Meet our newest ERS steering committee members!

All this week we’ll be featuring introductions to our newest ERS steering committee members! Today, meet Elizabeth Carron, one of our our new steering committee members.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

“I graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a background in Early Modern Literature and French Studies and finished my master’s at Simmons College in 2014. I didn’t take the archives track – rather, I was more focused on subject librarianship and digital scholarship. I made amazing connections in the Five College area as a student and as a librarian; in 2014, shortly after graduating, I was offered a project at the Smith College Archives – and I’ve been in archives and archives management ever since! After my project at Smith ended, I moved to Ann Arbor to be a project archivist in collections development at the Bentley Historical Library. Eventually, the position of Archivist for Records Management was created and I transitioned into that role. It’s been my responsibility to develop the program by establishing and communicating best RIM practices to the University community and to push forward acquisition procedures that will support description, arrangement, and access further down the road.” 

What made you decide you wanted to become an archivist?

“Honestly, no one thing. I studied Early Modern language and literature and got involved with several digital humanities projects, which in turn led to a deeper exposure to libraries and archives. From there, I explored graduate programs while working for a cultural heritage org on the admin side and just felt a click with archival programs. Being an archivist means I get to learn about a variety of topics, to meet new people and communities. It also means I get a hand in history-making. Whether I’m collecting or advocating for resources and partnerships, preservation is a profound responsibility.”

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

“I do a lot of acquiring of electronic/digital records and not so much processing; I’d like to explore this process of acquisition and perhaps work on perspectives to assist with understanding e-records/e-record concerns in this process. “

What three people, alive or dead, would you invite to dinner?

“George Sand and Dolly Parton to keep things lively; and my grampa, who was an amazing cook with a never-ending cache of dad jokes.”

Meet our newest ERS steering committee members!

All this week we’ll be featuring introductions to our newest ERS steering committee members! Today, meet Andrea Belair, one of our our new steering committee members.

“My name is Andrea Belair. I am from rural western Massachusetts, and I earned my BA from Marlboro College in Vermont where my focus was Literature and Creative Writing. After taking time off to travel and work in various jobs, and decided to pursue librarianship and went on to earn my MLIS from Rutgers University in 2012. I am currently the Librarian for Archives and Special Collections at Union College in Schenectady, NY, where I started in July, 2018. Before this current role, I was the Archivist for the Office of the President at Yale University for 5.5 years. I have a broad set of duties here at Union College, since we have numerous collections that include rare books and archival collections, but I have been actively involved in records policy and retention for the campus.”

What made you decide you wanted to become an archivist?

“After a part-time job shelving in the stacks of a large university, I decided to pursue a graduate degree to try for a career as an academic librarian. An archivist was always an ideal position that seemed fascinating but perhaps too much of a dream job, so I acquired many broad skills with archival experience “just in case.” I did ultimately land a job as an assistant archivist, and now I am living the dream.”

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

“I always like to bring the importance of records management to light in the profession, since this subject can be an excellent basis to streamline the rest of the workflows and processes within an archive. Records management is often undervalued and under-rated, or it just seems pretty uninteresting, and archivists do not always take time to understand it fully, which can lead to issues down the road. Perhaps some emphasis on records management and records retention would be interesting to explore.”

What three people, alive or dead, would you invite to dinner?

“The Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Future.”

Meet our newest ERS steering committee members!

All this week we’ll be featuring introductions to our newest ERS steering committee members! Today, meet Annalise Berdini, our new vice-chair and chair-elect.

Annalise Berdini is the Digital Archivist for University Archives at Princeton University. She is responsible for leading the ongoing development of the University Archives digital curation program. As part of this role, she accessions and processes born-digital collections, offers digital preservation consultation and education to students and staff, and collaborates with Public Services to improve born-digital access practices. She also manages the web archives program, processes analog collections, and provides reference services. She was previously the Digital Archivist for Special Collections and Archives at UC San Diego, where she instituted a brand new digital curation program and co-authored the UC Guidelines for Born-Digital Archival Description.

What made you decide you wanted to become an archivist?

