An Interview with Erin Barsan—Archives & Collections Information Consultant at Small Data Industries.

An Interview with Erin Barsan—Archives & Collections Information Consultant at Small Data Industries.

by Meghan Lyon

This is the seventh post in a new series of conversations between emerging professionals and archivists actively working with digital materials.

Photo credit: Small Data Industries.

Erin Barsan is a Consultant specializing in Archives & Collections Information at Small Data Industries, a private conservation lab and consultancy firm with a mission to “support and empower people to safeguard the permanence and integrity of the world’s artistic record.” She was the NDSR Art Resident (2017-2018) at Minneapolis Institute of Art, and obtained her MSLIS with an Advanced Certificate in Archives from Pratt Institute in 2015. Before attending Pratt, she studied graphic design and photography as an undergraduate at Columbia College Chicago.


I was interested in how Erin’s background in art influenced the direction of her graduate coursework and affects her style as a professional. During her BFA program, Erin learned critical thinking and analysis, visual literacy, and intentional decision-making—Erin had a professor who’s frequent critique was  “make no arbitrary decisions!” As an LIS student who’s primary interest was archives, Erin chose to study User Experience (UX), specifically Information Architecture. The principles of UX—designing with the end user in mind, putting yourself in their place, doing research before you design—have very much influenced her working style.

At Small Data Industries, Erin works closely with their clients to craft unique digital preservation and conservation strategies for institutions, private collectors, artists studios, and artist estates. While Erin was the NDSR Art Resident at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia), she helped conceptualize and document a framework for managing and preserving the Museum’s collection of time-based media art. Day-to-day work of digital preservation includes using those visual literacy and UX principles to develop usable documents, employing LIS research skills to find new information, to learn how to complete a task, or to find people with expert skills that you may not have. Soft skills then come in handy to build relationships with those expert individuals.

In discussing some of the challenges of her work, Erin cited the importance of advocacy to combat the invisibility of digital work, and to educate and raise awareness of the ongoing action of preservation, i.e. nothing is every preserved, only being preserved. There is a great need to explain “complicated things in a very succinct way,” to foster support for preservation initiatives and build collaborative relationships with professionals in adjacent fields. Developing good communication skills is crucial to maintaining preservation programs within any institution. Prepare an elevator pitch to explain your job to someone outside the field, and be ready to describe digital archives and preservation in lay terms, and to share knowledge and encourage excitement about the archival endeavor.

The challenges of Erin’s work are also the rewards. As a consultant, Erin frequently works with new clients, and a preservation strategy that works well for one institution may fall flat for another. “In consulting, there’s a lot of similar problems, but every institution is different. It’s always interesting to try and take best-practices and standards and figure out how they can be applied in these unique situations.” For Erin, finding solutions to complex problems is rewarding since it often involves learning new skills and thinking creatively. She also enjoys helping to ensure that time-based media art and digital archives will be accessible and findable in the future, “I find it really gratifying to know that the work that I’m doing is going to make a difference—because I’ve seen the other side of the coin, when things get lost, and how easily information can be lost.”

For students and new professionals entering the field, Erin’s advice: “Get more internships. Everything that you learn in school is great, but hands-on experience is invaluable and is what will get you a job.” And although technical skills will help you get a job, once you’re on the job, soft skills become more important. Take advantage of the professional community, “we have a very generous community. A lot of times we can be reticent to reach out to other professionals in the field, but I know from experience that people want to help. So reach out!”

Share your experiences with your peers, find a way to connect to the larger community, and discuss what you’re learning or working on. This can be at whatever venue or capacity is comfortable for you, whether it’s presenting at conferences, tweeting, blogging, or something else. Keep abreast of what’s happening, join conversations, follow listservs, contribute to working groups. Invite and listen to other people’s perspectives. Finally, don’t be afraid to advocate for your professional development in the workplace. Imposter syndrome is real, don’t sell yourself and your experience short!


Meghan Lyon is completing the 1st year of her MSLIS degree program at Pratt Institute School of Information. She has a BFA from the Cooper Union, School of Art, and is interested in artist archives, museum libraries & collections, and digital preservation.

A Conversation with Wendy Hagenmaier, Digital Collections Archivist at Georgia Tech

Interview conducted with Wendy Hagenmaier by Colleen Farry in March 2019.

This is the sixth post in a new series of conversations between emerging professionals and archivists actively working with digital materials.


