The Best of BDAX: Five Themes from the 2016 Born Digital Archiving & eXchange

By Kate Tasker

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Put 40 digital archivists, programmers, technologists, curators, scholars, and managers in a room together for three days, give them unlimited cups of tea and coffee, and get ready for some seriously productive discussions.

This magic happened at the Born Digital Archiving & eXchange (BDAX) unconference, held at Stanford University on July 18-20, 2016. I joined the other BDAX attendees to tackle the continuing challenges of acquiring, discovering, delivering and preserving born-digital materials.

The discussions highlighted five key themes to me:

1) Born-digital workflows are, generally, specific

We’re all coping with the general challenges of born-digital archiving, but we’re encountering individual collections which need to be addressed with local solutions and resources. BDAXers generously shared examples of use cases and successful workflows, and, although these guidelines couldn’t always translate across diverse institutions (big/small, private/public, IT help/no IT help), they’re a foundation for building best practices which can be adapted to specific needs.

2) We need tools

We need reliable tools that will persist over time to help us understand collections, to record consistent metadata and description, and to discover the characteristics of new content types. Project demos including ePADD, BitCurator Access, bwFLA – Emulation as a Service, UC Irvine’s Virtual Reading Room, the Game Metadata and Citation Project, and the University of Michigan’s ArchivesSpace-Archivematica-DSpace Integration project gave encouragement that tools are maturing and will enable us to work with more confidence and efficiency. (Thanks to all the presenters!)

3) Smart people are on this

A lot of people are doing a lot of work to guide and document efforts in born-digital archiving. We need to share these efforts widely, find common points of application, and build momentum – especially for proposed guidelines, best guesses, and continually changing procedures. (We’re laying this train track as we go, but everybody can get on board!) A brilliant resource from BDAX is a “Topical Brain Dump” Google doc where everyone can share tips related to what we each know about born-digital archives (hat-tip to Kari Smith for creating the doc, and to all BDAXers for their contributions).

4) Talking to each other helps!

Chatting with BDAX colleagues over coffee or lunch provided space to compare notes, seek advice, make connections, and find reassurance that we’re not alone in this difficult endeavor. Published literature is continually emerging on born-digital archiving topics (for example, born-digital description), but if we’re not quite ready to commit our own practices to paper magnetic storage media, then informal conversations allow us to share ideas and experiences.

5) Born-digital archiving needs YOU

BDAX attendees brainstormed a wide range of topics for discussion, illustrating that born-digital archiving collides with traditional processes at all stages of stewardship, from appraisal to access. All of these functions need to be re-examined and potentially re-imagined. It’s a big job (*understatement*) but brings with it the opportunity to gather perspective and expertise from individuals across different roles. We need to make sure everyone is invited to this party.

How to Get Involved

So, what’s next? The BDAX organizers and attendees recognize that there are many, many more colleagues out there who need to be included in these conversations. Continuing efforts are coalescing around processing levels and metrics for born-digital collections; accurately measuring and recording extent statements for digital content; and managing security and storage needs for unprocessed digital accessions. Please, join in!

You can read extensive notes for each session in this shared Google Drive folder (yes, we did talk about how to archive Google docs!) or catch up on Tweets at #bdax2016.

To subscribe to the BDAX email listserv, please email Michael Olson (mgolson[at]stanford[dot]edu), or, to join the new BDAX Slack channel, email Shira Peltzman (speltzman[at]library[dot]ucla[dot]edu).

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ktasker-profile-picKate Tasker works with born-digital collections and information management systems at The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. She has an MLIS from San Jose State University and is a member of the Academy of Certified Archivists. Kate attended Capture Lab in 2015 and is currently designing workflows to provide access to born-digital collections.

bloggERS! has gone fishin’

We’re off to SAA! Will you be there too? Check out our list of ERS-recommended sessions on Sched.

If you can’t make it this year, then follow along on Twitter with #SAA16!

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People fishing on Green Lake, circa 1950s. Item 31415, Ben Evans Recreation Program Collection (Record Series 5801-02), Seattle Municipal Archives

 

We’ll be back soon with recaps from recent conferences and plenty of other good stuff.

 

Building a “Computational Archival Science” Community

By Richard Marciano

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When the bloggERS! series started at the beginning of 2015, some of the very first posts featured work on “computer generated archival description” and “big data and big challenges for archives,” so it seems appropriate to revisit this theme of automation and management of records at scale and provide an update on a recent symposium and several upcoming events.