“Honestly, I sort of fell into it. I had just started looking into library school and started researching my options after about 6 years of post-undergrad job hopping, and the program I was most interested in had an archives concentration. I remembered a really great archivist that I encountered during some research I did during undergrad, and started asking questions of archivists about the field and what they did. Mostly, the response I got was that there weren’t many jobs! But the archivists I spoke to were also so passionate about the work they did, and talked about all the ways they felt it was important — and they were so happy to answer my questions and offer help and advice — to connect me with more people in the field. That may actually be the main reason I chose it. Up to that point, my experience in my other career(s) had been that people were generally reluctant to offer help or support. That was never my experience with archivists. Once I started classes and some initial processing work, I knew it was where I wanted to be. Constantly changing work, lively academic discourse, exciting new opportunities in applying technology and leveraging data — it’s exactly the kind of job I hoped I’d find. I’m doing work I never thought I would do, and I get to work with such incredible people who challenge me to do more and better every day.”

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

“I’m really excited about the ongoing work the section is already doing to centralize and make easily discoverable favorite resources for practitioners. I’d also like to see the membership get involved in partnering with other sections to talk about the ways/offer guidance on how electronic records can make more discoverable resources/voices traditionally left out of the archives.”

What three people, alive or dead, would you invite to dinner?

“Janelle Monae, Neil Gaiman, and Carrie Fisher.”

The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation: An interview with Trevor Owens

BloggERS! editor, Dorothy Waugh recently interviewed Trevor Owens, Head of Digital Content Management at the Library of Congress about his recent–and award-winning–book, The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation.

Who is this book for and how do you imagine it being used?

I attempted to write a book that would be engaging and accessible to anyone who cares about long-term access to digital content and wants to devote time and energy to helping ensure that important digital content is not lost to the ages. In that context, I imagine the primary audience as current and emerging professionals that work to ensure enduring access to cultural heritage: archivists, librarians, curators, conservators, folklorists, oral historians, etc. With that noted, I think the book can also be of use to broader conversations in information science, computer science and engineering, and the digital humanities. 

Tell us about the title of the book and, in particular, your decision to use the word “craft” to describe digital preservation.

The words “theory” and “craft” in the title of the book forecast both the structure and the two central arguments that I advance in the book. 

The first chapters focus on theory. This includes tracing the historical lineages of preservation in libraries, archives, museums, folklore, and historic preservation. I then move to explore work in new media studies and platform studies to round out a nuanced understanding of the nature of digital media. I start there because I think it’s essential that cultural heritage practitioners moor their own frameworks and approaches to digital preservation in a nuanced understanding of the varied and historically contingent nature of preservation as a concept and the complexities of digital media and digital information. 

The latter half of the book is focused on what I describe as the “craft” of digital preservation. My use of the term craft is designed to intentionally challenge the notion that work in digital preservation should be understood as “a science.” Given the complexities of both what counts as preservation in a given context and the varied nature of digital media, I believe it is essential that we explicitly distance ourselves from many of the assumptions and baggage that come along with the ideology of “digital.” 

We can’t build some super system that just solves digital preservation. Digital preservation requires making judgement calls. Digital preservation requires the applied thinking and work of professionals. Digital preservation is not simply a technical question, instead digital preservation involves understanding the nature of the content that matters most to an intended community and making judgement calls about how best to mitigate risks of potential loss of access to that content. As a result of my focus on craft, I offer less of a “this is exactly what one should do” approach, and more of an invitation to join the community of practice that is developing knowledge and honing and refining their craft. 

Reading the book, I was so happy to see you make connections between the work that we do as archivists and digital preservation. Can you speak to that relationship and why you think it is important?

Archivists are key players in making preservation happen and the emergence of digital content across all kinds of materials and media that archivists work with means that digital preservation is now a core part of the work that archivists do. 

I organize a lot of my discussion about the craft of digital preservation around archival concepts as opposed to library science or curatorial practices. For example, I talk about arrangement and description. I also draw from ideas like MPLP as key concepts for work in digital preservation and from work on community archives. 

Old Files. From XKCD: webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language. 2014

Broadly speaking, in the development of digital media, I see a growing context collapse between formats that had been distinct in the past. That is, conservation of oil paintings, management and preservation of bound volumes, and organizing and managing heterogeneous sets of records have some strong similarities but there are also a lot of differences. The born digital incarnations of those works; digital art, digital publishing, and digital records, are all made up of digital information and file formats, and face a related set of digital preservation issues.

With that note, I think archival practice tends to be particularly well-suited for dealing with the nature of digital content. Archives have long dealt with the problem of scale that is now intensified by digital data. At the same time, archivists have also long dealt with hybrid collections and complex jumbles of formats, forms, and organizational structures, which is also increasingly the case for all types of forms that transition into born-digital content. 

