Recap: BitCurator Users Forum, October 24-25, 2019

The fifth annual BitCurator Users Forum was held at Yale University from October 24-25, bringing library, archives, and museum practitioners together to learn and discuss many aspects of digital forensics work. Over two days of workshops, lightning talks, and panels, the Forum covered a range of topics around acquisition, processing, and access for born digital materials. In addition to traditional panels and conference sessions, attendees also participated in hands-on workshops on digital forensics techniques and tools, including the BitCurator environment.

Throughout the workshops, sessions, and discussions, one of the most dominant themes to emerge was the question of how archivists and institutions should address the environmental unsustainability of digital preservation. Attendees were quick to highlight recent work in this area, including the article Toward Environmentally Sustainable Digital Preservation by Keith L. Pendergrass, Walker Sampson, Tim Walsh, and Laura Alagna among others. The prevalence of this topic at the Forum as well as other conferences and in our professional literature points to urgency that archivists feel toward ensuring that we are able to continue to preserve our digital holdings while minimizing negative environmental impact as much as possible.

The role of appraisal in relation to the environmental sustainability of digital preservation specifically was a major focus of the Forum. One attendee remarked that the “low cost of storage has outpaced the ability to appraise content,” summing up the situation that many institutions find themselves in, where the ever decreasing cost of digital storage, anxiety about discarding potentially valuable collection material, and a lack of time and guidance on appraisal of digital materials has resulted in the ballooning of their digital holdings.

Participants challenged the notion that “keeping everything forever” should be our default preservation strategy. One common thread to emerge was the need to be more thoughtful about what we choose to retain and to develop and share appraisal criteria for born digital materials to help us make those decisions.

Also related to concerns about the environmental impact of digital preservation, presenters posed questions about how much data and related metadata for digital collections should be captured in the first place. Kelsey O’Connell, digital archivist at Northwestern University, proposed defining levels of digital forensics rather than applying the same workflow to every collection. Taking this type of approach to acquisition and metadata creation for born digital collection materials could help institutions minimize the storage of unnecessary collection data.

The BitCurator Users Forum provides an excellent opportunity for library and archives practitioners to learn new skills and discuss the many challenges and opportunities in the field of digital archiving. This year’s Forum was no exception and I have no doubt that it will continue to serve as a valuable resource for experienced practitioners as well as those just starting out.

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Sally DeBauche is a Digital Archivist at Stanford University and the ePADD Project Manager.

DLFF’d Behind?

This year’s Digital Library Foundation Forum (DLFF or #DLF2019 or #DLFforum if you’re social) was held October 14-16 in Tampa, FL. As usual, many of the sessions were directly relevant to the Electronic Records Section membership; also as usual, the Forum was heavily Tweeted, giving a lot of us who couldn’t be there a mix of vicarious engagement and serious conference envy.

Thankfully, the DLF(F) ethos of collaboration makes it a little easier for everyone who couldn’t be there: OSF repositories for the DLF Forum and DigiPres meetings host (most of) the presentation slides for the 2019 meetings, organizers set up shared notes documents for the sessions, and each session had its own hashtag to help corral the discussion, annotations, and meta-commentary we’ve come to expect from libraries/archives/allied trades Twitter.

As most anyone who’s attended DLF Forum will tell you, every time slot has something great in it, and there’s no substitute for being there: for the next best thing, we’re happy to present below a few sessions which caught our interest– the session description and available materials, shared notes, and of course, the Twitter feed. Enjoy, and FOMO no more!

SAA 2019 Recap| Email Archiving: Strategies, Tools, Techniques Workshop

Email Archiving: Strategies, Tools, Techniques was a one-day workshop held on August 1, 2019. Chris Prom (University of Illinois) and Tricia Patterson (Harvard University) taught the workshop, which gave a broad overview of the opportunities and challenges of email archiving and some tools that can be used to make this daunting task easier.

As a processing archivist, email sits squarely within the electronic records processing workflow I’m helping develop: I took this class to build my digital archiving skills and to learn about techniques for managing email archives. Attending this class while my department is developing a digital archiving workflow helped me think ahead about technical limitations, ethical considerations, storage, and access issues related to email.

For me, the class was a good introduction to the opportunities and challenges of preserving this ephemeral and widespread communication. The class was divided into three sections: Assessing Needs and Challenges, Understanding Tools and Techniques, and Implementing Workflows. These sections were based on the Lifecycle of Email Model from The Future of Email Archives CLIR Report.

During the first portion of the class, we discussed the types of communication that occur through email, and the functions which fall under the creation and use as well as appraisal and selection categories of the email lifecycle. This section featured an interesting group activity asking us to list all of the email accounts we had used in our lifetime, the type of correspondence that occurred on the platform, an estimated size of the collection, and the scope and contents. This exercise helped illustrate how large, multifaceted, and varied even a single email a collection can be: I found this exercise effective for thinking about the complexities of archiving email.

In the second section, Prom and Patterson walked the class through seven tools for capturing and processing emails. The instructors gave a brief description of each tool’s functions and where they fit in the lifecycle model before giving a demo. Unfortunately, the demo portion was the weakest part of this workshop for me: instead of a live demonstration, the instructors used screenshots and a video recording. It was difficult to read the screenshots and the slides containing the screenshots do not have any explanatory text, so unless you took good notes, it would be difficult to understand how these tools work after the class was over. If SAA offers this class again, I would suggest the instructors do a live demo and provide more notes on how the tools work so that we can use class materials as a resource when we are doing this work at our own institutions. 

The group activity for this class was to export a small portion of our own email and use one of the tools discussed in class to begin processing. During this activity, we discovered that Yahoo makes it difficult or impossible to export email. I think this activity would have been more effective if we had been told to download our own emails and how before the class began. Most of the time allotted for this activity was spent figuring out how to download our emails and waiting for them to download, so we never got the chance to use the programs we discussed.

Overall, I thought the class provided a good introduction to the complexities of preserving email and introducing open-source and hosted tools that help with different parts of the email lifecycle. I would recommend this class to people who are exploring how to archive email and what would work for their institution.

Kahlee Leingang is a Processing Archivist at Iowa State University, where she works on creating guidelines and workflows for processing, preservation, and access of born-digital records as well as processing collections in the backlog.