Archive for April, 2011

In the Student Research Presentations both Suzanna Conrad and Edward Benoit highlighted the need for archival awareness of two often overlooked areas. Suzanna Conrad discussed the state of digital curation for films, while Edward Benoit explored the legal ramifications of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act on archives.

Suzanna Conrad presented An Analysis of Current Film Archiving Practice and Hesitance to Embrace Digital Curation. While film is a critical medium for studying digital heritage, the media of modernity, commercially valuable, and constitutes a unique and threatened media its preservation is largely stuck in analog. The film industry simply does not view digitization as a means of preservation, and current preservation technique relies on the “store and ignore” model of placing analog film stock in environmentally controlled storage areas. While this may be surprising for an industry where digital filming and effects are increasingly common, the 100 year longevity of analog preservation medium vastly exceeds the three to ten year span of digital medium. The lack of a clear preservation strategy for digital films and other born-digital ancillary objects (such as video game characters and animations) highlights the need to encourage industry discussion and interaction. However, even when technical problems can be overcome, legal issues may still need resolution.

Edward Benoit presented Archival Preservation and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act: The Need for Relief. Benoit provided a detailed discussion of the often overlooked aspect of federal copyright law on digitization and duplication efforts. While restrictions are not as severe for non-profit organizations such as many archives, the DMCA can still constitute a legal minefield for archivists unfortunate enough to run afoul of its provisions. The restrictions of the DMCA will likely only become more relevant as anti-duplication software reaches individual users, and format migration becomes increasingly difficult. Benoit stressed that the changing restrictions on different types of material form the crux of an issue which archivists would do well to be aware of, not just for their personal legal protection, but so that they can effectively advocate for federal copyright policy which will benefit archives and their users.

What both of these presentations have in common is that they are ultimately about educating people about the archives. This can be in the form of engaging the film industry in a discussion about matters of digital curation, or informing the federal government on how copyright laws effect archival practice. Both presentations show that in providing education archivists need to engage creators early in the creation of the records, and not neglect the institutions that generate laws governing their use.

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Using What Works: Practical Approaches to Born-Digital Archives discussed archiving personal or organizational born-digital material. While born-digital records can be intimidating, the panel found that the basic tenets of archival practice were still applicable in accessioning, arranging and describing, and providing access to born-digital records.

Ben Goldman of the American Heritage Center discussed accessioning or “ingesting” born-digital records. These records can be accessioned in a manner which is very similar to current practice, beginning with the electronic equivalent of a basic preservation check: running a virus scan. From there basic descriptive metadata about files (name, author, and directory structure for example) can be captured and documentation to ensure authenticity can begin. Storage decisions can then be made regarding the digital materials, and arrangement and description conducted.

Laura Carroll of Emory University discussed the arrangement and description of born-digital documents donated by well known author Salman Rushdie. Even though they were born-digital, the questions Carroll began with should be familiar to archivists: where do these records fall in processing priority, what is their research value, what kind of resources will be given to the project, what is the work plan, and what are the restriction issues? The access decisions shaped arrangement and description, with a thorough review of files being necessary because of those access restrictions. Files were grouped into broad categories, and the release to the public was staggered due to the resources available.

Seth Shaw of Duke University Archives discussed providing access to born-digital records in a practical manner. One of the first issues to address is the legal aspect of digitizing information. While Fair Use can be a legal defense against copyright infringement, a stronger protection would be to write digitization licenses into donor agreements. Even this may not be sufficient in cases such as email, where the donor is often not the original author. Beyond legal considerations, Shaw boils the criteria for access down to three questions: what are you providing access to, what do your users need or expect, and what can you actually do? With projects limited to two of the categories of fast, good, and cheap, Shaw stressed starting small and building incrementally, and not expecting to find a single unified access mechanism for all materials.

Ultimately, the panel discussion was quite encouraging for archivists who might find born-digital records daunting. While technical and software problems may seem different than the difficulties encountered with manuscript or other more well known collection formats, the overall basis of traditional archival accessioning, arrangement and description, and access remain valuable guideposts for dealing with born-digital records.