You emphasize that the technical component of digital preservation is sometimes prioritized over social, ethical, and organizational components. What are the risks implicit in overlooking these other important components?

Digital preservation is not primarily a technical problem. The ideology of “digital” is that things should be faster, cheaper, and automatic. The ideology of “digital” suggests that we should need less labor, less expertise, and less resources to make digital stuff happen. If we let this line of thinking infect our idea of digital preservation we are going to see major losses of important data, we will see major failures to respect ethical and privacy issues relating to digital content, and lots of money will be spent on work that fails to get us the results that we want.

In contrast, when we take as a starting point that digital preservation is about investing resources in building strong organizations and teams who participate in the community of practice and work on the complex interactions that emerge between competing library and archives values then we have a chance of both being effective but also building great and meaningful jobs for professionals.

If digital preservation work is happening in organizations that have an overly technical view of the problem, it is happening despite, not because, of their organization’s approach. That is, there are people doing the work, they just likely aren’t getting credit and recognition for doing that work. Digital preservation happens because of people who understand that the fundamental nature of the work requires continual efforts to get enough resources to meaningfully mitigate risks of loss, and thoughtful decision making about building and curating collections of value to communities.

Considerations related to access and discovery form a central part of the book and you encourage readers to “Start simple and prioritize access,” an approach that reminded me of many similar initiatives focused on getting institutions started with the management and preservation of born-digital archives. Can you speak to this approach and tell us how you see the relationship between preservation and access?

A while back, OCLC ran an initiative called “walk before you run,” focused on working with digital archives and digital content. I know it was a major turning point for helping the field build our practices. Our entire community is learning how to do this work and we do it together. We need to try things and see which things work best and which don’t. 

It’s really important to prioritize access in this work. Preservation is fundamentally about access in the future. The best way you know that something will be accessible in the future is if you’re making it accessible now. Then your users will help you. They can tell you if something isn’t working. The more that we can work end-to-end, that is, that we accession, process, arrange, describe, and make available digital content to our users, the more that we are able to focus on how we can continually improve that process end-to-end. Without having a full end-to-end process in place, it’s impossible to zoom out and look at that whole sequence of processes to start figuring out where the bottlenecks are and where you need to focus on working to optimize things. 

Dr. Trevor Owens is a librarian, researcher, policy maker, and educator working on digital infrastructure for libraries. Owens serves as the first Head of Digital Content Management for Library Services at the Library of Congress. He previously worked as a senior program administrator at the United States Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and, prior to that, as a Digital Archivist for the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program and as a history of science curator at the Library of Congress. Owens is the author of three books, including The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation and Designing Online Communities: How Designers, Developers, Community Managers, and Software Structure Discourse and Knowledge Production on the Web. His research and writing has been featured in: Curator: The Museum Journal, Digital Humanities Quarterly, The Journal of Digital Humanities, D-Lib, Simulation & Gaming, Science Communication, New Directions in Folklore, and American Libraries. In 2014 the Society for American Archivists granted him the Archival Innovator Award, presented annually to recognize the archivist, repository, or organization that best exemplifies the “ability to think outside the professional norm.”

Meet the 2018 Candidates: Scott Kirycki

The 2018 elections for Electronic Records Section leadership are upon us! To support your getting to know the candidates, we will be presenting additional information provided by the 2018 nominees for ERS leadership positions. For more information about the slate of candidates, you can check out the full 2018 ERS elections site. ERS Members: be sure to vote! Polls are open through July 17!

Candidate name: Scott Kirycki

Running for: Steering Committee

What made you decide you wanted to become an archivist?

My journey to becoming an archivist began somewhere that did not, strictly speaking, exist: the fictional worlds of radio programs from the 1940s. When I was a boy, a local radio station replayed old shows such as The Lone Ranger, The Shadow, and The Jack Benny Program. The shows pulled me in with their appeal to the imagination, and I wanted to learn more about them. My parents and teachers had taught me well about the library, and my interest in radio programs (and soon my interest in the historical period that produced them) provided a new focus for the use of library resources. I checked out books, records, and tapes and studied the non-circulating reference material. Later, as I worked on more research projects for school assignments, I learned how to use The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, and that led me to the treasures contained in bound volumes of magazines and on microfilm.