Richard Marciano co-hosted a recent “Archival Records in the Age of Big Data” symposium. For more information about the recent Symposium, visit: http://dcicblog.umd.edu/cas/. The three-day program is listed online and has links to all the videos and slides. A list of participants can also be found at http://dcicblog.umd.edu/cas/attendees. The objectives of the Symposium were to:

  • address the challenges of big data for digital curation,
  • explore the conjunction of emerging digital methods and technologies,
  • identify and evaluate current trends,
  • determine possible research agendas, and
  • establish a community of practice.

Richard Marciano and Bill Underwood will be further exploring these themes at SAA in Atlanta on Friday, August 5, 9:30am – 10:45am, session 311, for those ERS aficionados interested in contributing to this emerging conversation. See: https://archives2016.sched.org/event/7f9D/311-archival-records-in-the-age-of-big-data

On April 26-28, 2016 the Digital Curation Innovation Center (DCIC) at the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies (iSchool) convened a Symposium in collaboration with King’s College London. This invitation-only symposium, entitled Finding New Knowledge: Archival Records in the Age of Big Data, featured 52 participants from the UK, Canada, South Africa and the U.S. Among the participants were researchers, students, and representatives from federal agencies, cultural institutions, and consortia.

This group of experts gathered at Maryland’s iSchool to discuss and try to define computational archival science: an interdisciplinary field concerned with the application of computational methods and resources to large-scale records/archives processing, analysis, storage, long-term preservation, and access, with the aim of improving efficiency, productivity and precision in support of appraisal, arrangement and description, preservation and access decisions, and engaging and undertaking research with archival material.

This event, co-sponsored by Richard Marciano, Mark Hedges from King’s College London and Michael Kurtz from UMD’s iSchool, brought together thought leaders in this emerging CAS field:  Maria Esteva from the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), Victoria Lemieux from the University of British Columbia School of Library, Archival and Information Studies (SLAIS), and Bill Underwood from Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). There is growing interest in large-scale management, automation, and analysis of archival content and the realization of enhanced possibilities for scholarship through the integration of ‘computational thinking’ and ‘archival thinking.

To capitalize on the April Symposium, a follow-up workshop entitled Computational Archival Science: Digital Records in the Age of Big Data, will take place in Washington D.C. the 2nd week of December 2016 at the 2016 IEEE International Conference on Big Data. For information on the upcoming workshop, please visit: http://dcicblog.umd.edu/cas/ieee_big_data_2016_cas-workshop/. Paper contributions will be accepted until October 3, 2016.

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Richard is a professor at Maryland’s iSchool and director of the Digital Curation Innovation Center (DCIC). His research interests include digital preservation, archives and records management, computational archival science, and big data. He holds degrees in Avionics and Electrical Engineering, a Master’s and Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Iowa, and conducted a Postdoc in Computational Geography.

Get to know the candidates: Lora Davis

The 2016 elections for Electronic Records Section leadership are upon us! Over the next two weeks, we will be presenting additional information provided by the 2016 nominees for ERS leadership positions. For more information about the slate of candidates, you can check out the full 2016 ERS elections site. ERS Members: be sure to vote! Polls are open July 8 through the 22!

Candidate name: Lora Davis

Running for: Steering Committee

What made you decide you wanted to become an archivist?

This question assumes a discrete “Aha!” moment, which, for me at least, never really happened. I like to say that archives found me, and not the other way around. I was first exposed to the archives (the place, if not the profession) when, as a 17-year-old undergraduate at Susquehanna University, I was awarded a university assistantship that placed me in the employ of a long-serving member of the Department of History, who had undertaken to write the history of the university. Following a brief tour (“My Moody Blues cassettes are in this drawer here, feel free to listen!”) and with a copy of James O’Toole’s Understanding Archives and Manuscripts (1990) in hand, I set about processing the papers of two former university presidents. Seven years later, after completing a master’s in history and opting to leave my PhD program, the archives (this time both place and profession) found me again when the Manuscripts Unit of the University of Delaware Library’s Special Collections department decided to take a chance and employ a grad school dropout at the height of the 2008 economic collapse. This time I was hooked for good. I went on to earn my MLIS online while working my full-time paraprofessional position at Delaware, and have since held professional positions at Colgate University and Johns Hopkins University. It took me a little while to figure it out, but, being an archivist provided me with the balance and variety of work I’d been longing for – the theory and intellectual work of a scholar, the interaction with people I’d missed as a graduate student researcher, the connection to history that had driven my prior coursework, and, perhaps most of all, the exposure to and engagement with emerging technologies I’d missed as a computer hobbyist turned grad student.

