Playful Work: Media Carriers and Computers

By Tracy Popp

___

This is the second post in the bloggERS! series Digital Archives Pathways, where archivists discuss the non-traditional, accidental, idiosyncratic, or unique paths they took to become a digital archivist.

Geek and Poke Cartoon, "How to Save your Digital Work for Posterity? Alternative 1: Put it on a Disc"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although I am not by title a Digital Archivist, I work very closely with our University Archives and other special collections units to make born-digital content accessible and available for processing. So, how did I get to be the first Digital Preservation Coordinator at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and what does that mean? Let me illuminate that through interpretive dance…no, wait. I’ll just tell you via the parts I *think* have contributed to my ending up here. Dance isn’t something I picked up along the way.

I’ve had a fascination with media carriers and digital stuff since childhood. When I was elementary school age, I recall spending time in the Southfield, MI Public Library loading up the microfilm machine to scroll through various newspapers committed to the reel. Was I engaged in some sort of deep historical research as a seven-year-old that required I review these polyester rolls for pertinent info? Nope. I seem to recall the process of loading the machine and staring at an illuminated screen while I scrolled through words and pictures engaging in and of itself. Little did I know how much of that I’d be doing later in life…

Through a varied avenue I found myself moving toward a career path in libraries and archives – one that I had not previously considered. I have a BFA in Photography and Intermedia, which, at the time, was the term used for making digital artwork. Concurrently, I picked up a Computer Information Systems minor after finding that building, breaking and rebuilding computer systems in my spare time also proved an engaging way to support myself.

By working on a visual resources project for an Art History professor where I converted slides and cleaned up images in PhotoShop, to a visit to the Conservation Lab at the Eastman House in Rochester, NY and via other library-related activities, I found my way to graduate school at GSLIS (now the iSchool) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. There, I had graduate assistant experiences in audiovisual media and visual resources and worked on a pilot project to recover content from legacy born-digital media. My understanding of computer storage media as well as familiarity with a range of operating systems and types of digital content served as a bedrock on this project. I also had the opportunity to build a digital forensics computing workstation and amaze colleagues with the ability to raise files from the dead with my magical powers. My present position reflects this culmination of education and desire to explore and apply a variety of experiences.

As the digital archives landscape is continually evolving, keeping up with professional organizations and meetings is incredibly important. Notably, I completed a Digital Archives Specialist certificate through the Society of American Archivists and recently attended the born-digital archives exchange at Stanford which was an excellent opportunity to meet with colleagues engaged in digital archives. A range of online resources are helpful too, such as the BloggERS! blog, the BitCurator Google group and myriad tech forums dedicated to solving hardware and software challenges.

Through experience I’ve learned to not be timid about thoroughly investigating hardware and software – modern computer systems aren’t as fragile as one may think – although static electricity can shut things down pretty quickly, so ground yourself. Hands on work is essential to understanding and continued learning. Presently, I’m deep into “breaking” a Linux system which has motivated me to learn command line tools for filtering, scripting and system administration. I’ve also lost personal data and learned the hard way about working with copies, making backups and the fallibility of computer media. So, before you experiment with content make sure it’s not the only copy, of course.   🙂

___

Tracy Popp serves as Digital Preservation Coordinator at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. As part of her duties she manages the Born-Digital Reformatting Lab and works closely with Library and Archives colleagues to manage and preserve digital collections.

Digital Archivist in Disguise

By Amber D’Ambrosio

___

This is the first post in the bloggERS! series Digital Archives Pathways, where archivists discuss the non-traditional, accidental, idiosyncratic, or unique paths they took to become a digital archivist.

 

memebetter.com-20170622094502

This is the warning I’ve received at every conference and workshop since I started graduate school coursework in archives. When I applied for my current position as Processing Archivist & Records Manager, I knew that digital archiving was involved at some level because the job responsibilities included archiving the university’s website. There was also some discussion of digital archiving during the in-person interview, which made me wary.

memebetter.com-20170622094558

Prior to this position my experience with digital archiving consisted of a brief introduction to the home-grown system used by the Utah State Archives and some basic information about checksums and multiple copies in multiple locations. My previous position was at a small state university without the infrastructure, funding, or staffing to undertake any kind of digital archiving beyond saving digitized material in multiple places with occasional validation checks by the systems librarian. The closest I came to digital archiving was downloading important records off of the university website to the backed up shared drive used by the library.