After starting college and choosing English as my major, I spent more time in libraries, particularly academic libraries with their special collections and emphasis on research. I grew to enjoy the research part of college work especially, which prompted me to pursue a master’s in English literature. When the time came for me to do a thesis for my degree, I picked a bibliographic research project over a literary interpretation or analysis. I created an annotated bibliography of the books advertised in The Tatler, an eighteenth-century British periodical.

Given my interest in research and the amount of time I spent in libraries, I considered following my master’s in English with a degree in library science. Since I liked historical material, I thought of studying to work in an archive. Although I looked into applying at some schools of library science, I was not wholeheartedly enthusiastic about additional years of schooling at that point in my life, so my journey took a turn to the business world.

The company where I began working after grad school turned out to be a good fit for me. The work connected to my interest in research because it involved making computerized databases for lawyers. I learned about database software, indexing, document scanning, and some electronic records management. In time, I became a department manager and later moved to project management. Regrettably for me, the company was eventually sold, and the new owners started a course of restructuring that culminated with the elimination of my position.

After exploring the job market, I reached the conclusion that further education would be a rewarding pursuit – rewarding not just from the standpoint of increasing the likelihood of landing a job, but also rewarding for personal growth and the opportunity to learn from other people. Because I had considered library science before and still had an interest in the things of the past, I decided to return to school to earn a degree in library science with a focus on archives. I was drawn to courses on digital content where I could continue to use and build on the experience and data-handling skills that I gained during my first career.

Though my decision to become an archivist was a long time coming, I am glad to have made it and look forward to continuing to discover the rewards of working in a field where I can benefit others by helping them connect to information.

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

As I have been working on projects with the Records Management Team at the University of Notre Dame, I have become increasingly aware of how many electronic records consist of data points in enterprise-size content management systems rather than discrete files such as Word docs and PDFs. I anticipate that archiving databases as well as material from systems that were not necessarily designed with long-term preservation in mind will be a growing challenge for archivists. I would like to see the Electronic Records Section put forward guidance on best practices for meeting this challenge.

What cartoon character do you model yourself after?

The Tick (from the 1994 – 1996 Fox animated series)

Meet the 2018 Candidates: Kelsey O’Connell

The 2018 elections for Electronic Records Section leadership are upon us! To support your getting to know the candidates, we will be presenting additional information provided by the 2018 nominees for ERS leadership positions. For more information about the slate of candidates, you can check out the full 2018 ERS elections site. ERS Members: be sure to vote! Polls are open through July 17!

Candidate name: Kelsey O’Connell

Running for: Steering Committee

What made you decide you wanted to become an archivist?

As a history/English major in college, I knew I didn’t want to become a teacher or a lawyer so I began exploring other career options. I landed a position as a student assistant in my college library’s Special Collections and Archives department where I began processing collections. I immediately loved the organization, research, and learning that I participated in daily and realized I just wanted to do this for the rest of my life.

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

My primary interest is employing ERS’s platform to influence SAA and related organizations to begin creating and formalizing documentation for electronic records. We all talk about documentation a lot, but we still haven’t rolled them out. I think a strategic approach to initiating much of this documentation is for ERS to survey, index, and prioritize various policies, guidelines, standards, and frameworks needed to have robust documentation on the management and care of electronic records. We’d be able to utilize Section members’ input and participation in the discussion, allowing us to have a comprehensive yet diverse perspective for our recommendations.

What cartoon character do you model yourself after?

I have to admit I had to ask my family and friends for help identifying this one. More than a few of them said Velma from Scooby Doo. I laughed because I assumed it was because I really can’t see without my glasses – like when my cat enjoys knocking them off my nightstand in the middle of the night and I have to search for them in the morning. But they all said it’s because I like figuring stuff out. Although mystery isn’t my favorite genre, there are some clear parallels to researching and employing some trial and error tactics with electronic records.

Meet the 2018 Candidates: Jane Kelly

The 2018 elections for Electronic Records Section leadership are upon us! To support your getting to know the candidates, we will be presenting additional information provided by the 2018 nominees for ERS leadership positions. For more information about the slate of candidates, you can check out the full 2018 ERS elections site. ERS Members: be sure to vote! Polls are open through July 17!

Candidate name: Jane Kelly

Running for: Steering Committee

What made you decide you wanted to become an archivist?

