Archivist responded that they saw the photo permit as income generation! Other local record offices that I have used do not charge a fee, likewise there is no charge for the use of a camera at TNA. On the question of copyright, most establishments require a citation acknowledgement for permissable reproduction.
    I suspect that to have your Northumberland County Council change the policy of the Northumberland County Archive will require pressure from your elected County Councillors – who are in turn answerable to the electorate. Something for the combined effort of Local and Family History Societies within Northumberland to consider?

  • Profile picture of Stephanie Stephanie 2 years, 1 month ago:

    I have visited twice recently. I brought my compact digital camera and used that (with flash off) to photograph the documents I wanted. The first time I booked a seat which was for photographing documents (near the window). It had a contraption for holding a camera which I didn’t use. I suspect it was meant for a large camera. I’m sure there was a plug for chargers. On my last visit I didn’t pre-book but got a seat in the middle and it was fine for photographing documents without flash. I had an android phone with me but left it in the locker and planned to use it if the charge ran down on my camera. The camera on my phone is not as good as my digital camera especially indoors so not certain whether it would work so well in the centre of the room.

    If I had been using my phone as a camera, I could have used dropbox to download the photos. I also have the Ancestry app so I could have checked up on my family tree if necessary.

    I didn’t think of bookmarking my documents on the website and accessing them on my phone. On my first visit, I brought a printed list of documents I had pre-ordered with the seat number and a list of documents I wanted to order during the day. I had a notepad and and pencil and wrote some brief notes. I noticed that many people had laptops or phones/cameras with them.

    I also use your excellent online download and photocopying service.

    Most of my research is online and I haven’t been to any other archives recently.

  • Profile picture of Judith F Hubbard Judith F Hubbard 2 years, 1 month ago:

    My iPad was excellent in photographing old letters and pages of various books, recently.

  • Profile picture of Judy Bailey Judy Bailey 2 years, 1 month ago:

    I visited the National Archives in July for my research. I live in Australia so I had limited time, I was impressed with the services, space and general great ‘buzz’ in the Archives. I am interested in pre 1550 wills for my PhD so I had rung before hand and was told that I could photograph the wills on the computer screen (therefore saving the cost of each will – I had hundreds I wanted to look at!) but not download the images to my laptop. When I arrived at the archives the staff were not sure if could use the wireless to access these wills and download to my laptop. I was wondering if you could confirm what is allowable on site in terms of downloading digitised wills on site at the National Archives?

    I have used my digital camera in other archives in the UK, paying a small fee (Shropshire, Herefordshire and Lichfield Archives) which is great and the staff were really helpful. it is a win win for both staff and student as the documents are handled less and you have time later to decipher the handwriting! I usually download the images directly to my laptop from the camera, so there is a second copy and backup each night to another storage facility.

  • Thanks for all the posts on this topic so far. Its really interesting to see how people are using their devices in archives and valuable for us as we look at developing our services.

    Judy, in response to your question about downloading records to your own device while on site at The The National Archives via wifi, this isn’t something that you can do currently. At the moment, users accessing our website on our wifi basically have the same experience as those accessing it from anywhere else; you would have to pay in the normal way to download records. To be clear, its free to download our records on our computers, but the only way to keep a copy is to print it out.

    However, this is something we want to look at in the future. If we did enable free downloads on site, we would probably have to put a cap on the number of downloads you can do in a day, to avoid the system being abused.

    It would be really interesting to see what people feel a reasonable number of free downloads per day would be?

    Please note that we’re in the very early stages of thinking about this, so we cant guarantee that it will happen!

  • Profile picture of Mandy Blake - Moderator Mandy Blake – Moderator 2 years, 1 month ago:

    I take my laptop with me (and find it very useful that TNA provides electric sockets) and my digital camera with the flash turned off. The camera-holder is very useful when you’re photographing handwriting. My local archives (Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre) makes a charge for taking photos but I can’t remember what it is.

    I also have a Kindle Fire and an iPhone, both of which have the Ancestry app, so I carry my trees around in some form wherever I go. My Kindle is only a basic without camera, so I only really use the tablet and phone if I see or hear something relevant, or talking to relatives, etc. I did use the Ancestry app on my Kindle when we visited the North Devon RO as it was very busy and there wasn’t room for my laptop.

    As for the possibility of free downloads on site at TNA, I would think that the number of pages in total would be fairer (and more cost-effective for TNA) than the number of actual documents. Maybe 10 free downloaded pages per day?

  • Profile picture of Stephanie Stephanie 2 years, 1 month ago:

    I have downloaded (on my laptop at home) a will (1820) and various other documents regarding soldiers and I think I paid about £3.30 for each one. Over a period of weeks, you don’t notice that amount.

    It only makes sense to spend my limited time at Kew looking at documents I can’t download at home or ones that would be too expensive to order through the photocopying service.

    On the other hand, what about those forty minutes waiting for documents? I could download several in that time. Are the computers attached to printers?

  • Hi Stephanie,

    Yes, the computers that we provide in the reading rooms are connected to printers, so you can pay (25p per page) to print off the stuff you have downloaded. What we don’t have currently is any way for users to take away a digital copy.

  • Profile picture of Jacqui Kirk Jacqui Kirk 2 years, 1 month ago:

    What I take with me depends on a) what archive I am visiting and b) whether I am using public transport or driving.

    I don’t take photos using my mobile very often as my digital camera is not only quieter and easier to use but also has 16Mp whereas my phone is only 5Mp so I get a much better image which blows up successfully. When a camera stand is available I always use it to avoid camera shake and where lights are also available great! My camera which wasn’t expensive has a stealth mode setting as standard with no sound or flash so it is kept permanently on that setting.

    I have an Android 10 inch tablet which takes a micro SD card so I tend to take that along to check that the photos I have taken are OK (I use a micro SD card adapter in my digital camera). It is very useful to load my reference documents on to my tablet so that I can easily check. Viewing images is particularly successful on a tablet.

    I used to type my notes direct to my laptop but actually found that to be a bit limiting so now I do my notes in a paper notebook to scrawl addtitional notes all over in red pen and type them up afterwards taking that opportunity to analyse what I found. I tended to type up and forget so what seems a retrograde step is actually better for me. I am looking into the apps for written note taking on a phone though.

    I am experimenting with dictating notes to my phone but so far it hasn’t worked and obviously I can’t do that in an archive so tend to use that when doing research in the field.

    Not all archives or libraries have public wifi and even when they do there are often connection issues so I usually access my cloud storage via their own computers. Some archives allow you to use memory sticks on their computers others don’t – again a way of taking your files with you and with an adapter you can view them on your tablet as well.

    In general I embrace new technology to see if it can help me but I’m a member of the paper and pencil generation so it doesn’t come naturally to me. I still print out my essential notes and research plan before I go to an archive so that I can write notes alongside while I am there.

    What most influences what I take however is the weight of the various devices. If I have to walk some distance I don’t want to be carrying too much so I try to cut it down to the minimum.

  • Profile picture of Jacqui Kirk Jacqui Kirk 2 years, 1 month ago:

    Just an additional note about the free download issue. I print out downloads as A3 pages whenever I am there because it is not often possible to blow up to A3 successfully with a digital download and there are often legibility issues. PCC wills have been a particular problem for me because of this. (I have subsequently rescanned them in to get a decent image.)

    If there was a better quality digital download available only whilst on site I would happily pay for it. I appreciate the problems with internet transmission and bandwidth make this not possible.

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