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The “I Didn’t Know We Had an Archives!” Outreach Successes and Challenges in Corporate Archives highlighted the importance and challenges of outreach in a corporate archives setting. Three archivists shared their experiences in performing outreach, offering valuable advice on how to build a successful archives program that can serve a global institution with a huge number of employees.

Jennifer Johnson, of Cargill, Inc. discussed the importance of five key factors in outreach efforts: flexibility, patience, trying new things, building relationships, and finding a sponsor. While it may sound intimidating to try to co-ordinate all of these activities at once, Johnson stressed that often one activity might lead to another. Having the flexibility to try new things or the patience to wait until the time is right for a project can lead to new relationships, which can lead to new sponsors.

Jamie Martin of Target Corporation discussed the positive and negative aspects of several features of working in a corporate archives. The independence can give an archivist the freedom to try new things, but they may still be limited by corporate policies and rules. Enthusiastic high level support can also mean greater scrutiny, and more input which must be considered when designing projects. Long range planning is necessary, and exhibits must be refreshed or they will become part of the background. Martin has also found that the communication team can be a very useful ally in getting news of the archives’ activities out to the rest of the corporation, and taking the initiative to build a good working relationship with them is critical.

Susan Wakefield of General Mills, Inc. stressed the value of having the archives listed in the main directory of the corporation, where potential patrons could easily spot it when searching for resources. Wakefield experimented with a variety of sizes of history walls, which displayed artifacts and information about the company. These ranged from large displays to smaller walls that could be shipped to distant offices for display. Expanded tours, thank you cards, and highlighting a relevant historical event each week also served to keep the archives in people’s minds.

While all of the presenters are corporate archivists, the lessons and experiences they shared can easily be generalized to nearly any institution. Users and potential users need to be educated about the archives, what it does, and what it can do for them. The needs of the users have to drive this activity, and projects cannot be driven by the archives. Start small and build, and keep identifying new ways that your archives can support the goals and activities of the institution. Ultimately, be your own best advocate, and show your users just how much the archives can do for them and what a valuable resource it can be.

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Wisconsin Oral History Projects in the Making

Troy Reeves, University of Wisconsin-Madison, filling in for chair Barb Sommer, laid the ground rules for the session and provided definitions of terms to be used throughout the session.

The goals of oral histories:

  • Collect
  • Curate
  • Communicate
  • Collaborate

Oral histories “refer to basic, structured collection of spoken, first hand memories recorded in an interview setting.” It is primary source material.

Chuck Lee, Professor of History, director of oral history program, University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, described the oral history program as being university-minded and community minded. They receive some support from the state and an endowment is being built. Partnerships are needed and created, especially those with money.

Wisconsin Environmental Oral History program was extended the project statewide in response to a report that assessed records, especially environmental history. The program did several interviews related to environmental history and wondered who else in the state had similar interviews. With the interviews they had, they digitized and wanted to create more, and make them available on the Web.

John Mann, from the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, described a project for his public history class that involved the Eau Claire Energy Cooperative. The Co-op approached John and asked if his students would do research for 75th anniversary. John dispatched a student to do some preliminary legwork, which included an oral history component. He conducted eight interviews, and then other students continued on. Joe Turney, a student of John, described his role in this Co-op history.

Joe, with the guidance of John and with other resources, including the Oral History Manual, laid the groundwork for the class’ work. Joe assembled a list of possible interviewees, which were suggested by the Co-op, who also helped him get in touch with them. He tried to get varying perspectives and levels of involvement at the Co-op. Joe tried to keep the format the same for the interviews, putting together a checklist to help him conduct the interview. These materials were passed on to the class to help continue the work.

John concluded by saying the project helped tell a complete story, and told the story by the people involved with the Co-op. It also served as a celebratory history, as it did help fill in the gaps and provide different perspectives.

Michael Doylen, archivist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee described the March on Milwaukee Civil Rights; History Digital Collection, in which oral histories were one component.

Existing oral histories and other related materials were used and digitized to help document the civil rights movement in Milwaukee during the 1960s.

Over the course of a year, materials were selected, digitized, and made accessible in ContentDM to tell the story. 2273 documents were scanned, 22 images, 17 oral histories (equaling 33 hours), and 30 news film clips (equaling 2 hours).

