Interview conducted with Annalise Berdini in May 2019 by Hannah Silverman and Tamar Zeffren
This is the eighth post in a new series of conversations between emerging professionals and archivists actively working with digital materials.
Annalise Berdini is the Digital Archivist at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University, a position she has held since January 2018. She is responsible for the ongoing management of the University Archives Digital Curation Program, as well as managing a collection of web archives and assisting with reference services.
Annalise’s first post-graduate school position was as a manuscripts and archives processor at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). While she was working at UCSD, universities and archives were slowly starting to see the need for a dedicated digital archivist position. When the Special Collections department at UCSD created their first digital archivist position, Annalise applied and got the job. She explains that a good deal of her work there, and at Princeton, is graciously supported by a community of digital archivists solving similar challenges in other institutions.
As Annalise has now held a digital archivist role at two different institutions, both universities, we were interested to hear her perspectives on how colleagues and researchers have understood – or misunderstood – her role. “Because I have digital in my job title,” she noted, “people interpret that in a lot of very wide and broad ways. Really digital archives is still an emerging field…there are so many questions to answer, and it’s fun to investigate that aspect of the field.”
Given prevailing concerns among institutional archives about preserving and processing legacy media, we were keenly interested in hearing Annalise’s insights about securing stakeholder buy-in to develop a digital archives program.
“It’s a struggle everywhere,” she acknowledges. Presently, Princeton’s efforts to build up a more robust digital preservation program have led the University to a partnership with a UK-based company called Arkivum, which offers digital preservation, storage, maintenance, auditing and reporting modules and has the capacity to incorporate services from Archivematica and create a customized digital storage solution for Princeton.
“We’ve been lucky here [at Mudd]. We’re getting this great system. There is buy-in and there seems to be a pretty strong push right now. For us, the most compelling argument we’ve had is that we are mandated to collect student materials and student records that will not exist anywhere else unless we take them. The school has to keep those records, there’s not an option. Emphasizing how easily that content could be lost without a proper digital preservation system in place was very compelling to people who weren’t necessarily aware of the fact that hard drives sitting on a shelf are really not acceptable storage choices and options.”
Annalise has also found that deploying some compelling statistics can aid in building awareness around digital archives needs. In discussions about how rapidly materials can degrade, Annalise likes to cite a 2013 Western Archives article, “Capturing and Processing Born-Digital Files in the STOP AIDS Project Records,” which showcases findings that out of a vast collection of optical storage media, “only 10% of these hundreds of DVDs were really able to be recovered, whereas, strangely, a lot of the floppy disks were better and easier to recover…I think emphasizing how fragile digital content is [can help people understand] how easily it will corrupt without you even knowing it.”
Equally as important to generating momentum for such programs are the direct relationships Annalise cultivates with colleagues, within and without the archives. “My boss was really instrumental in the process, and the head of library IT helped me navigate getting approvals from the University as a whole and the University IT department.”
The complex process of sustaining and innovating a digital archives infrastructure provides ongoing opportunities for Annalise to “solve puzzles” and to unite colleagues in confronting the challenges of documenting and preserving born-digital heritage: “I have focused on trying to find one person who is maybe a level above me and to connect with them and then hopefully build up a network within my institution to build some groundswell.”
Hannah Silverman and Tamar Zeffren both work at JDC Archives. Tamar is the Archival Collections Manager. Hannah is the Digitization Project Specialist and also works independently as a photo archivist. Both received SAA’s DAS certification.