I’m still within the first five years of my career as a librarian/archivist, and I remember my graduate program offered a single course on digital records management. I didn’t take it because I didn’t necessarily want to be a records manager, and I wasn’t terribly interested in digital archiving.  As an English major, I assumed that I didn’t have the technical knowledge base to make it a viable option anyway.

memebetter.com-20170622101037But here I am. Undercover digital archivist. I’m a digital archivist by necessity because the archives and records I process and manage as part of my job sometimes show up on hard drives and legacy media. I’m also responsible for archiving the website. How did I do it? How did I go from some vague idea of checksums and LOCKSS to undercover digital archivist? I read. A lot. Fortunately, my institution invested in Archive-It for archiving the website and ArchivesDirect (hosted Archivematica) for managing the bulk of the digital preservation activities. I read all of their documentation. I started reading bloggERS! and about the Bentley Historical Library’s Mellon-funded ArchivesSpace-Archivematica-DSpace Workflow Integration project. My predecessor created a preliminary workflow and processing manual based on the early attempt to self-host Archivematica, so I read that and tried to understand it all.

I started attending the Society of American Archivists’ Digital Archivist Specialist certificate courses being offered in this region. I talked to our systems team. I read some more. I looked up terminology on Wikipedia. I took more DAS courses, some of which were more helpful than others. I figured out the gaps in the workflow.

Do I feel like a digital archivist after all of that? Not really. I still feel like something of an imposter.memebetter.com-20170622095504

memebetter.com-20170622102324After all, I don’t get to do much digital archiving in the grand scheme of my job. It’s challenging to find time to focus on processing the digital material through our workflow because it is time consuming. For all that we have ArchivesDirect, there’s proper stewardship to consider prior to ingest into Archivematica. I have gradually added steps into the workflow, including verifying fixity when copying from media to our digital processing drive and when copying from that drive to the secure file transfer protocol provided by ArchivesDirect. There are also the inevitable technical hiccups that happen whenever systems are involved. Human errors play a role as well, like that time someone sent me a duplicate of their entire hard drive before they left their job with no warning or explanation of its contents.

memebetter.com-20170622112610

What have I learned? I can be a digital archivist if I have to be, and command line isn’t as intimidating as it always seemed. I learned the basics of the command line interface from our digital asset management librarian combined with the Internet and trial and error. I wouldn’t claim to have even intermediate knowledge of command line, but not being intimidated by it makes digital archiving much easier. Being a digital archivist seems to be mostly a willingness and ability to constantly reassess, learn, adapt, and try something else.

memebetter.com-20170622101204

___

amber_cornwall

Amber D’Ambrosio is Processing Archivist & Records Manager at Willamette University, a small, urban liberal arts college in Salem, Oregon, where she manages the collections and wrangles ArchivesSpace and Archivematica. In her spare time she writes, reads about early modern London, hikes, travels, and obsessively visits the Oregon Coast.

 

Get to know the candidates: Lora Davis

The 2016 elections for Electronic Records Section leadership are upon us! Over the next two weeks, we will be presenting additional information provided by the 2016 nominees for ERS leadership positions. For more information about the slate of candidates, you can check out the full 2016 ERS elections site. ERS Members: be sure to vote! Polls are open July 8 through the 22!

Candidate name: Lora Davis

Running for: Steering Committee

What made you decide you wanted to become an archivist?