On the website, content could be found by format or keyword search. Robust metadata was attached to each object, and for anything with text, optical character recognition was performed, as well as clean up of the results. Educational materials were also included which helped tell the historical background and to put the events into context.

Using oral histories, they made sure to get/understand:

  • Copyright was transferred and owned by UWM
  • Free access and of restrictions
  • Permission to publish and broadcast
  • Contained unique content
  • Good audio quality

The oral histories included both audio and transcripts, with time stamps to help with access. PDF copies of the transcripts were created. The audio had been on cassette tapes, which were digitized and edited using Audacity, converted to wave files, and then MP3 access copies were created. They provided audio streaming to provide some control.

Other access points included a link to an online finding aid, catalog record, and to relevant websites.

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This session was introduced by Chris Prom from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign who asked poignant questions including: (1) How many of the audience members have read papers or heard about how this profession has not made any progress with digital archives? And (2) how many understand the OAIS Reference Diagram?  The first question was greeted with many assenting nods and raised hands, the second with a chuckle.

Before introducing the first speaker, he referenced his recommendations for gaining confidence and skills with handling born-digital materials at his link.

Ben Goldman, American Heritage Center in Laramie, Wyoming
Goldman begins by stating that his intent is to share initial and progressing process at his institution, what decisions were made and how these decisions fulfill some of the best practices being established in the field.  Most of the challenges he’s encountered have to do with aligning what they want to accomplish with established archival workflows.

The speaker states common belief that born-digital items are undercollected, undercounted, undermanaged and inaccessible.  Most of the born-digital materials acquired by the American Heritage Center came from floppy disks, zip disks, CDs and DVDs, which were put in boxes and then ignored.  Rather than refer to digital media as documents, he claims digital media is rather containers of items, and we should think of them as boxes or collections when accessioning.

First the archive attempted to gain control of the digital media and concluded that it was important to develop procedures for born-digital content that still adhere to archival policy.  The speaker also cites difficulty in aligning ideals with other professionals who follow digital preservation initiatives, specifically comparing the idea of “accessioning” vs. “ingest”.

Goldman outlined basic requirements including (1) performing a virus-check, (2) capturing descriptive metadata about files and folders, (3) capturing data about file formats, (4) verifying authenticity (InterPARES can be used as a good starting point for understanding integrity) and using checksums, and (5) beginning documentation that records the management and preservation actions taken over time, including where to deposit the information whether in digital repositories such as Fedora, server storage or on external hard drives.

In practice, the American Heritage Center followed the following process:  Transferred files using Data Accessioned, captured checksums, produced XMLs with metadata.  This process was completed twice for each disk, so that master copies were stored in a dark archive and one was kept available for access.  To conclude, Goldman recommends that you make your born-digital material countable, manageable and accessible and then…iterate, experiment and evolve.

Laura Carroll, Emory University
Carroll gave a background of how her university successfully processed one born-digital collection, the Rushdie Archive.  Three questions she said one should consider before beginning processing included:  (1) Where does this collection fall within your priorities internally? (2) What is the research value of this collection? And (3) what kind of resources will be given to this project?

The university acquired the Salman Rushdie papers in 2006 after a long relationship with the well-known novelist through university lecture series.  Rushdie was intrigued to preserve his digital records and donated four computers and one hard drive for this purpose.  The collection included a substantial amount of paper material (over 100 linear feet).  In the early stages of acquisition, they established restrictions on several of the papers, which shaped the planning and workflow of the project.

Before Carroll could analyze and process the files, a team member accessioned and prepared the data.  A triage was conducted to determine what had been received, including taking an inventory of the media, creating disc images of media, duplicating data, using checksums and harvesting the metadata.  Because of the restrictions, it was necessary to review every single file.  After the data was processed, they started considering access tools.  The final decision was to emulate his computers and provide a searchable database of the files, offering two points of access.   The file structure of some of the files did not need to be modified however Carroll referred to an analog comparison: if we have a box with no organization, we would intervene to provide titles.  Important in this process is to keep track of what we do and make the process transparent.

General advice that Carroll noted was that the application of archival theory and principles may shift to accommodate digital media, but the underpinnings still guide the process.  What we do will not change, just how we do it.  She asserted that we should not panic, and should rely on the foundation that has carried us through to this point.