My first contact with archives was as a college intern. The position was unpaid, required an expensive ninety minute commute each way, and wasn’t exactly thrilling. I spent most of that job with my headphones in, dusting red rot off of books, waiting to go home. This was not my dream job. It wasn’t until several years after I finished college that I found myself truly engaged with archives as a career path. I studied history as an undergrad but chose not to pursue a PhD, so I was happy to find myself in a job where understanding the past really matters. I began to appreciate the ways in which archives and archivists construct narratives of the past in their everyday work. For better or worse, there’s a lot of power in what we do. More importantly, it was the people I worked with who made me want to become an archivist. Having coworkers who took the time to teach me on the job, especially before I started grad school, has been invaluable. Working with people who encouraged me to attend conferences, grapple with big questions, and take on responsibility made me want to keep working and learning. Without that, I’m not sure that I would have stuck around.

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

I would love to see the Electronic Records Section become an even greater resource for other SAA sections. It seems inevitable that everyone who works in archives will need to understand electronic records and born-digital material, at least at a basic level. ERS seems like the obvious hub for those resources. I want other archivists to see that they are capable of understanding issues unique to electronic records and that they don’t need to be intimidated by this part of the field. As a young professional, I’m also particularly interested in partnering with SNAP. Access to mentorship has been really important for me, both in terms of choosing to stay in the archives profession and learning how to do the work. I would like to see deeper connections between these two groups and find ways to support folks who don’t have resources to pay for SAA courses to supplement what they learn in graduate school.

What cartoon character do you model yourself after?

This is a hard question. I’ll go with Eliza Thornberry because she’s a smart kid, and I also wish I could talk to my cat.

Meet the 2018 Candidates: Susan Malsbury

The 2018 elections for Electronic Records Section leadership are upon us! To support your getting to know the candidates, we will be presenting additional information provided by the 2018 nominees for ERS leadership positions. For more information about the slate of candidates, you can check out the full 2018 ERS elections site. ERS Members: be sure to vote! Polls are open through July 17!

Candidate name: Susan Malsbury

Running for: Vice-Chair / Chair-Elect

What made you want to become an archivist?

When I was initially applying to library schools, I wanted to be sure that I was choosing the right career path. To that end, I volunteered at the Portland Public Library and the Maine Historical Society, both in Portland, Maine. While I enjoyed my time at the public library, I immediately fell in love with the archival work at the historical society. My project there was helping an archivist process the Portland Press Herald glass plate negative collection and scan select negatives for inclusion in the Maine Memory Network. It was magic seeing all these early-20th century images unwrapped from their cracked, yellowed envelopes and reintroduced to the world after so many years via description and scanning. It was extremely fulfilling to help preserve the negatives for future researchers. I returned to New York City and was fortunate enough to get a job in the Manuscripts and Archives Division at the New York Public Library. I was able to supplement my graduate work with hands-on experience processing some truly incredible collections such as the 1939/1940 New York World’s Fair papers and the Truman Capote papers. While digital archives are a far cry from glass plate negatives, I feel a similar fulfillment knowing that I’m helping ensure the preservation and future accessibility of unique born-digital records.

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

There are a lot of exciting initiatives, programs, and ad hoc groups developing in the digital archives and digital preservation communities. I would love for ERS to build on its mandate to be the locus of expertise for SAA by serving as a platform for these projects to reach SAA’s general membership. Additionally, I’d like to work to expand participation as an ever-greater number of archivists are working with born-digital material (even if “digital” isn’t in their job title).

What cartoon character do you model yourself after?

As a child of the ‘90s I’ve always strongly identified with Lisa Simpson.

Mecha-Archivists Revisited: An Interview with Trevor Owens and Emily Reynolds

BloggERS! recently reached out to Trevor Owens and Emily Reynolds from IMLS to discuss the role of archives digital processing activities in the context of the IMLS national digital platform funding priority.

This interview was conducted asynchronously in text.


BloggERS!: Tell us about the national digital platform funding priority. Why was it introduced, and what are its primary objectives and deliverables?

Trevor: The national digital platform is a framework for approaching all the digital tools, services, infrastructure, and human effort libraries and archives use to meet the needs of their users across the country. In this respect, the platform isn’t an individual thing. It isn’t a piece of software or a website. Instead, it’s the combination of software applications, social and technical infrastructure, and staff expertise that provide library and archive content and services to all users in the US. For more on the concept, see this article Maura Marx and I wrote for American Libraries magazine.

