2020 has been a tough year. I think many of us felt, and still feel, overwhelmed, depressed and hopeless. In that context, when I took my annual look back at the D-Team’s progress over the past year, I was expecting to see reduced activity and productivity. Instead, what I found was the opposite - this year we completed a number of large-scale initiatives, any one of which would have, in years past, occupied us for much of the year:

  • Changed our name from Digital Programs to Digital Strategies.
  • Performed a comprehensive audit of all our systems to identify maintainability risks and opportunities.
  • Implemented continuous deployment in a number of apps, and started to deploy containerized applications locally.
  • Contributed a set of utilities to ArchivesSnake core code.
  • Building on earlier research into the implications of GDPR for archives, researched and drafted the RAC’s first privacy policy.
  • Specified, developed, tested and and deployed a standalone library catalog.
  • Built a brand-new React frontend for DIMES, which will be launched in early 2021.
  • Built a highly performant data pipeline which fetches from AS, transforms it into our data model, indexes it in Elasticsearch, and serves it up via an API.
  • Implemented the IIIF Image and Presentation APIs, along with a pipeline to create derivatives and convert manifests.
  • Operationalized UX testing across the RAC, building expertise and investment in user research methodologies.
  • Distributed responsibility for web analytics across the organization.
  • Moved Archivematica to AWS infrastructure to facilitate upgrades and improve performance.

Each of those bullet points involved a lot of learning:

  • We learned a lot about technology. Elasticsearch, Javascript and React were all totally new to us. While we’ve been tracking IIIF for the past few years, actually implementing an image server and creating derivatives and manifests were all things we’d never done before. We’ve deepened our understanding and broadened our use of automated testing across almost all of the applications we manage. As we learned about those technologies, we also learned about the most accessible ways to use each of them.
  • We also learned about how to work with each other. During the early days of working from home, we began to experiment with a more intentional sprint structure. This gave us vital experience in reviewing each other’s code, and communicating clearly through issues, pull requests and commit messages. We also started a regular series of knowledge shares, where we took turns teaching each other about something we were experts on.
  • Last, we learned how to work with others, both inside the RAC and outside. Coming out of our systems audit, we initiated a regular monthly change requests meeting with our IT team to coordinate on changes and updates to infrastructure. The development sprints which began within the D-Team later branched out to include members of the Processing team, and culminated in working with existing open source communities. Our work around usability and web analytics connected our colleagues across the RAC in ways that hadn’t happened before.

One thing that seems clear to me in reflecting on the past year is that a renewed focus on how we’re working has had a huge impact on what we’ve been able to accomplish. In mid-March, as the RAC shifted to remote work, we took the opportunity as a team to rethink whether our current meeting and reporting structures were working, and to approach all of our activities with a depend attention to process. As a result, we made some minor tweaks to our meeting cadences, for example establishing an all-team check in at the beginning of each week. More importantly though, given the spatial collapse of home and work, we put into place some norms for online communications channels, establishing when we were, and were not, available. I think this focus on process has also helped us keep work in the proper perspective, and to avoid falling into the trap of working all the time because it’s hard to physically leave work behind.

I’m incredibly proud of all that the Digital Strategies Team has accomplished this past year, and I’m so very grateful to Hannah, Bonnie and Patrick for the unique contributions and insights they have each brought to our work. Most of all, though, I’m thankful to know that it is possible, in times like these, to do good work, together.