Seth Shaw, Duke University Archives
Shaw focused on the topic of practical approaches to creating access to born-digital archives.  He posed the question of how your repository can provide reliable access to born digital materials and answered that it depends entirely on the resources available within your specific situation.
Major topics he discussed included issues of copyright and whether or not the materials can be made available online; creating either donor or researcher use agreements to prevent infringement of use; digital rights management (DRM) as a short-term possibility to restrict environments; and issues of what he dubbed “promiscuous access”, i.e. that a collection is available to the whole world rather than a selected group of researchers.

Major topics he discussed included issues of copyright and whether or not the materials can be made available online; creating either donor or researcher use agreements to prevent infringement of use; digital rights management (DRM) as a short-term possibility to restrict environments; and issues of what he dubbed “promiscuous access”, i.e. that a collection is available to the whole world rather than a selected group of researchers.

Major questions that should be considered included (1) what are you providing access to? (2) What do your users need or expect? And (3) what can you actually do? Picking from the criteria of fast, good and cheap is difficult, as most often, you can only select two of these criteria.  He closed by stating that it was difficult to provide a simple access mechanism, so it was important to think back on the three questions mentioned above while deciding where you trade off between good, fast and cheap.

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Open Mic Session

The open mic session is designed for informal presentations by anyone in attendance. It provides an opportunity for archivists to share stories and experiences in their institutions. This years session offered several interesting accounts from a wide range of topics.

Rachael Bussert discussed her experience working on digitizing the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron company records. They operated iron mines, but were also involved in the lumber industry, agriculture, and tourism. The collection consisted of over 70,000 digital images from two records series consisting of annual reports and 235 maps. The project website included social studies lesson plans and instructional blog. The annual reports provide a plethora of information regarding the company’s activities.

Roughly 30 of the maps were too large for the archives’ scanners, however they found a local person who could help. For the best lighting, the maps were laid out in the WNMU-TV studio since it provided even lighting. The maps were then digitally photographed. While not providing the same level of detail as the scanned maps, the digital photographs allowed the maps’ inclusion in the final product. Overall, the project created an interesting digital collection, and a glimpse into the corporate life of CCI. (The project was funded through a grant from the NHPRC) http://cciarchives.wordpress.com

Nebraska U is a collaborative history project for the University of Nebraska. The project collaborated with several faculty members across the campus. Currently is offers all the yearbooks through 1961 online. Students develop parts of the website as part of courses across campus, each researching/writing on an aspect of Nebraska University history. Not only does this build the website, it introduces more students to the archive and encourages its use. Originally, the website was developed in TEI, however many students were too focused on trying to get the technology work, rather than enjoying the historical research. In response, the project switched to Mecca, an open source platform.

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This session has a different format than any of the other lecture series at the conference, as participants split into three groups to discuss the speakers’ projects.  The format is interesting as it allows the audience to pose more questions and participate actively in discussion.  The session is split into three sections:  in the first section, participants split into the three groups.  After 25 minutes the participants have the option of sitting in on another group.  After the second session, one elected scribe from each group summarizes the discussion.  I took part in the Knowledge Transfer session and summarized for that group.

Knowledge Transfer – Institutional Memory with Nancy Richey, Suellyn Lathrop, Sue Lynn McDaniel from Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green
The topic of Knowledge Transfer and Institutional Memory started when one of the speakers found a photograph of a dog in a map case and one in the team knew that the dog belonged to a prior faculty member.  This made them realize how easily they could lose institutional knowledge due to retirement or departmental changes.

Nancy, Suellyn and Sue Lynn introduced the business concept of “knowledge management” defined as collection and preservation of the history, procedures, undertakings, etc. of an institution.   In an academic library this refers to the history of the university and how the library played a part, changes to the collection, why choices were made, how collection are created, stored, de-accessioned, changed or discarded over time.

Due to complete turnover of staff due to retirement and staff changes, procedures from past staff members were lost.  Many items were without labels, or unique terms were on the card, and it was important to learn from those who were leaving.  The “tyranny of the urgent” had left little time to take care of these kinds of important knowledge.  They decided to conduct a knowledge audit and to map out knowledge needs, inventory of who has what kind of knowledge, how it flows or should flow from group to group and break down communication barriers.

