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.  

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