The National Digital Platform concept was developed and refined through two IMLS Focus convenings (reports from the 2014 and 2015 convenings are available online). Those convenings brought together a diverse array of experts and stakeholders from across library and archives contexts who urged IMLS (and other funders) to focus more on making investments in digital tools and services that could have catalytic national impacts. The results of those meetings have informed the development of a specific national digital platform portfolio in the National Leadership Grants for Libraries Program (NLG) and the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program (LB21).


Trevor Owens, Senior Program Officer at IMLS, opening the “Defining and Funding the National Digital Platform” panel, April 2015

BloggERS!: What do you think have been the biggest impacts of the national digital platform so far, especially for archivists working with digital materials?

Trevor: It is still rather early to see the range of impacts and outcomes the first projects in this portfolio are and having. The initial four projects funded from the first cycle of grants last year still haven’t been running for a year yet, the second cycle of grants from last year have only been going for about six months, and the first cycle of grants from this year have just been awarded. With that said, I would suggest that the national digital platform as a framework has already made a significant shift in terms of the projects we are funding. In comparison to many previous projects, these efforts have stronger and clearer plans and approaches to building communities of practice and coalitions to work together to tackle challenges. So in that vein, I’m excited about the prospects of librarians and archivists increasingly seeing their work having both local and direct impacts in their institutions but also as part of national and international networks of teams building, refining, documenting and improving the field through their involvement in the tools that enable our work. So if you take any of those individual projects, like EPADD or Hydra-in-a-box and you see a flurry of activity and engagement with a lot of different stakeholders already as parts of these projects.

Emily: In addition to the tools and services that we’ve funded through NLG, we’ve also seen several LB21 projects have an impact in terms of creating training opportunities for librarians and archivists working with digital materials. The LB21 program has a history of funding projects related to digital skills, even before we conceptualized it as part of the national digital platform. The National Digital Stewardship Residency (NDSR) program is one example; at this point 35 residents have participated in the program in DC, Boston, and New York, and we’ve funded several additional cohorts. Those projects have had real impacts on the careers of the residents themselves (full disclosure: I’m an alumna of the program), as well as the institutions they worked in.

BloggERS!: Where are the current gaps in our national digital capacity with regard to the processing of digital materials?

Emily: One of the interesting things about our jobs as Program Officers is that we aren’t necessarily the ones answering that question. We rely on applicants, peer reviewers, and professionals working in the field to let us know what the pain points are, and where additional capacity is needed. Conferences and blogs (like this one!) are incredibly useful for us to see what topics are of interest in the community, so that we can look at those needs in the context of IMLS’ broader strategic goals and grant programs.

To me, our capacity to manage born-digital and digitized audiovisual materials at scale seems like one of the most critical gaps. IMLS has funded a fair amount of work in this area, from oral history projects like OHMS and Oral History in the Digital Age, to computational approaches to providing access to audio from WGBH and Pop Up Archive, to tools like Avalon Media System. Even with all of this great work, it still remains challenging to adequately manage this complex content and provide meaningful access to it.

Trevor: Completely agree with Emily’s first point on this. The national digital platform is, in many ways, a challenge to the field and to applicants to make the case for what those gaps are and to establish and launch the coalitions that are going to fill them. With that noted, alongside Emily’s points about AV materials, I would also add that it seems like things are starting to really begin to converge and coalesce around the potential for open source tools to support emulation and virtualization as modes of access and preservation. I’ll talk a bit more about some of the projects pointing in this direction in a bit.

BloggERS!: How will the national digital platform help to support the wide variety of different tools and technologies used to acquire, process, and preserve digital materials in archives, libraries, and museums?

Emily: Overall, I think there are a few key themes in our approach to the national digital platform. We’re looking for tools and services that can be implemented and used by many different institutions, across the spectrum in terms of size and resources. I think your use of the phrase “wide variety” in the question also points to another important consideration for us: interoperability. So many institutions are using bespoke approaches to the same problems, with slight variations in tools and methods. Creating linkages between tools and building communities of practice will lower barriers to entry and raise baseline capacity.

Trevor: I would also add that, conceptually, all of those tools and technologies that libraries, archives and museums are using with digital content are already part of the national digital platform. I’m not just trying to be cute, or clever in saying that either. When we step back and look at all of those tools and services that exist now and the skills and knowledge it takes to make them work you start to see all those places where we need to interject resources to improve it. So along with Emily’s great points on interoperability and connecting tools and services I would also again stress that a huge part of this is about skilling up the library and archives workforce to be able to use the range of tools, many of which only work at the command line, that we can piece together to do this work.