After this introduction, the discussion was opened to the audience so that we could share our ideas and challenges in this regard.  Some of the following topics were discussed:
– Need to weed out the bad parts of knowledge transfer, i.e. issues with coworkers and management, bad processes, gossip, etc.
– Consider using a wiki or creating a manual to enable knowledge transfer
– Archivists and librarians are learning to work together
– Need for knowledge transfer when someone transfers departments, not just when they leave
– Creating shared access to sources, i.e. putting shared documents on shared drives
– Reducing the places you need to look for collections. Sue Lynn gave a specific example about putting things in the OPAC or PastPerfect and also creating aids to find that information
– What do you teach new staff:  Encourage them to find their own style and path, important to have willingness to communicate and willingness to change.  Access is becoming more powerful than knowledge.
– Learn to adjust when dealing with difficult people
– Donor relations:  How to deal with donors and transferring knowledge regarding dealing with donors, should you document how you deal with donors
– Storytelling as a means of transferring knowledge
– Mentoring as a means of transferring knowledge
– How do you pull information from those you don’t work with personally?  5-minute stand up meetings, small receptions to invite other departments in, coffee breaks, informal meetings, etc.   Different buildings can isolate departments so management may need to do some proactive cross-training.
– Make a Facebook page to share what’s happening
– Reporting on sessions from conferences when you return to your organization so potential ideas can be implemented

Processing Music Collections with Christina Prucha from the American Choral Directors Association, Jill Flowers from University of Oklahoma and Robin Guthrie from St. Gregory’s University
The American Choral Directors Association had a goal to promote good choral conducting and had been collecting for over 30 years with a part-time librarian.  The collection was not organized, at one point they moved to a new building and 800 linear feet of boxes and choral material needed to be processed.  They received a grant to get control of the collection using Archivists’ Toolkit and to create finding aids. Eighteen finding aids were created for eighteen collections within fifteen months.  The collections development policy was to document the history of choral directors, including their professional and personal lives.

The collection was divided into two main parts: donated collections including personal papers of choir directors and organization documents including administrative records.  Personal collections were more challenging to process as they were not as organized.  Folders were scanned to determine content in the folders, however they couldn’t go very deep into the folder due to the grant project restrictions.  Some re-foldering occurred where appropriate.  Collections were divided according to those that had notes and didn’t have notes, as the prior might be very interesting for some scholars.  Non-annotated scores were kept with their collections of origin.  Per grant restrictions they were permitted to create a general description of the entire collection.  Donations were accepted and were only pursued actively early in the process as they already had enough material to manage.  Nothing could be discarded according to the grant.

Some learning acquired during the project included discovering the importance of using a controlled vocabulary, incorporating standardization and the trouble of manually correcting fields later in the process.  There were some pitfalls due to the minimal processing restrictions, i.e. classifying was not as simple and they were not aware when something went missing.  Some digitization was possible with cassette and video tapes.  The team had interlocking strengths that made their project successful including different skills in IT, organization, music and language.

Women in Spirit, Catholic Sisters in America Exhibit with Deanna Carr, Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Dubuque, Iowa and Lois Hoh, Archives of Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa in Sinsinawa, Wisconsin

The national exhibit of Women in Spirit started at the Smithsonian and twelve different repositories in the upper Mississippi river area decided to include a local component.  It was determined that the local component needed to be seamless from the national traveling component.  This seamlessness was achieved by closely reviewing the website.  Some challenges were faced when donors brought in items, which the individual donor was excited about, but may not have been as suited for the exhibition as other objects.

The goal of the exhibition was to display the contributions of Catholic women to American history with a concentration on the history aspect, not the religious aspect.  The river was used as a source to tie items together, and early in the project they decided to focus on one single story related to the river and the concept.  They discovered the importance of being honest, either in history or in an exhibit, even when this truth may reveal the darker sides of your institution or group.  This concept may be challenging for many, especially those in universities.

The national exhibit times can be found on the website, and the national collection may come to your town.  Additionally a documentary airing in the fall as well as the ongoing website should make the national collection accessible to more people.

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