Born-Digital Access: A bloggERS Series

From the summer of 2014 to the summer of 2015, a group of researchers from four institutions investigated the state of access to born-digital materials. Termed the Born-Digital Access Research Team, and consisting of Rachel Appel, Bryn Mawr College Special Collections; Alison Clemens, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University; Wendy Hagenmaier, Georgia Institute of Technology Archives; and Jessica Meyerson, University of Texas Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, the Research Team designed and conducted an exploratory mixed methods study to document current born-digital access practices in cultural heritage institutions.

In anticipation of the Society of American Archivists 2015 Annual Meeting, the Team published a preliminary report on findings and analysis of the study. The findings presented in the preliminary report were used to design a hands-on Born-Digital Access Hackfest session at the SAA Annual Meeting in August 2015. During the Hackfest, session attendees divided into four teams and tackled access challenges head-on by developing practical proposals for access solutions designed to mature beyond the Annual Meeting.

The Hackfest teams addressed four actionable topics distilled from the gaps, plans, and significant findings outlined in the preliminary report. A member of each team served as the Team Leader. The teams were:

  • Archivist Bootcamp for Access: develop a plan for an archivist coding and skills bootcamp that would train archivists in the technical skills they need in order to provide access to born-digital materials
  • Understanding Users for Access: develop a plan for a project that would help archivists to understand the access needs of users of born-digital materials
  • Advocacy for Access: develop a plan for a study that would quantify the resources needed to provide access to born-digital materials and could be used by archivists to advocate for a future model of digital archives work
  • Agile for Access: develop a plan for training archivists to use agile methodologies when designing archival practices, workflows, and systems that support access to born-digital materials

Each team developed a proposal for a collaborative project centering around the themes above that would help address current obstacles to born digital access. Each of these groups was facilitated by a member of the research team and led by the volunteer Team Leader. One or two volunteer Notetakers recorded the team’s conversation. After the SAA session, the Team Leaders and Research Team members used the session notes to craft a project proposal centering around their Hackfest team’s theme.

The goal of these proposals is to spark the next wave of research and development on born-digital access. We hope readers will engage with the proposals and perhaps even decide to become involved in transforming the ideas they present into reality via grant proposals, collaborative efforts, and discussions.

In the coming weeks, bloggERS will feature a series of posts about access to born-digital materials, including posts describing each of the Hackfest team proposals and posts written by practitioners who are defining the future of born-digital access. First up in January 2016 will be a post by Archivist Bootcamp for Access Team Leader Daniel Johnson. We invite readers to comment on the posts, dive into the project proposals, and engage in a conversation about this important and exciting topic.

Alison Clemens is an Archivist at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library of Yale University. Rachel Appel is the Digital Collections Librarian at Bryn Mawr College Special Collections. Wendy Hagenmaier is the Digital Collections Archivist at the Georgia Institute of Technology Archives. Jessica Meyerson is the Digital Archivist at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.