I’m an Archivist, not an Archaeologist

Hi everyone, my name is Jen Piegols and I’m a second year MLIS student with a concentration in Archives and Digital Curation. I have a BA in History and English from Salisbury University and was introduced to archives during my final undergrad semester when I partook in an internship at the Edward H. Nabb Center on campus.  I fell in love with processing collections instantly as it seemed to combine my passions of history, writing, and organization.  Since then, and entering the MLIS program, I have studied more of the theories and practices related to physical collections, and attempted to put that learning into action as a Student Assistant at Hornbake Library in the Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA), Maryland and Historical collections department.  While I love the hands-on aspect of working with historical materials, my digital curation/appraisal/arrangement/preservation, anything digital, skills seem to be lacking. Thus, I’m hoping to get a better grasp of digital preservation so that I feel more comfortable working with born-digital or digitized materials as I search for a special collections or processing position.

I found Professor Owen’s Introduction in The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation to be a great jumping off point for someone who has little to no experience with digital preservation, which is probably a good thing as he intended it to be for professionals and non-professionals alike.  A few of his axioms made me nod my head and I thought also related well to the preservation of physical collections. Specifically, I really agreed with point 3, 5, and 6. Point 3, “tools can get in the way just as much as they can help,” (Owens, 5) seems to have become almost a go-to statement from the few discussions I have overheard or participated in while in the MLIS program. I absolutely agree with this statement and live in an on-going horror story as SCUA attempts to wipe away their “Beast” (a frustratingly confusing Access database) and replace it with ArchiveSpace. Although this isn’t preservation of digital holdings, it is the preservation of finding aids, which is probably the most important deliverable created by an archive.

Axiom 5, “Hoarding is not preservation”(5) resonated on a personal level. This reflection is a little more off topic, but this point really makes one think about all the personal items and digital files that one can hoard over 23 years of existence.  It was brought up in an appraisal class last year that it takes almost or if not more energy to run servers as it is to run a perfect HVAC, humidity controlled building, and so not only is hoarding digital information bad for accessing and preserving digital collections, it’s also harming the environment and using up resources!

Lastly, to tie into the other readings that focus on the impending (or currently raging) digital dark ages, axiom 6, “Backing up data is not digital preservation” (6), seemed a good connection because even if we do back up our data, it’s not guaranteed to last past the next Windows update.  Personally, I would like to think that backing up my thousands of photos on three different hard drives is the best, and possibly only, way to ‘preserve’ my digital memories,  but it’s now a little clearer that this isn’t true, especially for larger, public collections.  I absolutely agree with Terry Kuny when he lists off how we are living in, or on the cusp of, a digital dark age. Obsolete software, check. Broken hardware, check. Lost information, check. However, I don’t agree with Vint Cerf (and therefore agree with Bertram Lyons) that this is a new development (Google’s Vint Cerf warns of ‘digital Dark Age’). I’m so proud that Lyons defended the work of archivists in her response to Cerf (There Will Be No Digital Dark Age), but was also mortified that “a father of the internet” didn’t know about the work that archivists do on a daily basis.  Our profession is in fact archiving digital pieces, even if it is in hiding, and I hope to learn from this class how to become one of those people who help prevent the spread of the digital Dark Age and bring our work out of the shadows at the same time.