Saturday, April 04, 2015

To be an archivist: Dallas A. Suttles

Our inaugural "What does it mean to be an archivist at your repository?" post comes courtesy of Dallas A. Suttles, who serves as the Computer Services Associate in the Archives and Special Collections department at Valdosta State University.

I am currently working on my Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) certification and work as a digital archivist, in all but name. For me, being an archivist has meant:

  • Digitization! - Scanning, organizing files, adding metadata, and making our materials accessible to the public.
  • Digital Preservation - Using command line tools like BagIt and Fitstool, I make AIPs for long-term preservation. We are using Google Drive for Business, with unlimited data, as an off-site backup.  I also scan the web for regional history to preserve. For example, I use IFTT to automatically index every local newspaper I can using RSS feeds.
  • Web Design - I run about a dozen websites and do a ton of web design with HTML and CSS.
  • Database Design - So many databases! Most were built from the ground up using PHP & MySQL. Our next database, an index of the 1860 Slave Census, will soon be underway.
  • Exhibit Design - All our exhibits need signs and labels. I use Photoshop to design these.
  • Social Media - Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc… This involves mining our materials nearly every day to post something relevant.
I like to think that through my work, I am serving the past, present, and future. When a patron finds an ancestor in one of our databases, we are reuniting the past and present in that moment. Thereby serving the living and the dead. And to generations yet born, this data will only become more invaluable, not just to the public but to the next generation of archivists that will build upon this work.

Postscript: 
Why Archives Matter?
Archives and archivists are part of the foundational structure of civilization itself. Like pillars, we hold up the past so it doesn’t fall away into darkness, forgotten. We stand on the front-lines in an epic, losing battle against the ravages of time. By preserving the past we venerate the dead, serve the present, and educate the future. Please excuse my hyperbole, but in the grand scheme of things, this is precisely why “archives matter”, in my opinion.
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Thank you to Dallas for sharing what it means to be an archivist at Valdosta State University Archives and Special Collections!  Want to share what your own experience is like working as an archivist?  Submit your "What it means to be an archivist at my repository?" post to us at outreach [at] soga [dot] org.  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Call for papers: 2015 issue of Provenance

CFP: 2015 issue of Provenance
Provenance: The Journal of the Society of Georgia Archivists, a peer-reviewed scholarly publication, seeks submissions on archival theory and practice for the 2015 issue. Please note that the content of the journal is not limited to the state of Georgia, and articles of local, regional, or national significance are welcome. First-time authors are especially encouraged to submit articles for consideration.

Articles on archival topics outside of theory and practice which meet publication standards will also be considered. Typical papers should be a Word document, 10-20 pages, double spaced, and formatted according to the 16th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style. Please review information for contributors: http://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/provenance/policies.html. Articles are to be submitted utilizing Provenance’s new online system: http://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/provenance/.

For additional information contact Editor Cheryl Oestreicher at: provenance@soga.org. Deadline for contributions is July 31, 2015.


Gracy Award 
Each year the SGA awards the Gracy Award, a $200 prize which recognizes a superior contribution to Provenance. Named for David B. Gracy II, founder and first editor of Georgia Archive, the award began in 1990 and is judged by the editorial board.


Back issues of Provenance and Georgia Archive available online 
At over 25,000 hits/downloads, the back issues (1972-2013) are a great resource for archivists: http://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/provenance/


Table of Contents for the just published 2014 issue: 

2014 SGA Annual Meeting 
Welcome Address
Rich Mendola

Keynote Address: What is the Professional Archivist’s Role in the Evolving Archival Space?
Kate Theimer

Articles
Reimagining Record Groups: A Case Study and Considerations for Record Group Revision
Matt Gorzalski

Build It and Will They Come?: Participatory Digital Archives, Hesitant Users, and the Emerging Archival Commons
Dallas C. Hanbury

A Gentle Approach to “Gentle Ren”: Processing the Papers of Former College President Renwick Jackson
Steven M. Gentry

“An Ever-Ready Source of Inspiration and Information”: Ruth Blair and the Bicentennial County Historians
David B. Parker

Reviews
Gitelmanjj, Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents
reviewed by Erin Lawrimore

Brown, Archives and Recordkeeping: Theory into Practice
reviewed by Carol Waggoner-Angleton

Lacher-Feldman, Exhibits in Archives and Special Collections Libraries
reviewed by Jennifer Welch


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Upcoming DAS Workshop: Developing Specifications & RFPs for Recordkeeping Systems

Date:
June 1, 2015
Location:
Robert W. Woodruff Library
Emory University
Atlanta, GA

The development of a fully functional digital archives requires an integrated recordkeeping system that identifies, describes, schedules, and destroys or retains your organization's born-digital records. Successful recordkeeping systems reflect business processes and applicable federal and state statutes while identifying records with permanent value to be archived. The ideal recordkeeping system interfaces with a digital repository used to curate electronic records and support a wide range of archival processes, including preservation and access. Before purchasing or building a recordkeeping system, you need a clear list of systems requirements specific to your organization. From these specifications, you can build a good Request for Proposal (RFP), select a system or vendor, and successfully implement your recordkeeping system.