This question assumes a discrete “Aha!” moment, which, for me at least, never really happened. I like to say that archives found me, and not the other way around. I was first exposed to the archives (the place, if not the profession) when, as a 17-year-old undergraduate at Susquehanna University, I was awarded a university assistantship that placed me in the employ of a long-serving member of the Department of History, who had undertaken to write the history of the university. Following a brief tour (“My Moody Blues cassettes are in this drawer here, feel free to listen!”) and with a copy of James O’Toole’s Understanding Archives and Manuscripts (1990) in hand, I set about processing the papers of two former university presidents. Seven years later, after completing a master’s in history and opting to leave my PhD program, the archives (this time both place and profession) found me again when the Manuscripts Unit of the University of Delaware Library’s Special Collections department decided to take a chance and employ a grad school dropout at the height of the 2008 economic collapse. This time I was hooked for good. I went on to earn my MLIS online while working my full-time paraprofessional position at Delaware, and have since held professional positions at Colgate University and Johns Hopkins University. It took me a little while to figure it out, but, being an archivist provided me with the balance and variety of work I’d been longing for – the theory and intellectual work of a scholar, the interaction with people I’d missed as a graduate student researcher, the connection to history that had driven my prior coursework, and, perhaps most of all, the exposure to and engagement with emerging technologies I’d missed as a computer hobbyist turned grad student.

What is one thing you’d like to see the Electronic Records Section accomplish during your time on the steering committee?

Above all, I would like to see the Electronic Records Section serve as a welcoming and valuable resource to *all* archivists. In my career I have worked at a medium-sized partially public-funded university, a small liberal arts college, and a private research university, and worked on paper-based and electronic manuscript and university records’ collections, so I appreciate the variety of funding models, resource levels, institutional priorities, and individual knowledge and time we must all strive to balance and leverage in our day-to-day work. Across the profession it is still rare for someone to have the luxury of focusing day in and day out on electronic records; however, it is by no means rare for a 21st century archivist to encounter records of enduring value that exist only in digital form. By striving to be an open, welcoming, responsive, and member-driven community resource for all archivists, the Electronic Records Section can help meet the daily operational needs of its members (e.g. demystifying electronic records jargon and workflows, providing case studies of both successes and failures, serving as a non-judgmental sounding board for new and experienced archivists alike), while also helping to propel the profession forward.

What is your favorite GIF?

giphy

Get to know the candidates: Brian Dietz

The 2016 elections for Electronic Records Section leadership are upon us! Over the next two weeks, we will be presenting additional information provided by the 2016 nominees for ERS leadership positions. For more information about the slate of candidates, you can check out the full 2016 ERS elections site. ERS Members: be sure to vote! Polls are open July 8 through the 22!

Candidate name: Brian Dietz

Running for: Steering Committee

What made you decide you wanted to become an archivist?

All current contexts–social, cultural, economic–are historically contingent. We examine those contingencies, often with the goal of exposing power dynamics, through historical inquiry. Support such critical work is what excited me about becoming an archivist.

What is one thing you’d like to see the Electronic Records Section accomplish during your time on the steering committee?

I’m really interested in the idea of more of us making our documentation widely available so that it becomes a little bit easier for some folks to start digital archiving programs and others to enhance existing ones. The ERS could lead an effort around this kind of sharing.

What is your favorite GIF?

I love how affirming this one is:

giphy1

Get to know the candidates: Blake Graham

The 2016 elections for Electronic Records Section leadership are upon us! Over the next two weeks, we will be presenting additional information provided by the 2016 nominees for ERS leadership positions. For more information about the slate of candidates, you can check out the full 2016 ERS elections site. ERS Members: be sure to vote! Polls are open July 8 through the 22!

Candidate name: Blake Graham

Running for: Steering Committee

What made you decide you wanted to become an archivist?

I love being asked this question. I started my career working as a graduate assistant at a university archives about six years ago. At the time, I was knee-deep in the curriculum – studying southern identity and slavery. I was enchanted by historiography, and discovering how historians debate about the interpretation, nature, and implication of primary source materials. My coursework, as well as my job responsibilities, were related to southern history. While working at the university archives, arranging a nineteenth-century manuscript collection, I stumbled across a slave pamphlet. For anyone unfamiliar, these were handouts for slave-trading events in the antebellum South. The text and imagery included horrific details about physique and “background information” on slaves. I buckled after reading the pamphlet. Handling and reading this document was a powerful experience for me, to say the least. I brought the item to the director, and she broke down crying as well. Because of this, along with a long-list of “encounters in the archives,” I have a better understanding of the power of the written record. My work allows me to continue exploring the relationship between the written record and the human experience. This is why I work in archives, and why I love my work.

