Embedded Memory

by Michelle Ganz

This is the third post in the BloggERS Embedded Series.

As an archivist in a small corporate repository for an architecture, design, and consulting firm I have a unique set of challenges and advantages. By being embedded with the creators as they are creating, I have the opportunity to ensure that archival standards are applied at the point of creation rather than after the collection has been transferred to a repository.

My environment is especially unique in the types of digital files I’m collecting. From the architecture side, William McDonough + Partners, I acquire architectural project files (CAD files), sketches, renderings, photographs and video of project phases, presentations, press, media files surrounding the project, and other associated materials. Many of these files are created on specialized, and expensive, software.

From McDonough Innovation, William McDonough’s sustainable development advising firm, I collect the world-changing ideas that Mr. McDonough is developing as they evolve. Mr. McDonough is a global thought leader who provides targeted ideas, product concepts, and solutions to a wide range of sustainable growth issues faced by corporate officers, senior executives, product designers, and project managers. He often works with CEOs to set the vision, and then with the management team to set goals and execute projects. His values-driven approach helps companies to embed sustainable growth principles into their corporate culture and to advance progress toward their positive vision. Archiving an idea is a multi-faceted endeavor. Materials can take the form of audio notes, sketches in a variety of programs, call or meeting recordings, and physical whiteboards. Since my role is embedded within the heart of Mr. McDonough’s enterprises, I ensure that all the right events are captured the right way, as they happen. I gather all the important contextual information and metadata about the event and the file. I can obtain permissions at the point of creation and coordinate directly with the people doing the original capture to ensure I get archival quality files.

Challenges in this environment are very different than what my academic counterparts face. In the academic world there was a chain of leadership that I could advocate to as needed. In my small corporate world there is no one to appeal to once my boss makes up their mind. Corporate interests are all focused on ROI (return on investment), and an archival department is a financial black hole; money is invested, but they will never see a financial return. This means that every new project must show ROI in more creative ways. I focus on how a project will free up other people to do more specialized tasks. But even this is often not enough, and I find myself advocating for things like file standards and server space. Many of the archival records are videos of speeches, events, meetings, or other activities and take up a huge amount of server space. A single month’s worth of archival files can be as large as 169 GB. In the academic setting where the archives is often a part of the library, the IT department is more prepared for the huge amounts of data that come with modern libraries; folding the archival storage needs into this existing digital preservation framework is often just a matter of resource allocation or funds.

Also, nearly every archival function that interacts with outside entities requires permissions these firms are not used to giving. Meetings can include people from 3 or 4 companies in 4 or 5 countries with a variety of NDAs in place with some, but not all, of the parties. In order to record a meeting I must obtain permission from every participant; this can be rather complicated and can create a lot of legal and privacy issues. A procedure was put in place to request permission to record when meetings are set up, as well as when meetings are confirmed. A spreadsheet was created to track all of the responses. For regular meeting participants annual permissions are obtained. This procedure, while effective, is time-consuming. For many meeting participants they are unfamiliar with what an archive is. There are many questions about how the information will be used, stored, disseminated, and accessed.  There are also a lot of questions around the final destination of the archive and what that means for their permissions. To help answer these questions I created fact sheets that explain what the archives are, how archival records are collected and used, deposit timelines, copyright basics, and links to more information. To further reassure participants, we give them the option of asking for a meeting to be deleted after the fact.

This is the server stack for the archives and the two firms. The archive uses 2 blades.
This hub connects the archive to workstations and handles the transfer of TBs of data.

Preservation and access are unique challenges, especially with the architecture files. Many of the project-related files are non-traditional file formats like .dwg, .skb, .indd, .bak, et al., and are created in programs like AutoCAD and SketchUp Pro. I work with the IT department to ensure that the proper backups are completed. We back up to a local server as well as one in the city, but offsite, and a third dark archive in California. I also perform regular checks to confirm the files can open. Due to the fact that projects are often reopened years later, it is impractical to convert the files to a more standardized format. To ensure some level of access without specialized terminals, final elements of the project are saved in a .pdf format. This includes final drawings/renderings and presentations.

Furthermore, I often find myself in the awkward position of arguing with records creators in favor of keeping files that they don’t want but I know have archival value. Without the benefit of patrons, and their potential needs, I am arguing for the future needs of the very people I am arguing with! Without a higher level of administration to appeal to, I am often left with no recourse but to do things that are not in the best interests of the collection. This leads to the unfortunate loss of materials but may not be as bad as it first appears. When considering how traditional archival collections are created and deposited, it is well within reason that these items would never have made it into the collection. I like to think that by being embedded in the creation process, I am able to save far more than would otherwise be deposited if the creators were left to make appraisal decisions on their own.


Michelle Ganz is the Archives Director at McDonough Innovation and the former archivist at Lincoln Memorial University. She received her MILS from the University of Arizona and a BA from the Ohio State University. In addition to her passion for all things archival Michelle loves to cook, read, and watch movies.

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