This afternoon I successfully completed the electronic exam for “Managing Electronic Records in Archives & Special Collections,” a workshop presented as part of SAA‘s Digital Archives Specialist program. With my new certificate of continuing education in hand, I wonder how much I should/could participate in the DAS program. I have been watching the development of the program with great interest, particularly the cost, expected completion timeline, and who the experts would be. I signed up for the course and ventured up to Pasadena for a two-day workshop with Seth Shaw and Nancy Deromedi.
Erica Boudreau has a good summary of the workshop as taught by Tim Pyatt and Michael Shallcross on her blog, so I will try not to repeat too much here. Of interest to those looking to learn more about e-recs is the Bibliography and the pre-readings, which consisted of several pieces from the SAA Campus Case Studies website. We were asked to read Case 2, “Defining and Formalizing a Procedure for Archiving the Digital Version of the Schedule of Classes at the University of Michigan” by Nancy Deromedi, and Case 13, “On the Development of the University of Michigan Web Archives: Archival Principles and Strategies” by Michael Shallcross, as well as “Guarding the Guards: Archiving the Electronic Records of Hypertext Author Michael Joyce” by Catherine Stollar.
On the first day, the instructors discussed electronic “recordness,” authenticity/trust, the OAIS and PREMIS models, advocacy, and challenges, and reserved time for the participants to break into groups to discuss the three case studies. On the second day, we dove into more practical application of e-records programs, in particular a range of workflows. One of the takeaway messages was simply to focus on doing something, not waiting for some comprehensive solution that can handle every variety of e-record. Seth displayed a Venn diagram he revealed at SAA this year, which separates “fast,” “good,” and “cheap” into three bubbles — each can overlap with one other focus area, but not both. That is, for example, that your workflow can be cheap and good, but not fast; good and fast but not cheap, et cetera.
Seth and Nancy illustrated a multi-step workflow using a checksum creator (example used was MD5sums), Duke DataAccessioner for migration, checksums, as well as plugins for Jhove and Droid, WinDirStat for visual analysis of file contents, and FTKimager for forensics. They also discussed Archivematica for ingest and description, which still seems buggy, and web archiving using tools such as ArchiveIt, the CDL’s Web Archiving Service, and HTTrack. Perhaps the most significant thing I learned was about the use of digital forensics programs like FTKimager, as well as the concept of a forensic write blocker, which essentially prevents files on a disk/USB from being changed during transfer. Digital forensics helps us to see hidden and deleted files, which can help us provide a service to records creators — recovering what was thought lost — and creating a disk image to emulate the original disk environment. Also shared: Peter Chan at Stanford put up a great demo of how to process born digital materials using AccessData FTK on YouTube. It was helpful to see these tools I have been reading about actually demonstrated.
Our cohort briefly discussed UC Irvine’s “virtual reading room,” which is essentially a way for researchers to access born-digital content in a reading room environment using DSpace, through a combination of an application process and limited user access period. Our rules of use are also posted. I have a lot of thoughts in my mind about how this may change or improve over time as we continue to receive and process born-digital papers and records — when we are doing less arrangement and better summarization/contextualization/description, how can we create a space for researchers to access material with undetermined copyright status? What will the “reading room” look like in the future?
Our digital projects specialist and I attended the workshop and I think we found some potential services and programs that could help us with our born-digital records workflow. Above all, it was helpful to see and hear about the tools being developed and get experienced perspectives on what has been working at Duke and Michigan. I enjoyed the review of familiar concepts as well as demonstrations of unfamiliar tools, and could see myself enrolling in future DAS courses. The certificate program includes an option to test out of the four Foundational courses, at $35 a pop. If I choose to complete the program, it must be done within 2 years, with a comprehensive exam ($100) that must be completed within 5 months after completing the required courses. Some people are cherry-picking from the curriculum, choosing only courses that are the most relevant to their work. I think a DAS certification could help train and employ future digital archivists (or, in my mind, archivists in general — since we’ll all be doing this type of work) and may create a “rising tide lifts all ships” type of situation in our profession. While there is a risk of a certification craze meant for financial gain of the organization, I was grateful to learn from experienced archivists in a structured setting. There’s something to be said for standards in education in our profession. I hope that DAS will raise the standard for (digital) archivists.