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.

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Teaching Personal Digital Archiving through Community Digitization

By Maggie Schreiner

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

Queens Memory is an outreach-based community archiving program of the Queens Library and Queens College, CUNY that collects and makes accessible oral histories, photographs, and other personal records documenting contemporary life in the borough of Queens in New York City. Queens Memory hosts public scanning events where community members can have their photographs, documents and memorabilia digitized and added to the Queens Memory digital collections. Participants leave the events with both their original material and a flash drive of digital surrogates created during the event. The flash drive is the most tangible outcome of their participation in Queens Memory. However, many of donors do not have the necessary digital literacy skills for the flash drive to be a meaningful takeaway from the event. In fact, some donors do not know what a flash drive is, or how to connect it to a computer.

Queens Memory community digitization event in Forest Hills.
Queens Memory community digitization event in Forest Hills.

It was apparent that Queens Memory needed to incorporate digital literacy education, and personal digital archiving (PDA) was a natural fit for the community scanning events. Over the course of several months in 2015-2016, the Queens Memory team developed several teaching tools, iterating from a simple handout, to a brochure, then a two-hour digitization training.

 

“What’s on My Thumb Drive?” Handout

The first tool Queens Memory developed to integrate PDA education into the community scanning events was a simple handout explaining what files are on the flash drives that donors receive. The Queens Memory team provides donors with both TIFF and JPEG versions of each digital surrogate they create. The small handout, given with the flash drive, explains what types of files are on the flash drive, and suggests how each file type is best used. Although this information is very simple, it gives participants a starting place for understanding the digital material on their flash drives, and potentially also on their home computers.

Small handout explaining contents of Queens Memory thumb drive.
Small handout explaining contents of Queens Memory thumb drive.

“Preserving Your Digital Memories” Brochure

Building on this simple handout, Queens Memory staff created a brochure to give participants a more comprehensive resource to learn how to care for both the digital surrogates created during the community scanning events, as well as any digital files donors may already have. The brochure attempted to balance accessibility with robust information and professional standards. In creating the text for the brochure, unnecessary technical language was avoided, and in retrospect, accessible language could have been emphasized even more.

The brochure begins with an overview of the types of digital content that people might have, and how that material is uniquely fragile. The main threats to the longevity of digital material are outlined, including format obsolescence and the failure of computers and hard drives. The brochure then introduces the idea that digital content requires care, and provides a step-by-step guide for digital archiving.

Centerfold of Queens Memory Personal Digital Archiving brochure.
Centerfold of Queens Memory Personal Digital Archiving brochure.

 

Digitization Training Sessions

Another way that Queens Memory shares this information with community members is through more in-depth digitization trainings. The trainings focus on the digitization process and workflow, and include technical explanations of resolution, bit-depth, color space, compression and file format. Although Queens Memory provides a list of technical standards that are both professional and responsive to the reality of the situation and resources available, it is also very important for participants to learn how and why to choose particular standards and settings. When community members learn about the technology behind the process of digitization, they are empowered to make their own decisions about best practices as well as apply this knowledge to other scenarios. Additionally, this portion of the training proved to be a great opportunity to talk about the historical value of the collections, and how others might interact with these materials in the future.

Breezy Point Historical Society at a digitization training with Queens Memory.
Breezy Point Historical Society at a digitization training with Queens Memory.

The PDA teaching tools employed by Queens Memory at community scanning events and digitization trainings extend the reach of the program’s community archiving focus. As the historical record becomes increasingly born-digital, it is imperative that Queens Memory donors gain the skills and knowledge to become stewards of the digital content that documents life in the borough of Queens, NY.


This post is an edited version of a book chapter originally written with Natalie Milbrodt. Read the full chapter “Digitizing Memories and Teaching Digital Literacy in Queens, NY” in The Complete Guide to Personal Digital Archiving, edited by Brianna Marshall.

