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.

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