What is one thing you’d like to see the Electronic Records Section accomplish during your time on the steering committee?

I admire and appreciate all of the work in BloggERS – I believe it is a gateway for collaboration and innovation among our professional communities. If I was asked about foreseeable goals and accomplishments, I would take a bet on ERS leaders proactively seeking different voices to participate in the blog. In 2015-2016, roughly 80% of authors and ERM discussions on BloggERS come from university settings – a percentage that is also reflective of the Section’s leadership. To revisit Kyle Henke’s “Get to Know You” post last year, “I see the purpose of this group as a method to facilitate communication and encourage collaboration across the profession.” I also believe one of the best ways to learn how to improve one’s knowledge of, or develop new skills in, a topic of interest is to simply talk about it with colleagues across the profession. I would like to help move BloggERS in this direction by proactively initiating a dialogue between professionals working in a wide range of settings. I think targeted outreach and education is one of the ways we can accomplish collaboration across the profession.

What is your favorite GIF?

giphy3

Get to know the candidates: Brad Houston

The 2016 elections for Electronic Records Section leadership are upon us! Over the next two weeks, we will be presenting additional information provided by the 2016 nominees for ERS leadership positions. For more information about the slate of candidates, you can check out the full 2016 ERS elections site. ERS Members: be sure to vote! Polls are open July 8 through the 22!

Candidate name: Brad Houston

Running for: Steering Committee

What made you decide you wanted to become an archivist?

A combination of two things: 1) A summer internship with the Truman Presidential Library, which introduced me to the work of an archivist and made me realize that said work was something I could see myself doing. 2) My subsequent experience researching for my senior History thesis, much of which took place in small town historical societies and other poorly-described and poorly organized repositories. This experience elicited a vow: “I want to help make sure other people don’t have to work this hard to find what they’re looking for.” (I hope I’ve been doing a good job on both the description and reference sides of this!)

What is one thing you’d like to see the Electronic Records Section accomplish during your time on the steering committee?

While chair of the Records Management Roundtable, I helped institute a semi-regular series of Google Hangouts, which give our members a chance to hear about archival and records management issues from various experts in the field and interact in real-time to ask questions or work through examples. I think this is a model that would work well with a lot of the content put out by ERS– Hangout facilitators could walk people through using a particular tool or workflow as discussed previously on the blog, for example. The hangout format offers more interactivity than a webinar or Twitter chat (though incorporating elements of both!) and it seems like a great opportunity to expand ERS’s educational engagement with its members.

What is your favorite GIF?

nope

Get to know the candidates: Dorothy Waugh

The 2016 elections for Electronic Records Section leadership are upon us! Over the next two weeks, we will be presenting additional information provided by the 2016 nominees for ERS leadership positions. For more information about the slate of candidates, you can check out the full 2016 ERS elections site. ERS Members: be sure to vote! Polls are open July 8 through the 22!

Candidate name: Dorothy Waugh

Running for: Steering Committee

What made you decide you wanted to become an archivist?

The glamour.

What is one thing you’d like to see the Electronic Records Section accomplish during your time on the steering committee?

I’m excited about the many opportunities for a group like the Electronic Records Section to engage practitioners working in this dynamic and fast-paced field. To give just one example, I’ve been really impressed by the Section’s development of bloggERS! during the past couple of years. The site has fast become a go-to resource in which to share ideas, address challenges, and celebrate successes. Should I be elected to the steering committee, I would be keen to support the ongoing growth of the Blog as the online hub of the ERS community. Taking a lead from what’s already been achieved, I’d like to build out the types of content that we provide and encourage active participation from both members of ERS and our close colleagues—I’d love to invite contributions from researchers who are using born-digital materials, for instance. In particular, I’m interested in identifying content that is not available elsewhere. I’ve always thought, for example, that the informal nature of a Blog makes it the ideal venue for a regular “It Didn’t Work” column, focusing on real-life examples of failure in digital archives and inviting collaborative (and good-natured!) problem-solving. If elected to the ERS steering committee, I’d like to build on the momentum of the work already underway and help the Blog become a forum for discussion, a home for shared resources, and a welcoming and inclusive space in which to ask questions and work towards solutions.

