The Conversation Must Go On: Climate Change and Archival Practice

By Itza A. Carbajal
This post is part of our BloggERS Another Kind of Glacier series.

On September 20th, 2019, an unprecedented number of archivists joined together in person and online to reignite conversations around Climate Change, archives, and the role of archivists in the ongoing crisis. What initially started as a conversation in search of hope between two archivists, Ted Lee and Itza Carbajal, quickly grew into an archival community wide search for change (1). Archivists as part of the “Archives and Climate Change Teach Ins Action” engaged through teach-ins, marches, resource gathering, and on social media in an effort to talk in parallel with the estimated 4-6 million people striking as part of the Global Climate Strike movement (2). These global strikes, led mostly by young people from around the world and inspired by Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future student strikes, occurred in over 163 countries on all seven continents uniting for perhaps the first time the residents of this house called Earth.

What led Ted, myself, and others to seek a shift in the conversations around archives and Climate Change likely began with this simple question: “why must we (as archivists) act?” While a simple question, the “why” in the case of the Climate Strike Teach-Ins was in fact the impetus for me and for many others involved (3). When Ted Lee and I, both archivists and archival scholars, first set out to organize the archivist community through these Teach-Ins, we intended the actions to be 1) opportunities to learn 2) moments to converse and 3) sparks to previous conversations around archives and climate change. With over 9 teach ins, information translated into 5 languages, a comprehensive reading list, and a global twitterthon, the action #Archivists4ClimateAction undoubtedly sparked a lasting conversation.

In all frankness, I would say that we are no longer in the stage of why we would, but rather, why would we not. Not everyone in the house is aware of the growing fire outside and within our own walls, and as a result, the archival community must begin conversations like these. For those new to advocacy, organizing, or activist work, this first question is the starting line (4). Regardless of age, length of work experience, or other backgrounds, we all must start somewhere. The “why” in this question asks us to think about why it matters to act. In returning to the metaphor of our house being on fire, the initial question could be “why should or would I be compelled to act as a result of this fire?” In the case of Climate Change, some may feel more comfortable calling our work advocacy, either on behalf of the field, our jobs, or perhaps our overall environment: the world. Others may feel more compelled to frame their work as organizing or activism, the former focused more on coordinating people and the latter focused on calling attention to an issue. In all three cases, we are striving for some sort of change or solution to what we perceive as a problem. 

We had, I would say, already accepted our responsibility to act. Both as inhabitants of this planet, and as practitioners dependent on the survival of humanity in order to make sense of our work, we had an obligation to act. We adopted a strategy– starting a conversation– which was both intentional and logical. As neither Ted nor I were environmental or climate change experts, we knew that we could only advance the conversations so much. But we recognized that our interests and skills lay in teaching, a form of educational conversation. And that led us to our answer for the second question: “what can we as archivists do?” 

The Teach-In strategy addressed the discomfort Ted and I initially felt approaching this subject, which frankly still feels overwhelming and outside of our expertise. We felt that the using Teach-Ins would allow us, as educators, to immerse ourselves in a topic of our choosing with the intention of sharing that information with our participants. The Teach-In method also allowed us to disrupt the “business as usual” attitude and tendency for many in our field, thus aligning with the original vision of the 2019 Global Climate Strike. As archivists, record managers, curators, librarians, and LIS students paused or walked out of work to attend or participate in these Teach-Ins, there was a recognition that many of us still desire to learn even after completing our formal participation in educational systems such as graduate programs. Plainly, the Teach-Ins resonated with participants from archival backgrounds, workplaces, and programs.

