SAA Report: Getting Things Done with Born-Digital

One of the first sessions I attended at this year’s SAA annual meetings was “Getting Things Done with Born-Digital Collections,” and it stuck with me as a great entry-level review of how to deal with born digital materials in a variety of different institutional environments. It also introduced tools to help archivists jump into their work, while providing some advice for those looking implement or expand born-digital programs. Many of the following tools/concepts may seem familiar in the work that we do here at the RAC.

The panel included five panelists: Gloria Gonzalez, Jason Evans Groth, Ashley Howdeshell, Dan Noonan, and Lauren Sorensen. While all of the panelists covered slightly different experiences, there was one universal takeaway: preserving digital collections needs to be an institutional endeavor, and in many cases, that endeavor is a constant work-in-progress, from tools to processes.

Expecting a single tool to give born-digital answers is setting yourself up to fail. The key to effectively handling born digital collections is to create solutions in combination of batch processing tools to help with the processes of dealing with these materials. Waiting for the perfect solution can stop us from doing anything. It is not our job to preserve the digital objects forever, just long enough for us to pass them into the hands of their next custodian. Having a set workflow and a clear plan of action can help you identify where the different tools fit into your system helps as you work towards expanding your born-digital network and knowledge.

But finding digital solutions in combinations doesn’t stop at selecting your tools and workflows. Coming together to work with other members at your institution is vital in getting the work done. The panelists highlighted the importance of understanding where other invested parties were coming from, and working with them towards a goal, especially IT. It is unfair to expect IT to always learn what you are doing and how they can help you, without attempting to learn what IT does, and how you can help them with your project.

They also offered up some of their favorite digital preservation tools:  Archive-It, Archivematica, Bagger, BitCurator, Emailchemy, FFMPEG, Fixity, FRED, FTK, and MediaInfo. If some of these seem familiar to you, it’s because we use Archive-It, Archivematica, FRED, FTK, and Bag-It here at the RAC. It is only through a combination of tools that we can deal with born-digital and digitized collections.

At the end of the session, Dan Noonen provided an excellent link to a robust reading list of professional literature pertaining to born-digital theory and practice.

Ultimately, the lasting message from the panel was to get your hands dirty and do something with the tools out there, instead of waiting for one perfect tool that can handle everything. You may have to learn new skills and cobble together your own Frankenstein’s monster of born-digital tools, but that is surely better than doing nothing. Don’t forget to ask questions and, remember, fear is the mind killer.

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