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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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Thankful Archivist

My Thanksgiving usually is comprised of gorging myself on deviled eggs, watching football, and taking crap from the Buckeye wing of the family, again… *sadness filled pause*

Anyway, besides the usual thankfulness of health, happiness, a wonderful family, and a spouse who likes college hockey, this year I will be adding things that have either helped in my budding career, or that helps our profession. Here are some highlights:

Open Source Software and Freeware OK, I know this is an geeky way to begin my list, but it is true. The computer on which I am currently typing also has local installations of Archivist’s Toolkit, Drupal, WordPress, and Apache. I know that open source is not necessarily free because of the learning curve involved, and sometimes it can be kind of frustrating being on your own. However, I love the fact that I can download these tools and play with them. Imagine if we had to go to Microsoft or some other vendor for all of this stuff. I am hoping soon to make the switch to Open Office, and maybe even a Linux based system as well (perhaps it will run on a solar powered machine made of granola and hemp).

The National Treasure Franchise Yes, the Nicolas Cage character is not an archivist and there are several things in that movie that made us all cringe, but let me tell you a story. The first movie was released to video at about the same time I did a short internship at NARA. I watched the video with my then 6 and 10 year old nephews and offhandedly mentioned that I was just at the National Archives. The six year old asked me if my job was like what Nicolas Cage’s character does in the movie. As I pondered my answer, I first looked at the TV, on which Nicolas Cage was rolling the Declaration up like a Bon Jovi poster and partaking in some witty banter with the beautiful conservator. I then looked at my nephew, who was waiting for my answer, his trusting eyes looking at me with anticipation. I said: “Yes, yes it is.” I will continue this lie until he is old enough to understand that the truth of what Uncle Lance does is actually as cool as the lie. So, despite the bad preservation practice and historical inaccuracies, anything that makes me look cool and puts butts in the seats at the National Archives is alright by me. Besides, if you are going to misrepresent what an archivist does, it could be worse (before I get sucked into the debate on the preceding clip, I refer you to Derangement and Description, whose take on this matter is spot on).

Grad School Cohort/Twitter Before I went to grad school, a friend of mine, whose wife earned a MBA a couple of years earlier, told me that my grad school cohort will become quite important to me. Well, Chris from New Jersey was right. Even though I am older than most of my former classmates (that is why this blog is called NewArchivist, not YoungArchivist), they have proved to be an invaluable help to me by providing a place to ask “dumb” questions and vent about the common frustrations of a new professional. I see the group of archivists on Twitter as a similar type of resource. While Twitter interaction obviously lacks the face to face element (and you run the chance of broadcasting your ignorance to the world), where else do you have an opportunity to communicate with archivists from all different locations, expertise, and experiences (without having to risk getting mired in #thatdarnlistserv)? I do not get a chance to contribute as much as I would like on Twitter, but I hope to increase my participation in the future and help add my small part to that discussion.

Well, there is a sampling. Please feel free to add some of your thankfulness to the comment section, and happy Thanksgiving from all of us at NewArchivist!

Deviled Eggs are Freakin' Awesome

Deviled Eggs are Freakin' Awesome

Egg image courtesy of Flickr member crowdive / CC-BY-NC-SA

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Three Things I Didn’t Learn in Archives School

First off, I am sorry for the delay in getting fresh material posted, we will be more regular in the future. Thanks to Angelique for reminding us that there are actually people reading this blog, who knew? ~ed.

I have been in my position now for almost nine months, part time from January to my graduation in May, and full time since then. Below I discuss the three biggest things I have learned on the job. Now, this post is not a complaint about my education, I think that these are inherently things that you learn on the job. There is also a distinct possibility that they actually did come up in school and I was not paying attention. On to the list:

3. Technology I think that most archives students in my program are pretty happy with the technological education that we received. I was not very fluent in technology and now I feel that I can converse freely in tech-talk. However, I also feel that perhaps I should have pushed myself harder in that area. Wouldn’t it be great if I had mad programming-skills? Let me answer that rhetorical question with a resounding yes. While I do not want to be a programmer or a IT person, I do think that a more solid base in the area would help me better understand what is required to implement things like digital repository software or other technological solutions. Even in a large organization like where I work, the more skills in this area would help me better communicate to the IT and programming people.

I will continue to work on these skills, both in the class room, on the job, and in everyday life (like, oh I don’t know, working to keep this blog going). The first few months of my employment have shown me that it is very important to keep up with these things. If nothing else, it will help me boost my nerd quotient.

2. Money This may be to be chalked up to complete and total naivety on my part, but I am really surprised how much the question of funding creeps into conversations, both at work and with fellow archivists. At school, we did not talk much about it, but I see that in the real world so much runs on costs and benefits. I think the question of money also goes beyond finding funding to sustain programs, staff, and projects. It seems that striking a balance between the public service orientation of most of our institutions and the real need to make business cases for the projects we undertake is an essential, and at the same time difficult, facet of our professional duties.

For example, I know that there is a frequently reoccurring discussion on the A&A listserv surrounding access. These discussions often outline the tension between access and the need to fund things like digitization efforts. I strongly agree with the assertion that archives have a responsibility to promote as much access as possible and should not exert additional controls, such as fees for high resolution images, on materials. However, I am also not as quick as some on the listserv to label archives that are charging fees as being in the wrong. These decisions must be difficult, and I am starting to realize that, no matter how much we archivist are not about the money, much of what we do requires it. Often that requires a compromise between the ideal and the possible. Note: I was going to make the last link go to that “show me the money” clip, but there is something unsettling about Tom Cruse yelling, unless it is in this.

1. The Management of People This is the big one for me and the thing that got me thinking about writing a post like this. I supervise student employees as part of my duties, as well as, obviously, work with a variety of people throughout my day. My dad, who was a human resources manager for a time, told me once that managing people was the most difficult thing he has ever done. Now, being a rebellious teenager at the time (well, as rebellious as a future archivist and lover of all things Star Wars can be), I thought to myself “How hard can it be?” The answer is: very. I think I am good at it, but it certainly takes much more of my day than I had expected. For me, the stress comes from the fact that I want to make sure that we produce top-quality deliverables and are rigorous in our research, without me coming off like:

Excellent

Excellent

The Simpsons 20th Century Fox Television

So, I have a strategy on how to make myself a better boss/employee/dude-that-people-work-with. I have taken a managers class offered through the university. This was very helpful, especially in the area of how to communicate better (and there was a lunch provided). I have also had several people recommend the book Crucial Confrontations, which has apparently spawned some workshops as well. While it does not really fall into the topics I usually read, I am willing to check it out. Mostly, I want to learn more from my mentors and, as I gain more experience, hopefully become a manager that can help successfully guide a team, without being the kind of boss that everyone (including me) hates.

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