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Forget the Paradigm Shift and Try the Collapse of Control (but it’s a good thing)

February 18th, 2012

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In writing, research, lecturing and just plain old working, I see over and over again the need for us not just to educate ourselves about technology, and project management but to remind ourselves that this is “not your Grandfather’s Archive” (with apologies to Oldsmobile aficionados).

In some ways the archives world that I was trained in was more of a warehouse atmosphere. Preservation and scholarship were the goals….and if you get a chance… do a little promotion.

That is a far cry from the reality that television documentaries and technology tools have created today. The archive is the star of more than a few television shows now and the archivist or librarian is the key to the new economy…the world of information.

As gate-keepers of the past, we took that job so seriously (maybe a little too seriously) that we often forgot to have fun with our collections and more importantly our users.

I am happy to report that fun is back in the archives! These technology tools have empowered archivists to be creative with promotion, crowd-sourcing and documentaries.

Many archives realize that the power of these new (often open source) tools have allowed us to creatively reach the masses and show the world how interesting their history is. For many years I have said that “History is not boring, history books are boring!”

The ability to show someone their great-grandmother screaming at a WWI protest march from halfway around the world, or transcribing the price of strawberries in NYC in 1915 (as in NYPL -What’s on the Menu Project) or developing a coalition of the great-grandchildren of a WWII regiment is not connecting people less to history, in fact it is connecting them more to history and to their global cousins with shared interests.

An archivist is supposed to be a good citizen of their community. It is what I and generations of archival professors have taught their students. You must be involved in your community. Today with a global presence potential in every archive, our global audience yearns for connection to our forefathers, our heritage, our hobbies and each other.

This is a really exciting time in the profession but it means some loss of control. Cutter numbers and authority files are going to take a hit in order to engage our communities to our collections. It does not mean that we will not continue to quality check our records but it means more time might be spent on those communication connections with our users. Certainly more time will be spent evaluating community tags than we will spend re-vamping the controlled vocabulary. Some of you might think it is better, some worse, but even in my deepest control freak heart of hearts, I am really enjoying the sense of community that these tools are creating.

Archives are a true part of this global community. Welcome neighbors!

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Digital Archiving: Fun for everyone?

September 23rd, 2011

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How did one institution attract 50,000-plus volunteers to help with an archiving project?

The National Library of Finland is in the process of digitizing its archives so that they are fully searchable on the Internet. Scanning the centuries-old newspapers, journals, and documents isn’t so much the problem as is accurately transcribing the text. OCR (Optical Character Reading) software can only do so much. Standard fonts are easy enough for a computer to identify, but aging print in fancy scripts are more difficult. Obscure language, proper names, and decaying paper also interfere with OCR’s text recognition. In order for the materials to be accurately digitized, every document must then be double-checked by human eyes.

To help with the process, The National Library of Finland teamed up with Finnish technology company Microtask to come up with an innovative solution: make a game of it. Granted, it’s hard to imagine how anything like checking manuscript text against a computer’s digital interpretation could really be fun. But Microtask saw things differently—instead of pages of repetitive work, they broke down each individual word-check into what they (appropriately) call microtasks.
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Digital Preservation at NDSA – Making It Work

August 15th, 2011

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A few weeks ago I was honored to attend the National Digital Stewardship Alliance meeting. The NDSA was planned by the Library of Congress as part of their NDIIP project.  There were more people there than I expected and it was a humbling experience to hear some of the brightest and most creative brains in Digital Preservation speak.

The high volume of information was overwhelming.  I spent more than six hours at the end of the conference compiling a PowerPoint of the important research highlights.   A small sample of this information is included below.

There were many wonderful presentations giving case studies on how institutions used their own creativity to try and enhance the longevity or migratability (new word?) of their digital files.  The amazing work often was done on a shoestring which though unfortunate, also forced a certain level of imagination and invention.

A few examples are:

Jack Brighton, of campus radio station WILL, gave a wonderful presentation on what a small station is doing to make their civil rights collection more accessible.

