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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 Archiving: Fun for everyone?

September 23rd, 2011 · No Comments

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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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Category: Developing A Digital Collection · New Tools

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

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

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

Documenting the American South

June 25th, 2010 · 1 Comment

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To say those from the South are proud of their heritage is putting it mildly. Every year dozens if not hundreds of groups, towns and culture centers celebrate some aspect of Southern life from Civil War reenactments to living history villages to a wide array of festivals honoring everything from fruit and food to music and specialty local events. 1

To help commemorate the South’s (and also America’s) illustrious background and to give a voice to the Southern perspective, the University of North Carolina has put together a digital initiative of primary and secondary sources on the Internet. Since 2004, Documenting the American South has been the premier location for education and research materials on Southern life not just on the Internet, but also in the world. The fourteen thematic collections offer wide range of digital materials that includes books, diaries, posters, artifacts, letters, oral history interviews, and songs. This vibrant digital collection consists of numerous large print, photograph and rare materials collections made possible by Southern Historical Collection, the North Carolina Collection, UNC’s Rare Book Collectionand the Davis Library.
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Category: Friday Fun Site

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

Archiving Social Networking Sites: Why?

May 7th, 2010 · No Comments

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Earlier this month, the Library of Congress announced that it would house every “tweet” ever posted on Twitter. Every 140-character-or-less blurb on the site is now part of the vast LoC archives. This got me thinking: what are the issues at hand in archiving social networking sites? And why is it important?

Recently, while cleaning out my apartment, I found a relic of primitive social networking—a printed-out Facebook message from 2005. Nostalgia instantly struck. Five years ago, Facebook was [thefacebook], with a much simpler interface. A toolbar on the left listed the humble features of the relatively new site: My Profile, My Groups, My Friends, My Away Messages. Clearly, Facebook was trying to emulate MySpace —which was then by far the preferred means of social networking.
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Category: Archiving Challenges · Digital Obsolescence · New Tools · Social Media

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