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Digital Fragility is Just the Beginning

May 4th, 2011 · No Comments


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


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

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

October 11th, 2010 · 1 Comment


Part I: Introduction

A conversation I seem to have a lot these days is discussing the use and instruction of social media, specifically for archival and library institutions. One particular topic that I keep coming back to over and over again in these conversations is that there is a huge push for institutions to use social media, with this push intensified by conferences and professional organizations (to name a few outlets). These outlets heavily advertise posters, panels and classes (to name a few methods) that teach professionals the hows of social media and networking with specific illustration of the more popular social media tools without really explaining the whys.

This in and of itself is not a bad thing. Last winter, Alexis Braun Marks, Kim Schroeder and I presented at AMIA‘s yearly conference on this very subject. Our topic, “When Are New Technologies For You?” was an attempt to give a general overview of what social media is and why it should be used while illustrating a few of the big players in the social networking world. Our audience poll at the beginning of our presentation only enforced what we knew from our research: Most institutions are desperate to get on the social media bandwagon and know that they should, but they have no idea WHY they should or how to go about doing it. Then what happens is that many institutions end up doing one of two things: they join every social network under the sun and then forget about it or they just ignore the siren call of social media in the first place, artificially secure that they don’t need it in the first place.

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Category: Social Media · Virtual Front Door

The Paradigm Shift

February 10th, 2010 · No Comments


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

The Quest for IT

October 30th, 2009 · No Comments


Oh, I get it. “IT” – of course, the acronym for Information Technology. The name of the computer departments where I used to work. The place where all the “computer guys,” as I fondly referred to them, were busy working their techie magic.

However, when it comes to this particular blog format, a resource for archivists and librarians, “IT” takes on different connotations. What occurs to me is this concept, the quest for high-tech answers to make all our jobs, nay, our lives, easier and cooler, perhaps that is it. Having been teased about how uncool librarians and archivists are (by those not in the profession, natch), it is nice to be able to talk knowledgeably about computer use and social networking applications. It almost proves we are cool.

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Category: What is IT?

What is “IT”?

October 29th, 2009 · No Comments


Database searching, the Internet, websites, email, blogs, social networking here there and everywhere.

What is it that we are seeking?

The leap that we had thought that we took into information technology is just a step. No giant leap, no crevasse to reach, no earth shattering change yet. The leap was a baby step to the next baby step to the next.

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Category: What is IT?

Stability of Formats

October 27th, 2009 · No Comments


  • Consider your needs.
  • Don’t be an early adopter.
  • Investigate.
  • Check the reputation.
  • Consider your options.

Adobe-Acrobat-16x16How To Choose A Stable File Format

Archivists have special needs when it comes to choosing a file format for storage. We have all heard of or endured the nightmares of file format obsolescence. There are no guarantees when it comes to file format longevity, but here are some tips to help you choose a file format that stands a chance of still being readable in a few years.

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Category: Digital Obsolescence