Tag Archives: digital preservation

Thankful Archivist: 2011

So here we are, once again ready to do what has become a holiday tradition here at NewArchivist, the celebration of that which makes the cockles of my archivist heart glow warm and fuzzy (confession: I just wanted to write “cockles”).

Archival Grassroots I have written more than once on what an awesome group of archivists are on web 2.0, but man, there are a lot of awesome archivists on web 2.0 right now. A case in point: Kate Theimer suggested that archivists should band together and provide Spontaneous Scholarships for folks who needed some assistance attending the 2011 SAA conference. Well, we banded together and provided money to help 26 archivists engage in the profession, many of the donations coming from people on Facebook or Twitter. Getting an early start on next year, Alison Smith and Rebecca Goldman put together Closed Stacks, Open Shutters: An Archivist Photobook with all of the proceeds going to the scholarship fund.

Besides illustrating that archivist are willing to show some skin for a good cause, this grassroots effort also illustrates how archivists engaging each other on social media are beginning to band together to not only point out concerns with the profession, but to provide some real solutions. This is an exciting time to be involved with such a great group.

Deviled Eggs Remain Freakin' Awesome

Deviled Eggs courtesy of Flickr member Andrew Scrivani / CC-BY-NC-ND

Digital Preservation Doers The world of digital preservation is developing by leaps and bounds. There are currently countless projects focusing on the further development of policy, software, and best practice solutions to providing long-term access to important digital assets. Many of these projects are funded by large grants and are hosted at universities and government agencies. For archivists grappling with preserving digital content for the first time, there are some great opportunities to learn about these solutions. Conferences now abound with sessions dealing with digital preservation. The Library of Congress’s digital preservation collaborative NDIPP provides a lot of great resources, including its very active blog The Signal. There is also the Digital Preservation Management Workshop, which I had the pleasure of working on as part of my first professional position.

While I am thankful for all of these wonderful projects and training opportunities, I am REALLY appreciative for are the folks who do this kind of thing as part of their normal work then share either the knowledge or tools with others. One example of this is the Data Accessioner tool from Duke University Archives. Designed by archivist Seth Shaw, the program packages together several other tools for doing things like checksum and file format validation, among others. The Data Accessioner is free for download, and the source code has also been made available. We implemented it in our own workflow and are very happy with the results, even developing some of our own tools for using the XML generated from the Accessioner to get information into our institutional CMS.

A great example of someone sharing knowledge is Chris Prom from the University of Illinois who, among other things, is co-director of the Archon project and is currently a member of the technical team for ArchiveSpace. His blog Practical E-Records shares his knowledge of digital records management and archives. Even though I think of myself as being well-versed in the area of digital preservation, I consult Practical E-Records often for tool evaluations and general advice on implementation. Most importantly, Chris applies his recommendations to small shops and folks without a ton of technical knowledge or resources. In my book, the ability to outline a “rudimentary” OAIS compliant system based on a simple Windows directory structure and open-source tools is a thing of beauty.

Thanks to Seth, Chris, and the many others who are committed to helping create and share solutions for the entire archival community.

Grandma So, those of you who usually read my blog will know that I don’t usually talk about personal stuff. But this time I am going to indulge myself a bit, as I just can’t write about what I am thankful for in my life and not mention my grandma, Helen Fowler. Grandma passed away over Thanksgiving weekend at the age of 93. I learned a lot from her, including how those of us in a position to lend a helping hand should do so, whether that hand extends to family, friends, neighbors, or strangers. She also taught me the valuable lesson that a day that does not start with a nice cup of coffee, will not be much of a day.

Grandma’s love was unconditional and her support was unwavering. In thinking about her this past week, I could not help also thinking about how important the support of my family has been in my life and my profession. Grandma, my parents, brother, nephews, and especially my wife’s support was so vital in giving me the confidence and ability to go back to school and become an archivist. You and I are in a field where fame and fortune are hard to come by. I have had times (about the time student loans are payed, coincidentally) when I wonder why the hell I did not become some type of business-dude or programer, where the jobs pay better and are more stable. But, I have people to tell me that I am an archivist because I am following my passion, because I get to do something I love every day. I bet many of us have those kind of people in our lives, and I know you are as thankful for them as I am, even if some of them are no longer with us.


