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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

The DAM Metadata Disconnect

February 7th, 2011 · No Comments

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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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Category: Developing A Digital Collection · New Tools

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

Needs Assessment for Social Networking

May 26th, 2010 · 3 Comments

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In March, Rachael Clark discussed the necessity of completing a needs assessment as one of the important skills used in developing a digital collection. I would definitely agree that it is a vital skill for any information professional. Cliché as it is, one of my go-to phrases is, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” and performing a needs assessment is an essential part of the planning phase for any project. This includes diving into the world of social networking.

The first decision to consider with your team is what kind of social media outlet will be most beneficial. There’s more to the world of social networking than microblogging on Twitter. You can get your professional persona out there with LinkedIn, share attention-grabbing images of your collection using Flickr or post a webinar on YouTube. Consider your needs, speak with people who are fully immersed into the world of social networks and learn from them. There are many options from which to choose. Do a bit of research into what will work best for your organization before you spend too many “hit and miss” hours. Time is money, folks!
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Category: 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

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

When Technology Tools Are in Control of You

November 6th, 2009 · No Comments

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In the last month, I have had to replace a one year old refrigerator, a 30 day old phone, a two week old portable drive and a one-day old server. Technology is not always our friend!

When I first got involved in digitization (15 years ago!), I was sorely disappointed with the inefficiencies and struggles to get output as promised. I teach my students today that the information world is a difference place. We finally have tools that talk to each other, tools that can be modified through menus as well as hard-coding. This is a wonderful world of possibilities.
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Category: New Tools

The Death of Asset Management Systems? (as we knew them)

October 31st, 2009 · No Comments

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When I started 15 years ago, we had some really amazing tools already in asset management. What has evolved after that was really entwined with the 1990s web company expansion and what I have called the “gold rush” mentality. Vendors smelled money. They wanted to sell million dollar systems to big media companies, the Fortune 100 and the government. As the flurry evolved we saw less and less money going into development and more into marketing. As more players came to the party, a very cutthroat mentality took hold.
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Category: Social Media