BloggERS!: Which current projects being funded through the national digital platform priority are you most excited about?

Trevor: I’m excited about all of them! Seriously, our review process is very competitive and anything that makes it though is really exciting work. With that said, there is a good bit of work that we aren’t able to fund that I would also be excited about. I am happy to share some examples of projects that are particularly relevant to archivists.

Several projects are already making important inroads in this area. I’ll mention a few and then I am sure Emily has some in her portfolio that she can share. For each of these projects anyone can read through their proposal narratives online. So I will be brief about them and link out to where you can find the proposals.

The Software Preservation Network (LG-73-15-0133-15) is holding a national forum alongside this year’s SAA conference to work toward establishing a network of archives working together to develop a strategy for using historical software to provide access to and to process digital archival material. In a related effort, through A Re-enactment Tool for Collections of Digital Artifacts (LG-70-16-0079-16), Rhizome, in partnership with Yale University and the University of Freiburg, are working to enhance a set of open source software tools connecting archives of digital artifacts and emulation frameworks. Together these projects are positioned to both help refine the toolset for this kind of work and to build and establish the community of practice and networks necessary to support archivists doing this work.

Through Systems Interoperability and Collaborative Development for Web Archiving (LG-71-15-0174-15) the Internet Archive, with the University of North Texas, Rutgers University, and Stanford University Library are working to improve systems interoperability and to model enhanced access to, and research use of, web archives. This applied research project is well positioned to refine ways for institutions to interact with Archive-It. Given that over 400 some institutions are using Archive-It, improvements to this system will be very useful to many institutions in the field.

The last project I’ll mention, Improving Access to Time-Based Media through Crowdsourcing and Machine Learning (LG-71-15-0208-15) is a neat example of how an applied research project can significantly impact the field. In this project, the archives at WGBH and the Pop-Up Archive are exploring approaches for metadata creation by leveraging scalable computation and engaging the public to improve access through crowdsourcing games for time-based media. This includes an interesting mixture of speech-to-text and audio analysis tools and open source web-based tools to improve transcripts by engaging the public in a crowdsourced, participatory cataloging project. So the process has potential to inform future work, as well as test the tools that are created as part of the project. Lastly, by working with a massive archive of public broadcasting AV content, the project partners are also going to create and distribute a public dataset of audiovisual metadata for use by other projects.

Emily: Like Trevor said, it’s really hard for us to pick only a few projects to highlight, since we’re so excited about all of the work we’re funding. The development of ePADD (LG-70-15-0242-15) is one great example of IMLS-funded work that will help support digital processing activities. I’m happy to see that a few different people have mentioned it already in this blog series, because it really is an exciting advance in archivists’ capacity to manage email archives.

We also have funded a few interesting national forum projects recently. National forum grants support a meeting or series of meetings, bringing together stakeholders and experts in a topic. Those relationships and networks can persist long past the end of the grant. I’m really looking forward to seeing the results of On the Record, All the Time (RE-43-16-0053-16), a national forum grant to UCLA. They’re addressing the management of digital audiovisual evidence used by law enforcement, and I think the project has the potential to bring about some really interesting partnerships and relationships with other sectors. Like I mentioned earlier, audiovisual content is a huge challenge, and this is an interesting subset of it.

Another exciting national forum grant was awarded to the Amistad Research Center for a project called Diversifying the Digital Historical Record (LG-73-16-0003-16). This project will include a series of meetings with participants including community archives practitioners, scholars, community members, and digital collections experts. It’s an incredibly important issue and the range of partners on the project is amazing.

BloggERS!: Trevor, in a 2014 blogpost, Mecha-Archivists: Envisioning the Role of Software in the Future of Archives, you highlighted the potential value of computational techniques, such as topic modeling and named entity recognition, to help “extend and amplify the seasoned judgement, ethics, wisdom, and expertise [of archivists]” to support making materials available to the user. What progress have you seen in this space since 2014, and how would you rate the development of and training around these tools as a priority within IMLS?

Trevor: I see a lot of the ideas I explored in that Radcliffe Workshop on Technology and Archival Processing as fitting very well with the idea of the National Digital Platform. The key concept in that talk is that we need to approach the work of cultural heritage institutions as complex systems which deploy enabling technologies that support, amplify and extend the abilities of archivists, librarians and the curators to do their work. I realize that’s a mouthful. So I can talk through some examples.