Wendy Hagenmaier is the Digital Collections Archivist at the Georgia Tech Library where she leads the development of workflows for preserving and delivering born-digital special collections. She also manages the Library’s retroTECH initiative. Recently, Wendy shared her experiences as an archivist and some recommendations for new professionals with bloggERS!

When Wendy entered graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin, she did not initially know that her area of focus would be archives. She recalled a presentation by Dr. David Gracy during orientation. “I was captivated by the thought of how records are with you from the time that you’re born and how they’re evidence of your life.” Wendy went on to work in the archives as a graduate student while pursuing her M.S. in Information Studies. In retrospect, pursuing a career in archives was a natural career path for Wendy. As a child, she was always fascinated by objects and the narratives that people attached to them. In this way, Wendy explained how “the past is still present within objects in an archive.”

In addition to managing born-digital special collections, Wendy oversees the retroTECH Library program at Georgia Tech. This initiative provides a place for engagement with vintage hardware and software and modern tools for digital archiving and emulation. As described on the program website: “retroTECH aims to inspire a cultural mindset that emphasizes the importance of personal archives, open access to digital heritage, and long-term thinking.” Wendy hopes the program will continue to grow and expand beyond its space in the library. “The students, in interacting with older technology, can consider how we interact with technology now. They begin to consider the infrastructures that define our records and think about their own engagement with technology.”

Visitors to the retroTech lab have the opportunity to experiment with classic hardware and computer programs. “When people walk into the space they become very emotional and immediately launch into a memory of when they were a kid.” She spoke about the power of that experience and its ability to demonstrate the importance of libraries and archives as preservers of the past. Wendy also shared her thoughts on the importance of making archival work more visible and the challenge of developing models of sustainability within the profession. “We need to be able to communicate the value of our work to people in power who make resource decisions.”

When asked about the dynamic nature of digital archiving and staying up to date on new tools and technologies, Wendy acknowledged, “We will continue to encounter skills gaps in our careers.” To tackle new challenges with technology, Wendy has adopted a collaborative approach, working with colleagues to achieve goals that she might not have had bandwidth to accomplish on her own. “I think, ‘If I don’t learn scripting in the way that I had fantasties of, that’s ok.’ I spend time talking with colleagues that have expertise that I wish I had more time to cultivate.” She added, “there are many great SAA courses, and I’m grateful to benefit from these gap-filling learning opportunities.” Wendy also encourages archivists to explore open-source tools with strong user communities and training resources. For her, it is very motivating to be in a profession where “everyone is very open to sharing their knowledge and capitalizing on the ways that we can support each other.”

Some pieces of advice that Wendy shared for new professionals included staying curious and feeling empowered to question. “Try to maintain that sense of wonder and discovery about technological and socio-technical issues, and feel empowered to challenge them, where necessary. Our field is going to change a lot, and we should encourage each other to push beyond the status quo.” She observed that archivists can’t always control how technologies are developed, but they can think critically about how those infrastructures define our records and practices.

Networking can be challenging for new archivists and veterans alike. Wendy recommended pursuing virtual collaborations and reaching out to regional groups with shared interests. “I found comfort and a genuine connection with smaller working groups, like the ERS steering committee.” Wendy has also done a lot of work regionally. “It’s great to get involved locally to identify areas of commonality to present at regional conferences.”

When asked what she loved most about being an archivist, Wendy said the privilege of working with people that have a shared passion for archives. “I do this because I love it, and I get to work with others who love it as well; feeling that shared passion is very nurturing.”


Colleen Farry is an Assistant Professor and Digital Services Librarian at the University of Scranton where she develops, coordinates, and manages the Weinberg Memorial Library’s digital collections and related digital projects.

Assessing the Digital Forensics Instruction Landscape with BitCuratorEdu

by Jess Farrell

This is the sixth post in the bloggERS Making Tech Skills a Strategic Priority series.

Over the past couple of months, we’ve heard a lot on bloggERS about how current students, recent grads, and mid-career professionals have made tech skills a strategic priority in their development plans. I like to think about the problem of “gaining tech skills” as being similar to “saving the environment”: individual action is needed and necessary, but it is most effective when it feeds clearly into systemic action.

So that begs the question, what root changes might educators of all types suggest and support to help GLAM professionals prioritize tech skills development? What are educator communities and systems – iSchools, faculty, and continuing education instructors – doing to achieve this? These questions are among those addressed by the BitCuratorEdu research project.

