SAA Workshop on Digital Records Acquisition: Archivists’ Reflections

Introduction

Educating archivists and record keepers is the first step in developing a digital program. Recently, members of the Processing and Collections Management teams at the Rockefeller Archive Center attended a two-day workshop titled “Appraisal, Accessioning, and Ingest of Digital Records” offered by SAA and presented by Erin Faulder, Digital Archivist at Cornell University Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections. The Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) course delved into the challenges of preserving and managing electronic records and offered strategies for institutions both unfamiliar and well versed in the realm of digital archiving.

Here are the reflections of four archivists who participated in the DAS workshop.

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The Values of Open Communities

I (relatively) recently came back from Open Repositories and have had a myriad of jumbled thoughts bouncing around in my head about aligning communities, values, software, and expectations within libraries and archives. Hopefully, this blog post will serve as an outline for the thoughts that have been percolating for a few weeks, and really, a few years before that. I’ve met a significant number of professionals that I know share these opinions as well, but I think it’s helpful to spend some time reflecting on the ideas they’ve imparted and how we, as members of a community, can better align our actions with our values, and the difficulties that work presents. Continue reading

2018 IA Summit Report: Designing for Ecosystems

I recently attended the IA Summit 2018 in Chicago. This was my first time attending the conference, which brings together a mix of information architects and design-related professionals, and I came away with some fresh perspectives on my work here at the RAC. The summit consisted of both practical talks about specific methods and tools, as well as wider reflections on ethical considerations and trends in the field. Continue reading

Managing Technical Debt: Code4Lib 2018 report

I’m just back from this year’s Code4Lib conference, held in Washington D.C. As I’ve written here before, it’s an event that is, without fail, productive, provocative and exhausting. Over the years, the things that have stayed with me from the conference have changed (arguably the focus of the conference has changed as well) from technological tools for solving problems to values and frameworks for thinking through problems. Continue reading

SHOT 2017: expertise and power

A few weeks ago, I attended the annual meeting of the Society for the History of Technology in Philadelphia. Along with my colleague Eira Tansey, I presented a paper titled “For Good Measure: The Role of Regulatory Records in Environmental Maintenance,” which made the case that environmental regulation relies on the work of recordkeeping. Eira was fresh off of delivering the opening keynote at NDSA’s Digital Preservation 2017: Preservation is Political, a talk which covered many of the same themes. 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

LDCX, BDAX & PDA

Last week I attended three events held at Stanford University: LDCX, Born Digital Archiving eXchange (BDAX), and Personal Digital Archiving. There was a lot of digital archives talk at all of these events, and it was great to chat with folks who are also dealing with the issues I’m encountering in my work.

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Getting More Out of (and Into) Your Collections Management System: DACSspace

Recently, I attended METRO’s Annual Conference where I presented on a panel titled “Getting More Out of (and Into) Your Collections Management System.” I spoke about my experience learning to code as a processing archivist and developing DACSspace. The following is the text from my presentation.

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ACRL/NY Symposium on Money & Power

Last Friday, I attended the annual symposium of the Greater New York Metropolitan Area Chapter of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL/NY). This year’s theme was Money and Power, and the talks covered standards, instruction, labor, and other library issues that intersect with issues of money and power.

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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?