What is one thing you’d like to see the Electronic Records Section accomplish during your time on the steering committee?

Above all, I would like to see the Electronic Records Section serve as a welcoming and valuable resource to *all* archivists. In my career I have worked at a medium-sized partially public-funded university, a small liberal arts college, and a private research university, and worked on paper-based and electronic manuscript and university records’ collections, so I appreciate the variety of funding models, resource levels, institutional priorities, and individual knowledge and time we must all strive to balance and leverage in our day-to-day work. Across the profession it is still rare for someone to have the luxury of focusing day in and day out on electronic records; however, it is by no means rare for a 21st century archivist to encounter records of enduring value that exist only in digital form. By striving to be an open, welcoming, responsive, and member-driven community resource for all archivists, the Electronic Records Section can help meet the daily operational needs of its members (e.g. demystifying electronic records jargon and workflows, providing case studies of both successes and failures, serving as a non-judgmental sounding board for new and experienced archivists alike), while also helping to propel the profession forward.

What is your favorite GIF?

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Get to know the candidates: Brian Dietz

The 2016 elections for Electronic Records Section leadership are upon us! Over the next two weeks, we will be presenting additional information provided by the 2016 nominees for ERS leadership positions. For more information about the slate of candidates, you can check out the full 2016 ERS elections site. ERS Members: be sure to vote! Polls are open July 8 through the 22!

Candidate name: Brian Dietz

Running for: Steering Committee

What made you decide you wanted to become an archivist?

All current contexts–social, cultural, economic–are historically contingent. We examine those contingencies, often with the goal of exposing power dynamics, through historical inquiry. Support such critical work is what excited me about becoming an archivist.

What is one thing you’d like to see the Electronic Records Section accomplish during your time on the steering committee?

I’m really interested in the idea of more of us making our documentation widely available so that it becomes a little bit easier for some folks to start digital archiving programs and others to enhance existing ones. The ERS could lead an effort around this kind of sharing.

What is your favorite GIF?

I love how affirming this one is:

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Get to know the candidates: Blake Graham

The 2016 elections for Electronic Records Section leadership are upon us! Over the next two weeks, we will be presenting additional information provided by the 2016 nominees for ERS leadership positions. For more information about the slate of candidates, you can check out the full 2016 ERS elections site. ERS Members: be sure to vote! Polls are open July 8 through the 22!

Candidate name: Blake Graham

Running for: Steering Committee

What made you decide you wanted to become an archivist?

I love being asked this question. I started my career working as a graduate assistant at a university archives about six years ago. At the time, I was knee-deep in the curriculum – studying southern identity and slavery. I was enchanted by historiography, and discovering how historians debate about the interpretation, nature, and implication of primary source materials. My coursework, as well as my job responsibilities, were related to southern history. While working at the university archives, arranging a nineteenth-century manuscript collection, I stumbled across a slave pamphlet. For anyone unfamiliar, these were handouts for slave-trading events in the antebellum South. The text and imagery included horrific details about physique and “background information” on slaves. I buckled after reading the pamphlet. Handling and reading this document was a powerful experience for me, to say the least. I brought the item to the director, and she broke down crying as well. Because of this, along with a long-list of “encounters in the archives,” I have a better understanding of the power of the written record. My work allows me to continue exploring the relationship between the written record and the human experience. This is why I work in archives, and why I love my work.

What is one thing you’d like to see the Electronic Records Section accomplish during your time on the steering committee?

I admire and appreciate all of the work in BloggERS – I believe it is a gateway for collaboration and innovation among our professional communities. If I was asked about foreseeable goals and accomplishments, I would take a bet on ERS leaders proactively seeking different voices to participate in the blog. In 2015-2016, roughly 80% of authors and ERM discussions on BloggERS come from university settings – a percentage that is also reflective of the Section’s leadership. To revisit Kyle Henke’s “Get to Know You” post last year, “I see the purpose of this group as a method to facilitate communication and encourage collaboration across the profession.” I also believe one of the best ways to learn how to improve one’s knowledge of, or develop new skills in, a topic of interest is to simply talk about it with colleagues across the profession. I would like to help move BloggERS in this direction by proactively initiating a dialogue between professionals working in a wide range of settings. I think targeted outreach and education is one of the ways we can accomplish collaboration across the profession.

What is your favorite GIF?

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Annual meeting session recommendations, courtesy of ERS

Having trouble deciding between two tantalizing-looking sessions at the Society of American Archivists annual meeting this year? Looking for some recommendations that might tip the scales? Look no further!