This course if one of the Tactical and Strategic Courses in the Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) Curriculum and Certificate Program.

Upon completing this course you'll be able to:
  • Identify and define systems requirements for an electronic recordkeeping system and/or digital repository;
  • Develop and distribute a Request for Information (RFI), RFP, or RFQ (Request for Quotation);
  • Evaluate and select a recordkeeping system; and 
  • Implement the system.
Who should attend?
Archivists, records managers, IT professionals and administrators who need to define systems requirements for an electronic recordkeeping system and/or digital repository and then develop a RFI, RFP, or RFQ.

The Early-Bird registration deadline is May 1, 2015.

Workshop Fees
  • SAA Members
    • Early-Bird: $199
    • Regular: $269
  • Employees of Member Institutions
    • Early-Bird: $229
    • Regular: $299
  • Nonmembers
    • Early-Bird: $259
    • Regular: $319
Register for the workshop here.
Attendance is limited to 35.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Everyday Digital Archives Q&A: Richard Pearce-Moses

What digital archives-related resources do you read--blogs, social media, articles, journals, listservs, etc.?

Lots of social media is noisy and demands a lot of time to follow, so I don’t use it too much. I’ve largely abandoned Facebook.  I check Twitter once or twice a day, but I limit the people I follow to individuals in the field.  Their posts are interesting and useful, because they point me to something I wasn’t aware of and wouldn’t have thought to search.   Charles Bailey (@DigitalKoans) links to interesting reports and jobs.  LC’s National Digital information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (@ndiipp) has lots of news.  Martin Hawksey (@mhawksey) and Trevor Owens (@tjowens) often link to interesting projects, but often they’re very technical and over my head.

I read The Signal, published by Library of Congress (blogs.loc.gov/digitalpreservation).  Twitter feeds often point me to a blog entry that I’m interested in.

Tech magazines often have lots of really interesting things that are relevant to digital archives, although the connection may be a bit tangential.  I really like Ars Technica and Wired.

Do you actively curate or archive your own personal digital materials? If so, how?

I don’t know that my personal papers are that interesting or merit selection by an archives.  Much of my work is captured in publications, ranging from chatty articles for Archival Outlook to research in professional journals and to a few monographs.  I have identified a few records (mostly email) from when I was president of SAA that may be of importance to the its archives.  I did grab a copy of all the email from the Archives and Archivists list from 1998 to 2006 when there was some question as to its fate.  I’ve used it to study the history of the profession, and I think it would be useful to others.

On the more personal side, my life has been good, but not extraordinary.  My personal records wouldn’t add much or be a source of fascinating research – or even a boring dissertation. My family is small, and they don’t need a terabyte of travel photos, email, and receipts from Amazon to keep my memory alive.  A few photos will probably be enough.

I am pretty religious about keeping things backed up, but that’s not an archives.  I don’t have a routine to keep backups off site, so if the house burns, I might lose both my computer and backup drive.  However, I use cloud storage for essential records. 

I’ve migrated a few important files as software became obsolete.  However, I have a lot of email in client applications (Eudora, WinMail) that Outlook couldn’t import.  My partner has email from a Compuserv account that requires proprietary software; I kept the software, but I haven’t tried to recover those files. 

Why is curating or archiving your own personal digital materials important?

As I noted above, I don’t see great value in my personal records.  I’ve inherited some records from family members.  I was pretty serious about appraisal and threw out many that were unidentified or redundant.  I’ll add a few of mine to that collection and pass it on to relatives. 

I try to keep enough records to remember people and events that were important in my life.  I have a digital picture frame with a few dozen images of people and events.  In many ways, that small collection captures the highlights of my life, without documenting the drudgery.

“Won't personal digital archiving solve itself as the digital generation comes of age?” Your thoughts?
**To give credit where credit is due, this question is taken from Catherine Marshall’s “Rethinking Personal Digital Archiving, Part 1” (http://www.dlib.org/dlib/march08/marshall/03marshall-pt1.html)

The problems of archives won’t change because those problems aren’t tied to technology.  They’re people problems.  Who will decide what to save?  Who will reach out to find collections that can be acquired for archives that are accessible to a larger public? 