Headshot of Maggie Schreiner

Maggie Schreiner is a Project Archivist at New York University. Previously, she was the Outreach Coordinator for Queens Memory and member of the Culture in Transit team. She holds an MA in Archives and Public History from New York University.

 

Digital History Station at the Capital Area District Libraries

by Heidi Butler

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

Inspired by the DC Public Library’s Memory Lab, the Brooklyn and Queens Public Libraries’ Culture in Transit Project, and the Kalamazoo Public Library’s Hub, in 2016 the Capital Area District Libraries (CADL) launched a pilot Digital History Station. This workstation differs from our standard patron computers in that it has many advanced capabilities for working with both old and new media. Patrons can use it to read data off older disk media, convert cassette audio or VHS to digital formats, or create new content. The station also allows for editing with a suite of programs and tools.

Digital History Station
The Digital History Station in CADL’s Local History Room. Photo by Heidi Butler.
Sanus Rack
The Digital History Station component rack, with video and audio decks, and storage for all sorts of card readers, recording devices, transparency viewers, cleaning tools, and other gear. Photo by Heidi Butler.

Hardware includes an iMac, an Epson v700 scanner, a Toshiba VHS-DVD deck with an Elgato video capture device, a Tascam cassette-CD deck, and more. For digitizing and editing, we provide the full Adobe Creative Cloud suite, as well as SilverFast 8 for scanning, and the standard iLife Mac programs. In 2018 we added Final Cut Pro to our software offerings. We have a Canon Rebel T6i camera with various lenses, a multifunction tripod, a Polaroid 3D photography cube for photographing objects or creating video, and a Zoom H2Next digital audio recorder. Due to demand, we also recently placed a Marantz cassette recorder into our Library of Things circulating collection. We are beginning to build a small collection of obsolete equipment such as mini-DV camcorders to facilitate more access to older materials.

The Digital History Station has several internal benefits as well. When it’s not in use by patrons, we are able to use it to access archival material in the library’s Local History collections or convert it to digital formats. Because Local History is a part of CADL’s Outreach department, we collaborate with coworkers on things like 3D photography for Etsy/eBay how-to classes, or workshops for seniors on personal digital archiving. We also take the handheld digital recorder and camera to family library events and record brief oral histories. Finally, we have conversations with every Digital History patron about what they are working on to determine if a copy of their materials would be a suitable addition the Local History collections. This has been beneficial as we continue building a collection of locally produced films and music. Recent accessions include three hip hop albums by Lansing artists, and several community theater productions on video from the community of Stockbridge, Michigan.

We ask patrons to complete an application to use the station, talk through their projects to be sure we can accommodate what they wish to do, and then schedule their visits in blocks of up to three hours at a time. Local History staff are not experts in everything the station offers, but we have identified colleagues elsewhere in the CADL system with relevant skills who can help when needed. We also recommend the library’s subscription to Lynda.com to patrons who want to build their knowledge of various digital practices. As of early 2018, the demand for the Digital History Station is moderate but expanding.


IMG-6448
Heidi Butler (selfie)

Heidi Butler is the Local History Specialist at CADL. She previously served as archivist at Zayed University (Dubai, United Arab Emirates), Kalamazoo College (Mich.), Rush University Medical Center (Chicago, Ill.), and the Wichita Public Library (Kans.). She received her MSLS from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2000.

 

Iterative Collaboration at LC Labs

by Jaime Mears

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

Four women around a computer, showing the LC Labs homepage
The LC Labs Team – Abigail Potter, Jaime Mears, Meghan Ferriter, Kate Zwaard (left to right)

The LC Labs team works to increase the impact of Library of Congress digital collections. This includes not only the 2,500,000+ items available on loc.gov, but also on-site only content and derivative content, such as our 25 million MARC records. We want to increase the variety of ways users engage with our content, and we get there through experimenting and collaboration, ideally setting up feedback loops whereby the work of our Library of Congress colleagues and our users can inform each other. From hands-on approaches such as crowdsourcing and tutorials for using our loc.gov API, to more traditional avenues into the content such as podcasts, blog posts and works of art, we work with folks to interpret our collections in transformative ways for broader audiences.