What is your favorite GIF?

bill20murray20snl20laugh

Request for contributors to a new series on bloggERS!

The editors at bloggERS! HQ are looking for authors to write for a new series of posts, and we’d like to hear from YOU.

The topic of the next series on the Electronic Records Section blog is processing digital materials: what it is, how practitioners are doing it, and how they are measuring their work.

How are you processing digital materials? And how do you define “digital processing,” anyway?

The what and how of digital processing are dependent upon a variety of factors: available resources and technical expertise, the tools, systems, and infrastructure that are particular to an organization, and the nature of the digital materials themselves.

  • What tools are you using, and how do they integrate with your physical arrangement and description practices?
  • Are you leveraging automation, topic modeling, text analysis, named entity recognition, or other technologies in your processing workflows?
  • How are you working with different types of digital content, such as email, websites, documents, and digital images?
  • What are the biggest challenges that you have encountered? What is your biggest recent digital processing success? What would you like to be able to do, and what are your blockers?

If you have answers to any of these questions, or you are thinking of other questions we haven’t asked here, then consider writing a post to share your experiences (good or bad) processing digital materials.

Quantifying and tracking digital processing activities

Many organizations maintain processing metrics, such as hours per linear foot. In processing digital materials, the level of effort may be more dependent upon the type and format of the materials than their extent.

  • What metrics make sense for quantifying digital processing activities?  
  • How does your organization track the pace and efficiency of digital processing activities?
  • Have you explored any alternative ways of documenting digital processing activity?

If you have been working to answer any of these questions for yourself or your institution, we’d like to hear from you!

Writing for bloggERS!

  • Posts should be between 200-600 words in length
  • Posts can take many forms: instructional guides, in-depth tool exploration, surveys, dialogues, point-counterpoint debates are all welcome!
  • Write posts for a wide audience: anyone who stewards, studies, or has an interest in digital archives and electronic records, both within and beyond SAA
  • Align with other editorial guidelines as outlined in the bloggERS! guidelines for writers.

Posts for this series will start in early April, so let us know ASAP if you are interested in contributing by sending an email to ers.mailer.blog@gmail.com!

Introducing NEW Steering Committee members!

We are happy to announce the results of the Electronic Records Section elections for 2015:

Chair-elect/Vice Chair: Kyle Henke (DePaul University)
Steering Committee: Ann Cooper (College of William and Mary)
Steering Committee: Carol Kussmann (University of Minnesota)

In order to get to know them, the bloggERS! sent out a three-question interview to each new member:

1. What made you decide you wanted to become an archivist?
2. What is one thing that you’d like to see the Electronic Records Section accomplish during your time on the steering committee?
3. What is your favorite GIF? 

Kyle Henke (DePaul University), Chair-Elect/Vice Chair

Q: What made you decide you wanted to become an archivist?

KH: My interest in archives came from an uncertain search result. As an undergraduate student at San Diego State University, majoring in History, I made a cursory search using the Library ILS and found some results that gave me a location of “Special Collections and Archives; Non-Circulating.” Having no idea what this meant, I sought out the object and had my first experience in an archival reading room. It was awkward, entering a closed-off room unsure of what I was doing. Luckily, the staff was courteous and helpful, making the process manageable. I found using primary sources was enthralling and continued to come back for nearly every paper I had to write, utilizing any primary resource I could that was relevant.

From there I took a second job in the Archives where I was treated like an intern, given projects intended to see varying aspects of the field to see if this was a profession I wanted to pursue. Some of it was routine, but always mentally engaging. Fairly quickly, I was pretty certain this was the right place for me. While content is always king, I find myself interested by the properties and structure of objects. Preserving the continuity and integrity of the object became the prevailing goal, whether it is the physical properties of a paper document or the digital properties of an mp3 file.

