Back in January, archivists from the Princeton University Manuscripts Division visited the Rockefeller Archive Center to discuss digital processing with members of the RAC Processing Team. To continue this conversation, a few staff members from the RAC went on a field trip to Princeton on June 8th. The group consisted of staff from various departments including members of the Processing, Collections Management, and Digital Teams.

Tours Galore

We started off the day with a tour of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections division which is divided among two different buildings on campus, the Harvey S. Firestone Library and Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library.

The Firestone Library is considered to be the main library on campus. It is also home to the offices of the Rare Books and Special Collections Department and the Scheide Library. The Scheide Library holds the collection of William H. Schiede, Princeton University alumnus and philanthropist. Shiede’s collection contains significant historical documents including a copy of the Gutenberg bible, some of Shakespeare’s folios, and autographed music manuscripts (truly a bibliophile’s dream collection!).

After getting a tour of Firestone, we made our way across campus to the Mudd Manuscript Library. Mudd was purposefully designed to hold archival material. The building is entirely made out of brick and does not have any windows in the stacks, which helps keep the material safe from damaging light. The Mudd Library holds the Princeton University Archives as well as significant public policy papers, like those of Ivy Ledbetter Lee who was a key figure in the world of public relations and is best known for his involvement with the Rockefeller family after the Ludlow Massacre. The Mudd Library also contains collections which heavily document various international organizations and Cold War foreign policy. While visiting both libraries, we were able to see various work spaces, the reading rooms, as well as preview some of Princeton’s archival holdings, including Laurance S. Rockefeller’s application to Princeton!

Access, Access, Access!

Our visit concluded with a conversation regarding access to born digital material. We discussed how we can take steps to ensure the security of sensitive content, such as student records and closed material. A large part of this conversation involved brainstorming the best ways to make born digital material available in the reading room. We could provide researchers with a locked-down, portable machine to view the material or we could allow access via a specific IP address where the user would need to be onsite to gain access to the digital material on their own device. They both are not the “silver bullet” we were all hoping for and still leave us with unanswered questions. For instance, how do we prevent a person from using a recording/capturing app to make a copy of the material, which they could then freely disseminate into the online world as they choose? To what lengths should we go to prevent sensitive materials from hackers, and when can we say that we have done our due diligence, knowing it’s still entirely possible that someone with the right level of technological expertise can find a way to access it?

This discussion made me question whether or not I’ve been being mindful of access and the role it plays in my work as a processing archivist. Currently, I am assisting in developing and testing workflows for digital processing, a project led by Assistant Digital Archivist, Bonnie Gordon. Since I have yet to process a collection containing born digital material from start to finish, there has been (and will be) a lot of new ground to cover. It has been really easy to get caught up in BitCurator, running virus scans, and learning about the different carriers of born digital content. Sometimes it can seem like a whole new world. In the midst of all of this, I’ve been losing sight of the importance of access. Access is the reason we, as archivists, do what we do. Our goal is to provide access to information in any format, to the broadest audience, in as many ways as we can. Because access is the reason for our work, it’s also one of the biggest obstacles. Trying to meet the requests of creators, donors, users, and other stakeholders can be a balancing act, but that is exactly why access needs to be at the forefront of everything we do. Listening to other archivists voice their ideas regarding access to born digital material has sparked me to be more mindful of access throughout my projects and to think of my work more broadly. The questions we are having about born digital content are not unique to the RAC, they also challenge the archival community. Discussing these challenges among peers promotes progress in working toward a common goal. As they say, two heads are always better than one!