Born-Digital Workflows CURATEcamp Report

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for conferences! On Friday, Bonnie and I attended a Born-Digital Workflows CURATEcamp, held at the Brooklyn Historical Society. We gave a brief presentation on our workflows for arranging and descriping born-digital materials, and also learned a lot from other attendees.

In no particular order, a couple of highlights and observations:
There was a real emphasis on automating many of the processes surrounding born-digital materials at this event. It came up in a variety of presentations, ranging from Euan Cochrane’s discussion of improving automation of disk imaging processes, to Peter Chan’s ePADD¬†demonstration. However, while some very important work is being done in this area, it seems as though description is still a very manual and time-consuming process.

Jarrett Drake and Rossy Mendez of Princeton University discussed the work they have done to maximize description of born-digital archival collections (particularly in the context of their University Archives), for which they’ve chained together shell scripts, spreadsheets, and a variety of other tools to create or transform description. I couldn’t help but think, however, that a lot of us seem to be going to a lot of trouble to migrate data from one place to another, in the process often transforming it several times into some pretty lossy schemas. I’d love to see a tighter integration between systems for appraising, arranging and describing born-digital materials (like FTK and BitCurator) and systems for describing “traditional” archival materials (like the Archivists’ Toolkit¬†or ArchivesSpace).

Over the course of the day, I was struck by how many people at the conference were grappling with the same issues, many of which had less to do with technology and more to do with resources, management, and institutional priorities. I thought often of Erin O’Meara’s excellent “No One Cooks the Bacon Alone” presentation from OCLC’s Past Forward conference in June 13, which pointed to the somewhat impossible situation “digital archivists” are often placed in; asked to be change agents without the necessary experience or institutional support. Sadly, it seems as though that is still very much the case. I was keenly aware of how our model here at the RAC differs from that approach, and why, in my opinion, we’ve been pretty successful at integrating born-digital materials into our existing workflows.

You can also access other people’s notes from the day on this Google Doc.

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