Q: What is one thing that you’d like to see the Electronic Records Section accomplish during your time as chair?

KH: For a number of years now I’ve worked in archives, focusing on digital content and systems. I’ve managed digital repositories, cross-walked metadata, developed policies and workflows and so much more. The pivotal component to my growth in the profession has been collaborating with colleagues in the field. I see the purpose of this group as a method to facilitate communication and encourage collaboration across the profession. I would like to continue developing methods of outreach and education for those within the profession and those on the outside. I like the direction the ERS blog (BloggERS) has gone and would like to promote and use this resource to directly involve our community and gain a wider audience.

Additionally, I’m interesting in investigating a way to connect one another to a project or idea that would contribute towards collaboration. I know I’ve had ideas for presentations or workshops that are halted as I become uncertain of the next steps or outcome. However, having informal talks with colleagues at work or at conferences allows fresh and different perspectives. Perhaps these informal collaborations could possibly lead beyond discussions and to outcomes such as posters, evaluations, speaking sessions, tutorials, workshops, instruction, etc.

Q: What is your favorite GIF?

https://31.media.tumblr.com/66783baac87573d10a182246f4037e09/tumblr_inline_nqvh9xlzEj1rpcnpz_500.gif

Ann Cooper (College of William and Mary), Steering Committee

AC: I decided to become an archivist because my interests and professional strengths fit a lot better with this field than they did with being a history professor. I haven’t regretted it and I’m happy doing what I do now.

Q: What is one thing that you’d like to see the Electronic Records Section accomplish during your time as chair?

AC: I’d like to see us develop and make available some guidelines for training staff in working with electronic material in specific situations or some sample training materials for archivists to use.

Q: What is your favorite GIF?

AC:
https://media.giphy.com/media/3oEduGjJPPpPLGnDO0/giphy.gif

Carol Kussmann (University of Minnesota), Steering Committee

Q: What made you decide you wanted to become an archivist?

CK: As with a fair number of people I run into, I am an accidental archivist. My previous dream job was working in a museum; I was the Assistant Registrar at the Spurlock Museum and I loved every minute of it. One day the archives called and were looking for information on a photograph in their collection. After doing a bit of digging I found the information they were looking for. It is that problem solving that I love. I soon found myself pursuing a Masters of Library and Information Science. After an out-of-state move, I started working with electronic records on the Minnesota Historical Society’s NDIIPP project around preserving and providing access to state government records. It was my job to research, explore and problem solve many different topics relating to digital preservation. After the grant was over, I worked with the Minnesota State Archives to develop their electronic records program.

Once during an annual review focused on electronic records I was asked, “What was something you didn’t do correctly and how did you handle it?” I answered that there were many things we tried when exploring tools to use to assist with electronic records processing, but if it didn’t work, it wasn’t a failure–it was part of the learning experience. You learned from it and moved on to keep looking for a solution to the problem you were trying to solve. It is that exploration that I love and being able to put the successes into practice in my new dream job as a Digital Preservation Analyst at the University of Minnesota Libraries.

Q: What is one thing that you’d like to see the Electronic Records Section accomplish during your time on the steering committee?

CK: I think that many of us are in the same position – we are doing a lot of exploring. We need to share our experiences with each other. Often times we wait until we are done with a project before sharing, and then usually only the “successful” parts of the exploration are shared. We can’t be afraid to share the whole experience. Facilitating ways to do this would be something I would like to see the ERS accomplish. The listserv and blog are good steps, but other methods that allow people to talk more freely or share things that are still in progress would be useful as well.

Q: What is your favorite GIF?

CK: It’s not a GIF, but…
https://wearetheryan.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/never-forget.jpg?w=540&h=319

 

Thank you to all who voted in the 2015 election for the Electronic Records Section Steering Committee members, and thanks to former Steering Committee members whose terms have ended!

The current ERS leadership roster is available here.