Kickstarter.com did a great presentation on how they are helping arts projects get funded and we hope that as they branch into community work that digital preservation might fit into that.

The UK Web Archiving project covered some of the complexities and true effort that it takes to try and tackle capturing the online history of its nation.   http://www.webarchive.org.uk/ukwa/

- As of December 2010 – 9 million sites with .uk, probably 1M more

- 10,027 websites archived

- Need skills in Linux, Java, Hadoop, and SOL

5 keys processes to web archiving

- Selection

- Harvesting

- Storage

- Preservation

- Access

http://www.webarchive.org.uk/ukwa/ngram/

 

So after taking in all this good information, what is it that I have left the conference with?

People just like us are doing some wonderful problem solving out there.  There is some potential being unlocked, but there is so much to do.

As I see it the Action Items are:

1)    Greater broadcasting of the successful case studies for migration and open solutions.

2)    Training classes in how to boil this down for each type of format/issue.  The NDSA Outreach group held a session called “Digital Preservation in a Box”.  This is the beginning of standardizing the tools that we need.

3)    Overarching education to information and production professionals, as well as, the general public about the dangers of digital fragility and the need for migration (at the least).

I have mentioned to my classes for years that future anthropologists, sociologists and historians will have little to sift through from the late 20th century.

Some of it is being worked on by archivists now but much is gone.  Let’s keep making progress so that the future of our current history is not lost, like the way of silent films.

More informational tidbits from NDSA:

 

Other Great Projects

—       ThatCamp.org

—       http://www.scola.org/scola/sampledigitalarchive.aspx

NYPL Labs

—     http://search.creativecommons.org/?q=nypl+map+rectifier&sourceid=Mozilla-search

—     http://menus.nypl.org/

Archiving Facebook

Grad student designed Firefox add-on for individual archiving of Fb.

www.Bit.ly/archivefb

Preserving Virtual Worlds

—      www.ideals.illinois.edu/handle/2142/17097

 

Cool Tools

—  http://www.google.com/landing/historypin/

—  http://blogs.yu.edu/cpa/2011/02/23/open-source-video-platforms-kaltura-vs-entermedia/

 

Great Quotes

—    JackBrighton”(DAM) is more like an appliance than an Ecosystem.”

—    Michael Nelson “We need to raise the level of user expectations.”

—    Michael Nelson “In all good computer science functions you solve the problem through indirection.”

—    Wheatley and Frieze “The world does not change one person at a time.  It changes as networks of relationships form among people        who discover they share a common cause and vision of what’s possible.”

—    Tim O’Reilly(?) “Teach preservation as a mindset.  Bake this into the tools.”

 

New Phrases

—    Social Curation

—    Metadata Ecologists

 

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Digital Fragility is Just the Beginning

May 4th, 2011

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There has been much written recently about digital fragility. Researchers and archivists have heard dueling longevity and futuristic projections. In trying to push this dire need without appearing like Chicken Little, I have embarked on serious primary research to expose the sheer volume of the problem. The in-depth article will be coming out in a professional journal within the year. Until then, I felt that I needed to speak up a bit about the need for our activism.

Between my teaching digital archiving courses and my work with clients, this issue has been prevalent in each work day. In fact, while re-processing an archives for a client, a case of 5 ¼” floppy discs were found. No one in-house knew exactly if these were of value, what was on them or even if they were created by the organization. When we offered to open them on a computer with a floppy drive, we were told just to throw them out. This is the fear that archivists are living with. Each time an archivist approaches this obsolete media, the questions come: How many others are out there? How many are being thrown out because it is easier? How many are left? How long do I save them? If I am able to find a player/drive/ etc. will I be open the software that the data is formatted in? Will it even be playable? Are we missing decades of human knowledge? How long will this continue? How can archivists slow down the moving train of media change? Can archivists increase re-formatting awareness? Is reformatting my only option? Where does emulation stand? Who do I call? Who do I write? How do I make a difference in this loss that flies in the face of everything my profession holds dear?
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Fixing Metadata (or Let’s Do it Right the First Time)

March 10th, 2011

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In years of teaching visual indexing and being called in to create metadata schemas, I have seen some crazy attempts at description.

