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

Cross-Origin Resource Sharing for ArchivesSpace

We’ve written a lot on this blog about things we’re doing with the ArchivesSpace API, ranging from find and replace operations in notes to reporting on our DACS compliance across our repository. It should be pretty obvious we’re big fans of the power and flexibility it provides to automate what otherwise would be some pretty tedious and error-prone, and also that the data model is getting us to think about archival description outside of the EAD box. Continue reading

Introducing Project Electron: infrastructure for digital records

Today we’re announcing a major project to build sustainable, user-centered and standards-compliant infrastructure to support the ongoing acquisition, management and preservation of digital records so we can make them available in the broadest and most equitable way possible. Because a snappy title makes everything better, we’ve codenamed this effort Project Electron, and we even have a cool mascot (Captain Electron, discovered by our internet expert Patrick Galligan): Continue reading

A healthy relationship with technology

In our mission statement, the D-Team talks about “providing technical leadership and expertise,” which is accurate but not really the most conversational way of talking about what it is that we do. Lately I’ve been saying the D-Team’s role here at the RAC is “helping our staff and researchers have a healthy relationship with technology.” I thought it was time to dig into what that means a little. In thinking about this, I’ve realized this conceptualization of our work is has been strongly informed by some recent reading as well as conversations I’ve had with colleagues. Continue reading

The Maintainers: a conference on keeping things working (most of the time)

You might not think a conference on maintenance would be all that exciting. But The Maintainers – a conference I attended this past week at Stevens Institute of Technology in scenic Hoboken, New Jersey – was not only exciting, but thought-provoking, inspiring and challenging as well. Continue reading