Ted and I chose a strategy that played to our strengths: the Teach-Ins were our preferred method because they gave us a path forward, a way to participate in the conversation by using our existing skills in teaching and organizing. Looking at what we knew, and what we had to contribute, the Teach-Ins made sense. Your skills, levels of comfort, insights, and connections will vary, but for bad or worse, the problem of Climate Change will require us all to contribute in big and small ways. This brings me to the last question: “how do we (as archivists and an archival community) take action?” In response, I propose a follow-up question, drawn from the work we started with the Archives and Climate Change Teach-Ins as well the discussions that led to the formation of ProjectARCC: “how do we continue the momentum built during the Global Climate Strike, build on conversations held, and work towards the changes that our field and community needs?” My simple answer would be to find ways to keep on learning. What happens after you learn will be up to you. But, I believe, the answers will inevitably circle back to the initial two questions – why and what

As many recognize, Climate Change is neither a new topic nor is it in its early stages. Our house is on fire and for many it is starting to crumble. This blog post attempts to highlight the importance of starting and continuing conversations and actions around Climate Change and its relationship and impact on archivists and archives. The work did not end with the 2019 strike. That was simply the beginning.

Itza A. Carbajal is a Ph.D student at the University of Washington School of Information focusing her research on children and their records. Previously, she worked as the Latin American Metadata Librarian at LLILAS Benson after having received a Master of Science in Information Studies with a focus on archival management and digital records at the University of Texas at Austin School of Information. Before that, she obtained a dual-degree Bachelor of Arts in History and English with a concentration on creative writing and legal studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio. More information: www.itzacarbajal.com

Notes:
1. Itza A. Carbajal and Ted Lee, “If Not Now, When? Archivists Respond to Climate Change,” Archival Outlook, November/December 2019, |PAGE|, https://mydigitalpublication.com/publication/?m=30305&i=635670&p=8)
 2. “Over 4 Million Join 2 Days of Global Climate Strike,” Global Climate Strike, September 21, 2019, accessed October 6, 2020, https://globalclimatestrike.net/4-million/
3. “Climate Strike Teach-Ins,” Project ARCC Events, September 11, 2019, accessed October 12, 2020, https://projectarcc.org/2019/09/11/climate-strike-teach-ins/)
4. I couple these terms together for a reason as they most definitely mean different things and carry different implications, they are in my opinion similar in that they seek some sort of change.

Recap: BitCurator Users Forum, October 13-16, 2020

In the lead-up to the 2020 BitCurator Users Forum, the session I looked forward to the most was titled “GREAT QUESTION!”. This was a returning session from the 2019 BitCurator conference, and was an opportunity for attendees to anonymously ask digital preservation questions they might not be comfortable asking otherwise. The session showed that no question was too “simple” or “basic” to be worth discussing, and that no matter where you are as a practitioner, there’s always more to learn.

Last year’s session was at the very end of the forum, and ended things on a fun note. Attendees could submit questions anonymously at any point in the conference, and moderators presented these questions for discussion until the session ended. Most of the questions turned into discussions about tools, methods, perspectives, and professional philosophies in a way that made these topics accessible and exciting. It was reassuring to see how much we’re still collectively figuring out as a field, and that sometimes digital preservation work is less about best practices, and more about adapting those practices so they work for you and your institution.

This year’s session, like the rest of the forum, took place over Zoom. The format didn’t change much from last year, aside from switching to a virtual session and adding more ways to answer questions. Question submissions went to a queue visible to the moderators, as well as an Airtable board where everyone could see both questions and answers. This allowed attendees to see and respond to other questions while the main conversation addressed questions one at a time. Questions in the response queue were prioritized through progressive stacking, a technique that gives priority to marginalized voices. In this case, there was a box on the question submission form which attendees could check if they were part of a group historically underrepresented or marginalized in digital preservation spaces (e.g. attendees of color, LGBTQ attendees). Submissions with this box checked were discussed first.

Attendees could submit answers anonymously via Airtable, answer verbally on Zoom, or respond in the chat. Further discussion (and chatter) happened both out loud and in the chat It was fun and conversational, but never chaotic. Question topics ranged from virus scanning and fixity checking, to tool recommendations and workload distribution. There were also questions about advocating for digital preservation, the ethical issues inherent in using law enforcement-derived tools for digital archives work, and handling the emotional toll of doing this work in the current moment. Each question sparked thoughtful, informative, and sometimes funny responses, and the option to submit written answers allowed attendees to keep answering questions after the session ended. The question submission form was left open as well, in case anyone thought of a question once the session was over.