Sometimes we have been involved from the beginning developing thesauri of specialized terms for a collection, more often we are called in to fix existing records.

As I roll up my sleeves to tackle either project, I often wonder why organizations do not know more about what they want.

I come down to the same answer that permeates our profession as a whole. The majority of people do not understand the work that goes into providing quality. In our current era of fast and cheap; people have lost the quality aspect almost completely. When they can not successfully execute an accurate search in their database, then they call us to fix it. I am absolutely happy to do so, but make no mistake, I wish for that collection to have done it right the first time; rather than to have called us after hundreds of hours of wasted work. Quality becomes a feature of importance often only after a failure rather than as a preventative measure.
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The DAM Metadata Disconnect

February 7th, 2011

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After reading some marketing information from a DAM vendor, and working in the field for nearly 20 years, I just needed to vent about how some present their product.

Some DAM system vendors often tout their automated systems as replacements for what they claim is “costly manual tagging”. Yet, after implementing one of these expensive systems, their customers often turn to information professionals for metadata development help, because their end users are unable to find the assets they need in a timely manner. There is an obvious disconnect between full automation versus high-end manual service.
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Your Virtual Front Door: Defining the Use of Social Media for Archives and Libraries: Part V

November 9th, 2010

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Part V: Using Social Media for Outreach and PR, part ii: The Big Why

A couple of weeks ago I ended the post on advocacy with the following:

You might be asking yourself “Why should I do this?” Good question and also the point of this post: At the heart of library/archive advocacy is the active pursuit to continue to influence the community at large to the worth and purpose of the local library or archives.

In last week’s (fairly lengthy) post, I summarized the entire post with one sentence that gets to the heart of the matter:

Engage with your community.

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Your Virtual Front Door: Defining the Use of Social Media for Archives and Libraries: Part IV

November 1st, 2010

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Part IV: Using Social Media for Outreach and PR, part i

Last week, I talked about the difference between advocacy and public relations as well as presented a good base on how to create and use social media as advocacy outlets. Since the steps to create a social media outreach/PR campaign are similar to creating an advocacy campaign, I’ll discuss more on how to use social media effectively to create, maintain and engage with your community.

Because there is so much to cover with this topic, it is divided into two parts, the first of which covers creating a brand, connecting your social networks, engaging your users, and lastly, creating meaningful content. While I give examples to illustrate my points in this week’s post, next week I’ll spend more time on the WHY you should be doing this rather than just creating the approach to doing it.
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Your Virtual Front Door: Defining the Use of Social Media for Archives and Libraries: Part III

October 25th, 2010

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Part III: Using Social Media for Advocacy

When I began to outline this series, my goal was to make sure that each weekly topic flowed into the next so that the current week built upon the previous weeks discussions. As I spent time moving topics around so that each week would (hopefully) flow seamlessly to the next, I kept getting a nagging feeling that something was just not right. Two of my topics, advocacy and public relations/outreach, were the culprits and I finally realized why. The nagging comes in because at first blush, I tend to personally use the words advocacy and public relations pretty interchangeably and I wondered if I did that, it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to believe that others might do so as well. So what is the difference between the two and why are each of them important?
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Your Virtual Front Door: Defining the Use of Social Media for Archives and Libraries: Part II

October 20th, 2010

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Part II: Social Media Simply Explained

When we presented on social media at AMIA last year, we opined that social media could be easily explained by two statements:

  • Social networking is about connecting people with similar interests on a much larger scale.
  • AND

  • It is about conversations.

A year later, I still firmly believe that it really is that simple. As I said last week, the problem, however, is that in the last year there seems to be plethora of presentations, sites, workshops and classes (to name a few) that will push the need for social media in libraries and archives but rarely will define what social media is. One hand, this is great as it gets the word out for the need of using social media as part of a librarians or archivists daily job routine. On the other hand, the pushing of the tool without defining the tool is still causing huge resistance in using that particular tool. Why?
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