By Shira Peltzman, Charlie Macquarie, Annalise Berdini, and Kate Tasker
Recently, four digital archivists from across the University of California (UC) system — Shira Peltzman (UCLA), Annalise Berdini (UC San Diego), Kate Tasker (UC Berkeley), and Charlie Macquarie (San Francisco) — collaborated to develop and release a community-driven UC-wide descriptive standard for born-digital archival material. Born of discussions that began in the UC Common Knowledge Group (CKG) for born-digital content, the result is a set of guidelines for creating and updating finding aids to include born-digital archival material. The guidelines came about because the authors recognized a gap in existing guidelines and standards (i.e. DACS, ISAD(G), etc.), and saw an opportunity to come together to standardize what were sometimes disparate descriptive practices in this developing area. Should, for example, the extent metadata element refer to storage capacity; number of files; number of media objects, processed or not? We were all using this element slightly differently, and having a difficult time finding existing comprehensive guidance.
Methodology & Process
To create these guidelines, the first step for us was to separate out theory from practice. On the practical side, this meant looking at a range of finding aids from institutions around the world so that we could get a better sense of how much consensus there was in the digital archives community. Tori Maches, Scott Reed, and Patricia Ciccone, Digital Archives Program Scholars in UCLA’s Center for Primary Research and Training, assisted with this work by compiling a lengthy list of finding aids from around the world that described born-digital material. A key finding from this exercise was that practically every single institution had their own unique approach. We concluded that born-digital description was being treated as a somewhat boutique procedure across the board, and that this was impacting the accessibility and usability of the material being described.
On the theoretical side, our next task was to look at all the existing descriptive standards and content models out there that touched on this subject. The major takeaway here was pretty much what we expected it would be, which is to say that these standards all had significant gaps when it came to born-digital.
After determining which fields we’d need to address and creating a basic document outline, we began scheduling weekly or bi-weekly conference calls to discuss the document and the work that each of us had completed in between calls. Starting in February 2017, we worked individually on assigned sections and used Google Docs to communicate questions, comments, or to provide suggested edits between meetings. We completed the first draft in May 2017 and submitted the document for review to the UC Born-Digital Content CKG. Members had a month to submit feedback and suggest changes or additions. Following their review, we sent the document out to the UC system, asking our fellow CKG members to alert collection management or processing members at their institutions in particular. We allowed another month for this round of review, and after numerous edits and additions, including the addition of a controlled vocabulary and full sample finding aid, we had a document ready to present to the UC Heads of Special Collections for approval. This was obtained October 2017, and designated the guidelines as UC-official and ready to be implemented across all UC libraries.
Contents of UC Guidelines
The UC Guidelines for Born-Digital Archival Description present recommendations for describing born-digital content in an archival finding aid, using 12 standard elements such as Scope and Content, Processing Information, and Organization and Arrangement. The document offers guidance on determining an appropriate level and method of description of born-digital components, establishes a minimum standard requirement for finding aids in the UC system, and includes a metadata fields crosswalk, a sample finding aid, and links to additional resources. It also contains a comprehensive controlled vocabulary for born-digital source media and other born-digital terms, developed by Courtney Dean, Margaret Hughes, Kelly Kress, and Shira Peltzman at UCLA.
We’re excited to see that these guidelines are already helping to grow and sustain digital archives programs at each of our institutions. The task of analyzing each of the descriptive elements prompted critical thinking and discussion among multiple staff members, and investigating these questions has helped us clarify procedures and provide practical solutions. With the backing of the UC Common Knowledge Group and the Heads of Special Collections, the guidelines can also be used as an authoritative resource by individuals or units who need to advocate for new digital processing workflows.
We hope that the UC Guidelines for Born-Digital Archival Description will serve not only as a practical tool for UC archivists, but also as a useful illustration of UC-wide practices and as a set of instructions which can be easily adapted and adopted by our professional community.
Where you can access the Guidelines
The UC Guidelines for Born-Digital Archival Description can be found on GitHub. While the formal comment period has ended, we welcome feedback, suggestions, and questions. Please take a look and let us know what you think.
Shira Peltzman is the Digital Archivist for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Library, where she leads the development of a sustainable preservation program for born-digital archival material. Shira received her master’s degree in Moving Image Archiving and Preservation from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and was a member of the inaugural cohort of the National Digital Stewardship Residency in New York (NDSR-NY).
Charlie Macquarie is the Digital Archivist at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), Library, Archives and Special Collections department, where he oversees the implementation of the digital-archives program. Additionally, he is a Librarian in Residence and Library Research Fellow at the Prelinger Library in San Francisco, where he is interested in creative communities and alternative [digital] library practices that might be built on the library platform.
Annalise Berdini is the Digital Archivist for the University of California, San Diego, where she is responsible for the development and implementation of Geisel Library’s born-digital archives program, and for the management and preservation of the library’s web archives collections.
Kate Tasker works with born-digital collections and information management systems to enable and enhance research access at The Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley. She holds an MLIS from San Jose State University and is a member of SAA, the Academy of Certified Archivists, & the Society of California Archivists.