Finding ways to get people to attend to their personal records for future use is always going to be a problem.  Most people live in the present, and their lives are busy.  Getting them to think about building and preserving a collection for future use can easily be put off a day, a month, a year.  To use myself as an example, I never thought too much about my own family’s archives until this year, when my mother-in-law passed and I was then part of the oldest surviving generation in my family.  Like many, my family relied on the elders to bear the torch of memory and preserve the past, and now it’s my turn. 

It may very well be that the digital generation will have the skills to preserve digital records.  At the same time, many members of the digital era are sophisticated consumers of  technology.  They can use existing tools, but they’re stymied when confronted with something out of the ordinary.  Unless there are tools readily available for extracting email from older formats, for reading archaic formats, those materials may yet be lost.

Due to the distributed nature of personal digital archives, (i.e. content of an individual all over the web in different arenas: Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.) how should archivists approach the challenge of acquiring these dispersed digital materials? Are there tools to help?

A good example of why some problems of digital archives will never go away. Archivists will need to reach out to a wide range of people, seeking individuals who will help archivists build collections.  The key difference is that archivists no longer have the luxury of time.  Previously, personal records were often donated to an archives after an individual passed away.  The family would look at their diaries, letters, and photos.  They’d think “history”, and the records would be donated. 

Archivists can’t wait until people pass away to collect their records.  Currently, they may not be able to get records because they family doesn’t have passwords and social media sites won’t grant access.  Even if they have a password, it’s likely that much would be lost over time.  Facebook may be pervasive now, but I will be surprised if it’s as popular in ten years.  Would an archivist in 2050 be able to capture Facebook posts of someone living now?  Archivists need to identify people and groups that the future will want to know about, to understand, to study, and then approach them about capturing records now.

Martin Hawksey has a nifty tool to capture Twitter feeds using freely available Google tools that aren’t that hard to implement (see http://mashe.hawksey.info/2013/02/twitter-archive-tagsv5/).  Facebook allows individuals to download their pages, but that will require cooperation of the page owner.  I firmly believe in harvesting web content relevant to an archives’ mission, including blogs.  The Internet Archive’s Archive-It is probably the best service out there, but it’s not free.  However, HTTrack is better than nothing.  One of the challenges is finding web content that’s in scope.  I developed a methodology to do that when I was in Arizona, but the tools to help automate that process are no longer available.  I’m in the process of building new tools (see http://arstweb.clayton.edu/domainid/ to read about the project and follow my progress).

What can we do as archivists to change the culture of “benign neglect” that people so often have in regards to their personal digital records?  How do you see people accessing personal digital records/archives in the future? 10 years? 20 years?

To avoid benign neglect – in a word – quit neglecting things.  In a sense, personal collections are not archives. People have collections of personal records that they have saved – often by happenstance – and not through considered appraisal.  Scrapbooking is an example of a conscious effort to save select items or tell a story, but I don’t know that the process is sufficiently systematic or complete to tell the whole story.

Archives are more than a bunch of old records.  They are in a secure place (although copies in the cloud may provide greater protection than a hard drive or DVD).  Most important, though, archives are a program to appraise, process, provide access, and support long-term preservation.  Records are selected to capture context, to document the richness of history – not a rosy remembrance.  Records are arranged and described to ensure that enough information is captured to make the records meaningful – identifying photographs, documenting family trees, noting important life events.  Records are preserved to make sure that the whole of the collection is preserved, and history is not documented by things that survived by chance.

I don’t want to discount collections of personal records because they don’t match up with a theoretical model.  Records that tell an important story of the past are valuable to families – and
some of these records should be acquired by formal archives to make them more widely accessible.  Archivists must find new ways to connect with those people to acquire records before preservation is an insurmountable barrier and bring them into collections where they will be properly cared for.  Without them, we will not have records that tell a complete, accurate, and authentic story of the past. 

A call for archives to be actively engaged in acquiring personal records is no small task.  But adapting sage advice from Fynnette Eaton, “Whatever we do, we may fail.  But if we do nothing, failure is guaranteed.”  Better that we make some effort and capture some piece of this history than to leave the future with none.
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Thanks to Richard for sharing his insights!  Want to volunteer to be interviewed for our Q&A blog posts? Know a digital records steward we should interview? Let us know: outreach [at] soga [dot] org.