All too often, I have seen folks approach some computational tool and say, “Oh, we could use this to automate classification or description” or a variety of other activities. This sets the bar way too high for the machines. It also is part of longstanding, problematic and flawed notions about expertise, efficiency and labor that devalue what it means to be a professional and an expert. The judgement of professionals and experts is really hard to beat, and it isn’t something we should be trying to beat. Instead of erasing or ignoring all of the accumulated wisdom and expertise of professional librarians, archivists and curators, we should be working to build from and amplify it.

In my mind, the solution is rather simple. Instead of trying to replace the work of experts, it is much better to think through how we can enable and extend that judgement through tools. The example I used in the Radcliffe talk involved Topic Modeling, but I think the same process can and should work for things like natural language processing tools named entity extraction tools, or for that matter tools and services that automate deriving data about audio files or image files.

I see all of this fitting into the national digital platform in a few clear ways. First off, the platform is defined not as a set of tools and services, but as the combined effects of those tools and services and the professionals that animate and operate them. In that vein, the platform is as much about empowering, training and supporting professionals to do the work as it is about giving them the tools to enable them to do the work.

BloggERS!: How can our readers learn more about the national digital platform?

Emily: There is a national digital platform page on the IMLS website, where you can see links to related blog posts, press releases, and publications. That page also links to information about the national digital platform convenings we held in 2014 and 2015. When we post Notices of Funding Opportunity for NLG and LB21, those documents will also have specific information about the funding categories and topics of interest for that specific program.

As part of ongoing efforts towards increased transparency, we’ve begun to publish several documents from successful grant applications online. Trevor and I recently did a series of blog posts highlighting recent awards; each of the projects mentioned in these posts has a link to view some of their proposal documents.

Of course, we also strongly encourage potential applicants and others interested in the national digital platform to contact us! We’re happy to talk through project ideas and provide any additional information about IMLS programs.


qMpvSkY2.jpegEmily Reynolds is a Program Officer in the Office of Library Services at the Institute of Museum and Library Services. She manages a portfolio of grants within IMLS’ national digital platform priority area, primarily focusing on projects related to the education and training of librarians and archivists. Prior to joining IMLS, Emily was a National Digital Stewardship Resident at the World Bank Group Archives. Emily has a master’s degree in information science from the University of Michigan School of Information, and was the recipient of a 2014 National Digital Stewardship Alliance Innovation Award.

Trevor-0.jpgTrevor Owens serves as the Senior Program Officer responsible for the development of the national digital platform portfolio for the Office of Library Services in the Institute of Museum and Library Services. He steers an overall strategy encompassing research, grant making, and policy agendas, as well as communications initiatives, in support of the development of national digital services and resources in libraries. From 2010-2015, Trevor served as a Digital Archivist with the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) in the Office of Strategic Initiatives at the Library of Congress. Before that, he was the community manager for the Zotero project at the Center for History and New Media. Trevor has a doctorate in social science research methods and educational technology from the Graduate School of Education at George Mason University, a bachelor’s degree in the history of science from the University of Wisconsin, and a master’s degree in American history with an emphasis on digital history from George Mason University. He teaches graduate seminars on digital curation, digital preservation and digital history for the University of Maryland’s iSchool and American University’s history department. In 2014 the Society for American Archivists gave him the Archival Innovator Award, an award granted annually to recognize the archivist, repository, or organization that best exemplifies the “ability to think outside the professional norm.”

Preservation Beyond the Bits: An Interview with Linda Tadic

Linda Tadic is founder and CEO of Digital Bedrock (, a managed digital preservation and consulting service in Los Angeles. A founding member and former president of the Association of Moving Image Archivists, she has written and given lectures on AV metadata, copyright, and digital asset management and preservation. She is adjunct professor in UCLA’s Department of Information Studies’ Media Archives Studies program.

We asked Tadic about her research into the environmental consequences of digital preservation. Her presentation “The Environmental Impact of Digital Preservation,” which she’s given in Portland, OR, Singapore, and Paris, describes the relationship of digital preservation to ongoing environmental degradation and outlines ways archivists and archival institutions can lessen their impact. Slides and notes for the presentation can be found at

This interview was conducted over email.

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