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So That Happened: SAA 2010

I am starting this post at the airport as I wait for the flight that will bring me home to Michigan from DC and the 2010 SAA Joint Conference. Part of this is because I want to get my thoughts down while they are fresh, and the other part is the couple next to me seems to be making out a lot for being in a public place. Anyway…

The Sessions: Overall I liked the sessions I attended. I thought they were informative and some were quite applicable. In my mind, sessions break down into three types: more theoretical discussions on archival practice, ongoing or recently concluded research or projects, and people sharing what they are doing at their institutions. All three can be interesting to me, but I again find myself really enjoying the third kind the most. I know there are some big grant funded projects going on right now that are important and a benefit to us all. But then there are the folks who are trying different things, in addition to their regular work, to better their archives. These projects are not grant funded or supported by anything but the institution and the staff’s hard work and willingness to take risk. Not only do they do these things, but then they go to a national conference and share their results, warts and all, with the community so we can implement and build upon their work. As you move though your career I hope that you consider presenting on topics like this, as they never fail to get me fired up.

I Enter The Fray: This is my second SAA conference. This year, like last, I helped organize the Research Forum. It gives me a chance to learn about all of the research going on in the community, as well as meet a lot of the participants. I also presented for the first time this year, giving a talk on disaster planning for digital assets at the Preservation Section, the slides for which are located here (that blatant bit of product placement just made me feel a bit dirty). I was pretty nervous, but I think it went well and received a lot of great feedback. There was actually a small line afterwards to talk to me. Now, I have been surrounded by groups that were pointing and laughing at me before, but never a line to discuss professional matters. Pretty cool.

The Declaration of Independence, Beer, and C-3PO The social events were a very good time this year. Last year, I did not know all that many people and I was way more intimidated. Mingling does not seem to be something that comes naturally to most archivists. This year, I knew more people and had a really good time at the after-hours events. The locations did not hurt. One reception was in the National Archives, and although the line for food was way too long and I was a touch disappointed in our profession to see how much line cutting was going on (I mean, we were like 20 yards away from the charters of freedom and you cut in line, come on people), it was still cool being at that location. The Friday reception was in the Smithsonian Museum of American History and I got to drink a beer while standing next to C-3PO. Meaning that I can cross “Have A Drink With An Actual Star Wars Character” off my bucket list, leaving only “See Michigan Beat Ohio State Again” and “Train A Small Monkey to Do My (Probably Evil) Bidding.”

Despite this, I still really did not meet many new people at the social events, but rather hung out with people I already knew from school. This may have been because I was spending an inordinate amount of time standing next to an empty costume from a science fiction movie, but I am finding that conferences in general are not really so much about meeting new people but reconnecting with the ones you kinda already know. Unless, of course, you are on Twitter (you were just foreshadowed, my friend).

The Archivist Twitterverse For The Win: I am biased here but I think the SAA conference was made so much richer by the folks from the profession who are on Twitter. I am not so good at the live tweeting, but there are several who are and it really helps add a lot to the experience, whether you are in the same room or a different state. Their hard work is located at http://twapperkeeper.com/hashtag/saa10 for your reading pleasure.

Also, the personal connections made through Twitter cannot be overstated. I met more people (and by met I mean the actual meet-in-person-hi-how-are-you kind of met) through the connections made on Twitter than those I met at sessions, mixers, reunions, receptions, and this blog combined. The Tweetup was a smashing success (I am REALLY biased here), with well over the 30 or so people who initially submitted an RSVP. I can’t wait to meet more fellow archivists as this group of engaged professionals gets larger. I feel as though the community being built on Twitter will, if not already, be a force to reckoned with in the profession, despite some continuing to not get it (I look in your general direction, certain haters on the A&A).

Last year, I found the conference in Austin to be very big, informative, tiring, and friggin’ hot. This year, I found the conference to be bigger, packed with more info, exhausting, and just as friggin’ hot. Can’t wait to see what Chicago 2011 brings.

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Publishing by Fire

We are very pleased to have a guest contribution this week from Matt Schultz of the awesomely named Educopia Institute, who was kind enough to write this post at my request. Matt is a founding member of the FONA (Friends of NewArchivist) and we really appreciate his support from day one, and his willingness to share his insight. Thanks Matt! ~ ed.

Seeing your writing in a publication for the first time is elating. I think anyone reading this who has gotten their voice into print can recall that feeling.

As a 30-something just coming out of my Masters program from the University of Michigan’s School of Information, and re-inventing my career in automotive manufacturing to go to work in the field of cultural memory, I have a lot of catching up to do in the area of getting published. This is in comparison to several of the slightly younger folks I encountered during my program, who by their mid-to-late 20s were already working on their second Masters degree and had several articles under their belts (many of these folks were really bright HCI-ers who were ambitious in their computing and usability research). Diving into LIS, ARM and PI education, most of us were doing the grad thing for the first time, moving on from our BAs in the humanities. I think most of us did not write so much as listen, take copious notes, and work our little butts off in various internships to get as much practical experience as we could muster. I know I didn’t have the time nor credentials to get published.

The road for me to getting published came along much more serendipitiously, and only after I dipped my toes a little further into the real world of digital preservation and archiving.

