Sunday, August 30, 2015

2014 SGA Annual Meeting Breakout Sessions Recap: Let's talk about processing digital records!

In an effort to engage the rich discussions that were had as part of the "Everyday Digital Archives" breakout sessions at the 2014 SGA Annual Meeting, here is the third of four posts highlighting topics that arose during the third breakout session discussing the processing of digital records. Hopefully these posts will be thought provoking to the SGA membership and will help to contribute to the ongoing conversation about the many issues that come part and parcel with managing digital archives.

Breakout Session 3: Processing Digital Records
In beginning to think about processing digital records, it may be helpful to keep in mind this quote from Richard Pearce-Moses from his article “The Perfect and the Possible: Becoming a Digital Archivist”: ““…what we do remains the same; it’s only how we do it that will change.”  Many interesting articles and case studies about processing digital records can be found in the archival literature.  One of the most cited articles is Carroll, et al.’s, “A Comprehensive Approach to Born-Digital Archives,” about processing and providing access to Salman Rushdie’s digital files at Emory’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.  There are way too many articles to mention in this post, but two other thought provoking ones worthy of mention are Jefferson Bailey’s “Disrespect des Fonds: Rethinking Arrangement and Description in Born-Digital Archives” and Jane Zhang’s “Original Order in Digital Archives”. 

The importance of reading articles and case studies about processing digital records was one of the many topics discussed during the breakout session.  Various challenges, observations, tools and resources were discussed and many, many questions were asked.  Here is a sampling of what was talked about:

Challenges
·        Dealing with all sorts of different formats, including proprietary formats
·        Security and integrity
·        Keeping the files associated with the description
·        Hybrid collections
·        Metadata
·        Getting a grasp of what you have – the way digital files are organized can be more chaotic – can’t guarantee that people are good custodians of their digital files

Observations / Thoughts
·       Having flexibility within your processing approach is important
o   need to determine how the repository wants to provide access, and from there create policies for processing; figure out steps to make it happen; set a goal
·       Hands-on experience a must - but also a daunting thought - does the fear of making a mistake keep us from making the needed initial effort?
·       Processing of digital records needs to start with administration - getting everyone on board
·       Map already known archival knowledge to what is coming with digital archives (i.e. “…what we do remains the same; it’s only how we do it that will change”)
·       Know what is critical
o   Look at the low-hanging fruit: if you're given a body of electronic records, look at the ones that you could easily provide access to (PDFs, etc.) -- > establish your processing workflow that way – this could help with tackling the harder modes

What do we need?
·       More cross-training of staff is needed - everyone needs to know how to handle digital
·       Need to have established policies and procedures for processing
·       Examples of successes and failures, in different sized shops (case studies!)
·       Best practices with a place to start, basic steps, and resources to support implementing them
·       Advocacy for the importance of digital archives jobs - either getting new positions or training for current staff
·       Technical skills to do archival processes on digital records

Tools?
It was indicated in a couple of the breakout groups that several repositories have only gotten to the stage of collecting and inventorying digital records, thus not many tools have been put in practice.  Another issue that was raised is that we as archivists hear the names of many tools that would prove helpful in working with digital records, but we don’t know what or when to use the tools (i.e. what tools will help in acquisition, processing, digital preservation?).  Further compounding the issue, archivists may be afraid to ask about digital archiving tools because they feel like they should already know (the “I don’t want to be the person to admit I don’t know about this” syndrome.).  Some tools that were mentioned include:

·       Archive-It (for web archiving)
·       Archivematica (https://www.archivematica.org/en/)
·       BitCurator (http://www.bitcurator.net/)
·       Managing digital content in CMSs (ArchivesSpace, Archon, QuadraStar, Archivists’ Toolkit, etc.)

Questions asked
·       Where do we start?
o   Survey what we have and where it is stored
o   Look for ways to collaborate with other staff
o   What formats are we receiving records in?
o   What equipment do I need to process, preserve, and provide access for particular digital formats?
·       Can processing digital records model analog processing?
·       Where to start in processing hybrid collections?
·       How can we find out about tools that can be used?
·        What is realistic, when you have a small staff?
·        What infrastructure is feasible in a small archives or with a small budget?

Resources mentioned
·       Chris Prom’s Practical E-records blog - http://e-records.chrisprom.com/
·       Q&A Digital Preservation - http://qanda.digipres.org/; www.digipres.org
        Case studies
        Atlanta Historical Computing Society - http://atlhcs.org/

Hopefully the ideas/issues/thoughts shared here have been useful.  Feel free to leave your thoughts in a comment!  Coming up next is a post on Breakout Session 4: Preservation of Digital Records.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

2014 SGA Annual Meeting Breakout Sessions Recap: Let's talk about access to digital records!

In an effort to engage the rich discussions that were had as part of the "Everyday Digital Archives" breakout sessions at the 2014 SGA Annual Meeting, here is the second of four posts highlighting topics that arose during the second breakout session discussing the issue of creating and managing access to digital records. Hopefully these posts will be thought provoking to the SGA membership and will help to contribute to the ongoing conversation about the many issues that come part and parcel with managing digital archives.

