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

February 18th, 2012 · No Comments

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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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Category: Archiving Challenges · New Tools · Skills with a Capital I and T

Digital Preservation at NDSA – Making It Work

August 15th, 2011 · No Comments

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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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Category: Archiving Challenges · Digital Obsolescence · History of Media and Access · New Tools · Preservation · Professional Resources · Skills with a Capital I and T · Social Media

Digital Fragility is Just the Beginning

May 4th, 2011 · No Comments

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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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Category: Archiving Challenges · Digital Obsolescence · Media Obsolescence · Preservation

Fixing Metadata (or Let’s Do it Right the First Time)

March 10th, 2011 · No Comments

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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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Category: Archiving Challenges · Developing A Digital Collection

Is Preservation Cost Prohibitive?

September 8th, 2010 · 2 Comments

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This is a big question for our AMPed Blog. The topic came up in a staff meeting talking about comments we have heard from local archives. When you talk about the costs for archival supplies, HVAC maintenance, staffing, reformatting, yearly examination for any degradation, rotating films, tapes, etc., the budgets can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, easily. Does this add up to one answer, which is pure migration?

The topic also came up roughly on the AMIA listserv early in 2010. Had we as archivists made a horrible error in judgment by focusing on cool storage instead of migration? Though I mentioned that in an earlier blog post, I have to say that the issue has remained on my mind ever since.
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Category: Archiving Challenges · Preservation

History is Big Business

May 19th, 2010 · 1 Comment

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I have been using for the above phrase for many years. I say it with conviction in my voice while making sure to maintain eye contact. I believe it deep in my bones.

Why is the history business such an important issue for me and thousands of archivists across the country? Part of it is the growth in demand over the last 15 years by cable networks to fill their channel with documentary programming. Some of it is the keen interest I personally have in learning about the human condition and learning from those events. Mix that in with years of licensing negotiation and seeing how amazed producers are with what archivists can provide and I know that this is big business.
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Category: Archiving Challenges · Developing A Digital Collection · Licensing and Access · New Tools

Management and Digitization

April 15th, 2010 · No Comments

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As I was working on a workshop about process planning for digitization, I came across this quote by Peter Drucker, ”Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.”

No matter how pleasant you are (or you think that you are) the bottom line is that the funding and reputation of your institution rests on success.

There is a reason that business principles exist. There is a reason that companies that fail to follow these principles also fail. Few managers of digitization projects have business backgrounds. The number one failure seems to be a lack of project management skills.
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Category: Archiving Challenges · Developing A Digital Collection

The Paradigm Shift

February 10th, 2010 · No Comments

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In teaching multimedia archive,s I think about the future of our content constantly. Like a new mother, I fret for its security, growth and health. What is THE answer for our degrading media, emulsions, for our software obsolescence and our equipment falling down around our ears?

Recent discussions on the AMIA listserv brought new energy to this discussion and I wanted to put my spin on this. The subject line was “What’s Not Cool About Cold?” and it solicited some serious discussion about whether we have made a horrible mistake for a generation of archivists and content.

Jim Lindner argues that the imminent demise of tape players is more important in an archivist’s preservation decision than our focus on the imminent degradation of the media itself. The latter being our big decision to place much of our media in cool or cold storage. The group discussion mentioned the fact that many of our players are no longer supported by their manufacturers and the simple math that the lack of machines and the existing wear on their parts will not even cover the playback of the volume of archival tapes awaiting…migration? This hits a deep reality. Have we lost hundreds of thousands of hours of archival motion under our watch? Maybe even millions or billions of hours?
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Category: Archiving Challenges · Media Obsolescence · Preservation

New (Old) Skills – Listening, Analysis and Planning

January 12th, 2010 · No Comments

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I spent the last week writing and editing a book chapter on process management for digitization. My head has been trying to process all that I contemplated while doing such an intensive session.

I think that a lot of process management comes down to skills that we often no longer practice. These oldies but goodies are classics that we need some reminding about. The most important is…LISTENING.

We Twitter, we Facebook and we Blog but we are not necessarily listening to each other. Engaging colleagues in the process of digitization or any other information management process makes a huge difference in creating efficiency. More brains are always better than one!

The next skill is one that many of us are skilled at but do not have time for: analysis.
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Category: Skills with a Capital I and T

Losing Data Meant for Access

December 4th, 2009 · No Comments

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After teaching so many archival and technology classes, I began to realize the incredible depth and breadth of our loss of data. Over the last three decades billions of discs have been created and sold and presumably used. What has happened to these discs? To the data? If even 5% was worth saving for historical purposes, that is still about one and a half million discs to save and migrate. Has that been done?

We all know that the answer is “no.” So that means that we need to look at what is important and what level of effort is necessary to save it. I know that we can not save everything and I know that we would not want to. As Nik Cubrilovic mentioned in a recent Washington Post article entitled “Letting Data Die a Natural Death”: “Not only is a lot of this data not important, but do we really want to keep it? I certainly would not want a full account of everything I did in my youth sitting on a server somewhere. I am also certain that we do not want the record of our as a society time being documented and discovered by future civilizations based on Twitter messages.”
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Category: Digital Obsolescence · Media Obsolescence