Archive for August, 2011


SAA Days 4 & 5: e-records, metrics, collaboration

Friday in Chicago started with coffee with Christian Dupont from Atlas Systems, followed by Session 302: “Practical Approaches to Born-Digital Records: What Works Today.” The session was packed…standing-room only (some archivists quipped that we must have broken fire codes with the number of people sitting on the floor)! Chris Prom from U Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, moderated the excellent panel on practical solutions to dealing with born-digital archival collections. Suzanne Belovari of Tufts referred to the AIMS project (which sponsored the workshop I attended on Tuesday) and the Personal Archives in Digital Media (paradigm) project, which offers an excellent “Workbook on digital private papers” and “Guidelines for creators of personal archives.” She also referenced the research of Catherine Marshall of the Center for the Study of Digital Libraries at Texas A&M, who has posted her research and papers regarding personal digital archives on her website. All of the speakers referred to Chris Prom’s Practical E-Records blog, which includes lots of guidelines and tools for archivists to deal with born digital material.

Ben Goldman of U Wyoming, who wrote an excellent piece in RB&M entitled “Bridging the Gap: Taking Practical Steps Toward Managing Born-Digital Collections in Manuscript Repositories,” talked about basic steps for dealing with electronic records, including network storage, virus checking, format information, generating checksums, and capturing descriptive metadata. He uses Enterprise Checker for virus checking, Duke DataAccessioner to generate checksums, and a Word doc or spreadsheet to track actions taken for individual files. Melissa Salrin of U Illinois, Urbana-Champaign spoke about her use of a program called Firefly to detect social security numbers in files, TreeSize Pro to identify file types, and a process through which she ensures that the files are read-only when moved. She urged the audience to remember to document every step of the transfer process, and that “people use and create files electronically as inefficiently as analog.” Laura Carroll, formerly of Emory, talked about the famous Salman Rushdie digital archives, noting that donor restrictions are what helped shape their workflow for dealing with Rushdie’s born digital material. The material is now available on a secure Fedora repository. Seth Shaw from Duke spoke about DataAccessioner (see previous posts) but mostly spoke eloquently in what promises to be an historic speech about the need to “do something, even if it isn’t perfect.”

After lunch, I attended Session 410: “The Archivists’ Toolkit: Innovative Uses and Collaborations. The session highlighted interesting collaborations and experiments with AT, and the most interesting was by Adrianna Del Collo of the Met, who found a way to convert folder-level inventories into XML for import into AT. Following the session, I was invited last-minute to a meeting of the “Processing Metrics Collaborative,” led by Emily Novak Gustainis of Harvard. The small group included two brief presentations by Emily Walters of NC State and Adrienne Pruitt of the Free Library of Philadelphia, both of whom have experimented with Gustainis’ Processing Metrics Database, which is an exciting tool to help archivists track statistical information about archival processing timing and costs. Walters also mentioned NC State’s new tool called Steady, which allows archivists to take container list spreadsheets and easily convert them into XML stub documents for easy import into AT. Walters used the PMD for tracking supply cost and time tracking, while Pruitt used the database to help with grant applications. Everyone noted that metrics should be used to compare collections, processing levels, and collection needs, taking special care to note that metrics should NOT be used to compare people. The average processing rate at NC State for their architectural material was 4 linear feet per hour, while it was 2 linear feet per hour for folder lists at Princeton (as noted by meeting participant Christie Petersen).

On Saturday morning I woke up early to prepare for my session, Session 503: “Exposing Hidden Collections Through Consortia and Collaboration.” I was honored and proud to chair the session with distinguished speakers Holly Mengel of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries, Nick Graham of the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, and Sherri Berger of the California Digital Library. The panelists defined and explored the exposure of hidden collections, from local/practical projects to regional/service-based projects. Each spoke about levels of “hidden-ness,” and the decisionmaking process of choosing partners and service recipients. It was a joy to listen to and facilitate presentations by archivists with such inspirational projects.