The BitCuratorEdu project is a two three-year effort funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to study and advance the adoption of born-digital archiving and digital forensics tools and methods in libraries and archives through a range of professional education efforts. The project is a partnership between the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Educopia Institute, along with the Council of State Archivists (CoSA) and nine universities that are educating future information professionals.

We’re addressing two main research questions:

  1. What are the primary institutional and technological factors that influence adoption of digital forensics tools and methods in different educational settings?
  2. What are the most viable mechanisms for sustaining collaboration among LIS programs on the adoption of digital forensics tools and methods?

The project started in September 2018 and will conclude in Fall 2021, and Educopia and UNC SILS will be conducting ongoing research and releasing open educational resources on a rolling basis. With the help of our Advisory Board made up of nine iSchools and our Professional Experts Panel composed of leaders in the GLAM sector, we’re:

  • Piloting instruction to produce and disseminate a publicly accessible set of learning objects that can be used by education providers to administer hands-on digital forensics education
  • Gathering information and centralizing existing educational content to produce guides and other resources, such as this (still-in-development) guide to datasets that can be used to learn new digital forensics skills or test digital archives software/processes
  • Investigating and reporting on institutional factors that facilitate, hinder and shape adoption of digital forensics educational offerings

Through this work and intentional community cultivation, we hope to advance a community of practice around digital forensics education though partner collaboration, wider engagement, and exploration of community sustainability mechanisms.

To support our research and steer the direction of the project, we have conducted and analyzed nine advisory board interviews with current faculty who have taught or are developing a curriculum for digital forensics education. So far we’ve learned that:

  • instructors want and need access to example datasets to use in the classroom (especially cultural heritage datasets);
  • many want lesson plans and activities for teaching born-digital archiving tools and environments like BitCurator in one or two weeks because few courses are devoted solely to digital forensics;
  • they want further guidance on how to facilitate hands-on digital forensics instruction in distributed online learning environments; and
  • they face challenges related to IT support at their home institutions, just like those grappled with by practitioners in the field.

This list barely scratches the surface of our exploration into the experiences and needs of instructors for providing more effective digital forensics education, and we’re excited to tackle the tough job of creating resources and instructional modules that address these and many other topics. We’re also interested in exploring how the resources we produce may also support continuing education needs across libraries, archives, and museums.

We recently conducted a Twitter chat with SAA’s SNAP Section to learn about students’ experiences in digital forensics learning environments. We heard a range of experiences, from students who reported they had no opportunity to learn about digital forensics in some programs, to students who received effective instruction that remained useful post-graduation. We hope that the learning modules released at the conclusion of our project will address students’ learning needs just as much as their instructors’ teaching needs.

Later this year, we’ll be conducting an educational provider survey that will gather information on barriers to adoption of digital forensics instruction in continuing education. We hope to present to and conduct workshops for a broader set of audiences including museum and public records professionals.

Our deliverables, from conference presentations to learning modules, will be released openly and freely through a variety of outlets including the project website, the BitCurator Consortium wiki, and YouTube (for recorded webinars). Follow along at the project website or contact jess.farrell@educopia.org if you have feedback or want to share your insights with the project team.

 

Authors bio:

Jess Farrell is the project manager for BitCuratorEdu and community coordinator for the Software Preservation Network at Educopia Institute. Katherine Skinner is the Executive Director of Educopia Institute, and Christopher (Cal) Lee is Associate Professor at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, teaching courses on archival administration, records management, and digital curation. Katherine and Cal are Co-PIs on the BitCuratorEdu project, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Partnerships in Advancing Digital Archival Education

by Sohan Shah, Michael J. Kurtz, and Richard Marciano

This is the fourth post in the BloggERS series on Collaborating Beyond the Archival Profession.

The mission of the Digital Curation Innovation Center (DCIC) at the University of Maryland’s iSchool is to integrate archival education with research and technology. The Center does this through innovative instructional design, integrated with student-based project experience. A key element in these projects is forming collaborations with academic, public sector, and industry partners. The DCIC fosters these interdisciplinary partnerships through the use of Big Records and Archival Analytics.

DCIC Lab space at the University of Maryland.

