Project Electron April Update

As I mentioned last month, we’re moving forward with Project Electron on two fronts: defining the process by which digital records are transferred to the Rockefeller Archive Center and selecting a solution to provide archival storage for those records once they are in our custody. Continue reading

Maintainers II: performance, invisibility and professionalism

Last week, I attended Maintainers II: Labor, Technology, and Social Orders, a conference at Stevens Institute of Technology, and presented a talk which attempted to make the case that folk music is maintenance work by looking at the songs and methodologies of Woody Guthrie. This was a followup to last year’s conference, which you may remember from my rave review. This year’s conference matched the first in terms of relevance and resonance, while opening up some new ground for me related to maintenance and archives. Continue reading

Project Electron March Update

March was a busy month for the Project Electron team, with conference presentations at Code4Lib, attendance at LDCX, Born Digital Archiving eXchange and Personal Digital Archiving, and participation in the DACS Principles revision process. Despite this, we managed to make significant progress on Project Electron, specifically in developing requirements for archival storage as well as transfer of records from donor organizations to the Rockefeller Archive Center. Continue reading

Standards Work: Revising the DACS Principles (in a blizzard)

This past week, I was invited to attend a working meeting of seventeen archivists and information professionals facilitated by SAA’s Technical Subcommittee on Describing Archives: A Content Standard with the goal of drafting a new set of Principles for DACS. It was a week that was simultaneously draining and exhilarating, beginning with a blizzard that shut down most of the northeastern United States and ending with a draft of principles that repositions DACS as a standard that communicates professional values, and is also far more aligned with recent literature and theory regarding archival description. Continue reading

Maintaining a Kick A** Tech Team and Organization

Below is a talk that Bonnie, Patrick and Hillel gave at the 2017 Code4Lib Conference in Los Angeles. Our slides are available online.

Intro

Hello! I’m Hillel Arnold, and with me are Bonnie Gordon, and Patrick Galligan. We’re the Digital Programs team from the Rockefeller Archive Center, an independent archive and research center located in Sleepy Hollow, NY (yes, it’s a real place). Our team’s role is to provide technical leadership and expertise to our organization across all function areas. That’s a link there to the text of this talk, which also includes links to a number of other things we’ll talk about that you can follow if you want. Continue reading

Project Electron January Update

As I wrote in my last update, since kicking off Project Electron in September 2016, we’ve been gathering information through conversations, surveys and a literature review, and then structuring that information into user stories and personas. In line with our “open by default” licensing principle, we’re making these design artifacts available with a CC0 license, which means you can take them and use them freely in your own local environments.

View and download the user stories and personas on Github. Continue reading

Share Your Story: Project Electron Update

Since Project Electron kicked off in September, we’ve made significant progress on a number of different fronts. First, together with our Marist College partners, we created a milestones document which lays out major phases of work. We also developed some general principles and overall approaches to licensing project deliverables, including code, documentation and planning documents. Since we anticipate both of these documents will change over time, we’ve versioned them using git (and have pushed a copy to GitHub) so we can keep track of those changes. Continue reading

PASIG 2016: Invisibility and Labor

Along with Bonnie (read her report of the conference here), I attended the Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group (PASIG) Fall 2016 conference last week. I learned a lot at this conference about the technical aspects of digital preservation, both from a theoretical as well as a practical perspective.

There were a host of good presentations which provided introductions or practical guides to implementing digital preservation processes. I particularly liked Bertram Lyon’s presentation on the “The Anatomy of Digital Files,” Alison Rhonemus, Julia Kim, Morgan Mckeehan, Dianne Dietrich and Erin Faulder’s presentation on “Emulation for Everyone,” and Sam Meister’s discussion of “The Ecosystem of Digital Objects.”

However – the last day of the conference, which brought critical theory to bear on many of the assumptions and accepted practices in the world of digital preservation – was one of the most provocative and stimulating days of conference learning I’ve experienced in quite some time.

One of the most mind-blowing presentations was Dragan Espenschied’s discussion of the work of Webrecorder, which is a tool to capture “recordings” of websites. In his talk, he made a passing comment that the web is often conceived of as a bunch of URLs at which you can access content, but really the web is made up of people situated in time and space, using a specific web browser, operating system and network infrastructure. The last session of the day was a panel which included Ingrid Burrington, an artist and writer whose work centers on the physical infrastructure that supports large digital networks. In closing, Burrington remarked that we often talk about this infrastructure as invisible, which isn’t really true; it’s more that it’s hiding in plain sight.

These two comments got me thinking about the nature of invisibility, and reminded me of the adage that “what you see depends on where you stand.” So when we say something’s invisible, we’re really talking about own perceptions rather than expressing a universal fact. Perhaps, instead of saying something is invisible, we should say it is invisible to us; that we are blind to that particular thing, person or process.

These ideas of invisibility and blindness were further amplified by Elvia Arroyo-Ramirez’s talk, which Bonnie wrote about in some detail. At the heart of Arroyo-Ramirez’s presentation was the question “what processes are we willing to work through rather than around?” a question that intersected with several conversations I had over the course of the conference about the perils of outsourcing digital preservation expertise (and to a certain extent, infrastructure) to a third party. Although that course of action can seem like an attractive solution (particularly in the short term), “working around” the problems of digital preservation by subcontracting expertise almost always has debilitating effects over the long- (or even medium-) term because it removes opportunities for building local capacity. In Arroyo-Ramirez’s talk as well as several informal conversations with colleagues, I heard a strong argument for taking the time to “work through” digital preservation processes, to engage with processes, tools and ideas intentionally with an eye to building human capacity.

As we continue to work on Project Electron, these ideas of invisibility and where we apply labor are critically important. We’ve talked a lot about enabling systems integration with this project, but what are the characteristics of those integrations? Are we working towards integrations that are “invisible,” and if so, what are the implications for the humans who interact with these systems? When we talk about “seamlessness,” do we simply mean seams we don’t see or understand? What are we blinding ourselves to in the search for efficient workflows and measurable results? What kind of work are we making possible and what are we inhibiting or even prohibiting?

Six Years Later: a reflection on standards-making and maintenance

This past August, after six years, I rotated off the Society of American Archivists’ Technical Subcommittee on Describing Archives: A Content Standard (TS-DACS). During that time, substantial changes were made to the standard, but more importantly to the processes by which it is maintained and promoted, as well as in the composition of TS-DACS. I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on some of those changes, since I think they reflect some trends happening in archival standards-making and maintenance in general, and open up some possibilities for how we might reconceptualize them. Continue reading