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?

PASIG 2016

Last week, I attended the Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group (PASIG) Fall 2016 meeting, here in New York, at the Museum of Modern Art. Each day of the three-day conference focused on a different theme: Day 1 was “Bootcamp/101,” Day 2 was “Preservation and Archiving in Practice” and Day 3 was “Preservation Frontiers and the Bigger Picture.” While all three days were great, and I’d recommend checking out all of the presentations, the talks on the final day made me reflect critically on what it means to responsibly engage with digital preservation activities, especially at an institution like the Rockefeller Archive Center.

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Radcliffe Workshop on Technology and Archival Processing

Last week I attended the Radcliffe Workshop on Technology and Archival Processing. It was a really amazing event that brought together archivists, historians, librarians, digital humanists, technologists, and others to discuss the relationship between technology, archival processing and digital humanities. The talks were thought-provoking and introduced new ideas and methods I hadn’t considered before. One talk that really stood out to me was Jarrett M. Drake’s reconsideration of archival principles including provenance and respect des fonds. It brought up similar themes to those we discussed in the RAC reading group last month that focused on the concept of original order. Fortunately, it’s now available online; it’s a really worthwhile read, especially in light of our conversations around respect des fonds a few weeks ago.

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

Code4Lib Report: Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

A big theme at this year’s Code4Lib conference was the importance of collaboration and building upon others’ work. Since collaboration and openness are some of the D-Team’s core values, this really resonated with me. A few different strategies were suggested to increase sharing and collaboration; these included openly sharing tools and documentation on the web, as well as designing code and tools so that they can easily be re-used by others.

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METRO Conference Report

As you may have read in previous posts from Patrick and Bonnie, the D-Team went to METRO’s annual conference this past week. It was a great day (thanks to METRO staff for pulling off a fantastic event) with a lot of really informative sessions; the greater New York City library and archives community has a lot of smart people doing really creative work! Aside from the themes of systems and data interoperability that Bonnie and Patrick wrote about, I noted a common thread of attempts to integrate transparency across a number of presentations and institutions. Continue reading

A METRO Retrospective

I attended METRO’s annual conference on 1/21. METRO is the Metropolitan New York Library Council, and as members, RAC staff is open to attend any of their events. There were a lot of fantastic panels and speakers at the panel this year, but I’d like to focus on an overarching theme that I picked up on this year: getting our systems to communicate nicely with each other can streamline our work processes and improve our work as archivists.

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iPRES Report

I spent the first week of November in Chapel Hill for this year’s iPRES conference. iPRES is an international conference covering the latest trends, innovations, policies, and practices in the realm of digital preservation.. The conference was full of smart, innovative, and knowledgeable people working to solve the problems posed by digital preservation. It’s not possible to cover everything that I learned here, but one of the themes that emerged for me was that of the importance of people in digital preservation. It can be tempting to think of this work as all about computers, but people and policies are integral to sustainable digital preservation.

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edUi Report

This week I attended the annual edUi conference in Charlottesville, Virginia. As I’ve written before – this was my third year in a row attending – I’ve found the conference and community to be a place of challenge and inspiration, and I always leave with at least one major “aha” moment. Continue reading