After my session, I attended Session 605: “Acquiring Organizational Records in a Social Media World: Documentation Strategies in the Facebook Era.” The focus on documenting student groups is very appealing, since documenting student life is one of the greatest challenges for university archivists. Most of the speakers recommended web archiving for twitter and facebook, which were not new ideas to me. However, Jackie Esposito of Penn State suggested a new strategy for documenting student organizations, which focuses on capture/recapture of social media sites and direct conversations with student groups, including the requirement that every group have a student archivist or historian. Jackie taught an “Archives 101” class to these students during the week after 7 pm early in the fall, and made sure to follow up with student groups before graduation.

After lunch, I went to Session 702: “Return on Investment: Metadata, Metrics, and Management.” All I can say about the session is…wow. Joyce Chapman of TRLN (formerly an NC State Library Fellow) spoke about her research into ROI (return on investment) for manual metadata enhancement and a project to understand researcher expectations of finding aids. The first project addressed the challenge of measuring value in a nonprofit (which cannot measure value via sales like for-profit organizations) through A/B testing of enhancements made to photographic metadata by cataloging staff. Her testing found that page views for enhanced metadata records were quadruple those of unenhanced records, a staggering statistic. Web analytics found that 28% of search strings for their photographs included names, which were only added to enhanced records. In terms of cataloger time, their goal was 5 minutes per image but the average was 7 minutes of metadata work per image. Her project documentation is available online. In her other study, she did a study of discovery success within finding aids by academic researchers using behavior, perception, and rank information. In order from most to least useful for researchers were: collection inventory, abstract, subjects, scope and contents, and biography/history. The abstract was looked at first in 60% of user tests. Users did not know the difference between abstract and scope and contents notes; in fact, 64% of users did not even read the scope at all after reading the abstract! Researchers explained that their reason for ignoring the biography/history note was a lack of trust in the information, since biographies/histories do not tend to include footnotes and the notes are impossible to cite.

Emily Novak Gustainis from Harvard talked about her processing metrics database, as mentioned in the paragraph about the “Processing Metrics Collaborative” session. Her reasoning behind metrics was simple: it is hard to change something until you know what you are doing. Her database tracks 38 aspects of archival processing, including timing and processing levels. She repeated that you cannot compare people, only collections; however, an employee report showed that a permanent processing archivist was spending only 20% of his time processing, so her team was able to use this information to better leverage staff responsibilities to respond to this information.

Adrian Turner from the California Digital Library talked about the Uncovering California Environmental Collections (UCEC) project, a CLIR-funded grant project to help process environmental collections across the state. While metrics were not built into the project, the group thought that it would be beneficial for the project. In another project, the UC Next Generation Technical Services initiative found 71000 feet in backlogs, and developed tactics for collection-level records in EAD and Archivists’ Toolkit using minimal processing techniques. Through info gathering in a Google doc spreadsheet, they found no discernable difference between date ranges, personal papers, and record groups processed through their project. They found processing rates of 1 linear foot per hour for series level arrangement and description and 4-6 linear feet per hour for folder level arrangement and description. He recommended formally incorporating metrics into project plans and creating a shared methodology for processing levels.

I had to head out for Midway before Q&A started to get on the train in time for my return flight, which thankfully wasn’t canceled from Hurricane Irene. As the train passed through Chicago, I found myself thinking about the energizing and inspiring the projects, tools, and theory that comes from attending SAA…and how much I look forward to SAA 2012.

(Cross posted to ZSR Professional Development blog.)


SAA Days 2 & 3: assessment, copyright, conversation

I started Wednesday with a birthday breakfast with a friend from college, then lunch with a former mentor, followed by roundtable meetings. I focused on the Archivists’ Toolkit / Archon Roundtable meeting, which is always a big draw for archivists interested in new developments with the software programs. Perhaps the biggest news came from Merilee Proffitt of OCLC, who announced that ArchiveGrid discovery interface for finding aids has been updated and will be freely available (no longer subscription based) for users seeking archival collections online. A demo of the updated interface, to be released soon, was available in the Exhibit Hall. In addition, Jennifer Waxman and Nathan Stevens described their digital object workflow plug-in for Archivists’ Toolkit to help archivists avoid cut-and-paste of digital object information. Their plugin is available online and allows archivists to map persistent identifiers to files in digital repositories, auto-create digital object handles, create tab-delimited work orders, and create a workflow from the rapid entry dropdown in AT.

