Agile for Access: Iterative Approaches to Solving Born-Digital Access

By Jessica Meyerson

This post is the fifth in a bloggERS series about access to born-digital materials.

At the 2015 SAA conference in Cleveland, the Agile for Access Hackfest Team focused on creating a collaborative project that introduces agile development principles as a strategy for overcoming obstacles to born-digital access.

To start the discussion, the Born-Digital Access Research Team provided a baseline understanding of agile and its growth in popularity throughout the 1990s. The Manifesto for Agile Software Development, written and published in 2001, emphasizes “individuals and interactions,” “working software” (working solutions), “customer collaboration,” and “responding to change.” In its most abstract and broadly applicable form, agile shares many of the basic tenets of design thinking or design research: empowerment, collaboration, rapid/frequent iterations, and continual planning, in place of one monolithic plan executed from start to finish.

Our Hackfest Team consisted of a mix of archivists from different levels of experience and exposure to agile development principles, so one focus of our discussion was how to communicate what agile is and how to apply it in an archival setting. Erin Faulder (Archivist for Digital Collection at Tufts University) volunteered to serve the group as our fearless Hackfest Team Leader, a role responsible for leading the discussion during the in-session activity and working with research team members to complete the proposal during Phase II. Sarah Bost, (Student Success Archivist at the University of Arkansas) and Amy Wickner (Digital Projects Graduate Assistant at the University of Maryland) graciously volunteered to take notes and record observations, which were later compiled into the first draft of the proposal.

The Agile for Access Hackfest Team collaboration resulted in a project proposal entitled “Why Agile Works in Archives.” The purpose of this project will be to provide a set of resources for archivists to learn about and implement agile in their own institutions, emphasizing rapid iteration to improve digital access solutions and embracing “good enough” over “perfect.” In order to make this toolkit useful for archivists,  this project would highlight real world agile case studies and best practices for working with born-digital archival materials, and include the following deliverables:

  • Agile toolkit:
    • Tool for determining whether agile is a good fit for your project–this could take the form of a checklist for project assessment
    • Use cases and case studies covering a range of professional settings, from large government and/or educational institutions to lone arrangers working without the support of information technology professionals
    • Agile quick-start guide, covering fundamental concepts, guidelines, and FAQs
    • Foundational readings
  • Platform for sharing experiences with implementing agile:
    • Reports on outcomes of agile projects in institutions
    • Remixes of the toolkit for particular audiences or contexts

You’re invited to view and comment on the full project proposal here.

Reflecting on my own participation in Phases I and II of the Born-Digital Access Hackfest, I felt that even though it was challenging to balance Phase II participation against other professional commitments, the Hackfest model proved to be an effective way to incubate collaboration–providing a well-defined structure in which Hackfest team members could explore strategies and exchange ideas.

As Daniel Johnson wrote in his Archivist Bootcamp for Access post, “There is still a lot of work to do.”

We are looking for a project team to develop this Agile for Access proposal. This project team will be responsible for developing/designing the agile toolkit; identifying possible hosts/distribution platforms; documenting audience use cases that may correspond to toolkit modules (agile for administration, agile for processing archivists, etc.); designing a project sustainability plan; locating funding sources; and promoting the project. At this time, we are seeking volunteers for the project team, as well as feedback on all aspects of the proposal. We are in the beginning stages of this project and want it to accurately assess the needs of the community to provide access to born-digital materials. Please feel welcome to send comments, ideas, and questions to the Agile for Access Hackfest Team Leader, Erin Faulder (erin.faulder [at] tufts [dot] edu), and Researcher, Jessica Meyerson (j.meyerson [at] austin [dot] utexas [dot] edu).

Many thanks to Agile for Access Hackfest Team member Martin Gengenbach for his contributions to this post.

Jessica Meyerson is the Digital Archivist at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin, focused on research-in-practice and building community infrastructure to support long-term access of digital material on and off campus. Meyerson currently serves as steering committee member for Texas Archival Reseources Online and co-investigator on the IMLS-funded Software Preservation Network project.


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