The MetaArchive Cooperative hired me shortly after my graduation as an outside consultant. I was to put on several hats and not only guide them through the arduous process of a trusted repositories audit, but also perform some light planning, and help out with administrative work. Things went so well, that I soon found myself pulled suddenly into the thick of a final editing process for their long germinating work titled A Guide to Distributed Digital Preservation. Not only was I given the benefit of the doubt to help sharpen the matured and well-articulated chapters written by various Cooperative members, I was charged with completely overhauling a couple of the technical chapters. My voice was actually getting into the publication.

The final work was a collaboration of 11 authors who were spread across the Cooperative’s membership, the central staff, and myself. The editing process was intense. Once we had rough final versions in from each of the chapter authors, the Program Manager, myself, and a librarian from GA Tech set hard to work bringing the volume together into final form. To streamline what was a highly disparate work, with multiple voices, we had to develop a unified nomenclature of terminology and phraseology that could be reinforced across all of the chapters. On a practical level we ended up implementing at least three different document versioning conventions over the course of 2-3 months, to reinforce orderliness and proper identification of exchanged edits, as all three of us as final editors were not co-located.

When it came time for me to overhaul the more technical chapters, I had to research heavily on the fly, a range of documentation on the MetaArchive’s technical organization and design (a process already somewhat informed from my TRAC auditing), as well as documentation on the underlying LOCKSS software. Interviews with the MetaArchive’s central technical staff, with whom I share authorship in my chapters, were essential as well. This required me to be able to dip into their pressured time schedules quickly, get clarification on terms, and return to the manuscript to transform difficult jargon into language that an unfamiliar audience could grasp. Talk about a crash course. Research. Write. Clarify. Refine.

We wrapped up final editing right before the Christmas holiday of this past year. By January, the whole collaborative process had gone so well, I found myself with a job offer and the awesome title of Collaborative Services Librarian. I am no expert as of yet in collaboration, but I have had my trial by fire through this incredible publication. From what I have gleaned of the state of publishing in my field of academia, both on a profession level as well as in research, any effort toward publication, even as a single author, is a collaborative one.

Since this first experience I have gone on to write two pending articles for iPres 2010, both of which are giving me the opportunity to put my voice forward a little earlier in the process, and go through the process of having my language and presentation heavily edited. It is an awesome process. Humbling and educational.

For other new archivists and cultural memory workers out there looking to get themselves published, my encouragement would be to look for ways of promoting your current work through your most immediate network of actively publishing peers. I cannot really speak to how easy or difficult this might be. I was blessed, and continue to be blessed, by an employer that believes in championing the expertise and ambition of their staff. Also, I would encourage new archivists and cultural memory workers to offer your services as an editor on a publication or the outcomes from a research process underway by your co-workers or peers. If it goes well, don’t be shy in requesting being credited or acknowledged on any such article or work. It’s all a stepping stone. In the meantime, practice the process of researching, writing, clarifying, and refining. Do your own thing, bring it forward to those who might have some capacity for promoting your effort and style. Who knows where it might go.

My employer and I are already scheming a potential new publication that should further benefit the field of distributed digital preservation. Which is really what it is all about – making a meaningful contribution.

Good luck all you NewArchivists in getting published!

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Link-O-Rama: Reports Edition

There have been a couple of publications that have hit the world recently and we wanted to make sure everyone was aware. Each link is followed by an excerpt from the corresponding announcement and my 2 cents.

Over, Under, Around, and Through: Getting Around Barriers to EAD Implementation by OCLC Research
From the announcement: “This report frames obstacles that archivists have experienced adopting Encoded Archival Description. It also suggests pathways to help you get out of the ruts, around the roadblocks, and on the road to success. The objective of the report is to communicate EAD’s value as a key element of successful archival information systems and help you overcome potential barriers to its implementation.”

I like how this report lays out potential roadblocks on both the organizational and technical sides. It seems too often that literature from the field ignores organizational issues, and the “Political and Logistical Issues” section of this report tackles this issue nicely. Nice job!

A Guide to Distributed Digital Preservation by the Educopia Institute
From the announcement: “This volume is devoted to the broad topic of distributed digital preservation, a still-emerging field of practice for the cultural memory arena. Replication and distribution hold out the promise of indefinite preservation of materials without degradation, but establishing effective organizational and technical processes to enable this form of digital preservation is daunting. Institutions need practical examples of how this task can be accomplished in manageable, low-cost ways.”

This is a big volume and I have not had a chance to completely delve into yet, but it looks like a very complete guide to Private LOCKSS Networks and Distributed Digital Preservation, including technical, organizational, and copyright considerations. Like the report above, I love the comprehensive vision. I have printed it and it now sits on my nighttime reading pile, further attesting my commitment to being the best nerd I can be.


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