On Thursday, I attended Session 109: “Engaged! Innovative Engagement and Outreach and Its Assessment.” The session was based on responses to the 2010 ARL survey on special collections (SPEC Kit 317), which found that 90% of special collections librarians are doing ongoing events, instruction sessions, and exhibits. The speakers were interested in how to assess the success of these efforts. Genya O’Meara from NC State cited Michelle McCoy’s article entitled “The Manuscript as Question: Teaching Primary Sources in the Archives — The China Missions Project,” published in C&RL in 2010, suggesting that we have a need for standard metrics for assessment of our outreach work as archivists. Steve MacLeod of UC Irvine explored his work with the Humanities Core Course program, which teaches writing skills in 3 quarters, and how he helped design course sessions with faculty to smoothly incorporate archives instruction into humanities instruction. Basic learning outcomes included the ability to answer two questions: what is a primary source? and what is the different between a first and primary source? He also created a LibGuide for the course and helped subject specialist reference/instruction librarians add primary source resources into their LibGuides. There were over 45 sections, whereby he and his colleagues taught over 1000 students. He suggested that the learning outcomes can help us know when our students “get it.” Florence Turcotte from UF discussed an archives internship program where students got course credit at UF for writing biographical notes and doing basic archival processing. I stepped out of the session in time to catch the riveting tail-end of Session 105: “Pay It Forward: Interns, Volunteers, and the Development of New Archivists and the Archives Profession,” just as Lance Stuchell from the Henry Ford started speaking about the ethics of unpaid intern work. He suggested that paid work is a moral and dignity issue and that unpaid work is not equal to professional work without pay.

After lunch, I headed over to Session 204: “Rights, Risk, and Reality: Beyond ‘Undue Diligence’ in Rights Analysis for Digitization.” I took away a few important points, including “be respectful, not afraid,” that archivists should form communities of practice where we persuade lawyers through peer practice such as the TRLN guidelines and the freshly-endorsed SAA standard Well-intentioned practice document. The speakers called for risk assessment over strict compliance, as well as encouraging the fair use defense and maintaining a liberal take-down policy for any challenges to unpublished material placed online. Perhaps most importantly, Merrilee Proffitt reminded us that no special collections library has been successfully sued for copyright infringement by posting unpublished archival material online for educational use. After looking around the Exhibit Hall, I met a former mentor for dinner and went to the UCLA MLIS alumni party, where I was inspired by colleagues and faculty to list some presentation ideas on a napkin. Ideas for next year (theme: crossing boundaries/borders) included US/Mexico archivist relations; water rights such as the Hoover Dam, Rio Grande, Mulholland, etc; community based archives (my area of interest); and repatriation of Native American material. Lots of great ideas floated around…

(Cross posted at ZSR Professional Development blog.)


SAA Day 1: Collecting Repositories and E-Records Workshop

On Tuesday, I arrived in rainy Chicago and headed straight for the Hotel Palomar for the AIMS Project (“Born-Digital Collections: An Inter-Institutional Model for Stewardship”) workshop regarding born-digital archival material in collecting repositories. The free workshop, called “CREW: Collecting Repositories and E-Records Workshop,” included archivists and technologists from around the world to discuss issues related to collection development, accessioning, appraisal, arrangement and description, and discovery and access of born-digital archival materials.

The workshop program started with Glynn Edwards of Stanford and Gretchen Gueguen of UVa, who discussed collection development of born-digital records. The speakers suggested that both collection development policies and donor agreements should have clear language about born-digital material, including asking donors to contribute metadata to electronic records from his/her collection. The challenge, they note, is in collaboratively developing sound guidelines and policies to help archivists/curators make decisions about what to acquire. A group discussion about talking to donors about their personal digital lives and creating a “digital will,” both of which help provide important information about an individual’s work, communication, and history of using technologies.