The Electronic Records Section has produced a schedule for this year’s conference through its online scheduling tool, Sched. Now you can see the session that may be of interest to ERS members in one place.

The Electronic Records Section mega-schedule is available here.

See something we may have missed? Comment below or email bloggERS! at ers.mailer.blog@gmail.com!

 

Get to know the candidates: Brad Houston

The 2016 elections for Electronic Records Section leadership are upon us! Over the next two weeks, we will be presenting additional information provided by the 2016 nominees for ERS leadership positions. For more information about the slate of candidates, you can check out the full 2016 ERS elections site. ERS Members: be sure to vote! Polls are open July 8 through the 22!

Candidate name: Brad Houston

Running for: Steering Committee

What made you decide you wanted to become an archivist?

A combination of two things: 1) A summer internship with the Truman Presidential Library, which introduced me to the work of an archivist and made me realize that said work was something I could see myself doing. 2) My subsequent experience researching for my senior History thesis, much of which took place in small town historical societies and other poorly-described and poorly organized repositories. This experience elicited a vow: “I want to help make sure other people don’t have to work this hard to find what they’re looking for.” (I hope I’ve been doing a good job on both the description and reference sides of this!)

What is one thing you’d like to see the Electronic Records Section accomplish during your time on the steering committee?

While chair of the Records Management Roundtable, I helped institute a semi-regular series of Google Hangouts, which give our members a chance to hear about archival and records management issues from various experts in the field and interact in real-time to ask questions or work through examples. I think this is a model that would work well with a lot of the content put out by ERS– Hangout facilitators could walk people through using a particular tool or workflow as discussed previously on the blog, for example. The hangout format offers more interactivity than a webinar or Twitter chat (though incorporating elements of both!) and it seems like a great opportunity to expand ERS’s educational engagement with its members.

What is your favorite GIF?

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Get to know the candidates: Dorothy Waugh

The 2016 elections for Electronic Records Section leadership are upon us! Over the next two weeks, we will be presenting additional information provided by the 2016 nominees for ERS leadership positions. For more information about the slate of candidates, you can check out the full 2016 ERS elections site. ERS Members: be sure to vote! Polls are open July 8 through the 22!

Candidate name: Dorothy Waugh

Running for: Steering Committee

What made you decide you wanted to become an archivist?

The glamour.

What is one thing you’d like to see the Electronic Records Section accomplish during your time on the steering committee?

I’m excited about the many opportunities for a group like the Electronic Records Section to engage practitioners working in this dynamic and fast-paced field. To give just one example, I’ve been really impressed by the Section’s development of bloggERS! during the past couple of years. The site has fast become a go-to resource in which to share ideas, address challenges, and celebrate successes. Should I be elected to the steering committee, I would be keen to support the ongoing growth of the Blog as the online hub of the ERS community. Taking a lead from what’s already been achieved, I’d like to build out the types of content that we provide and encourage active participation from both members of ERS and our close colleagues—I’d love to invite contributions from researchers who are using born-digital materials, for instance. In particular, I’m interested in identifying content that is not available elsewhere. I’ve always thought, for example, that the informal nature of a Blog makes it the ideal venue for a regular “It Didn’t Work” column, focusing on real-life examples of failure in digital archives and inviting collaborative (and good-natured!) problem-solving. If elected to the ERS steering committee, I’d like to build on the momentum of the work already underway and help the Blog become a forum for discussion, a home for shared resources, and a welcoming and inclusive space in which to ask questions and work towards solutions.

What is your favorite GIF?

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The ERS annual meeting approaches!

The Electronic Records Section will meet at the SAA annual meeting in Atlanta on Thursday, August 4, 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm. Following a short business meeting, the session will feature a presentation from Mike Strom, Wyoming State Archivist, who will provide an update on Council of State Archivists’ State Electronic Records Initiative (SERI) and the PERTTS (Program for Electronic Records, Training, Tools and Standards) Portal.

Following the business meeting and presentation, the Electronic Records Section will break into an interactive unconference-style small group discussion.

This is where we need your help! Do you have an intractable electronic records problem you would like to discuss? Or a hot new topic in digital preservation that you’re excited to share with like-minded archivists and electronic records professionals? Add your ideas to the list of discussion topics for the unconference!

Session topics are being collected here: http://bit.ly/SAA16-ERS-Unconf-Ideas

Submissions will be considered until the day of the section meeting, where participants will select discussion topics.

Have any questions? Email ERS Chair Dan Noonan at noonan[dot]37[at]osu[dot]edu.