Breakout Session 2: Access to Digital Records
The Access to Electronic Records Working Group, part of SAA’s Reference, Access, and Outreach Section, observes that: “Much scrutiny has been placed on accessioning, processing and preserving electronic materials, while very little attention is given to how we provide access to these materials.”[1]  The goal of this breakout session was to bring attention to this very important topic.  Accessioning, processing, and preserving digital records are important (there’s no debate there!), but accessioning, processing, and preservation of digital records means nothing if the records are not being used.  And the only way digital records will be able to be used is if effective access mechanisms are created.  During the breakout session, several challenges to providing access to digital records were identified, including:

  • Copyright, Intellectual Property
  • Access to materials is often not covered in donor agreements
  • The need to implement access systems
  • Training for staff
  • Need for administration and constituent education (support, funding, understanding patron needs)
  • Security and control concerns
    • How do we ensure digital records cannot be altered, deleted, changed?
    • What tactics can we use to keep them available and safe?
      • Provide access to copy, prevent access to the digital original
      • Read only versions
  • Lack of IT infrastructure and support
  • Time and effort necessary to research and vet software and tools

In addition to the challenges outlined above, participants in the breakout session made several observations about issues that need to be addressed when tackling the task of providing access to digital records:

  • The issue of having the necessary skills:
  • The issue of intellectual and physical control over what is in our collections:
    • Only after getting intellectual and physical control of our records is access possible
  • The issue of obsolescence:
    • Tools change so rapidly that once a tool is implemented it is already obsolete
  • The issue of leadership:
    • No leaders in the state taking charge
  • The issue of access versus preservation:
    • Need access AND preservation platforms

A very fruitful conversation to come out of the “Access to Digital Records” breakout session was the discussion had by participants about what SGA can do to help.  Several suggestions were made, including:

  • Identify local leaders in the field willing to serve as a resource
  • Creation of a consulting committee to assist repositories in laying the groundwork for providing access to electronic records
  • Maintaining policies, guides, links to resources (under SGA’s “Resources” tab)
  • Host an online forum for practitioners to ask questions and discuss issues
  • Advocate for greater funding for USG-wide systems
  • Hands-on training sessions for tools such as DSpace and ArchivesSpace

Hopefully the ideas/issues/thoughts shared here have been useful.  Feel free to leave your thoughts in a comment!  Coming up next is a post on Breakout Session 3: Processing Digital Records.






[1] Reference, Access, and Outreach Section, “Access to Electronic Records Working Group,” Accessed August 2, 2015, http://www2.archivists.org/groups/reference-access-and-outreach-section/access-to-electronic-records-working-group

Friday, August 14, 2015

2014 SGA Annual Meeting Breakout Sessions Recap: Let's talk about acquisition and appraisal of digital records!

In an effort to engage the rich discussions that were had as part of the "Everyday Digital Archives" breakout sessions at the 2014 SGA Annual Meeting, here is the first of four posts highlighting topics that arose during the first breakout session discussing the acquisition of digital records. Hopefully these posts will be thought provoking to the SGA membership and will help to contribute to the ongoing conversation about the many issues that come part and parcel with managing digital archives.

Breakout Session 1: Acquisition of Digital Records
Several challenges/issues to consider were discussed, including proper storage, the importance of establishing policies, and how to educate donors about digital records.  The conversation about donor relations was especially interesting, highlighting the importance of educating donors ahead of time about what digital records they have and where they may be (i.e. not just on your computer, but Internet presence via blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.).  Simson Garfinkel and David Cox’s “Finding and Archiving the Internet Footprint” speaks to the issue of identifying a donor’s online record presence.  The book I, Digital: Personal Collections in the Digital Era, edited by Cal Lee, also explores how archivists can manage born-digital materials generated and kept by individuals.  Another important point discussed was working with donors in providing information about their records, i.e., what exactly do they have in their digital files?  The donor being able to provide an inventory of their digital records - through a file tree text document or some other survey of their records - can help archivists to know which records should be accessioned.  Also, BitCurator’s bulk_extractor report tool could be used as a pre-emptive measure to help archivists determine what digital content is available and what of that content they would want to accession (this was talked about at the BitCurator Users Forum on January 9, 2015).

Many ideas regarding continuing education opportunities were considered, including:

·        Distributing the knowledge that can be found in ARMA & SAA courses by using the network of University System of Georgia schools (e.g. holding workshops at USG institutions around the state that archivists living near those institutions could more easily attend)
·        Short courses on how to use tools helpful in accessioning digital records (e.g. BagIt, Duke Data Accessioner, etc.)
·        Educate executives/administrators on what is a digital record that needs keeping through ARMA’s “RM 101” seminars
·        Reading case studies - a good way to find out what other institutions are doing

Many questions were asked during the breakout session, including:

·        What are we talking about when we say “digital archives”? (purely born-digital documents, digitized documents, email, etc.)
·        Where to get started in acquiring digital records?
·        Can your institution even manage digital records - should you accept them?
·        Are our ideas about born-digital records fear driven?

An interesting concern for the near future that was raised dealt with digital data from scientific research – the National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy, and Department of Defense all require data and publications to be archived and shared.  The question becomes, how are we going to ensure this scientific data remains accessible?

Hopefully the ideas/issues/thoughts shared here have been useful.  Feel free to leave your thoughts in a comment!  Coming up next is a post on Breakout Session 2: Providing Access to Digital Records.




Wednesday, August 05, 2015

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