The DCIC works with a wide variety of U.S. and foreign academic research partners. These include, among others, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of British Columbia, King’s College London, and the Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Federal and state agencies who partner by providing access to Big Records collections and their staff expertise include the National Agricultural Library, the National Archives and Records Administration, the National Park Service, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Maryland State Archives. In addition, the DCIC collaborates with the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure project to provide digital access to Holocaust-era collections documenting cultural looting by the Nazis and subsequent restitution actions. Industry partnerships have involved NetApp and Archival Analytics Solutions.

Students working on a semester-long project with Dr. Richard Marciano, Director, DCIC.

We offer students the opportunity to participate in interdisciplinary digital curation projects with the goal of developing new digital skills and conducting front line research at the intersection of archives, digital curation, Big Data, and analytics. Projects span across justice, human rights, cultural heritage, and cyber-infrastructure themes. Students explore new research opportunities as they work with cutting-edge technology and receive guidance from faculty and staff at the DCIC.

To further digital archival education, DCIC faculty develop courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels that teach digital curation theory and provide experiential learning through team-based digital curation projects. The DCIC has also collaborated with the iSchool to create a Digital Curation for Information Professionals (DCIP) Certificate program designed for working professionals who need training in next generation cloud computing technologies, tools, resources, and best practices to help with the evaluation, selection, and implementation of digital curation solutions. Along these lines, the DCIC will sponsor, with the Archival Educators Section of the Society of American Archivists (SAA), a workshop at the Center on August 13, 2018, immediately prior to the SAA’s Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. The theme of the workshop is “Integrating Archival Education with Technology and Research.” Further information on the workshop will be forthcoming.

The DCIC seeks to integrate all its educational and research activities by exploring and developing a potentially new trans-discipline, Computational Archival Science (CAS), focused on the computational treatments of archival content. The emergence of CAS follows advances in Computational Social Science, Computational Biology, and Computational Journalism.

For further information about our programs and projects visit our web site at http://dcic.umd.edu. To learn more about CAS, see http://dcicblog.umd.edu/cas. Information about a student-led Data Challenge, which the DCIC is co-sponsoring, can be accessed at http://datachallenge.ischool.umd.edu.


Sohan Shah

Sohan Shah is a Master’s student at the University of Maryland studying Information Management. His focus is on using research and data analytical techniques to make better business decisions. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Ramaiah Institute of Technology, India, and has worked for 4 years at Microsoft as a Consultant and then as a Technical Lead prior to joining the University of Maryland. Sohan is working at the DCIC to find innovative ways of integrating data analytics with archival education. He is the co-author of “Building Open-Source Digital Curation Services and Repositories at Scale” and is working on other DCIC initiatives such as the Legacy of Slavery and Japanese American WWII Camps. Sohan is also the President of the Master of Information Management Student Association and initiated University of Maryland’s annual “Data Challenge,” bringing together hundreds of students from different academic backgrounds and class years to work with industry experts and build innovative solutions from real-world datasets.

Dr. Michael J. Kurtz is Associate Director of the Digital Curation Innovation Center in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. Prior to this he worked at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration for 37 years as a professional archivist, manager, and senior executive, retiring as Assistant Archivist in 2011. He received his doctoral degree in European History from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Dr. Kurtz has published extensively in the fields of American history and archival management. His works, among others, include: “ The Enhanced ‘International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property’ Project (IRP2): A Continuing Case Study” (co-author) in Big Data in the Arts and Humanities: Theory and Practice (forthcoming); “Archival Management and Administration,” in Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences (Third Edition, 2010); Managing Archival and Manuscript Repositories (2004); America and the Return of Nazi Contraband: The Recovery of Europe’s Cultural Treasures (2006, Paperback edition 2009).

Dr. Richard Marciano is a professor in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland and director of the Digital Curation Innovation Center (DCIC).  Prior to that, he conducted research at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) for over a decade with an affiliation in the Division of Social Sciences in the Urban Studies and Planning program.  His research interests center on digital preservation, sustainable archives, cyberinfrastructure, and big data.  He is also the 2017 recipient of the Emmett Leahy Award for achievements in records and information management. With partners from KCL, UBC, TACC, and NARA, he has launched a Computational Archival Science (CAS) initiative to explore the opportunities and challenges of applying computational treatments to archival and cultural content. He holds degrees in Avionics and Electrical Engineering, a Master’s and Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Iowa, and conducted a Postdoc in Computational Geography.