Inaugural #bdaccess Bootcamp: A Success Story

By Margaret Peachy

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


At this year’s New England Archivists Spring Meeting, archivists who work with born-digital materials had the opportunity to attend the inaugural Born-Digital Access Bootcamp. The bootcamp was an idea generated at the born-digital hackfest, part of a session at SAA 2015, where a group of about 50 archivists came together to tackle the problem facing most archival repositories: How do we provide access to born-digital records, which can have different technical and ethical requirements than digitized materials?  Since 2015, a team has come together to form a bootcamp curriculum, reach out to organizations outside of SAA, and organize bootcamps at various conferences.

Excerpt of results from a survey administered in advance of the Bootcamp.

Alison Clemens and Jessica Farrell facilitated the day-long camp, which had about 30 people in attendance from institutions of all sizes and types, though the majority were academic. The attendees also brought a broad range of experience to the camp, from those just starting out thinking about this issue, to those who have implemented access solutions.

After brief introductions, the day started with Clemens and Farrell leading the group through a slide presentation and discussion that covered the following topics:

  • What is access?
  • Preparing for access
    • donor relations
    • processing
  • Risk assessment, policy considerations, and advocacy
  • Access methods and levels

While the leaders were able to provide definitions and examples around these topics, participants engaged in hearty discussions, especially around risk assessment and ethics.

Excerpt of results from a survey administered in advance of the Bootcamp.

The final part of the bootcamp had participants partnering up to engage in user experience testing. This exercise allowed us to test some access scenarios implemented by some of the institutions represented at the bootcamp. In the exercise, partners took turns being the user and being the observer. Each partner had a different scenario to test, to avoid spoilers. There were three main takeaways from this exercise:

  • Gaining experience and seeing the importance of user experience testing for access systems
  • Learning to see things from the researcher’s perspective
  • Learning about born-digital access solutions at peer institutions

Participants who experienced the same scenario came together after going through the testing to discuss what they liked and where they identified areas of improvement for the tested access solutions. This provided useful feedback to those institutions that had provided the scenarios for testing.

Excerpt of results from a survey administered in advance of the Bootcamp.

At the very end of the day, we were asked to identify next steps in our journeys towards providing born-digital access. We came together in small groups with shared interests to talk through our goals, make connections and vow to keep each other on track.

Overall, the bootcamp was informative, engaging, and challenging. Being in the same room as other archivists facing similar challenges is always a good thing, especially when the challenge is new and emerging and best practices are not yet in place.

This was hopefully just the first of many born-digital access bootcamps: the planning team and instructors intended to create a replicable curriculum. To learn more about this bootcamp and use the resources to put on your own, visit


Margaret Peachy is the Digital Archivist at Tufts University’s Digital Collections and Archives where she is responsible for overseeing the born-digital lifecycle of archival objects, as well as web archiving, digital preservation, and repository management.

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