Everyone seemed to get a lot out of the experience, and several people mentioned wanting to do something like it at future conferences, or on a regular basis. It was heartening to see that others had the same questions I did; it really emphasized how much we’re all still learning, and how important it is to have a community of fellow practitioners you can rely on and share ideas with. I liked how casual the session felt; since we used the chat in addition to speaking out loud and answering questions via Airtable, it was easier to expand on a point, talk about what worked, and commiserate about what didn’t. This made it a lot less intimidating to jump into the discussion; no one was staring at you, and you weren’t the only person speaking, you were just chatting with colleagues who had the same kinds of experiences, questions, and problems as you. I’m looking forward to seeing more conference sessions like this in the future, and hope to see similar ones in other venues.


Tori Maches is the Digital Archivist at UC San Diego Library. Her work currently includes developing and implementing born-digital processing workflows in Special Collections & Archives, and managing the Library’s overall web archiving work.

From Aspirational to Actionable: Working through the OSSArcFlow Guide

by Elizabeth Stauber


Before I begin extolling the virtues of theOSSArcFlow Guide to Documenting Born-Digital Archival Workflows, I must confess that I created an aspirational digital archiving workflow four years ago, and for its entire life it has existed purely as a decorative piece of paper hanging next to my computer. This workflow was extensive and contained as many open source tools as I could find. It was my attempt to follow every digital archiving best practice that has ever existed.

In actual practice, I never had time to follow this workflow. As a lone arranger at the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, my attention is constantly divided. Instead, I found ways to incorporate aspects of digital archiving into my records management and archival description work, thus making the documentation fragmented. A birds-eye view of the entire lifecycle of the digital record was not captured – the transition points between accession and processing and description were unaccounted for.

Over the summer, a colleague suggested we go through theOSSArcFlow Guide to Documenting Born-Digital Archival Workflows together. Initially, I was skeptical, but my new home office needed some sprucing up, so I decided to go along. Immediately, I saw that the biggest difference between working through this guide and my prior, ill-fated attempt is that the OSSArcFlow Guide systematically helps you document what you already do. It is not shaming you for not properly updating every file type to the most archivally sound format or for not completing fixity checks every month. Rather, it showed me I am doing the best I can as one person managing an entire organization’s records and look how far I have come!

Taking the time to work through a structured approach for developing a workflow helped organize my digital archiving priorities and thoughts. It is easy to be haphazard as a lone arranger with so many competing projects. Following the guide allowed me to be systematic in my development and led to a better understanding of what I currently do in regards to digital archiving. For example, the act of categorizing my activities as appraisal, pre-accessioning, accessioning, arrangement, description, preservation, and access parceled out the disparate, but co-existing work into manageable amounts. It connected the different processes I already had, and revealed the overlaps and gaps in my workflow.

As I continued mapping out my activities, I was also able to more easily see the natural “pause” points in my workflow. This is important because digital archiving is often fit in around other work, and knowing when I can break from the workflow allows me to manage my time more efficiently – making it more likely that I will achieve progress on my digital archiving work. Having this workflow that documents my actual activities rather than my aspirational activities allows for easier future adaptability. Now I can spot more readily what needs to be added or removed. This is helpful in a lone arranger archive as it allows for flexibility and the opportunity for improvement over time.

The Hogg Foundation was established in 1940 by Ima Hogg. The Foundation’s archive houses many types of records from its 80 years of existence – newspapers, film, cassette tapes, and increasingly born-digital records. As the Foundation continues to make progress in transforming how communities promote mental health in everyday life, it is important to develop robust digital archiving workflows that capture this progress.

Now I understand my workflow as an evolving document that serves as the documentation of the connections between different activities, as well as a visualization to pinpoint areas for growth. My digital processing workflow is no longer simply a decorative piece of paper hanging next to my computer.


Elizabeth Stauber stewards the Hogg Foundation’s educational mission to document, archive and share the foundation’s history, which has become an important part of the histories of mental and public health in Texas, and the evolution of mental health discourse nationally and globally. Elizabeth provides access to the Hogg Foundation’s research, programs, and operations through the publicly accessible archive. Learn more about how to access our records here.