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Archiving Challenges

This covers the technological and format challenges that information professionals are facing.

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

An Unsound Future

October 15th, 2010 · 1 Comment

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In an age where music is so easily copied and accessed, it’s hard to imagine that any valuable recordings could ever be lost. But a new study predicts a grim future for millions of recordings across America.

The National Recording Registry was established ten years ago, following the passing of a congressional bill. The purpose of the NRR is to “maintain and preserve sound recordings and collections of sound recordings that are culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant, and for other purposes” (Public Law 104-474; H.R. 4846). Recently, the NRR released a 181-page report, The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: a National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age. This report was the first “comprehensive, national-level study of the state of sound recording preservation ever conducted in the U.S.” 130 years since the invention of the phonograph, it’s about time the subject was addressed.
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Category: Archiving Challenges · Copyright Issues · Digital Obsolescence · Media Obsolescence

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

The Cost of Doing Business

July 21st, 2010 · No Comments

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A recent question posted on the AMP blog, “Is preservation cost-prohibitive?,” made me think about costs related to archives in general. As a former corporate archivist, I am painfully aware of budgets and bidding out work! Now that my shoe is on the other foot, and I am consulting in the field, the issue is even larger for me. When I was the “client” and was requesting bids for work, I (and my coworkers) were always concerned by the process. We knew many vendors were underbidding to get the work and that could pose a financial risk for them if they got the project. We also were forced to consider those bids because there was quite a bit of paperwork to do if the lowest bid was not selected. In the end, we could often work around it by choosing the firm with the most expertise in an area as long as their bid was not too much higher than the lowest one.

It’s easy for a client to forget about the hidden costs of operations related to projects. There are often random emails with questions, monthly or more frequent conference calls, technology testing or review, on-site meetings or visits, etc. All of these items take up staff time – and not just a little bit of it either – it really adds up. I think many clients might be shocked if they realized exactly how much time. Often a fair amount of this time can be billed back as project management time, but only if the client is willing or that category has been built into the project.
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Category: Archiving Challenges · Skills with a Capital I and T

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

An Archivist’s Brand New Hat – New Beginnings for My Family History

May 10th, 2010 · 5 Comments

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Dr. Thomas Merriweather In a national economy in which double-digit unemployment figures travel in the opposite direction from the signs that things are said to be improving and a local economy that would jangle the nerves of the most fiercely optimistic, I am frequently riddled with doubt as to my decision to return to school for the academic qualifications to do something I truly enjoy. It was easy to buy into the notion of getting paid for doing a job for the sheer happiness it brings. I didn’t anticipate that timing is everything and having the know-how, energy and desire to take on an all new career was only half the battle.
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Category: Archiving Challenges · Developing A Digital Collection · Preservation

Developing A Digital Collection: Skill Five: Project Management

May 10th, 2010 · No Comments

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Skill Five: Project Management

Perhaps the most important skill a librarian or archivist must possess for a successful digitization initiative is that of project management. Project management is a complicated endeavor comprised of: planning, budgeting, prioritizing, scheduling, coordinating, communicating, collating, visualizing, selecting, delegating, programming, designing, organizing, overseeing, overhearing, marketing, and sometimes even cheerleading. This list is reminiscent of a song by Bob Dylan or R.E.M., and is very likely incomplete, but each aspect of project management listed above is significant. A good project manager has the ability to see the big picture as clearly as the smallest details of the collection. If this sounds harder than comprehending metadata, rest assured, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) comes through again with excellent advice in A Framework of Guidance for Building Good Digital Collections, the guide mentioned in our first installment, Evaluating the Collection. The success or failure of a digital collection is decided by the quality and effectiveness of its project management.
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Category: Archiving Challenges · Developing A Digital Collection