Man in front of filing cabinets looks through Stereoscope
Innovator-in-Residence Jer Thorp visits the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs division

Our Innovator in Residence program places an individual from three months to a year with Library of Congress staff and collections to create something inspiring for the public domain. The data artist Jer Thorp is our current innovator, and it’s been a blast over the last couple months showing him what we love about this place. As a part of his residency, Jer is producing a podcast called “Artist in the Archive,” exploring both stories found in our content and the story of the content itself – how it gets here, how it’s maintained, enriched, shared, and listeners get to meet the people doing the work! He’s also exploring Library of Congress data sets (such as using network analysis to identify polymaths in our MARC records), and will create a capstone work.

congressionalchallengeInspired by the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Chronicling America Data Challenge and the excellent work we see coming from the data journalism field to make data meaningful, we are running a Congressional Data Challenge in partnership with the Congressional Research Service. This competition asks participants to leverage legislative data sets on Congress.gov and other platforms to develop digital projects that analyze, interpret or share congressional data in user-friendly ways. Anyone can apply, and we’re even awarding $5000 for the first prize, and $1000 for the best high school class entry! We’ll also work with the winners post-challenge to host their product on our labs site.

Piloting applications with the public is our most ambitious effort at collaboration to date. Right now, we’re running a crowdsourcing application built on Scribe called Beyond Words, where website visitors can identify, transcribe, or validate images from WWI era historic newspapers in our Chronicling America collection. The beauty of this application is that it also generates a viewable gallery of these images and a public domain data set for download and use in classrooms, research, or perhaps generating further applications. Not only do members of the public contribute to the gallery and data set (we’ve had 2240 volunteers so far and 685 completed images),  but the data we gather from feedback and metrics from Beyond Words users inform application updates and the design of our upcoming transcription platform (stay tuned!).

Events allow us to create dialogues around issues we care about, widen our network of peers, and work closely with new partners. For the past two years, we’ve hosted a Collections as Data annual symposium investigating the computational readiness, impact, and ethics of library content served as data sets.  Upcoming events include leading the local planning committee for Code4Lib 2018 and co-hosting the 2018 International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) Conference with the Smithsonian and Folger Shakespeare Library.

To see more of what we’re up to, go to our site at labs.loc.gov and follow us on Twitter @LC-Labs. Let’s work together!


Jaime Mears jame@loc.govJaime Mears is an Innovation Specialist with the National Digital Initiatives Division at the Library of Congress. She is a former National Digital Stewardship Resident and holds an MLS from the University of Maryland.

Call for Contributions: Collaborating Beyond the Archival Profession

The work of archivists is highly collaborative in nature. While the need for and benefits of collaboration are widely recognized, the practice of collaboration can be, well, complicated.

This year’s ARCHIVES 2017 program featured a number of sessions on collaboration: archivists collaborating with users, Indigenous communities, secondary school teachers, etc. We would like to continue that conversation in a series of posts that cover the practical issues that arise when collaborating with others outside of the archival profession at any stage of the archival enterprise. Give us your stories about working with technologists, videogame enthusiasts, artists, musicians, activists, or anyone else with whom you find yourself collaborating!

A few potential topics and themes for posts:

  • Posts written by non-traditional archivists or others working to preserve heritage materials outside of traditional archival repositories
  • Posts co-written by archivists and collaborators
  • Tips for translating archive jargon, and suggestions for working with others in general
  • Incorporating researcher feedback into archival work
  • The role of empathy in digital archives practice

Writing for bloggERS! Collaborating Beyond the Archival Profession series

  • We encourage visual representations: Posts can include or largely consist of comics, flowcharts, a series of memes, etc!
  • Written content should be 600-800 words in length
  • 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 November, so let us know if you are interested in contributing by sending an email to ers.mailer.blog@gmail.com!