Kevin Glick and Mark Matienzo from Yale and Seth Shaw from Duke discussed accessioning, the process through which a repository gains control over records and gathers information that informs other functions in the archival workflow. While many of the procedures for accessioning born-digital material is the same for analog material, the speakers distinguished accessioning the records from accessioning the media themselves (ie the Word document versus the floppy disk on which it is saved). Mark described his process of “re-accessioning” material through a forensic (or bit-level) disk imaging process, whereby he write-protected accessioned files to protect data from manipulation. He used FTK imager to create a media log with unique identifiers and physical/logical characteristics of the media, followed by BagIt to create packages with high level info about accessions. Seth discussed Duke’s DataAccessioner program, which he created as an easy way for archivists to migrate and identify data from disks. A group discussion asked: what level of control is necessary for collections containing electronic records at your institution? and, what are the most common barriers to accessioning electronic records, and how would they show up? Our table agreed that barriers include staffing (skills and time); being able to read media; software AND hardware; storage limits; and greater need for students/interns.

Simon Wilson from Hull, Peter Chan from Stanford, and Gabriela Redwine from the Harry Ransom Center at UT Austin discussed arrangement and description. They questioned whether archivists can appraise digital material without knowing content therein, which conflicts with the high-level, minimal processing emphasized in our field in the past few years. Another major issue is with volume: space is cheap, but does that mean archivists shouldn’t appraise? It isn’t practical to describe every item, but how will archivists know what is sensitive or restricted? Hypatia provides an easy-to-use interface that allows drag-and-drop for easy intellectual organization of e-records, as well as the ability to add rights and permissions information. Peter Chan described a complex method for using a combination of AccessData FTK in combination with TransitSolution and Oxygen to compare checksums, find duplicate records, and do a “pattern search” for sensitive terms and numbers (such as social security numbers). Gabi Redwine explored her work with a hybrid collection (analog and digital records) where she learned that descriptive standards should be a learning process for staff, not students or volunteers. Her finding aids for the collection included hyperlinks to electronic content and she advocated for disk imaging. The group discussion following this session was intense! The hotbed topic was: are professional skills of appraisal, arrangement, description still relevant for born digital materials? Our group agreed that appraisal and description remain important; however, we were strongly divided about whether archivists will need to contribute to arrangement of e-records. I believe that arrangement becomes less important as things become more searchable, as argued in David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous. Arrangement emerged before the digital realm as a way for archivists and librarians to contextualize and organize material based on topics/subjects; however, with better description, users can create their own ways of organizing e-records!

Finally, Gretchen Gueguen (UVa) and Erin O’Meara of UNC Chapel Hill discussed discovery and access. Our goals as archivists include to preserve original format and order as much as possible, and apply restrictions as necessary, while balancing this with our mission to make things accessible and available. Gretchen suggested the idea of Google Books’ “snippet” idea as a way to provide access without compromising privacy or restrictions on sensitive material. Her models for access for digital material include: in-person versus not; authenticated versus not; physical versus online access; and dynamic versus static. Erin described her use of Curator’s Workbenchwithin FOXML and Solr to control access permissions and assign restrictions and roles to e-records. Another group discussion included chewy scenarios for dealing with born-digital materials; my table had to consider: “you are at a large public academic research library; director brings several CDROMs, Zip disks and floppy disks of famous (secretive) professor from campus; they are backup files created over the years; office has more paper files; professor and his laptop are missing; no one can give further details on files; write 1 page plan for preserving/describing files; working institutional repository exists.” With no donor agreement and an understanding that the faculty member was very private, we couldn’t go ahead with full access of the material.

At the end of the day, I left with a much better grasp of how I see myself as an archivist dealing with born-digital material (primarily those on optical and disk media). It seems that item-level description works best for born-digital while aggregate description works best for analog materials. Digital records are dealt with best through collaboratively-created policies and procedures for acquiring, processing, and describing them. Great stuff!

Here is the suggested reading list to help participants prepare for the course:

(Cross posted to ZSR Professional Development blog.)

*Update: all of the workshop presentations have been posted to the born digital archives blog.